In a few days, students will be returning home from colleges and universities for the holidays. First comes Thanksgiving and in a few weeks Christmas and other religious holidays/vacation. Of course, you’ll be happy to have them home again, but you need to be proactive about what else they may inadvertently bring with them, bed bugs. Bed bugs may be in the laundry they bring for you to wash, in knapsacks, suitcases, backpacks, purses, sneakers, clean clothes, and jackets/coats and other outerwear.
Before they come, have a frank conversation about bed bugs at their school. Do they have any bed bugs in their dorm room or apartment? Do they know of anyone in their dorm or apartment building that has a bed bug problem? If yes, it’s time to put together a game plan before their arrival home.
What do bed bugs look like?
They are small, adults being about 3/16″ long, about the size of an apple seed. They are brownish, oval in shape, and flat, but change to being reddish brown, swollen, and longer after feeding; eggs are white, about 1/32″ long, and cigar-shaped.
Bed bugs are wingless (don’t fly), don’t jump, and do not burrow into the skin. They only crawl or run.
What does a bed bug bite look like?
First, about 30% of people bitten do not react to bites. Most commonly a small, slightly raised and irritated and/or itchy spot will appear that may last a few days. Bed bugs are not known to carry/transmit diseases. So, bites usually do not require medical attention unless symptoms are severe or persist.
What are the signs that bed bugs are present?
In addition to adults and eggs, dark reddish brown to reddish black fecal spots/stains (their poop) on bedding and furniture is a good sign. Bed bugs do shed their old skins as they grow, so shed skins are also a sign.
How do they spread and how can I avoid taking them home?
- Be aware that:
- Bed bugs are great hitch-hikers, on/in purses, bags, backpacks, shoes, clothes, etc. as mentioned above.
- Ask your children it they have picked up any discarded items from a curb or dumpster, great sources of bed bugs.
- At home, remove clutter that makes bed bugs hard to find and treat. Carefully inspect any second-hand furniture before buying or bringing it inside.
- As a precaution, or if your children suspect or know that they have been exposed to or have bed bugs in their dorm room or apartment, do the following:
- Bedding and clothes being left in their room. Have them put these through a dryer, or washed and put through a dryer (as given below), and then sealed in a clean plastic bag before they leave for home.
- Clutter must be removed to make inspection and treatment possible.
- Items being brought home from school:
- Have them purchase or send them a box of heavy-duty plastic garbage bags.
- Have them put all clean clothes in a bag and so label.
- Laundry. Have them put whites and coloreds in separate bags and label the bags as to contents.
- Have them put other items (knapsacks, backpacks, extra sneakers, etc) which can’t be washed but can be put through a dryer in a separate bag and so label.
- Transport. If driving, put the plastic bags in the car and leave the suitcase at the dorm or apartment. If flying, put the bags in suitcases and/or boxes.
What do I do once they get home? Your options are:
- Laundry procedures.
- Best. If the clothes/items are NOT soiled.
- Run the clothes/materials through the dryer first as half loads only at 125ºF for 20 minutes, this will kill all life stages of bed bugs.
Run the clothes/materials through the dryer first as half loads only at 125ºF for 20 minutes, this will kill all life stages of bed bugs.
- In most dryers, a medium setting will accomplish this. Then, the clothes/items can be washed in the usual manner to remove the dead bed bugs.
- Fold and place clothes/items in clean clear plastic bags and seal the bags.
- Second choice. If the clothes or items are soiled with materials that heat will set so that future washing will not then remove the soiling.
- The materials should be washed first.
- Next, dry the wet clothes/items on a normal drying cycle (half loads only).
- Then, immediately rerun the just dried half-load of clothes/items through a hot dryer cycle, as hot as the clothes can withstand, but a minimum of 125°F for 20 minutes, which will kill all stages.
- Finally, fold and place cleaned clothes/items in clean clear plastic bags and seal the bags.
- Heat or cold treatment of non-washable articles or items.
- Heat. Run items as half loads through a clothes dryer set as hot as the fabrics can withstand, but a minimum of 125°F for 20 minutes, which will kill all stages. This works well for most stuffed toys, backpacks, athletic shoes, etc.
- Cold. If freezing is appropriate or desirable, hold the items at 32°F for 2-3 weeks in a non-defrosting kind of freezer to kill all stages.
Be sure to remove as much air from the plastic bag as possible to reduce condensation and possible damage.
This is a possible alternative method of treating infested electronics; first check with the manufacturer.
- Dry cleaning.
- Most Dry-Cleaners will probably refuse to take in materials that are infested with live bed bugs, not wanting their business to become bed bug infested.
- However, according to the National Dry-Cleaners Association, the vast majority of dry-clean only garments can be put through a dryer at the low to medium setting with no damage to the garments.
- So, heat treat (half load only at 125ºF for 20 minutes) using the dryer first to kill the bed bugs, and then take the items to the dry-cleaners.
- If heat treating is questionable, first check with the Dry-Cleaners Association or your local dry cleaner.
What else should I do?
- Dorm room. If you find bed bugs in the items brought home, then call the school administration and report that your child’s dorm room (give the dorm and room number) is infested with bed bugs; you know because you found bed bugs in items they just brought home. Request that you want the room inspected and treated while they are home for the holiday. Also, request notice that their room has indeed been inspected and treated.
- Apartment. First, review the apartment lease with your child so that you know their responsibility in the case of bed bugs.
- If management is responsible, then call the apartment manager and report that your child’s apartment (give the apartment number) is infested with bed bugs; you know because you found bed bugs in items they just brought home. Request that you want the apartment inspected and treated while they are home for the holiday. Also, request notice that their apartment has indeed been inspected and treated.
- If your child is responsible, then arrange for the apartment to be inspected and treated by a pest management professional experienced in bed bug control. Explain what your child has done with respect to laundry and clothes. Arrange for the inspection, consultation on findings, and treatment to be done while your child is home for the holiday, and request notice that their apartment has indeed been inspected and treated.
If I find bed bugs in my home, what should I do to protect my home?
The control of bed bugs is a job for a pest management professional experienced in bed bug control. It is NOT a do-it-yourself project. The sooner they are found, the less extensive the infestation and that more treatment options are available. This also means the treatment should be less expensive.
-Eric H. Smith, PhD, BCE