Bugging Out: Pests or Pesticides? | Seventh Generation
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Bugging Out: Pests or Pesticides?

Author: the Inkslinger

For years, I've sent my daughter off to dream the hours away with the same playfully anachronistic bedtime admonition my own parents offered me. "Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite," goes our ancient childhood rhyme about what seemed to be mythical bugs that live in the bed just like the imaginary monster lives in the closet. Except that bedbugs are real creatures that reside in actual mattresses. And they're back in a big and very creepy crawly way.

Suddenly, for reasons that remain fairly mysterious, bedbugs are again haunting America's nights and feeding on our blood like tiny invertebrate vampires. Though they're clean, transmit no known diseases, and produce bites that go largely unnoticed, that's still, to use a technical term, super icky and something that would disturb even the most hardened entomologist.

Once upon a time, you simply met arriving bedbugs with a few squirts of DDT, the chemical responsible for just about wiping them off the face of the Earth in the 1940s and 50s. But we all know how that bedtime story ended. DDT wiped out a lot of other things, too, which makes it a nightmare for anyone who wants to wake up in a healthy world. A more modern solution has been pyrethrins, but this sort-of-safe, semi-natural chemical often no longer works on the now frequently resistant bedbugs, and the remaining chemical alternatives are true night terrors.

So what do we do now? Because bedbugs can live for months without food, and they hide where we can't readily get at them -- in mattress nooks and box spring crannies, baseboard cracks and floor crevices, behind wallpaper, under rugs, and in clutter wherever it's found. Short of literally dismantling the entire bedroom, laundering everything in it, and heat-treating whatever can't go in the washer and dryer (which is pretty much most of it), science is fresh out of nontoxic answers. And even this solution isn't really much of an option. Miss just a few bugs and you're back where you started.

Certainly there are things we can do to prevent infestations (beware hotel rooms, visiting luggage, and used furniture), but once they happen, the only truly viable strategy would seem to involve pesticides whose scorched-earth approach puts a very high price on sweet dreams indeed.

The question is which is worse: Carnivorous insects in our PJs or mischievous molecules in our bloodstreams? At what point does the incredibly gross pest factor outweigh the remarkably spooky pesticide risk factor? Where do we draw the line and when do we cross it? For my part, I've got a really low tolerance threshold for bugs that eat me while I sleep. I'm not saying I would use pesticides in my family's bedrooms if bedbugs showed up. But I'm not saying I wouldn't either. And I strongly suspect that if I ever threw back the covers and saw bedbugs curling up for a good night's feast, I might be pretty quick to jettison my entire eco-belief system and hit the hardware store pest control aisle running. What about you?

photo: Oldmaison


tenthplanet picture
After reading the article, I'm just a little paranoid now (Thanks guys!). I decided to invest a little bit of money into a mattress cover for my bed. I decided on "Protect-A-Bed AllerZip Bed Bug Mattress Cover" based on other costumer reviews of the product. But more than anything else is that I went out of my way to educate myself on how to rid myself of the pests if this safeguard failed. I looked here for some useful information: http://www.domyownpestcontrol.com/how-to-get-rid-of-bed-bugs-c-39_95.html
ask alice picture
ask alice
Tea tree repels bed bugs and often kills them. When traveling, if you are worried about them, I would recommend spraying the outside of your suitcase, your sheets or skin before getting into bed, and the feet of the bed, where bugs crawl up. I have used a spray with 15% tea tree oil that was pretty effective. And it comes in a travel size bottle.
ekampas picture
After much trial and error, I have found two products from the same company that kill bed bugs safely. Green Cleaning Technologies, in Syracuse NY makes two products-B4 (Bye Bye Bed Bugs) and Safe Science APC that will kill them. They both work great, but in different ways. They are non-toxic, non-corrosive and people, pet and food safe. Definitely should call them- 315-214-5559 or email them at eric@greencleaningtech.com
krismays picture
I write as the spouse of a pest control professional. Actually, we do know why bed bugs are re-surging in the US. It is due to increased international travel. This is why we have greater concentrations of them in larger, more metropolitan areas. Of course, in these areas, they spread like wildfire -another reason they're such a problem in big cities. When you also consider the hundreds and thousands of pest control companies not yet equipped to deal with them, it makes for a real problem. Bed bugs can absolutely be eliminated using steam or heat as well as chemicals. I would choose the heat option personally. The entire house (or the room where they are found if it is found to be the only area infested) is heated up to about 130 degrees. There are several things you can do to prevent a bed bug infestation. I recently wrote a blog entry about the media frenzy on bed bugs at our at our blog www.bugsnorthwest.wordpress.com. But I would suggest visiting the Bed Bug Hub at http://www.pestworld.org/bed-bugs for acurate information about bed bugs. Good luck all, Kris Mays
leonie picture
On one hand, it seems as though the nation is only recently becoming aware that there is a problem with infestation even though it took years to build up to what we see now. On the other, it seems some people just assume it is a bandwagon/pandemic of false panic for some silly bugs... to you folks I say find your very clean house infested and wake up every day with new itchy spots all over, then chime in. I never knew they were actually a thing to look for or worry about, and I have been being eaten for 5 years, thinking I was going crazy because I would wash my bedding and vacuum, made sure there were no irritants in my soaps or detergents, and spray natural sprays for spiders (the only thing I thought it might be) paranoid but never really see anything... turns out they were hiding in my hollow headboard and frame, the books tucked away in my night stand, the back of a dresser I never use, under the carpet edges... everywhere in the walls. The day I found a single dead one on a clean stack of laundry was the best and worst day for me. They don't bother my husband so I found sanity that there was a cause behind the years of itching. But it meant that now I had to eradicate them. I am still fighting this, and Diotomeceous Earth is not found locally, and I have asthma so I am afraid to use it. We have done the hot laundry, which broke our dryer since you have to wash every soft item you own and want to keep and we have 3 kids. We used a blowdryer for heat in the dressers and around the baseboards, but I can't just rip out the carpet. We did get rid of the bed, and sealed the mattress in the allergy mite cover ($35, not bad comapred to a new matress). We HAVE sprayed chemicals sold to fight them, but they haven't proven effective at all. Our only option seems like whole house heat, but we can't find a company near us who will do it, and I am pretty sure we couldn't afford it. However, the other person above who mentioned ptsd has it right- I am more paranoid now knowing I will be crawled on in the night and bitten even though I am doing as much as possible. The person who compared it to pets- really?! It has nothing to do with looks or whatever and has everything to do with feeling safe and relaxed every single night when I lay down to sleep. I would absolutely choose a spray if i knew the value outweighed possible side effects.
Ruth Kerzee picture
Ruth Kerzee
Loved this article. I do want to point out that there are very effective non-chemical bed bug treatments available. As a previous commenter pointed out, heat is one of the most studied and effective treatments. Heat includes using a clothes dryer, steam cleaner, enclosed heating devices, and full room to full building heaters. The reason heat is so effective is that it kills both the adults and the eggs - something that chemical pesticides cannot claim. Diatomaceous earth also works well if used correctly. That means putting it in cracks and crevices where the bed bugs hide. It's also kills hatching bed bugs, something that permethrin (and its derivatives) cannot claim. It kills the bed bugs by cutting and dehydrating them. It is a dust so breathing it should be avoided. It's also important to point out that DDT would not work now even if it were re-legalized because bed bugs are now resistant to its effects. They have developed this resistance because many many places around the world continued to use DDT after it was banned in the U.S. In truth, they were showing signs of resistance as early as the mid-1950s. Don't despair. There are lots of good tools and devices out there to help with bed bugs that don't involve compromising you health or the environment. Everyone needs to start being more aware and catch the problem before it becomes a PROBLEM.
isabelj picture
Unaware of what diatomacous earth is I looked it up. It sounds like it is something that has to be handled with care as it contains silica. Silica is something I am very aware of as I am a potter. Inhaling silica over a period of time is very dangerous as it can cause silicosis, severe damage to your lungs. The person who is sprinkling it on their bed before they put their sheet on I would think is breathing it in as they move around while sleeping.
dennyg picture
I once had ticks in my yard and couldn't use any pesticides because I was very sick at the time. I read an article about a method that may have merit here and would certainly be a method I would try first: put dry ice on a white sheet, it mimics what is attractive about humans, CO2, and draws them in (ticks anyway) and then you gather them up (because you can see them on the white sheet or board) and drown then in soapy hot water. I'd try this!! PS: in case you are wondering I never tried this on the ticks, I think we went with diatomacous earth and dog treatments.
cojak picture
According to an article in one paper I've read, the bedbugs started becoming a big problem in the '90s. I've always thought that they probably came back in force due to the fact that we no longer manufacture anything here in the U.S. Think about how much is shipped in from around the world and what is in those containers. A neighbor of mine told me about how she recently went to a department store with her friend to buy a comforter set. When they got to the register, she looked at her friend's comforter set and noticed what she thought was a hole in the fabric. Upon further inspection, they opened the package and found a dead bedbug inside. Think about where the comforter was most likely made. It sounds as though the bedbugs started coming back around the time the stinkbugs made their way here. Perhaps we need to bring manufacturing back here and hold companies to a high standard when it comes to cleanliness.
BabyDoc picture
None of the dreaded fears about DDT launched in the '60s and '70s have proved true. All bad science from the start. Bring it back and help bedbugs. Of course anopheles gambiae won't care for a resurgence of DDT, but who asked the mosquitoes.
kerryc picture
I saw on a Hoarders episode a severe bedbug infestation that was taken care of using compressed CO2. Apparently they can't handle freezing either.You'd probably have to hire professionals.
lgmario picture
Diatomaceous is amaazing and works for most every bug, try it and put these toughts of sleeping in chems to rest
lgmario picture
OMG sleep on chemicals just to get rid of bedbugs? jump on the bedbugs bandwagon and sleep tight, knowing the chemicals will bite
vtjenny picture
I had them and I have some suggestions. Bed bugs are nocturnal, are attracted to human CO2 sleep-breathing patterns, and they want to be close to the place where you sleep. They feed on human blood or sometimes blood from other animals. Suggestions: 1. if you think you might have them ACT EARLY! **Get a bed bug sniffing dog to come to your house and determine if and where the little bloodsuckers are hiding. Who knows, you might just have fleas or spiders...but if you have bed bugs you want to get rid of them before they breed because the population will multiply fast. 2. get a mattress cover - protectabed allerzip is recommended by bedbugger.com - even if you don't have bugs...yet. 3. get familiar with bedbugger.com for straight advice on traveling and dealing with them if you have an infestation. The sooner you act, the less chemicals you will have to use to get rid of them, and the less stuff you will have to throw away.
organicfrmr picture
Personally I have never met one of these, but I have met HORNETS. They are big, ugly and laugh at fly-swatters! One squirt of pure orange oil is all it takes to bring them down, and I've read, suffocate them. This maybe an answer to this bedbug problem. I know there's a company out in California using orange oil on termites with success.
suecag picture
I use Diatomaceous Earth for all the bugs in my home, and I have a lot of bugs. It even works on roaches. All sorts of bugs roamed the house when I first moved in, but between the Diatomaceous Earth and cleaning often, now it is rare to see bugs inside. To prevent bed bugs, I sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth on the bed before putting the sheet back on (and I put some on the box spring). I just got back from an international trip and so far, so good. Also, the cedar stuff works on them too. I buy my Diatomaceous Earth (huge bag) online. I use the cedar granules to repel bugs around the outside of the house (bought from Lowes hardware store or online). I also use borax (found at regular grocery stores in the laundry section) in a mix of sugar and warm water for the huge red ant problem. There are natural solutions but the product info and instructions don't get passed around, and one must be persistently vigilant about prevention.
1potato2 picture
I got bitten during a trip to the southeast a couple springs back. By the time I realized what had happened, I didn't know which hotel it had happened at. I got red, itchy bites. My husband said he had been feeling crawly/itchy while sleeping, but he never developed any bites. As soon as we got home I researched bedbugs and as a result washed everything possible, vacuumed frequently and was worried to death for a while, but it seems none followed us home. Hey, my mom who is now 86 used to say that same rhyme to us when we went to bed. Does anyone know its origin?
ambermaril picture
I can't believe only one other person mentioned diatomaceous earth .. good for killing anything with an exoskeleton. and wanted to mention that you can get a huge roll of 5 mil plastic for about $20 which i imagine is a lot cheaper than buying a mattress cover.
moldy picture
If you are looking for a safe, nontoxic product to kill bedbugs, fleas, insects, staff, all types of germs - look no farther than Kleen Green. I have used this product for three years and I cannot say enough positive things about this product. It so safe you can bathe (and I have many times), spray it on my plants, clean my entire house, in my laundry, etc. It's uses are only limited by one's imagination. I tried Cidercide and found it to non-effective and offensive in odor - also had difficulty breathing. Kleen Green is 100% more effective and safer product. This company is extremely ethical, informative and gives great customer service. Love, love this product. Check it out at www.naturalginesis.com.
silly picture
had bedbugs. things that helped: (do as much as you can as quickly as you can even -if you just suspect it- is the only way to get on top of it. Be extreme in the following suggestions) borax - inexpensive "safe" powder easily available. poured over entire carpet, cracks by headboard/footboard, everywhere. has crystal structure, punctures bug body dehydrates them. careful not to stir up a lot of dust as can irritate you too. get rid of everything you can't live without - throw away in strong plastic bags tied tightly at top. wash on HOT dry on HOT a long time - jeans and other thick clothes and blankets that take a long time to dry, trash (see above). inspect - look for tarrish black marks on mattress edges, behind pic frames, everywhere. Have flashlight by pillow, wake up a night and inspect sheets and under pillow. or sleep with light on. Use white sheets, blankets to better see them (the adults are darker. The nymphs are almost clear). heat - use iron or steamer on anything you can. Great idea**: put potentially contaminated items in sealed bags in car on hot day, windows rolled up...Great for papers, books, bedding, clothes. Careful with photos or plastics or anything can melt or alter with heat. vacuum - often, evrywhere, immediately empty vacuum bag into sealable trash bag. Large ziploc bags for home storage (at target, home depot, etc) - keep any potentially contaminated items in these to be treated. keep uncontaminated items in bags to keep safe. not everyone is allergic (some people don't feel itchy) but if you are, is quite dreadful Tell-tale signs: often bite in a cluster or row, don't see what's biting you (doesn't start to itch right away), when scratch bite leaves a scratched open hole on skin very easily. There is a breed of ant that is a natural predator...good luck!
RoseRiveter picture
Bed bugs are incredibly resilient. In most cases I've come across, including my own, home remedies don't work well. While most may die, their numbers rise incredibly fast, worse than cockroaches it seems. I will say that the exterminator I had uses chemicals that are pretty natural and only harmless if you ingest or sleep on them. They took a few hours to treat our entire apartment and then we stayed at a hotel that night. If that seems extreme, then you haven't come into much contact with these suckers. We haven't seen a single bug in our apartment since then (almost 2 years now). One may want to note that chemicals aren't inherently bad. Water, salt and sugar are all chemicals. I also wanted to mention that they are a huge problem in cities. I believe it was Brooklyn that created a bed bug council with int eh city government a few years ago and I know that the amount of reported cases of Bed Bugs in Baltimore has gone from about 85 to somewhere over 400 in 1 year. People are doing things like returning library books from infested homes and trying on infested clothing at stores. This is not an issue you want to take lightly if you really don't wish to spread it further. Also, Bed Bugs are NOT fleas, ticks, or lice. They do not respond to the remedies that one might use on your pet or around the house, unless you dip your dog in Raid.
Harriet P. picture
Harriet P.
Cedarcide is an all natural bug killer-including bed bugs- and deterent. Just Google, Cedarcide. It kills Fleas, and really repells everything. Also there is a hear process where your house is heated to 120 degrees (hopefully you are not in it) and that is the temperature those little buggies die. Doesn't hurt humans or animals. Please try this before the pestisides which are a good does of cancer causing chemicals. Earth Woman
RoseRiveter picture
Other countries (Including European and south of the border) don't quite have the standards that Americans do when it comes to things like hygiene and cleanliness. Hotels tend to have a big problem with them because people from other countries will bring them along and naturally the bugs make a new home in the bed until some unwitting business traveler or vacationer picks them up. Also, many low-rent apartment buildings have problems due to immigrants (that is how I first came into contact). I suggest that everyone first check out reviews of hotels before booking a room and then when checking in look under the mattress. Bedbugs leave grayish black waste spots that are hard to remove, so if your hotel has these, ask for another room or even try another hotel. When getting rid of bed bugs, don't go cheap yet be wary of national extermination chains. It is VERY difficult to get rid of them for good as they have natural sensors. If one is dying or getting hurt, the others will actually run away, and they can move pretty fast for their size. The exterminator I used offered an 18-month warranty where-as the national chain would only offer 6 months (and they'd only treat 3 rooms). These bugs can hibernate for up to 18 months, so just because they seem gone, doesn't mean they are. One thing to note is thus far Bed Bugs cannot carry any blood diseases, their bite just doesn't go deep enough. As far as bites going unnoticed, I beg to differ. They not only have itchy bites similar to mosquitoes, they bite multiple times usually, making it seem like a rash... and they like feet. They do like to hitch rides to other people's homes as well to start infesting all over.
Weatherlight picture
I won't even use Frontline on my animals, but Advantage is relatively safe. Much safer than store-bought sprays, dips, baths, powders, spot-ons, etc, whether you're bombing your whole house with them or drowning your poor animal in them. Just a few drops of Advantage on the skin once a month and you break the whole flea life cycle--no bombing, fogging, etc needed. Of course, it's safer still to keep animals as healthy as possible, give them a good diet, keep your property clean, keep away strays and other potential flea hosts, etc, but if you make a mistake, the fleas must go. And I don't find the idea of bedbugs terrifying. Encase the mattresses/boxsprings with sturdy airtight covers and launder everything else in hot water. Don't forget the pillows, comforters, etc. Use the covers before someone has the chance to spread the bugs into your home--again, prevention is better. A question to some of you: Would you bomb your house with poisons and kill your family pet if they climbed on you during the night? What would you think of someone who would? What if they were even allergic to the animal's saliva...valid excuse? So what's the difference? I mean, other than that our human culture tells us that dogs/cats are cute and fuzzy, and therefore have more of a right to life...and that pets aren't forced to try to survive on the bed. Does it not matter that at least some insects are sentient--is it only looks that matter?
tobineze picture
http://www.cedarcidestore.com/cedarproducts.html cedar spray. Works for a lot of things including bed bugs and fleas!!!! This company is great, small US owned!!!!
heidin picture
mishkappp, I know it can be discouraging! But if you know how to search for bed bugs in a hotel room, you can be pretty sure they aren't in there if you find none. First, put your luggage in the bathtub so it's safe. Next, pull off all the sheets and blankets and thoroughly check the sheets, blankets, pillow cases AND the bed and boxspring for the bugs themselves or signs of their existence (brown/red splotches of their exrement). Next, pull off the headboard (in a hotel they almost always lift up and off a wooden cleat nailed to the wall). Check the headboard and cleat for the bugs, their molts (exoskeletons), or excrement. Then, pull the bed away from the wall and check out the baseboard. Pull out the nightstand and check the back of the nightstand, inside the drawers and at the bottom of the baseboard molding. Look at the wall...any splotches? Look at the lamps and carpet? Look clean? any signs of bugs? If you see no signs of bugs (you WILL see how poorly housekeeping dusts and vaccuums, so be prepared!), then you are probably safe. And stefARw, check out www.onlynaturalpet.com. It's a pet food and supply store in Boulder, CO with an abundance of holistic vet writeups, as well as natural pet products. If you haven't tried quality natural flea control products, you should check them out!
susaninsd picture
wonderful, powerful, natural spray treatment.
stefARw picture
I am forced to resort to weekly bathing in nasty chemicals for my precious pets, when I won't so much as use shampoo containing SLS! It is so frustrating and saddening. But I just don't see any other options...
mishkappp picture
As I write out my To Do and To Pack list for our upcoming cruise, every station is reporting bed bugs infestation news. My anxiety level is rising with every passing day instead of feeling excitement at the thought of sailing on a long awaited vacation. I though this e-mail from 7Gen would offer some natural miracle cure or preventive antidote. The idea of sleeping with creepy crawlers makes my skin crawl already. C’mon 7Gen, where is that little spray bottle we can travel with and spray the bed before we lay in it? Make it pesticide-less and aromatic so I can feed my travel bug and not the bed bug.
ednshell picture
Heat is pumped into a structure through flexible ducts to raise room temperatures in the range of 140-150ºF for about one hour. A whole house may take 8 hours. There are also companies that will take the mattress' and put them in a heat treated trailer.
heidin picture
and I would not hesitate to use chemical pesticides if one bed bug showed up in my home. In 2007, while staying in a Vancouver hotel, I was bitten. We found a dead one in the bed the next day and the rest of my vacation was spent worrying if I had packed them in my luggage. The bites showed up a week later as itchy, red welts. You can't imagine the horror of knowing bugs were crawling on you while sleeping. It has given me PTSD in a way, and I am scared to this day about friends and family bringing them into my house (I know I wouldn't because I check my hotel room thoroughly before every stay.) I have mattress encasings that are bb proof (thanks, National Allergy Supply). Based on my research, there are no effective natural killers of bed bugs. I would not waste precious days or weeks working with natural pesticides, because you've just given the bed bugs enough time to multiply and get comfy in your home. Nope, as eco-friendly as I try to be, this is the one area I will not go natural....
Gregory Newman picture
Gregory Newman
The best way to rid bed bugs is heat. It is quit expensive but works well. Many people today barely can afford it. My family had to to use the chemical way because of the price of the heating way. It worked but we cleared our the bedroom and clean everything else. As long as you clean every week your bedroom and sheets every week or eveery two weeks you will see a difference. Hopefully seventh generation can invent a solution.
cjmeller picture
Not for prevention, but successful for treatment... there are companies that can bring heating units into your living space and gradually heat your home to a temperature between 120 and 140 degrees, which is high enough to kill bedbugs and eggs. Anything above 140 is no good... that's the temperature at which electronics will start to warp (and you want your electronics treated... bedbugs are attracted to their warmth!). The treatment isn't cheap, but has been found to be far more effective than any chemicals on the market, and is much safer for your family! If you are concered you may have an infestation, see if there is a pest control specialist in your area with a bedbug sniffing dog. They are one of the most effective means of detection!
ronjeanne7 picture
I agree...well said, but I still hesitate to spray chemicals. If anyone has to deal with bed bugs, I read about a product at Fairy Tales Hair Care, which is an organic option. They offer a bed bug spray that claims to be chemical and pesticide free. I've never used this particular product and I don't work for the company...just mentioning it in case anyone is interested. I think I would prefer to try this before spraying pesticides in my house. Here's a description of their product: "Sleep-Tite Bed Bug Spray is an EPA exempt bed bug treatment proven to kill bed bugs and their eggs. 97% effective rate with only 1 Spray! Contains no pesticides or chemicals and is safe to use around children and pets. Perfect for your home, college dorm, and camp bunk. Take one along on your vacation so you can…Sleep-Tite and don’t let the bed bugs bite!"
MotherSunshine picture
I would try a concoction of neem seed oil and essential oils (I'm thinking eucalyptus, lavender, maybe some tto and/or citronella)? Mix it w/water and spray. If it worked for an uku/head lice infestation and fleas, I would think it would work for bed bugs...
meeshy picture
Diatomaceous earth. Messy, dusty, leaves white everywhere, makes you cough and sneeze, dries out your throat, but that's the cure and the prevention. :)
hdcase picture
Well said. The bed bug problem is becoming an epidemic and if left unchecked will pecome a pandemic. There is literally nothing to stop it. Sure, we have various methods to treat reactively, with varying degrees of success, but there is no long term residual material available to prevent the problem from occuring at any location. Well, that's my two cents worth. http://www.pestcontrolcenter.com/blog