Don’t prepare too much for a pre-treatment inspection visit! Your PCO should be able to inspect your premises as they are, which makes it easier to spot bugs and signs of bugs. You don’t want to vacuum and change the sheets before the PCO comes to inspect, or s/he may miss obvious signs of bed bugs. You also do not want to move things or throw things out, since you can actually spread the bugs this way. Get the PCO in ASAP, obviously, and remember — don’t start sleeping elsewhere. Read the Dos and Don’ts to learn why not.
Once a treatment is agreed upon, your Pest Control Operator (PCO) should give you instructions on paper (or online) for preparation in advance of treatment. These are essential and should be followed to the letter. Note: some good PCOs have extensive prep lists. Some lists are minimal. Other PCOs have none– they may expect to do the work when they get there. If you’re not sure which is true in your case, be sure to ask well in advance of treatment.
The most common — though not universal — request PCOs make is to prepare your clothing / linens/ bedclothes in advance of treatment. The standard prep is to take these out in sealed bags, wash them all on hot and dry on hot for a long time (until they’re totally dry), and then seal them in new clean bags like huge Ziploc XL bags or even 2 gallon ziplocs (or garbage bags you’ve sealed in an airtight manner, which is not easy).
Washing on hot (alone) will work if the washer is hot enough. Drying on hot (alone) will work if the dryer is hot enough. It items are clean and already dry, you can dry them on hot for a much shorter period of time (we recommend 20 minutes for most normal clothing items). Really thick items like down jackets or comforters are problematic — we don’t really know how long they need to be dried in order to kill bed bugs inside. This FAQ gives more specific advice about other options for laundering.
Often dry cleaning is recommended, but while conventional dry cleaning is known to kill bed bugs, many dry cleaners may not know how to handle infested items to avoid cross-contamination. (Note: we also do not know if newer “green” dry cleaning methods kill bed bugs.) You should tell the dry cleaner your items have been exposed to bed bugs so precautions can be taken, but many firms will refuse to treat the items under those circumstances. Because you can’t really be certain your dry cleaner knows how to handle bed bug-infested items, and you can’t be sure everyone who has bed bugs is disclosing this to the dry cleaner, it is a risky business. Some dry cleaners, in NYC at least, are advertising themselves as specializing in dealing with bed bug-infested items, which is a sign they may know what they’re doing (but be sure and ask questions!)
The good news is that we hear that many items which cannot be machine washed can withstand some time in a hot dryer if they start out already dry, and so while we can’t guarantee a particular item won’t be harmed, this may be your safest option for getting the items bed bug-free. Again, consult this FAQ about laundry.
One great option for killing bed bugs and eggs in clothing, and in other harder-to-treat items such as books, papers, shoes, etc. is an invention called the Packtite. You basically load your stuff loosely in it and bake it at or above 120F, monitoring the core of the items with the provided temperature probe. Once treated, items can be carefully bagged and stored. You can read more in the Packtite FAQ.
The de-bugged items must be kept sealed until use, and not returned to dressers or other non-airtight storage until the bed bugs are gone for sure (at least 1-2 months after you last felt a bite or saw signs of bed bugs). Some of us find it helpful to use a smaller range of clothing during this time, so we aren’t constantly juggling lots of big resealable bags.
Bed bug monitors such as BBAlert Passive, ClimbUps or the Bed Bug Beacon active monitor, can also help you determine if bed bugs are gone for good. (Read about inexpensive bed bug monitors in this FAQ.)
While there is some controversy surrounding their use, protecting the mattress and (especially) the box springs with a cover that seals it against bed bugs is still almost universally recommended by PCOs, in North America, at least. (See the Encasements FAQ for more explanation of the argument against encasements.) Ask your PCO when you should encase. They may want to inspect and treat the mattress/box first–so ask before you cover. Buy the best quality cover you can– read the encasements FAQ to learn more about encasements and purchase recommended ones like Protect-a-bed Allerzip. Cover the mattress and box springs if you have them and the PCO says you should keep them (which they probably will in most cases.) The PCO may sell mattress covers which may or may not be as good as those you can get yourself.
Other instructions may include moving certain items of furniture, removing all unnecessary clutter (you probably won’t have much time, but weed out what you can), and vacuuming. You want to get the PCO’s input on this, because you don’t want to vacuum up dusts, for example, without direction.
They may also tell you to inspect and seal up all your other stuff. Since it won’t be washed, you may be sealing in bugs and eggs. It’s hard to treat a cluttered home. Getting stuff out of the way can make traditional spray/dust treatments easier (in some cases, make them possible).
The downside is that those bed bugs who managed to hitchhike their way inside the containers may hide inside them, until released.
PCOs have differing protocols, when it comes to “stuff besides clothes“:
Some PCOs say, “seal all your stuff in preparation, open it after treatment begins” (when, depends on the PCO: could be right away or after a few treatments), some say “seal it in preparation, and keep it sealed for 18 months,” and some say, “don’t seal it”.
Most North American PCOs will tell you to wash, dry and seal up linens, clothes, bedclothes. They should have been washed on HOT and dried on HOT and sealed in bags at the site of washing, so they should not be infested.
If a PCO tells you to seal up all your stuff, this might mean sealed bags inside rubbermaid-type plastic boxes, for easy stacking (don’t use cardboard, since bed bugs can hide inside the boxes’ walls). Bags can be sealed and left in the middle of a room, but you must ensure they’re sealed. The XL ziplocs can come open.
Ask the PCO what the plan is. Make sure you find out from the beginning when you will be “releasing” the stuff (not the clothing and linens, remember, which get cleaned on HOT and sealed the same way until its all over). If they want it exposed soon after treatment, it’s to let the bugs come out and encounter poison and die.
If they never want you to seal it up, it’s the same logic: bugs exposed to poison die.
But those PCOs who want you to seal stuff for 18 months are working on a different premise: bed bugs have been known to live up to 18 months without a blood meal, and you want to be sure those bugs are dead. We’re not sure how long they can live without fresh air, but suffice to say, it’s a long while. If you live somewhere where the Packtite is available, then it is probably easier and cheaper to obtain one than to live without your stuff for 18 months, or to have to replace items.
Find out what your PCO expects, when you agree to service, and ask questions. If what they’re suggesting seems particularly difficult, ask another qualified PCO. Killing bed bugs is not easy, but there are some variations between good methods.
Revised June 2011.