Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Speck Had Legs

It's been a long four months.

Things started out simple enough. A small series of bites we thought were spiders hiding in the deepest nooks of our extremely comfy couch. At least until one afternoon when a friend was over and I noticed a small speck on my shirt.

I went to flick it off, and it moved. The speck had legs.

Baby spider, I thought to myself. You know, one of those little reddish ones that are harmless. But this one wasn't red, it was brown, and it was flat, not like those harmless little spiders.

I held out a small section of my shirt and asked my friend (who can see up close better than I) what the belegged speck might be. He told me " a baby bedbug."

And the three-month decimation quest began. 

First, we studied up on bedbugs and their uncanny abilities to hide. I've done research before on pests (another tiny enemy, the flea), and found a solution that was both cheap and easy to execute, as long as I was diligent. But I'll be honest- fighting bedbugs was one hundred times worse than anything we've ever tried to conquer on our own before.

This blogger was their favorite buffet item on their menu. It wasn't long before I was bitten all over my arms and legs because each bug can bite up to five times each. And they itch like crazy. Some people don't notice, but I happen to be gifted with sensitivity to these critters, and at night I would wake up to the feeling of being crawled on and bitten.

I was like some weird kind of superhero- or supervillain, from the bedbugs' point of view. From a dead sleep, my eyes snapped open, hand whipping around to snatch the little bugger from behind my back, and cackle in maniacal glee as I flushed his/her butt merrily down the toilet. 
I stripped the blankets and top sheets off and frantically searched for more intruders before they went back into hiding. I was even fast enough to catch a few by hand, in the dark before my husband woke up and blinded me with the end table light. 

(Image by TyrusTime from Pixabay)

Sometimes I would win, most times I would lose- and we both lost any chance of a full nights' sleep. 

One of my clients had bedbugs and they opted for the heat treatment- not only did it cost a small fortune, but it also wrecked the walls of her apartment. So many others went the Do-It-Yourself way, and we decided that would be best (and cheapest) for us- after all, we had that flea thing beaten...right?

Life Lesson 1,027: Fleas ain't bedbugs.

Bedbugs love soft fabrics, carpeting, rough wood, and paper. Yes, paper. We found them in unwrapped toilet tissue, an open box of unused envelopes, printer paper, and wrapping paper. I had to ditch an entire lifetime supply of Christmas wrap because it was in a box in our bedroom near my side of the bed. The box was infested with them.

Bedbugs like to be close to the food source- us. Per online and exterminator recommendations, we sequestered ourselves to our master bedroom and the first floor of the house during our DIY treatments. Anything more than six feet away from us was not infested- though we treated the entire rooms we occupied. Rooms we stayed out of were not affected at all!

It wasn't easy.

Any cushioned furniture or rough wood items had to be bagged up and tossed. We lost our couch, the desk, desk chair, mattress, box spring, and mattress board inserts to these insidious little creatures. 
All clothing had to be washed, dried and bagged fresh from the dryer into trash bags, tied and sealed, then stored in a non-infested room. We kept some clothing out to wear, but it was also bagged, sealed and hung in a high spot, away from the floor and carpets.
Anything else had to go in sprayed boxes and stored after being checked and cleared for bedbugs, including books. Remember what I said about paper? Yeah. They like books too. Most of them were cleared and the ones that weren't were tossed.
The mattresses were wrapped in thick plastic and sealed until we could get a new/used mattress and proper bedbug-proof bedcovers.
Regular shoes were heat-treated and put up high on racks, away from the floor. Other shoes were heat treated and stored in plastic trash bags and sealed, then stored.
Nothing was donated- let's make that clear. Everything that had a chance of having bedbugs was bagged and tossed despite its condition- we didn't want anyone else having this issue!

We tried sprays. Two types, in fact. The only one that worked well was a product called DeFence, and that works on bedbugs only if freshly sprayed. Otherwise, it's great- it kills everything else creepy-crawly.
Diatomaceous Earth and baking soda mixed together helped but wasn't fast enough to kill them before they bred. And they can hatch every six to ten days.
Oils deter them, but don't kill them- it just makes them climb the walls and get into other things. Great if you don't have them (they won't come in), but not-so-great if they're already hiding in the carpets.
Carpet cleaning was the best way to get the majority of them, but not all of them. I stopped being a bug buffet was when we bought the carpet steam cleaner.
Heat gun- Great for treating non-dryer items like shoes and luggage.
Dryer heat- this is the best way to get rid of live bugs- they die from heat above 120 degrees for a period of 20 or more minutes. 

For three months, our days looked like this:
Get up, remove the sheets and bedding for heat treatment and/or washing, including pillows. Heat-treated clothing from the night before was put on after showering, and shoes weren't put on until it was ready to go to work. 
Any items that were worn for work (fanny pack, jackets, etc. were tossed in the dryer and put up high or bagged and not put on until we left for work.
The rooms were sprayed every 6 days, vacuumed every three days, and steam cleaned each week.
Clothing is washed, dried and bagged daily.

We were exhausted.

Even after all this (and healing up quite a lot thanks to the steam cleaner) every once in a while we'd see another one; sub-adult, but still alive. We just couldn't fight them ourselves anymore. We had to call a bedbug specialist. 

The exterminator we found does a gas treatment and a spray treatment. One day was all he needed to kill them all- including the eggs- and all we had to do was clear everything we could from the affected rooms. No heat treatments and it was non-toxic to our cats when the house aired out. And it was a lot cheaper than heat treatment. We did research on his technique and the gas he uses and decided it was worth it. 

I waited until at least two weeks passed after treatment before posting this blog, just to make sure they are gone for good. 

Gems of Bedbug Knowledge:

  • One pregnant bedbug is all it takes to get infested.
  • Bedbugs hatch every 6-10 days. 
  • Every time they have a blood meal, they hide and molt into the next stage. 
  • They have 7 stages- egg, first to fifth larvae (sub-adult), and adult. Bedbugs are about the size of a rice grain. They are flat, round and gold/light-brown colored with a dark dot before feeding, while fed bedbugs are larger, longer, completely dark brown or black and more spear/teardrop-shaped.
  • Females can lay an average of 5 eggs a day- about 500 in her lifetime.
  • Bedbugs love fabric, carpets, paper, and unfinished wood- including the inside of drawers.
  • They like being near their host- usually no more than six feet away. Mattresses, carpet, and soft furniture are the most common places they infest.
If you find you have bedbugs:
  • Get an exterminator that does the chlorine dioxide treatment right away. One day vs. three months of DIY isn't worth it.
  • Treatment is cheaper than DIY in time, money, and especially effort.
  • Make sure everything is washed and heat-treated before you leave the house to prevent spreading.
  • If possible, sequester your family members and pets to as few rooms as possible to prevent spreading to the entire house. Bedbugs won't stay in rooms where there isn't any food. (This will save you money on treatments as well!)
  • Don't go into other homes for visits or work until your home is treated- if this can't be prevented, shower and make doubly sure to heat treat and bag everything you wear and carry (yes, including purses, wallets, shoes, etc.) taking them out right before you leave your house.
  • If you know someone with bedbugs, tell them about the chlorine dioxide treatment. 
  • Don't treat those who have bedbugs like they have the plague. They need your support- not your disdain!
We are so thankful and grateful to everyone who helped us with the GoFundMe we posted to help hire the exterminator. We couldn't have eradicated them without our superheroes- you