Case study: bed bugs survived dry cleaning… and resurfaced 6 months later (update)

by nobugsonme on December 8, 2006 · 3 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, information and help, reader questions, tools and weapons

Most of you probably remember the message from S. last week– the woman who had bed bugs earlier in the year. The letter she wrote me, and which I posted as a blog item, has now attracted more comments than any other post here. She’s still working through the infestation, and your suggestions are welcomed. The earlier post and comments are here.

The background: Last Saturday, S. took a comforter out of a sealed bag, where it had been since being dry cleaned (after a very small bed bug infestation) 6 months ago. She had no bites while the comforter was in a dry cleaner’s bag, more or less sealed, for 6 months. She took the item out after 6 months, and out came bed bugs. After a day or two she sealed up the comforter again, but the bed bugs are now active in the room, with at least 2 adults having been seen.

I have to add a disclaimer here: you can never really be certain with bedbugs, where they came from– no matter what you think, it’s always possible that there’s another source, and in this case that would translate to the theory that the reintroduction of bed bugs coincided with the reintroduction of the comforter. However, what really appears to be the case here is that a down comforter came back from the dry cleaners with bed bugs still inside, these lived for 6 months, and have now re-emerged to carry on where they left off.

S. has a good shot at fighting them, since she is allergic to the bed bugs and so noticed them biting right away. Since there’s evidence, she’llbe able to get a PCO to treat right away. And if they came from the comforter, they may or may not have spread very far.
But it raises the question of whether dry cleaning is effective. Were these items really thoroughly dry cleaned? Or was the item dry cleaned and bed bugs survived it?

This has raised questions for me as to whether we should bother dry cleaning (or even clothes dryer-drying) thick items like comforters, thick blankets, washable rugs and pillows. More testing needs to be done in this area. Sure, this could have been a case of sloppiness on the dry cleaner’s part, but if that’s so, it can’t be the only isolated case. And it may be that these items can’t be salvaged, and may in fact be the cause of other reinfestations or difficult-to-treat infestations.

The bottom line is that you can’t be too careful, too thorough, or too ruthless in tossing things out. Please check out the other conversation, and add to the comments if you have suggestions for S.

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1 deb December 8, 2006 at 11:31 pm

I have often questioned to myself the idea that Dry Cleaning is a cure-all to kill bed bugs…Firstly…aren’t most Dry Cleaners now advertising themselves as using “green chemicals”….exactly what are “green” chemicals…and is it possible that these so called green chemicals aren’t strong enough to kill the bedbugs? Any thoughts from anyone?

2 surbhi August 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

hello,

i have bed bugs in my bedroom. But I am have the whole house treated with a PCO.
My questions are:
1 If I have clothing in bags or in suitcases in top shelves that I have not usedfor over a year do I have to empty and dry clean or put in dryer.
2 Do all the book shelves need to be emptiesd as well.
3 your suggesstions on ziplocking everything would be a mamoth task. i have dried for 25-30 min everything in hot dryers, and have it stored down stairs . My PCO says I can bring it up later and it should be fine. what do u think.
Thanks

3 nobugsonme September 2, 2009 at 2:42 pm

1 If I have clothing in bags or in suitcases in top shelves that I have not usedfor over a year do I have to empty and dry clean or put in dryer.

It’s hard to say. If they were stored near a harborage, and are not sealed in an airtight fashion, they may contain bed bugs. If your PCO has inspected carefully, s/he may say the area is unlikely to be infested.

2 Do all the book shelves need to be emptiesd as well.

Again, this depends. Was the area inspected? Were bed bugs or cast skins or fecal stains found in the vicinity or in books or on bookshelves?

In the absence of such signs, some would have you remove and inspect and vacuum all books. Others would suggest that if there are bed bugs present (despite there being no signs), you might assume that any bed bugs present will eventually come out to bite you, cross poison or mechanical killers (e.g. dust), and die. I’d be inclined to the latter viewpoint, though it is less cautious.

*Note: if you are moving, all bets are off, the above suggestions do not apply, and all items must be treated to ensure bed bugs are not moved to the new home.*

3 your suggesstions on ziplocking everything would be a mamoth task. i have dried for 25-30 min everything in hot dryers, and have it stored down stairs . My PCO says I can bring it up later and it should be fine. what do u think.

We suggest drying things in a hot dryer and then *sealing items in a ziploc bag* to keep them bed bug free.

Are you saying you are doing the drying, but then putting items away normally? In my opinion, you may be setting yourself up to repeat the drying process later. XL Ziploc bags are a slight hassle, but not compared with re-drying things. Contractor bags (thick) tied in an airtight manner may be substituted for Ziplocs if you have items you do not need access to and are storing for the duration.

Best to keep cleaned items sealed off until bed bugs are thought to be long gone. I would wait until no bites or bed bugs are found for at least a month — and that’s if you have experienced bed bug bites. If not, I might wait even longer.

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