Effective, cheap DIY dry ice bed bug monitor

by nobugsonme on December 21, 2009 · 30 comments

in bed bug research, bed bugs

This is really exciting. Traditionally, active bed bug monitors like the Nightwatch have cost $400 or more. Now Wan-Tien Tsai and Changlu Wang, researchers at Rutgers, have created a simple, cheap, and proven effective active bed bug monitor.

To lure the bugs out of hiding, Wan-Tien Tsai of Rutgers University in New Brunswick put dry ice into an insulated, one-third-gallon jug, the kind available at sports or camping stores. Adding 2.5 pounds of dry ice pellets and not quite closing the pour hole allowed carbon dioxide to leak out at a bug-teasing rate for some 11 hours at room temperature, she said.

She stood the jug in a plastic cat food dish with a piece of paper taped on the outside of the dish as a ramp up to the rim. The bowl’s steep, slippery inside, with an added dusting of talcum powder, kept bugs from crawling out again.

In tests in real apartments, the homemade setup detected bed bugs as well, or better, than did two brands of professional exterminating equipment, Tsai said December 16 at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America.

The parts, including the dry ice, cost $15 and don’t require any special skills for assembly. “Everyone can do it,” she said.

[Emphasis mine.]

Science News reports you should be able to get dry ice from beverage companies, by the pound.

If you try this, please share your stories and photos!

See: Do-it-yourself Bed-bug Detector – Science News. We’re glad this story got spread by Wired also.

Tsai, Wan Tien and Changlu Wang. 2009. Comparative effectiveness of three bed bug (Cimex lectularius) monitoring devices. Presented at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, December 13–16.

Update (12/23):

Per the comments by Winston O’Buggy and others below, it may be best for people not to experiment with this until more detailed instructions are published (along with specific details and photos).

While the article notes a specific amount of dry ice is used in a specific type of container, it is true that most of us know little or nothing about dry ice and whether there are any safety concerns in certain circumstances, as it sounds like there may be.

I think this is very promising, but having all the details would probably be a good thing.

Update (12/27):

Jeff White of Bed Bug Central has created a helpful new video demonstrating the method and offering additional information on its use. (Note: Bed Bug Central is selling a kit for doing this, minus the dry ice. However, you can assemble your own kit based on Jeff’s demo, and he offers the additional suggestion of assembling the dry ice trap inside a large styrofoam cup on top of a Climb-Up Interceptor.)

Remember: if you attempt this method, use great care to make sure you’re doing it properly, do your research on how to handle dry ice (information Jeff does not cover in the video), and remember — as Jeff says — if you assemble this monitor and catch no bed bugs, it does not mean you do not have bed bugs. It can mean you do not have any hungry bed bugs on that day.

Click below to watch!

If you do not see an embedded video box above, click here to go to YouTube.

Update (1/3/2010):

In this forum thread, reader NewBlood suggests these resources which may be helpful as a starting point for researching how to handle dry ice; one from Continental Carbolic, another from the CDC (this one loads a PDF).

Update (1/27/2010):

New York vs. Bed Bugs alerts us to a new PDF outlining options for detecting bed bugs, including instructions on how to implement this dry ice monitor: “Detecting Bed Bugs Using Bed Bug Monitors,” written by Changlu Wang.  You can download it for free from the Rutgers website.

1 LastMeal December 21, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I’m stunned at how elegant this idea is.

2 mangycur December 21, 2009 at 5:53 pm

dude I am so going to try this once a month or so

3 bb_gave_me_ocd December 21, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Score one for my alma mater!

4 nobugsonme December 21, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Yes, Rutgers entomologists are doing very well!

5 once bitten December 22, 2009 at 1:25 am

Is this a good idea. How much CO2 would it take to start to raise the levels in a poorly ventilated room to a level that was a danger to breath? I worry that some folks might try this and end up killing themselves instead of the bugs.

6 Doug Summers MS December 22, 2009 at 9:47 am

I attended this presentation with Petey… it was standing room only… Truly amazing stats … demonstrated that the Rutgers team design outperformed NightWatch and CDC 3000 by a significant margin under true field conditions…. This is good research… the dry ice method used for CO2 release is solid applied science that can be utilized by the average person… The trials were run in occupied units for this study… I spoke to ChangLu at the EPA Summit… He showed an earlier version of the current monitor and told me that the full presentation would be released at ESA this year. Congratulations to Wan Tien Tsai and Changlu Wang for their innovative research on inexpensive monitoring devices.

7 a bit bugged December 22, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Can somebody post pictures of this in action? It helps to see the setup. Thank you!

8 Winston O. Buggy December 22, 2009 at 3:19 pm

My thoughts are that not everyone should do this at home given the exposure burns to CO2. Inquisitive pets and certainly children might be at risk as well as some operationally challenged adults. Otherwise its like a tick drag without the drag. Fortunately an example of research which in time will increase our ability to deal and more successfully manage bed bug problems. Please note that experiments should be conducted by those with knowledge and not inexperienced amateur scientists.

9 Doug Summers MS December 22, 2009 at 4:48 pm

You make a good point about handling the dry ice, but the goal of the Rutger’s team was to design an inexpensive monitor that the public could fabricate on their own.

You could write the authors for a copy of the study or it should be published soon.

Picture a double pet food bowl set upside down with a igloo insulated jug with the cap opened slightly sitting astride both chambers. The sides of the cat food bowl are covered with cloth tape to allow the bed bugs to climb into the pitfall trap. They were using talc to coat the inside portions of the trap to prevent escapes from the monitor.

10 nobugsonme December 23, 2009 at 2:38 am

once bitten and Winston,

Your concerns are duly noted. It may be best for people not to experiment with this until more detailed instructions are published (along with specific details and photos). While the article notes a specific amount of dry ice is used in a specific type of container, it is true that most of us know little or nothing about dry ice and whether there are any safety concerns under certain circumstances, as it sounds like there may be.

I think this is very promising, but having all the details would probably be a good thing.

11 JWhiteBBTV December 23, 2009 at 8:17 am

***I was intimately involved in the field portion of this study (design and data collection) and have been working with all of these traps for a long time now (including the dry ice trap).

Before I jump into the design, for those that are unaware, dry ice is compressed carbon dioxide. When it sublimes (another word for melt), it realeases carbon dioxide, a major component of what we exhale.

The design is pretty straight forward in that it’s an insulated container that contains dry ice inside a “Climbup-like” device that intercepts the bugs as they come to the subliming (melting) dry ice. You could actually use a Climbup if you can find a cooler to fit in the inner well. This design was a plastic dog bowl that was inverted which with certain designs creates a “Climbup-like” interception device. In the design discussed in this presentation, the inner-well is then dusted with talc and the outside is either wrapped in tape or scratched (with sand paper) to create a coarse surface the bugs can climb up (the scratching design wasn’t presented in Rutgers presentation as it’s a design I’ve used in the past). The cooler filled with dry ice is then placed on the platform created by the inverted dog bowl and the lid is left slightly open.

Dry ice can be difficult to work with and dangerous if not done so carefully. That being said, a simple warning label on the cooler has sufficed for us and we’ve used this design many times in the field. Something along the lines of “Warning: Dry Ice, and then a brief description of what dry ice is and to leave the cooler alone and if it does spill to leave the dry ice on the floor and let it sublime (melt). Don’t touch it.” I’ve worked with it extensively with ticks and mosquito trapping and yes it can “burn” you but you have to intentionally hold it for as long as you can for that to happen. In addition to the dog bowl design, you could also use a rat-glueboard (sticky board that collects rats) and place the cooler in the middle of the glueboard on a piece of paper (so it doesn’t get stuck to the glueboard) and the bugs would then get stuck to the glueboard.

In this study it did out-perform the CDC and Nightwatch and from a personal use perspective, for homeowners not willing to buy one of these monitors, it can be your best option. The problem is that you need to know what kind of dog bowl, how to prepare the outside for climbing, know what to do with the bugs if you collect them and find and handle dry ice. All of that can equal a “pain in the you-know-what”. That’s why from a pest control company perspective, although this can be the most effective, it poses a lot of operational challenges. Ex…finding a place that sells dry ice, going to get it, getting it to the infested home before it melts, dry ice safety concerns, etc…

The Nightwatch and CDC traps can and do still trap bugs in a low level infestation and are a lot easier to work with. Obviously the dry ice trap can be much more affordable and collect more bugs but takes some leg work and understanding. I agree with Winston that any time studies like this come out about how easy and great this is I cringe because although it’s easy to us researchers and pest professionals, for someone who doesn’t truly understand how and what to do, it could be confusing, done wrong and then the results misinterpreted (I didn’t collect bugs because the trap I made doesn’t work and now I think I don’t have bugs). So please proceed with caution.

We’re going to be filming a BBTV episode on all of this soon and getting it up ASAP. I just have to make sure we’re good to start releasing data.

12 Avi December 23, 2009 at 10:16 am

JWhiteBBTV – Thanks for the detailed description, but I’m having a hard time picturing exactly what you mean. For instance, I don’t know what climbup device is. Would you be able to post some pictures to assist us? Thanks.

13 Richard Cooper, Bed Bug Central December 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I rarely comment on bedbugger but given the attention that the dry ice trap is receiving in the media, on bedbugger, and within various bed bug circles, I feel compelled to comment on the subject.

I am in agreement with comments that have already been posted by Winston O’Buggy as well as my colleague Jeff White, however there is much more to this story than what has already been discussed.

The buzz about the dry ice trap is the direct result of Wan-Tien’s presentation at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Indianapolis last week. The take home message from her presentation was that an inexpensive homemade dry ice trap can be used to effectively trap bed bugs, which is in fact true. What is unfortunate is that the effectiveness of the other three commercially available monitoring devices that were tested seemed to have somehow gotten lost along the way!

Preliminary research conducted by Wan-Tien demonstrated that all three commercially available devices were effective at catching bed bugs in both laboratory and field settings. A more comprehensive field study was also conducted by Bed Bug Central and Changlu Wang to expand upon the preliminary findings of Wan-Tien. While not yet published, the results of this second study confirmed that Nightwatch, CDC 3000 and Climbup insect interceptors were all effective at trapping bed bugs in field settings. The details of this study cannot be shared at the current time but will become available once this research is published in the scientific literature.

So what does this all mean? From my perspective, the professional pest management industry should not rely on homemade devices constructed of pet food bowls and thermos’s containing dry ice. Yes it is inexpensive and yes it is effective, but there are also inherent risks in using a homemade device that contains materials (dry ice) that can result in personal injury to people and pets. As professionals, the pest management industry should rely on the use of professional grade devices that have been specifically designed and marketed for the purpose of monitoring bed bug activity. Both Wan-Tien’s study, as well as the study conducted by Bed Bug Central and Changlu Wang, demonstrate that these devices are effective. We have been working with the homemade device that Wan-Tien reported on for over two years but have restricted its use to field research trials, while utilizing the devices that are commercially available to monitor at client locations. I would caution others in the pest management industry against the deployment of homemade versions for commercial purposes, unless they wish to expose themselves to the direct liability that comes with such a decision.

I applaud the work of Changlu Wang and Wan-Tien and believe that the homemade dry ice trap provides a very cost effective monitoring technique for the public sector to utilize. There are many individuals who cannot afford professional pest management or expensive monitoring devices and the dry ice trap offers an affordable and effective alternative. Should these individuals decide to take advantage of this important research, they should do so with care, as to avoid the accidental injury/burns that can result when handling dry ice. What people do in their own homes is their own business, professionals on the other hand have a greater responsibility to provide the safest solutions for their clients.

Richard Cooper

14 nobugsonme December 27, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Thanks, Richard and Jeff for your comments.

It’s pretty clear people should not be attempting this unless they have the full, detailed directions (which none of us do yet) and know how to handle the materials involved safely (which many of us probably don’t). Even then, there may be dangers either during construction or use of the device.

I also agree that pest professionals should not be experimenting with this for the same reasons.

15 nobugsonme December 27, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I also note that Bed Bug Central is selling a “kit” for using this method:

16 JWhiteBBTV December 27, 2009 at 9:42 pm

The idea for the kit was stimulated by the posts I read here. After reading everyone’s comments and then posting my own I went to the powers that be and brought the idea to the table and we had this up 24 hours later. Instead of me retyping everything that I said in the following video, please watch the following for an overview of the monitor and why we put the kit up on the site.

(Admin note: Link deleted; video embedded in update to post above.)

17 nobugsonme December 27, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Thanks, Jeff — I have updated the post above (again!) and added your video to the post. I am sure people will find it very helpful!

18 Avi December 27, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Thank you so much for the video!

19 Doug Summers MS December 28, 2009 at 10:23 am

In the humid months… a device that acts like a plate or shallow dish could be used under the cooler jug to collect condensation instead of a cloth… a styrofoam plate might be a good choice.

Congratulations to the Rutger’s team for creating a working DIY monitor.

20 Bennett December 29, 2009 at 11:15 am

I am about to fabricate this unit or buy the prefab one. My question is does anyone know where to get dry ice pellents in the New York City area? Somewhere I read that it could be obtained from “beverage companies.” But I am not sure where to begin despite an exhaustive internet search.


21 vk January 3, 2010 at 11:20 pm

This websites seems to be a directory: http://www.dryicedirectory.com/usa.htm

In NYC, I found:
Dry Ice Corp – Maspeth, NY.
34-52 Laurel Hill Boulevard
Maspeth, NY 11378
Phone: 718-392-9300

Planning to try this soon; anyone tried it already?

22 nobugsonme January 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm

HI vk,

At least one person is discussing planning to do it (NewBlood on this forum thread).

NewBlood appears to have done some research on the handling of dry ice. To quote NewBlood,

I’m no dry ice expert – but I’ve read up on handling the stuff – a good site to see how to handle dry ice is [note: the first link loads a PDF] here and here too.

In addition to the above I believe you should never attempt to break dry ice with a hammer or the like – always purchase it in the form/amount you intend to use it in. Again though – I am not a dry ice handling expert.

It seems from the directions that oven mitts, or pot holders will work, although I picked up ‘thinsulated’ gloves and standard work gloves (I will wear both). I still do not intend to pick it up with my hands – I have tongs to do so (assuming that I get bricks of dry ice instead of pellets).

I believe that it may be possible for me to simply have the company put the dry ice I want into a container for me without having to move it into the jug at a later date. I’ll update this with more information assuming I can actually get my hands on (not literally of course) some dry ice. 🙂

Again, I am not suggesting anyone else try this, and if you choose to, please do your background research on the safe use of the materials, and the method.

23 nobugsonme January 4, 2010 at 12:08 am

Updated post above to add NewBlood’s dry ice links and link to forum thread.

24 bugsnotfunny January 5, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Hello friends, I stumbled on this website out of good fortune and this is my first port. My long story short, I have been suffering from bed bugs for the past 1 year, moved out of my previous apartment, threw away my furniture only to find them back again a month after I moved into my new apartment. I got it treated by an “exterminator” who used http://www.diatect.com/bed-bug-killer-ppc.php to treat it, I am not sure how much it has actually worked but I have found a few little bed bugs crawling on me. I intend to use the same power with this solution and see how it works. In the mean time, if any one has tested this, PLEASE UPDATE your results. I will update mine when I am done testing. Thanks to all people who pointed to where to get the dry ice and the videos and most of all, Wan-Tien Tsai, the researcher at Rutgers.

25 nobugsonme January 5, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I am surprised your pest professional used only this over the counter product. While we have heard these types of over the counter dusts (the one you mention is made of pyrethrins and diatomaceous earth,) can work, pest control professionals have access to multiple methods which, used in concert, would probably work more quickly and effectively. If my PCO did nothing but apply something like this, I’d check on his/her license and probably ask for a refund.

Secondly, you mention you plan “to use the same power with this solution”. The method described above is one for trapping a bed bug sample, not for killing bed bugs. You should not use any kind of powder in concert with it. If you want to attempt it, please do the additional reading required, and follow the directions the experts provide.

26 cilecto January 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm

For all the skepticism about this approach and comparison with ready made detection machines, this method allows for a PCO to set up one or even multiple traps on a property with little concern about cost (or returning the device). PCOs can also pick up abd transport ice in their trucks. Bravo, Rutgers.

27 nobugsonme January 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

At least this TIME blogger has the sense to note it is not a solution to bed bugs but simply a mode of detection.

28 nobugsonme January 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Update added above:

New York vs. Bed Bugs alerts us to a new PDF outlining options for detecting bed bugs, including instructions on how to implement this dry ice monitor: “Detecting Bed Bugs Using Bed Bug Monitors,” written by Changlu Wang. You can download it for free from the Rutgers website.

29 nobugsonme February 6, 2010 at 1:42 am


Dude, your comment, above just made it into Time magazine.

Unattributed, alas.

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