Another “do-it-yourself” attempt at bed bug eradication has ended in disaster. Two historic buildings in the village of Carlisle, Kentucky (population 1900) were destroyed by fire on Friday, June 29. Fifteen to thirty people (depending on source) have lost their home and all possessions. Based on news reports, some of the residents are elderly and/or bedridden. Unlike other episodes like this, fortunately, there were no reported deaths or injuries.
The fire began when a resident doused her couch with alcohol in an attempt to rid it of bed bugs, but dropped her lit cigarette on it.
People will take desperate steps to fight bed bugs as long as they perceive that if they ask for help they will be shamed for it or evicted. That they will be subjected to onerous preparation protocols, involving days of work and loss of property, methods that many experts believe are not necessary. That the treatments won’t work anyway.
Alcohol will kill bed bugs on contact, if you can spray them directly. It is ineffective against eggs and it has no lasting effect: Bugs that come out of hiding and walk over the surface you treated will be unharmed. Many household cleaners will do the same work as alcohol, with less damage to surfaces and a reduced fire hazard. “Contact killers”, such as alcohol, detergents and many “green”, “designer” products sold for bed bug control will “kill” bed bugs, but due to their limitations, will not eradicate them and are not a long-term tool.
Whatever tools and techniques you use to control bed bugs, always follow directions and don’t forget safety. Never smoke while working with volatile chemicals.
There is too much bad information on bed bugs and how to fight them and not enough good. View the comment section of any bed bug article or YouTube on the Internet and you will find a host of advice, mostly misguided, ineffective and sometimes dangerous. (For “good” information, consult this site’s FAQ, or a comprehensive guide like this one (pdf) produced by the State of Michigan.)
People who run apartment buildings and congregate facilities need to be “up front” about how they will handle their bed bug problems. Bed bug policies need to be designed to insure that those who need help get it and do not need to resort to clandestine eradication attempts. There have been some great examples of proactive behavior, like Vancouver’s “bed bug sauna”. This is a rude awakening for landlords, but it needs to get done. Coordinated effort by government is likely in order: It can be reasonably argued that preventing tragedies like the one in Carlisle falls under “insure domestic tranquility”, “provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare”.
And remember, never smoke while handling alcohol.
Thank you to forum participant “Canuck”, who alerted us to the story.