Garage sale season is at its peak, and I was glad to see the Regina Leader-Post reporting that Health Canada is warning consumers about unsafe garage sale items; the article includes a specific warning about bed bugs in secondhand furniture items. As Pamela Cowan reports,
Bedroom furniture can have more legs than buyers bargain for.
Before bringing home second-hand furniture such as beds, bedding and mattresses, it’s wise to check for bedbugs.
Resembling apple seeds, bedbugs have oval broad, flat bodies and a short, broad head. While they don’t pose a major health risk, bedbugs can cause allergic reactions and itchy welts. Signs of the little critters are black or brown spots on mattresses, sheets and bed frames.
I was glad to see Canada’s health department this newspaper warning consumers against bedbugs in secondhand furniture.*
However, I did not think this information was sufficient.
Remember these four key points:
1. Know your enemy.
The information in the story on what bed bugs look like is not complete.
Bed bugs only look a little like 6mm (1/6 inch) long “apple seeds” at their most advanced stages of development. They may also look like 1 mm (1/32 inch) long translucent nymphs (which are bright red after they feed for the first time).
2. “Checking for bed bugs” is not enough. They can hide in the smallest cracks. You may not see them if you look closely.
For this reason, spraying items will not be sufficient.
Instead, treat secondhand items with heat.
For furniture, this would mean a Packtite for smaller items, or possibly steam for larger ones. (If you’re going to steam a solid item, disassemble it first to make sure and eliminate those hiding places where the wood joins together.)
Forget about used mattresses and box springs, which steam will not penetrate fully. You can encase them, but it is not worth the risk, should the encasement tear.
3. If a home has bed bugs, bedroom furniture is not the only problem. All furniture is suspect, as are other items including purses, hats, clothing, books, record albums, etc.
Clothing may be dried on hot (or washed and then dried on hot) to kill all stages of bedbugs. Many smaller items can be put in a Packtite as above.
4. Garage sales are not the only danger zone. Bed bugs can come in through any secondhand items from any source.
Flea markets, thrift stores, even tony vintage shops may transmit bed bugs. (Note: new retail purchases are also suspect, but not as much as secondhand items.)
It’s not unheard of to get bed bugs when you borrow an item from a friend who has no idea yet that they have the problem. A smaller infestation may make it less likely that someone passes on their bed bugs in this way, but it is not unknown.
So remember, treat used and secondhand items to kill bed bugs, then enjoy them with peace of mind!
*As BugsInTO pointed out in the comments below, Health Canada does not appear to have any warning on their website about bed bugs in garage sales. It is not clear whether Pamela Cowan added these warnings to others covered in the Health Canada press release and Consumer Product Safety page on Second-Hand Products and Garage Sales, if she discussed these dangers with HC representative Richard Ross, or if the warning about bed bugs is buried somewhere on the HC site. Thanks to BugsInTO for setting me straight on this!