Update 1/2009: the post below was written in 11/2006. We know a lot more now than we did then about non-pesticide treatments for bed bugs. Non-pesticide treatment options are increasing in many locations, and may include thermal treatment and fumigation with a gas such as sulfuryl fluoride (Vikane TM); though costly, if done properly, they can be successful in one treatment.
A good dry vapor steamer teamed with diatomaceous earth (both used properly and cautiously), and maybe a bit of pesticide (used properly), can also be a good combination, though it can be labor-intensive and slow. However, pesticides can also be a slow option.
The bottom line is you do not necessarily have to use pesticides, but you do have to be thorough and aggressive. Bed bugs are very difficult to get rid of no matter what methods you use. If you insist on doing it without a professional, please do extensive research first.
Can you fight bed bugs without pesticides?
I am as wary of pesticides as the next person. I am sensitive to them, and a recent neck-to-toe 12-hour application of Elimite (permethrin) for the treatment of what my doctor thought was scabies (it was bed bugs), made me ill.
But I am even more worried that some people think they can avoid “chemicals” in fighting bed bugs. Brent Herbert, who posted an article on the Indymedia website, recommends “isolating the bed” (with instructions similar to those many of you use, and which you can find in our FAQs), and he includes some insecticide in the bowls the legs of the bed stand in.
Yet whether or not anyone was actually going to use any pesticide to treat his bed bugs (they haven’t yet) seems to be irrelevant to Herbert. He talked to the landlord about the exterminator coming as a hypothetical (if, not when). Herbert seems to be entirely missing the point. He recognizes that bedbugs cause psychological torment, but not that that will be multiplied exponentially as their numbers do the same.
The first commenter on this post praised the suggestion of isolating the bed as a bed bug cure as an “eco-conscious, resourceful, and affordable” response.
I really think people miss the point that the massive amount of pesticides that will eventually be used when this untreated infestation is eventually out of control and requires constant re-spraying (and, in addition, spreads to many neighbors) will be much worse for the environment than some careful, concentrated treatment by a licensed pest control operator. They’ll also, incidentally, cost more and take much longer. You can’t cut corners here. These bugs are like no other household pest.
I am as eco-conscious as anyone. But spreading bed bugs causes more damage to the environment– both in pesticides being used, and also consumption of plastic bags and tossing out of furniture–both practices which are wasteful of resources and which multiply as the bugs spread to new homes.
If you care for the earth and its inhabitants, nip your problem in the bud as efficiently as you can. Get professional help. Back it up by doing your own research, isolating your bed, “Whatever gets you through the night–” absolutely.
But don’t think you can isolate your bed, or spray a little sweet rice or lavender or murphy’s oil soap around (as others recommend) and skip the extermination entirely. You’re likely to need professionals to spray 3 or more times, by most accounts. But that is vastly preferable to everyone in your vicinity treating them month after month (which can happen when things get bad).
Get cracking, Brent Herbert, or you’ll spread them to everyone else, which makes their elimination from your home and theirs nearly impossible, not to mention costly, harmful to the environment, and soul-destroying. I am not trying to give you a hard time. But I’ve heard a lot of stories in the last few months, which have convinced me this is a pest problem nothing like cockroaches, mice, rats, or any other household vermin. It’s not even akin to scabies or lice, or an STD. Bed bugs are much harder to eradicate than any of these.
I know a lot of “bed bug information” sites on the net are run by pest control companies. This one isn’t. We at Bedbugger know what we know from learning the hard way: one bite at a time.