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Bugs Without Borders - Understanding bed bugs and what BSCs can do about them

Written by  Dawn Shoemaker

In April 2013, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky compiled a comprehensive report on bed bugs titled 2013 Bugs Without Borders Survey. While the bed bug problem in North America is not necessarily a seasonal problem, the study did find that nearly half of all infestations occur during the spring and summer months. The reason there may be more reports of infestations during these warmer periods is because they are typically prime travel periods in North America, and bed bugs are often first reported in hotels.

“The only thing that scares hotel operators more than bed bugs is an empty hotel room, yet the two often go hand-in-hand,” said Phil Hadley, a 33-year pest-management veteran with Collier Pest Control. “Rooms can be out of service for as long as two weeks when treating a bed bug problem, and treatment costs range from $400 to $2,000 per room.”

While the bed bug problem is typically associated with hotels, it can spread to many other types of facilities as well. For instance, people report that their residential bed bug problem started when they purchased secondhand furniture at a garage sale. The bed bugs are then brought into the home, and as the infestation grows, they can attach to clothing and other items, traveling to schools, offices, and scores of other locations. Because building users can inadvertently bring these pests into the commercial locations you clean, all BSCs should possess a reasonably good understanding of the problem.

Being aware will also help BSCs stay one step ahead of the game when it comes to preventing and fighting bed bugs. According to the NPMA, “Despite the availability of information, most American still have misconceptions about bed bugs… believing they are attracted to dirty locations. [However], bed bugs do not discriminate and are found in both sanitary and unsanitary conditions.”

Bed Bug Facts
Before we discuss the ways BSCs can help their clients minimize and/or eliminate bed bugs, we need to know a bit more about these pesky critters. As you may have surmised, bed bugs are not just found in beds: furniture can be home for bed bugs, as can carpeting, clothing, and many other items. Indeed, the NPMA reports that while the majority of infestations are found in single-family homes, bed bugs are also a common problem in college dorms, hotels, nursing homes, offices, schools, daycare centers, hospitals, and on public transportation. Many of these locations are cleaned and maintained by BSCs every day. For more on this, see the sidebar “Public Locations Reporting Bed Bug Infestations.”

Some other important bed bug facts you should be aware of include:

• The scientific name for bed bugs is Cimex lectularius.

• In 2011, 99 percent of U.S.-based professional pest management companies were called upon to deal with bed bugs, and by 2013, that percentage had increased to 99.6 percent.

• Bed bugs are considered to be the most difficult insect for pest management companies to eradicate, even more difficult than cockroaches, ants, and termites.

• Pest management companies report that clutter, specifically in homes, is the biggest customer-oriented challenge in treating bed bugs, followed by customers who do not take the advice of pest management professionals in how to keep their homes and facilities free of bed bugs. This can be true in commercial facilities as well.

• Bed bugs are found in all 50 states, but they are most predominant in the Midwest and South.

• The incidence of bed bugs is three times higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Population density and apartment living may be factors here.

• Americans are most concerned about encountering bed bug infestations in hotels (80 percent), on public transportation (52 percent), and in movie theaters (49 percent), followed by medical facilities, their own homes, workplaces, and their friends’ homes.

• After traveling, 27 percent say they inspect or wash their clean clothing upon returning home, and nearly 20 percent indicate they inspect or vacuum their suitcase upon returning from a trip.

We should also note that there is a fairly important misconception about bed bug problems. While there have been some reports that bed bugs have or may have transmitted disease, according to the NPMA, “research conducted to date has shown that bed bugs do not transmit disease to their human victims. One of the most typical symptoms is itchy skin or what are described as “red welts.” For more on this, see the sidebar “Other Quick Facts.”

How to Help Eradicate Bed Bug Infestations
The problem we have today when it comes to bed bug eradication is that so many of the options involve pesticides, with some of these being more effective than others and some potentially harmful to health and the environment. However, with the greater emphasis today on green cleaning, the door is now open for BSCs to offer their clients alternatives that are not harmful to health or the environment but still can prove effective. Indeed, professional cleaning equipment manufaturer Tornado® has even published a white paper specifically outlining the bed bug problem and offering more environmentally responsible ways for BSCs to deal with it.*

According to the white paper, the first step in dealing with bed bugs is to thoroughly vacuum problem areas with HEPA-equipped vacuums, “using a unit with an enclosed, disposable collection bag… that can be sealed and disposed of immediately after using to avoid infestation from one area to another.” Using a HEPA system is important because it will help prevent bed bug eggs—which are about the size of a pin head—from escaping through the machine’s exhaust. Further, BSCs can use a crevice tool with the vaccum to reach deep into the folds of fabrics and furniture, which are frequently where bed bugs lay their eggs.

Next, a professional steam cleaner should be brought in. Retail steam cleaners will likely not be effective because they typically produce a low vapor flow and do not heat up to a temperature high enough to kill the eggs or bugs. A professional system will typically have a more adequate vapor flow and use a high-enough temperature. Plus, some systems are adjustable, allowing them to produce “dry steam” (very hot steam), which dries quickly, thus shortening drying times. “Used properly,” notes the white paper, “steam will kill live bed bugs and bed bug eggs.” To speed the eradication process, the white paper recommends using a “continual-flow” steamer that can be filled and refilled while remaining operational. Once again, this feature is typically found only on professional machines. Other tips for using the steamer include:

• Pay particular attention to seams, folds, and ribbing on beds, chairs, and other surfaces.

• Avoid “jet” nozzles, because they can blow the bugs away from the area being treated.

• Select steam heads with multiple steam ports or nozzles, including those that allow the entire head to be wrapped with a cloth. These are the most effective tools for treating bed bugs because they allow for direct contact with the surface being treated.

• To avoid dilution of the chemical and/or vaporization, always perform steam treatments prior to chemical treatments.

While using a professional-grade steamer can be a very effective and certainly a more environmental and healthy way to kill bed bugs, one disadvantage is that these machines kill on contact, but they don’t have the residual benefit of continuing to kill and preventing further bed bug infestations. Because of this, cleaning professionals and their customer have two options:

1. Repeat the steam cleaning process on a regular basis—as often as once per week—until it’s readily apparent that the infestation is gone.

2. If the problem persists, you may need to bring in a pest management professional using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–registered pesticide.

Be Prepared
If bed bugs truly have no borders and can easily move from one location to another, the odds are likely that most BSCs will inevitably encounter them in the locations they clean and maintain. Given this, it’s prudent to familiarize yourself with the facts about bed bugs and develop strategies for dealing with them in the most effective and environmentally responsible way possible.

Dawn Shoemaker is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*Effective Treatment of Bed Bug Infestations for Facility Managers & Service Providers, by Michael Schaffer, President, Tornado Industries. The complete white paper is available for free at: http://tornadovac.com/docs/Bed_Bug_Elimination.pdf


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