Keeping Bedbugs at Bay


Unless you’re living in a media blackout, you know bedbugs are back. And not just back, but apparently everywhere: hotels, apartment buildings, the mall, the subway, the movies! Laments Dr. Dini Miller, associate professor at Virginia Tech and Urban Pest Management specialist for the state of Virginia: “The media is freaking out like crazy.” And so, probably, are you.

The fact is, bedbugs are, well, everywhere, and they’re not going away. But that doesn’t mean you should throw out all your furniture, or refuse to let family members visit, or spray yourself with toxic doses of alcohol every time you leave the house -- all real-world examples encountered by Larry Pinto, president of Pinto & Associates, a pest control consulting firm, and co-author of the book Bed Bug Handbook. We spoke to Miller and Pinto about what one should do, as Pinto puts it, “in a bedbug world.” Turns out a little common sense goes a long way in dealing with the critters.

Know Thy Bedbug
“I inspect places all the time for bedbugs and I have yet to bring them home with me,” says Pinto. In other words, just because they’re out there doesn’t mean you’ll get them. Adds Miller: “We will encounter them in our daily lives. That’s okay. We need to prevent them coming home with us.”

So how do we do that? Easy. Google “bedbugs” and learn what they look like in all stages of life (eggs to mature adults). Then keep an eye on your stuff. If you go to the movies, says Miller, “Don’t put your things in the empty seat next to you.” In fact, leave them in your car to begin with. If you have to bring your stuff along, so be it, but then inspect it before taking it home and dumping it on your bed. “Get in the habit of looking,” Miller sums up. “That’s the best intervention.”

Check the Bed
Hotels are ground zero in the bedbug wars. Does that mean you should cancel your trip? No. Getting bitten at a hotel is really not such a big deal. (It’s gross, yes, but as Pinto notes, “They don’t give you AIDS.”) The point is not to bring them home.

To that end, you should keep your suitcase in the middle of the floor or on the luggage rack -- check it for bugs first -- and then leave everything inside. If you must unpack, says Miller, you can hang your clothes in the closet (again, after checking it), but don’t use the drawers.

Before you do anything, though, strip the bed and look for bugs or fecal matter (little black spots) in the mattress, along the seams, where the mattress meets the box spring, where the spring meets the frame, and where the headboard meets the wall. “We’re talking two minutes maximum inspection,” says Pinto. If all is clear, relax. If not, change rooms (and if the second room is infested, change hotels). And it bears repeating: Whether the hotel checks out or not, always inspect your bags before bringing them home.

Talk to the Neighbors

Moving into a new pad can be tricky; even experts get stumped by an empty apartment. Still, there are a few things you can do. Pinto advises asking management (before signing the lease) if they’ve had a bedbug problem in the past and if so, how they handled it. They may lie, of course, which is why you should talk to tenants as well. You can also check The Bedbug Registry ( to see if your building has been cited. And if you’re really nervous, hire a bedbug-sniffing dog. It will run you between $300 and $400, but may be worth it if you’re moving in with friends and can split the bill.

Beware Free Stuff

There once was a time you could furnish an entire apartment from other people’s garbage. Now that bedbugs are the main reason people throw furniture out … not so much. But if your budget requires buying furniture secondhand, go ahead, says Miller; just make sure to transport it yourself, and check it thoroughly before bringing it inside. Even if it appears clean, Pinto recommends vacuuming the piece aggressively with a crevice tool and then throwing out the bag.

Don’t Panic If You Find One
So you’re checking your bag, and lo and behold, you find a bedbug. What now? Well, first, kill it. Then throw your bag, and all of its contents, in the dryer. “The dryer is your best friend,” says Miller. “You can put all kinds of stuff in there, and a hot dryer for 20 minutes will kill all bedbugs and their eggs.” If something can’t go in the dryer, then Miller advises spraying it intensely with alcohol (just not near an open flame, please). And if you find a bedbug in your home? We’ll say it again: Don’t panic. “If you catch it quickly, it’s easy to get rid of,” says Pinto. “Just call pest control and they take care of it.”

by Laura Silverman