If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, then you’ll know about my personal experiences dealing with bedbugs in my apartment, my research on how bedbugs can be transferred between apartments in the same building, and my opinions on how easily bedbugs can and will spread in public libraries.  If you haven’t followed this blog from day one (or would like a refresher about what I said before), then you should read this post for my thoughts and advice based on my experiences with bedbugs in my apartment building, and this one for my thoughts on bedbugs and public libraries.

So to sum up …

  • I’ve had bedbugs in my apartment in the past.  We got rid of them, they came back, we got rid of them, they came back, etc. etc. over the course of the last year.  After an absence of several months, they reappeared several weeks ago.  We will get rid of them again.
  • If you see me, you don’t need to make the sign of the cross or recoil in horror, although if you do I will understand the sentiment.  I am about 99% sure that I’m not bringing any of them with me when I leave my apartment.  And yes, that last 1% worries me, as well.
  • Based on how my apartment building’s “officials” (superintendent / management company / landlord) have reacted to the spread of bedbugs through the building so far, if they keep dealing with the problem the way they’ve been doing, I cannot imagine that we will EVER be fully rid of bedbugs in this building.  And that is one of the primary issues that I would like to expand on in this post.  Because I believe that what is happening in my apartment building is happening all over New York City and all over the country.

I know that many tenants in my apartment building have been dealing with bedbugs through various means — hiring private exterminators, working with the exterminators provided by the building management, and removing furniture from their apartments at all hours of the day and night.  I know this because I’ve heard the building gossip from other tenants, because I read the 311 complaints online, because I check the Bed Bug Registry website, and because I hear the sounds of moving furniture through the door that leads into the hallway.  I have NEVER been told by my building’s management that any of the apartments that connect directly to mine were being treated for bedbugs.  Even though I have direct first-hand knowledge, for example, that a neighbor who just moved into our building three months ago has already had her apartment (which connects directly to mine) treated FIVE TIMES by an exterminator provided by the building management company.  We only know this because she told us that it was going on.  But as multiple lines in our apartment building have been affected, we’ve had first-hand confirmation that bedbugs are travelling between apartments in various ways, up to and including climbing along heating pipes and electrical wires.

But wait, it gets worse!  One of the major points that anyone who has dealt with bedbugs directly or researched them discovers is that if you get rid of furniture that had bedbugs in or on it, you’re supposed to attach a “BEDBUGS” sign to the piece of furniture to warn other people not to take it into their apartments.  Many tenants in our building have done this (we’ve done it ourselves, and we’ve seen our neighbors do it), but those signs keep mysteriously disappearing.  Now, why would our building management people do this (or have our superintendent do this)?  Are they using the mentality that if we deny that we have a problem, it will just go away?  Don’t they understand that if they remove the signs they’re just going to perpetuate the problem?

A follow-up point about human communication: there are several people connected to our building who have positions of authority, including people in our building management company and a real estate broker who has commented on the Bed Bugs Registry website, who seem to be using some kind of “plausible deniability” doublespeak.  They’ve been using curious turns of phrase like “we only know of three apartments that are affected” or “only one apartment was inspected and treated.”  My new neighbor of three months had to sign a form about bedbugs when she signed her lease.  She was told that the building had had some bedbug issues in the past, but that her apartment had not been affected (even though it had been vacated very suddenly).  Now I know that many tenants in the building, including us, spoke to the building’s superintendent about bedbugs in their apartments.  So if the management company says that they don’t know about these problems, does that mean that they’re telling the superintendent NOT to pass on our complaints to them so that they can deny all knowledge of the problem?  Or do they know what’s going on and they’re just out-and-out lying because they don’t want to frighten away prospective tenants?

We’ve had several tenants’ meetings on this subject already, and we will continue to have them in the future.  But there’s only so much that we, as tenants, can do to try to eradicate these vermin from our building. We can have face-to face meetings with other tenants who are willing to talk, or slip notes under each other’s doors to try to share information, but we don’t have a way to contact every tenant in the building.  We also don’t have the resources to treat infestations that spring up in our neighbors’ apartments, which can then infect (or re-infect) the neighbors in surrounding apartments.  We cannot tackle this problem without our building management’s support, and so far their approach has been to hide their heads in the sand.  And so the problem continues.

Anyway, in the interest of sharing what I’ve learned over the last year, let me share my general advice, informational websites, and specialized products that will be useful if you already have bedbugs, if you want to prevent them from getting into your home, and which might protect you from moving into a building that has them:

GENERAL ADVICE:

Work with an exterminator, specifically one who is trained to work with bedbugs.  Keep in mind that more and more bugs are developing immunities to chemical poisons, so they might be of limited use (and we might be breeding new generations of superbugs).   I personally would prefer to work with bedbug specialists who use methods like cold treatments — freezing will kill bedbugs and their eggs no matter how many chemicals they’re immune to.  However, the cold treatments can be very expensive.

If you have any clothes or bedding that you think might be contaminated, seal them up in a plastic bag and throw them out or seal them up in a plastic bag and wash and dry them on the high settings (or at the very least, put them in the dryer at the high setting for a minimum of 20 minutes).

Vacuum, vacuum often, and keep vacuuming.  Vacuum your floors and your rugs.  Use the attachments and vacuum inside the crevices of your furniture.  And while we’re at it, you’ll have to learn to think like a bug.  We’ve found bedbugs in and under the bed, but also hiding inside the seams of a fabric chair, in between the wooden slats of the floor, inside the wheels of a desk chair, etc.  Also, discard the contents of the vacuum cleaner when you’re done.

Buy the highest concentration of alcohol that you can find at the drug store — we’ve been using 91% isopropyl alcohol we found at Rite Aid — and put it in an empty spray bottle.  Keep the bottle of alcohol next to a flashlight, and keep them both near your bed.  Check your bedding every morning; leave the lights off and search your sheets and pillows with the flashlight.  Look for moving spots of any size.  If you find anything, spray it with the alcohol to incapacitate it and then grab it with a tissue and flush it down the toilet.

WEBSITES

Bed Bug Registry

Bedbugger.com

New York vs. Bed Bugs

How to Bed Bug Proof Your NYC Apartment

What Every New Yorker Should Learn From the National Bed Bug Summit

Through NYC.gov: Go here and type in the address of the building in NYC where you currently live (or are thinking about living).  Then click on “complaint history” to see what complaints have been made through the 311 hotline at that address.  Keep in mind, though, that if you see only one or two apartments reporting in an entire building, that might just mean that those are the only tenants who are voluntarily stepping forward and accepting their social pariah status.  I know of several apartments adjoining mine, for example, that are currently infested or were infested with bedbugs and those tenants never reported it to 311.  And on a related note, if you do have bedbugs in your apartment, PLEASE step forward and declare it through 311 or your local government agency.  Hopefully, more tenants admitting they have this problem will protect future tenants and force landlords out of their denial.

Preventing and Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Safely (a very helpful PDF file download from NYC.gov)

ETA: here’s a very helpful (but gross) video from Howdini.com about how to tell if you have bedbugs and how to deal with them if you do.

ADDITIONAL / UNUSUAL PRODUCTS

Neem Oil – According to a book I bought last year called Neem: The Ultimate Herb by John Conrick, neem can be used for many different purposes.  I skipped over the sections on shampoo, soap, poultices, tooth powder, first aid, circulatory disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases (!) and jumped to the insect repellent / pest control section.  To sum up what I learned in this book, so you don’t need to buy it yourself unless you really want to, I can tell you that neem oil is supposed to repel a variety of insects, including bedbugs and termites, which is why you can add it to your cleaner when you’re cleaning your wood floor and wood furniture.  It’s also supposed to affect insects in such a way that it makes them forget how to eat — they can die of starvation even if there’s food right in front of them.  Be forewarned that neem oil has a strong smell, which does wear off after a few hours, so don’t use it just before company is coming over.  Providing, of course, that you still invite people over to your place.  Sadly, we have been company-free for many months now.

Diatomaceous Earth – Make sure that you buy the “food safe” variety that will be safe around you and your pets.  However, be aware that this is a very fine powder that can quickly become airborne and thus can exacerbate breathing problems.  We usually try to put it under the mattress, under the rug, behind the furniture, etc.  We apply it with a duster which I bought especially for this purpose or sprinkle it around the floor and then spread it around into the cracks of the wood while wearing socks.  The white powder around the bed, on the floors, and in front of our hallway door adds to the list of reasons why we are not “company ready” any more.  However, the knowledge that I am destroying countless little exoskeletons makes me happy to my core.

You should invest in a really good steamer that will get hot enough to kill bedbugs and their eggs.  We’ve been using this portable one for a while, and we just had this big one delivered this week.  Using a steamer can be a little labor-intensive sometimes, especially if it involves moving pieces of furniture around or flipping them over.  However, steaming stuff can really make you feel like you’re gaining the upper hand over the little monsters, if only for a little while.  Be careful about getting too close to the steam itself, or breathing in the vapors caused by steaming.  Also, if your home is treated with chemicals or other poisons, you may be instructed NOT to steam or vacuum for a period of time because doing so will get rid of the chemicals, rendering the treatment useless.

Murphy’s Oil Soap and/or Cleaners Containing the Ingredient D-Limonene.  I have not actually tried this yet myself, but it comes highly recommended on the Bedbugger forums and some of my neighbors are trying it now.

And for the record, Aveeno Anti-Itch Concentrated Lotion has helped me keep what’s left of my sanity intact.

AND IN CONCLUSION…

If you are living with bedbugs, you are not alone.  It is perfectly normal to itch, to cry, to feel depressed, to feel cut off from your family and friends, to feel sick and irritable, and to lose sleep.  I tell you again: you are not alone.  Use these resources, find some support, and get some relief.

Questions?  Comments?  Horror stories of your own?  Feel free to share!

Advertisements