Note: since this post was written, Bedbugger has a new FAQ on Killing Bed Bugs With Steam. There are steamer recommendations and further tips on technique and safety in the Steaming FAQ, compiled by bedbugger Mangycur and nobugs.
We have long had a success stories page. And though readers often forget to write and tell us of their success, when they do, I’ve been pasting the stories in there.
Some, however, are longer and more detailed than can fit into the page.
So I have decided, from here on in, to give each its own post, and to link to that from the success stories page. Success Stories are now in this forum.
Now, I give you Collette’s bed bug success story (10/2007):
First phase, the discovery:
I had been scratching my arms like crazy at night for several weeks. This started to really impair my sleep. But I never suspected anything gross, and the reason was that my husband slept through the whole thing without even as much as a scratch. So first lesson: Not everybody scratches. One very early morning, after a sleepless itchy night, which I like to call my last night of innocence, I stumbled my way to my iMac and googled: arms itching night.
I was instantly flooded with allergies-related results, I was to take an allergy test, and find out what it is my body cannot take. Had I recently changed soap? Was Zytec right for me? I knew I was not allergic, never had been allergic to anything, and thought never will be. (Second lesson: Now, I am allergic, but the details will come later).
Buried, almost hidden, within the sea of allergy sites, one result line grabbed my attention. More exactly, one word in the line : bedbugs. At least it sounded different than the rest, I clicked. I was faced with the picture of a round-shaped brown bug, not exactly ugly. There was even a Latin name for it, and a very long story about what a terrible thing they are, and how impossible it is to get rid of them, and how they can make you scratch all night long.
I shrugged. Yes, I shrugged, so comforted by my own naiveté, that I could not possibly harbor such a repulsive thing in my very cozy pricey king-size bed. I headed back to the bed, making a mental note to self: Get an appointment for an allergy test. As I was walking around the bed to occupy my rightful side, passing by my snoring open-mouthed husband, I noticed a dark spot seemingly moving on top of my white-as-snow comforter. I got closer, and there it was, doing his morning jog, the exact reproduction of the image I had just shrugged at on my iMac screen. A bedbug, and a big one. A rounded one, which means his belly was full. Full of blood. Full of yours truly’s blood. I had bedbugs. I would never be the same person again.
Second phase, a naïve and hysterical attempt to get rid of the bedbugs:
Luckily, it was a day off. I immediately woke my husband up, and announced to him that we were infested. He had no idea what we were dealing with. Neither did I, but I knew more than him. We had to clean up. We did. We lifted the king-size mattress against the wall, and started inspecting it. We immediately found them. They were hidden under the mattress seams. We cleaned that. Should we throw the mattress away? We decided we should. So we started to shop on line for new mattresses. Nothing happens in a day, so we kept sleeping on infested mattress for a few more nights. We had an exterminator come in. A nice fellow, who quoted us $2,500 to take care of the problem, with no warranty, and a lot of prep work to be done by us. We decided we would do the work alone. I read everything there is to read about the issue on the blessed internet, ordered a whole case of deadly poisons online and we started spraying around. I literally threw half of my bedroom contents in the garbage. Everything that was worth saving, but that I could live without, I sealed in to plastic bags and stored in a container located in my back yard for a period that was set to 18 months. (Based on the assumption that the bedbugs can live a little over a year without food). Overreacting? Nope. Under-reacting. They kept biting me. I searched all the rooms in the house to finally come to the conclusion that they were only in my bedroom, but some forensic evidence suggested they might have once resided in the guest room, and then migrated to greener and bloodier pastures, my warm sleeping body.
Began the era of suspicion, which guest brought that questionable gift? We started gossiping about the hygiene of everyone we knew and had been kind enough to pay us a visit in the middle of our woods. We were mean. We were desperate. And then the worse came, the karmic punishment, my daughter told on us to the neighbor. Innocently, as a perfectly legitimate response to the question: Did you have a good week end? She decided to describe my epic battle against the bugs to my closest neighbor. We were exposed. I got sympathetic displays of support, was told that New York is infested, that it is not my fault, that I am not dirty, etc.. I spent a few more evenings spraying and cleaning. I bought a mattress cover. I bought white sheets, washing them daily, to be able to spot the tiniest intruder. My husband decided to keep our prisoners alive in a Tupperware box and experiment on them various pesticides. I was not sleeping much.
Third phase: Getting smart and desperate
By then, I was almost philosophical. I was thinking I am being tested by some higher powers. Had I been a believer, I would have certainly gone far into that path. My husband, on the other hand, was simply happy the house was getting cleaned much more frequently. Have I mentioned he slept though the whole thing? Well, he did. I, was not sleeping at all. First I had adopted an anti-bug attire to go to bed: Socks, PJ pants stuck into the socks, long sleeves shirt stuck into the pants, rubber bands on the wrists, and insect-repellent spray all over the whole package. Probably the part that my husband did not really appreciate, this attire was not working for him, go figure. And then I read that bedbugs will find their way to your blood no matter what, and will not hesitate to bite your eyelids. I got the hint, and took the socks off. Bite my feet, if you want. They did. I was sleeping by periods of 10 minutes, waking up at every real or imaginary itch on my body, and immediately grabbing the flash light to catch the perp in action. My husband had KGB inspired dreams, I had no dreams at all. Why didn’t I move to a hotel or another room? Simple, they would have migrated out of my room, and I wanted them in there. Also, it had evolved into a principle. They will not drive me out of my room and my bed. I started following them at night, and establishing theories about their habits. I was now able to recognize them at their different stages of life, the egg, the nymph, the adult. I knew their hours. I knew their paths. I learnt more and more about them. They are not social, they are resilient, they scatter when threatened, and they can go dormant for months if needed. And the more I knew, the more I realized it would be very hard to exterminate them. By the way, before the bedbugs, I honestly believed every life form should be respected. Like I said, I will never be the same person again.
Then one night, I got bitten by a tiny one, a baby if you will, very energetic. That was one bite too much. I stood up in the middle of my room and started crying uncontrollably. My husband opened an eye and looked at me, he then asked me to turn off the light because it was disturbing his sleep. He was smart enough the next morning to deny any remembrance of that request, and claimed he was probably sleep-talking. Nevertheless, I moved to the living room, and ordered him to keep sleeping in the bedroom as a bait. Which he did, gladly.
Fourth phase: War and victory
And one day, I knew. I had to kill them all, in all their stages, wherever they were, whatever it took. Obviously the pesticides were not working. They were only killing me. By then I was highly allergic to the Drione powder I had purchased to allegedly melt their disgusting little bodies. I was sneezing twenty times in a row every time I moved an item in my bedroom. I had read that the diatomaceous earth I was practically sleeping in could cause cancer. (Editor’s note: see response below.) I was slowly dying, and they were in great shape. It would have to be mano a mano. The conventional way. I had to go to battle against them directly, not hidden behind a sprayer.
I made the smartest purchase of my life, I bought a dry steam cleaner. $1,500 of killing steam. This would be my weapon of choice. And I went to war. The war lasted 8 straight hours, during which I went through every inch of wood and mattress in my bedroom, with a flashlight in one hand and a steam nozzle in the other. I crawled into unbelievable spots, I moved unbelievable weights, I was super-human for a day. I made no compromise, did not skip one crevice, I followed them home. I found them, everywhere. I found their eggs, found their hiding places, sometimes in the tiniest little nail holes. And I steamed them. 310 F of burning steam. They did not have a chance. I knew that even one survivor could mean re-infestation. Then I left the room and took a shower. I had a cold beer. And I came back into my bedroom, sparkling clean, smelling like a dry-cleaner shop. And I knew they were gone. I just knew. Since then I have been sleeping like a baby. So does my husband, but he always did. They are gone.
Some will say maybe they scattered, maybe they are hiding, maybe there are eggs. I know there aren’t. They are ALL dead, I killed them one by one with my bare hands.
This is my recommendation: No pesticides. Just steam and good hard work.
I have a few comments.
First, we generally recommend professional pest control operators (PCOs) because they can often get rid of bed bugs faster and more fully than self-treatment. Pesticides are imperfect, but in many cases, necessary.
That said, steam absolutely does work. Some PCOs use it and later apply dusts or sprays. PCOs may also use steam in lieu of other treatments in sensitive cases where pesticides might pose a problem to residents. It certainly can work well for individuals who do their research and (as you note) do a lot of hard work.
We do have to keep in mind that it will not work if the steam cannot penetrate every place where bed bugs are living and laying eggs. (For example, this can be deep within a sofa, or inside the wall.) If steam alone, as per your tactics, did not work, or if readers wanted to be sure they got rid of bed bugs quickly, they might combine steam and then pesticides and/or freshwater DE (all properly applied, of course). We haven’t heard again from you, and we hope they were all killed, but in most cases, it would probably be best to have some residual pesticide or food grade DE waiting in case they pop out.
I note that you used a $1500 professional steamer. Less expensive dry steamers in the $400 range can be found in the Useful Stuff page and have been recommended by readers and PCOs. (Dry steam, we’re told, is better than the wet steam cheaper steamers put out, because that can lead to mold and mildew growth, along with its own health issues.)
Regarding diatomaceous earth: first, you should not be sleeping in it, and it should only be used in small amounts and in crevices that won’t be disturbed. Used correctly, I have read that food grade freshwater DE should be safe. If you have articles suggesting otherwise, please share them.
On the other hand, inhaling any dust, or drione, is not a good thing, and so your sneezing was a sign something was wrong.
Thanks again for sharing your story! Steam has many fans in our readers, and your story will no doubt inspire many who are willing and able to do the work.