Is DIY treatment for bed bugs a good idea? In most cases, no. At least not as a sole treatment plan.
A few people with pesticide-related training have done their own bed bug treatment successfully (most of these have had professional experience with pesticides).
Others here have supplemented the work of a professional. A few Bedbuggers have frankly had to supplement the work of professionals who did not know what they were doing — but this was more common earlier in the epidemic. For example, one person here lives near Yellowstone Park and around 2006, apparently none of the PCOs there had seen a bed bug, and did not know anything about them. But these are exceptions, not the rule.
Everyone should ideally start with a licensed PCO who can detail their extensive past experience with bed bugs.
After treatment, if the bed bugs are not gone in two weeks, you insist the PCO comes back. (And usually they are not gone in two weeks: the eggs hatch within 10-14 days of spraying, and you are suddenly running a bed bug baby nursery!)
The PCO should re-treat every two weeks until you no longer see bed bugs and no longer react to any bed bug bites. (If you are non-reactive, I would confirm the problem was cleared using a bed bug monitor for a few weeks — see our Detection FAQ, or a bed bug sniffing canine team which has a good reputation and whose handler visually confirms alerts — see the dog FAQ).
In most case, at least a few follow-up treatments within a certain time frame should be included in the original price– if they’re not, try to choose someone else from the start. (Here’s a FAQ with advice on choosing a PCO.) But don’t assume the PCO is bad f you’re itching 2 weeks after treatment; this is not unusual and is not a sign that you’ve got a bad PCO. They should come back in 2 weeks (not longer). And things should be improving from day one.
You should also ask your experienced PCO what you should do as far as preparing for bed bug treatment and supporting it (with vacuuming or not, spraying something or not). A good PCO will be thrilled you’re willing to go the extra mile of de-cluttering, washing and bagging all clothes, and other steps. They may sometimes even instruct you to spray something between visits. If the prep includes hot washing and drying laundry, and bagging it in clean bags, then do this. If they tell you to “bag all your stuff,” you may want to ask more about their protocols — how long will everything remain bagged, and when will it be brought out. (A FAQ explains some concerns I have about “bag everything” protocols.)
Don’t freestyle with supplemental treatment: if you hear someone else on Bedbugger is vacuuming every day, don’t jump in and do that. Why? Your PCO may be using something that needs to stay down on the ground, for example. You may be sabotaging your PCO’s work! Similarly, don’t start spraying stuff you hear others use. You may even be using something with repellent properties, for example, when your PCO is using something to kill bugs when they’re drawn towards you.
I know there are bad pest techs out there (some even working for excellent PCO firms), and you will hear complaints from some Bedbuggers about same. But please do not assume you can or should self-treat. Most of us will be much better served with a professional. If you have concerns that your pest tech did not know what s/he was doing, treatment took only a few minutes, etc., then call the firm and ask to speak to the manager.
If you have a really good reason to do your own pest control (see above), and do decide to take matters into your own hands, please do a ton of research, ask people a lot of questions, buy a respirator (not goggles or a face mask, but a respirator mask). Read and follow directions diligently.
Just to recap, here’s the short version of this FAQ:
Reasons not to do your own bed bug treatment:
- In most cases, DIY bed bug treatment is not a great idea. In some, it’s a terrible plan.
- You can harm yourself, others, and pets.
- You can spread bugs to others in your building — and then they will come back, rendering your work pointless. (Never, ever use a bug bomb to treat bed bugs!)
- You can spend a lot of money but the problem can get bigger and harder to get rid of. Meaning, in the end, you saved nothing, and are suffering much longer.
- If you’re a tenant, your landlord may be liable to pay for a bed bug treatment. They may deny that. Find out your local laws (start with our FAQ on that, and remember to let us know if you discover your local laws on this!)
- If you own your home, or rent in some locality where you’re sure the landlord is not liable for this (and you should get this verified by a city official, not from the landlord’s mouth or a friend), then this will be expensive. Make no mistake. However, it will be more expensive if you do not get rid of it fast: you will lose more stuff. You can spread it around your home or to neighboring units (in a condo building). This will make it infinitely more expensive.
- Failed self-treatments can end up costing more. If they get into all your furniture, your car, your workplace and so on, you will pay much more both financially and emotionally. I realize I am assuming that if you have a home, you have a credit card, but in most cases this is true. If not, maybe you have a close friend or relative who can step in and help. This is akin to getting help with a health-related expense, because this can wreck your mental health, affect your job and relationships. You can even become physically ill from allergies to bites or from lack of sleep and stress.
- Cutting corners with PCOs is as dangerous as going it alone (maybe worse). If the PCO wants $60-100 a visit, especially in NYC, you should guess they are not licensed and are definitely not going to get rid of bed bugs. (We heard one case like this on the yahoo group.) Choose someone with a reputation for killing bed bugs. (If your landlord has someone unlicensed do pest control — including him or herself, in NYC at least, they’re breaking the law.)
- Do your own research (starting with the FAQs but not ending there). There are effective/ineffective things you can do and safe/unsafe ways to do them. The FAQs on using steam to kill bed bugs, and on diatomaceous earth will be of interest to people who must self-treat.
- Don’t believe the claims made by sellers of products — ask to see an independent entomologists’ testing data on the product. Don’t get sucked in by miracle sprays and dusts — these products may work, but none work miracles, and many are not effective. If a miracle product comes on the market, believe me — we will let you know.
- If you want to supplement the PCO’s work, tell him/her! Make sure what you’re doing does not conflict with your PCO’s strategy.