Bedbugs: What to Do?

January 12, 2011
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Bedbugs are the subject de jour in many municipalities, businesses and homes. Recently, the Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians began received a number of questions about bedbugs.

Dr. Harold Harlan, who was a career bug expert for the U.S. military, is a prominent authority on bedbugs and was interviewed on “Dateline NBC” recently. He gave the following answer to a question regarding cleaning and its effect on bedbugs:

“Most people who work in urban pest control in the U.S. would prefer to be called Pest Management Professionals (PMPs) rather than exterminators. Unfortunately, cleaning alone will not usually have much impact on an established bed bug population. Successful programs to eliminate these bugs require detailed knowledge of their biology and exact harborage (hiding) locations determined by thorough inspection.

“PMPs must also know a lot about the strategies, techniques and products, which can be used effectively, safely, and legally to control bed bugs. The vast majority of laymen could not expect to effectively control even a very small and localized infestation; and they probably could not even tell if their efforts had any impact. Under current conditions, the use of some kind of residual (long lasting), properly labeled insecticide is needed to effectively control bed bugs in the U.S., and any practical control effort could not be carried out without use of such a product.

“The U.S. EPA-approved insecticide products that are currently labeled against bed bugs must still be used properly and applied at the proper sites (in the proper formulations and concentrations) to be effective. No “home cures” I have encountered so far have much affect at all against bed bugs. Regardless of any specific material used, self-help efforts seldom have a noticeable impact because individuals do not have the background knowledge or technical support needed.”

Here is a government website where interested parties can read all they want to know about bed bugs. It’s the Armed Forces Pest Management Board’s Technical Guide No. 44: “Bedbugs: Importance Biology and Control Strategies.”

Remember, when searching the web for technical information, look for the sites that end in .org or .edu rather than .com. Generally, that is where you will get the more scholarly and reliable information.

Trained, experienced, professional cleaners using isopropyl alcohol-enhanced preconditioners (detergents), proper cleaning principles (i.e., dry soil removal, soil suspension, extraction and drying), and thorough extraction using hot water (especially using truck-mounted plants that generate high heat – bedbugs’ upper thermal death point is 45°C/113°F - great flushing action, and powerful dry and wet suction), may be able to reduce bedbugs and even dust mite populations in mattresses. But without proper sampling protocols and procedures developed and performed by qualified indoor environmental professionals (IEPs), there is no way to verify cleaning efficacy.

As with dust mites, laundering bed linens in a washing machine with detergent and 54 degrees C/130 degrees F water temperature for at least 20 minutes, followed by hot air drying, has been shown to kill bedbug populations. But of course, since washing has no residual effect, given the right conditions, re-infestation can occur. Weekly washing of bed linens is recommended.

Ultimately, cleaners not specifically licensed for pest control must remember they cannot make claims regarding bedbug elimination or even simply control. It should, however, be a good opportunity to sell fabric cleaning services, including mattress cleaning. Above all, we must avoid unsupported claims regarding bedbug control or elimination.

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