Bed Bug Encasements
If you have bed bugs, many pest management professionals and entomologists recommend encasing your mattresses in high-quality encasements that are designed and tested to keep bed bugs in or out. If you do not yet have bed bugs, bed bug encasements may be a good preventive measure for keeping bed bugs out of your box springs and mattress.
The use of bed bug encasements is not without controversy. We are aware of several highly respected UK bed bug experts (namely Richard Naylor of the University of Sheffield and David Cain of Bed-bugs.co.uk), who don’t recommend encasing mattresses. However, at this writing (8/2011), I can’t think of any North American PCOs or entomologists who generally recommend against bed bug encasements.
The design of beds may play into this: keep in mind that UK beds tend not to have US-style box springs, and that box springs are notorious for harboring bed bugs. And British-style divan beds tend to have wheels attached, which makes them impossible to encase.
The argument for encasement use:
- Secure encasements may protect the value of a mattress and box springs.
- While encasements will not prevent bed bugs from harboring on top of an encased mattress or box springs, bed bug encasements can make it easier to inspect the mattress or box, and remove bed bugs from the surface.
- Box springs (or torn mattresses) are very vulnerable to becoming bed bug harborages, and it is difficult to inspect them or eliminate bugs which may be inside them.
- If bed bugs are in your box springs (or torn mattress), a secure encasement should keep them inside and prevent those trapped bugs from biting you.
- If bed bugs are not inside your box springs (or torn mattress), a secure encasement will prevent them from setting up harborage there.
The argument against bed bug encasements:
- Some styles of bed (e.g. UK-style divan beds with wheels attached to a kind of box spring — see this photo for an example) can’t be encased.
- Bed bug ncasements do not prevent bed bugs from biting you in bed. They can still live on the encasement or live elsewhere in the room and climb onto it.
- Bed bugs should not be able to live inside mattresses unless they are torn or otherwise damaged. (This does not apply to box springs, however.)
- Poorly designed mattress or box spring encasements, or those which are torn, can give a false sense of security, and may allow bed bugs harboring inside to continue feeding.
- If cats with claws are present, they may tear encasements, rendering them useless and creating the scenario described in the previous point. (Note that cats may also make it more likely your mattress itself has tears in it — and that is also a problem.)
Click the following link to read discussions tagged as being about “encasements” on our forums.
My own sense gathered from the input of various experts is that the vulnerability of North American-style box springs means they should be securely encased. (As you’ll see below, some experts recommend this be done with mattress encasements, which may be better-designed in some cases than those marketed as box spring encasements.)
And while using a mattress encasement does not prevent you from getting bed bugs in your home, if kept intact, it will keep them on the encasement surface and prevent bed bugs from harboring on and leaving fecal stains on the mattress itself — and the staining in particular is something many people would like to avoid, especially on a nice or newer mattress.
If your pest management professional does recommend encasement use for your box springs and/or mattresses, make sure you are using ones which have been independently tested to keep bed bugs in or out (more on that below), make sure they are installed correctly and carefully, and inspect them regularly and carefully for tears.
On the other hand, if your pest management professional does not agree with the use of bed bug encasements, and they seem to know what they’re doing, then I would recommend you follow their protocols.
A good encasement should:
- Keep bed bugs on your old mattress or box spring inside the encasement and away from you;
- Keep bed bugs from infesting a new mattress or box spring;
- Ensure any new bed bug activity is outside the encasement, and therefore more easily spotted.
You need to encase both the mattress and the box spring (if you have one). North American style box springs are even more vulnerable than most mattresses to harboring bed bugs. (Bedbugs can get “inside” a box springs, whereas they will only get inside a torn mattress.)
You should obtain bed bug encasements before the pest control operator comes to treat your home, but I recommend not putting them on until treatment occurs; many PCOs will want to treat/remove bed bugs from your mattress before it is encased.
Keep in mind that you need to be careful with any encasement to avoid tearing. If you have a bed frame with sharp edges, put tape or felt around them to avoid having them poke or rub against the encasement fabric.
While encasements are available at all kinds of retailers (and from many pest control operators), they are not all alike.
A few years ago, Richard Cooper performed tests comparing six encasements which were being marketed for protection against bed bugs: Protect-A-Bed AllerZip with BugLock Zip, National Allergy Elegance, National Allergy Classic, Mattress Safe, CleanRest and Bed Wetting Direct. You can watch the videos and read more about the tests here.
To summarize, in the first experiment, Cooper found that all six encasements kept first instar nymph bedbugs (the smallest life stage) from escaping through the zipper teeth of the encasement.
In the second experiment, only three encasements (Protect-A-Bed, National Allergy Elegance, and Mattress Safe) kept first instar nymphs from escaping from a completely closed zipper end stop (the place where the zipper closes). National Allergy Classic, Bed Wetting Direct, and Clean Rest encasements failed this second test.
And in the final experiment, only one of the bed bug encasements, Protect-A-Bed’s AllerZip, kept bed bugs from escaping even if the zipper was not completely closed. This gives added protection, since even if the zipper is open by one to two teeth, bedbugs will be kept in.
In fact, Cooper says in the third video (here) that the Protect-A-Bed bed bug encasements have to be opened 3.5 inches or more in order for bed bugs to escape. Otherwise, the BugLock (TM) design feature keeps bed bugs in.
There have been some developments since those tests were conducted.
MattressSafe encasements has a zipper mechanism which it did not seem to have during the tests described above. Mattress Safe has passed independent entomologists’ tests, which you can consult here.
SafeRest Encasements are another newer product which was tested in Dec. 2010 by Snell Scientifics (who also conducted studies for Mattress Safe and BugStop). You can buy SafeRest encasements at Bed Bug Supply and view the testing data which is linked from there also.
BugStop Elite encasements (sold in Canada by the Allergy Guy) have also passed independent entomologist’s tests (conducted by Snell Scientifics).
Protect-a-Bed: This article about bed bug encasements from the Wall Street Journal describes the tests the Protect-a-Bed AllerZip encasements were put through:
It’s important to buy a good-quality cover, one with a zipper that stays in place and doesn’t have large gaps between the teeth, scientists say. The Protect-A-Bed, made by JAB Distributors Inc., of Northbrook, Ill., uses a zipper with tiny teeth and a “bug lock” system, a fabric channel with foam backing that keeps bugs inside even if the zipper pulls open slightly.
In developing the Protect-A-Bed, JAB first tested fabric to make sure bugs couldn’t bite through (they couldn’t), then hired an independent lab to put starved, live bedbugs inside the zippered covers and tempt them with a human leg at regular intervals. For the lab test, JAB made three-foot-long test replicas of its encasements, with foam serving as “mattresses.” No bedbugs escaped during the monthlong test, and the company says the full-size versions it sells are made to the same standards as the models.
It’s also important to remember that bed bug encasements can tear. No matter what brand of encasement you use, you must be careful and take steps to guard against this.
Here are some suggestions:
- Consider padding sharp edges (such as those on the corners of a metal frame) with felt or duct tape, to avoid poking the encasement. Don’t try to move an encased mattress.
- If you have a cat with claws, consider how you will prevent it from poking holes in the encasements. Keeping cats off the bed is recommended. A thick mattress pad on top of the mattress encasement, washed weekly, coupled with regularly trimming cat’s nails, may make it possible for you to use an encasement.
- John Furman (a.k.a KillerQueen in our forums) recommends purchasing two Protect-a-bed AllerZip mattress encasements for a bed, rather than an encasement for mattress and a box spring encasement, because he feels the mattress encasements are more sturdy than the ones for box springs.
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In Canada, The Allergy Guy sells Elite BugStop Mattress Covers. You can read a Bedbugger forums discussion about them here.
Last updated 02/2015.