Shelter Step Two

Step #2: Plan Your Response

Your complete response will depend on whether you intend to call a pest management company.  However, your initial steps will be the same or very similar with either course of action.  The very first thing you need to do is locate and isolate the problem.  Note the location as specifically as possible and collect at least one live sample of the insect if you can.  Was it on a bed frame? A headboard? Etc.?  Whether you respond yourself or bring in a professional, the ability to verify the type of insect and its location will help you or your pest management professional evaluate the extent of the problem.  

You may want to take pictures as clients may be tempted to clean the area or may disturb the evidence when moving their belongings.  Consider using a piece of masking tape to mark the location on the bed and the specific bed where an insect was found.  This way, an important piece of information is not lost or miscommunicated by the time it is relayed to the person or company responsible for remedying the problem.  This also helps to control for situations where clients may try to move furniture.  Your client may decide to swap mattresses with a nearby unused bed, for instance.  This can confuse the situation and possibly spread pests within the facility.     

Do what you can to prevent unnecessary movement of people and their belongings.  If a resident finds a bed bug, their immediate reaction may be to relocate their belongings or strip their bed to find additional insects.  You will want to discourage this, or at least make sure that this is done in a way that does not spread an existing problem and lead to conflict between residents.  One easy way to contain these items is to bag bedding and belongings in large trash bags and seal them tightly.  It’s best to treat these items with heat as quickly as possible.  

For the fastest results, empty bedding items from bags directly into a designated dryer, clothing, shoes, books, and other more delicate items should be placed in a heat chamber such as the ZappBug Oven 2.  Try to avoid situations where residents move their belongings to an adjacent bed or room during this process; they may spread insects like bed bugs that are known to cling to people and their belongings. 

2A: If You Bring in a Professional Pest Management Company

The benefit of bringing in a professional company to handle your pest management issues is that they can bring additional tools and expertise that may help them solve problems more quickly.  Many firms have full-time bed bug technicians that do nothing but handle these kinds of issues.  Additionally, they may have a great deal of time and money invested in chemicals and equipment that you may be unable to purchase or are uncomfortable using yourself.  The company you choose to work with should provide their own preparation requests. This will likely include some of the steps we have discussed, such as bagging belongings and stripping mattresses of sheets and bedding.  Pay close attention to these steps as some companies may adjust their pricing or their guarantee if their preparation list is not followed.

A Few Thoughts on Choosing a Pest Management Company

Even if you choose to handle the bulk of your bed bug response, you will still almost certainly partner with a professional pest control company for some pest control services.  Depending on your location and needs, you may have very few or dozens of potential choices when selecting a pest control company.  Most medium-sized cities will have several reputable options.  Unfortunately, some companies are less experienced, or simply a poor fit for your needs.  So, what should you look for when you hire a pest control company?

  1. Look for a company with excellent technicians.  This is probably the most critical  factor when it comes to a successful treatment.  The best company with the best tools will be unsuccessful if the person is not invested in doing the job correctly.  Look for technicians that seem knowledgeable, listen to your concerns, and do not seem to be in a rush to get the job done.
  2. Look for a company that is comfortable doing commercial bed bug work.  Virtually any company of any size handles bed bug work regularly.  Look for companies that have experience with nonprofit organizations or other commercial clients like hotels and hospitals.  Do not be afraid to ask for references. 
  3. Look for a company that offers a range of treatment options.  Some firms specialize in whole structure heat treatments.  There is nothing wrong with that.  However, it is an expensive and time-consuming treatment option for a mild infestation.  You want a firm with solutions that match the extent of the problems you face.
  4. Look for a company that can give you a range of prices, if not specific quotes.  Pricing commercial bed bug work can be complicated.  Usually, a company needs to consider the degree of the infestation and other situational variables.  However, it should be possible for most companies to provide you with a likely range for what a typical treatment should cost.  If they cannot, it may indicate that they are not as experienced with the kind of bed bug work you will need.

2B: Can You Address This Problem Yourself?

Once a staff member has confirmed that you are likely dealing with a bed bug or other insect with the potential to infest your property, such as fleas or lice, it’s time to begin containing and addressing the pest issue.  Bedding and the resident’s belongings should be bagged or placed in large plastic totes.  Be sure to use bags that will not rip easily, and do not fill these bags to the point they overflow, never reuse bags inside a facility.  Bags or totes containing bedding and other soft goods should be taken directly to a dryer and run on high heat.  Because this dryer will almost certainly be used to heat dirty clothing and bedding containing insects, we recommend having a dedicated bed bug dryer for these instances.  After the items have gone through a cycle in the dryer on high heat, they may then be washed and dried in your facility’s normal laundry facilities.  

The correct sequence is 1. Dry with high heat 2. Wash 3. Dry.

There are also likely to be items that cannot be dried and washed.  Shoes, books, electronics, and other personal items, as well as luggage and the furniture itself, should be thoroughly inspected, if not treated prophylactically.  The easiest non-chemical way to accomplish this is with a heat chamber.  ZappBug’s largest heat chamber can accommodate multiple twin size beds and mattresses, and soft personal items such as clothes, sheets, towels, and other items that might otherwise be placed in a dryer.  Conversely, our smallest chamber is portable and can be stored in a closet when not in use.  Even if you plan to do the bulk of your heating with a dedicated dryer, having a smaller chamber such as the ZappBug Heater or Oven 2 allows you to treat other items that can’t be placed in a dryer for practical reasons.  

A few professional tools can make this process easier.

  •   Protect your mattresses with encasements designed to prevent bed bugs from passing between mattresses and individuals.  Encasements extend your mattress’s life, deter bed bugs, and make the process of locating bed bugs on the mattress easier.  
  • Climb-up or pitfall traps placed under the legs of beds and other furniture.  These traps help alert you to the presence and location of bed bugs.  They can also help interrupt their spread to other pieces of furniture, but they are not a long term containment solution.
  • A heat chamber kills bed bugs and their eggs, even on items that can’t be placed in a dryer.  Place the item into the chamber and heat to 120 ℉ (50 ℃) for an hour or more.  This temperature and duration are lethal to any bed bug and bed bug egg.  Table showing pests and time/temp of heat treatment here

PestTREATMENT TEMPATUREHOW LONG BEFORE THEY DIE
Ants120°F5 mins
Bed Bugs115°F7 mins
Cockroaches130°F7 mins
Dust Mites140°F8 mins
Fleas140°`F10 mins
Termites125°F10 mins
Scabies122°F10 mins
Lice130°F30 mins
Moths120°F30 mins
Carpet Beetles120°F30 mins

There are a few things to keep in mind during this process.  Mattress encasements should generally not be washed or should only be washed in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Encasements act as a barrier between pests and your mattress if you remove this barrier, you may shorten the life of both the mattress and the encasement.  If you are concerned about an encasement, you can place an encased mattress inside a heat chamber for treatment.  You should also consider the nature of the furniture in your facility and its layout.  If you use bunk beds, you will, at the very least, want to run this bedding of the attached bed through the dry/wash/dry cycle as well, even if someone has not slept in this bed recently.  

You should also inspect the furniture itself.  Bed bugs are somewhat unusual parasitic insects in that they do not cling to their host.  They prefer to harbor nearby, often in the cracks and crevices of the bed or in another item that gives them ready access to humans.  Keep this in mind when you inspect the furniture.  Is any part of the bed touching any other piece of furniture or the wall itself?  Have you placed “climb-up” style monitors below the bed’s legs, and are those still in place?  If not, we would strongly encourage you to inspect nearby beds and furniture as well.

You should also consider what kind of furniture is ideal for your facility in the future.  We will discuss this further in Section 4, but if you do end up choosing to dispose of and replace any furniture at this stage, you should replace it with items made of solid, nonporous surfaces.  Metal bed frames are easier to clean and treat than wood surfaces.  When it comes to fighting bed bugs, the fewer crevices, the better, this also applies to dressers, shelves, and other furniture.

Normally, it’s not necessary to dispose of furniture.  Almost any piece of furniture will fit inside the ZappBug Room.  Even without a large heat chamber, you can frequently address a moderate pest issue in a piece of furniture with a powerful vacuum cleaner and application of caulk around the cracks and crevices in its construction.  Make sure to dispose of the vacuum bag after you are done. 

Depending on the layout of the room, location, and type of pest you find, it is also worth considering whether the room itself requires treatment. Bed bugs are known to harbor in the seams of wallpaper and molding as well as behind switchplates and wall hangings.  Typically, bed bugs will be as close to their food source as possible.  However, if pest sightings are becoming more frequent, it’s worth casting a wider net during your inspections, especially if beds are adjacent to or touching walls with these features. 

Keep in mind that pests can also be dispersed inadvertently by our well-intended actions.  Various “bug-bombs” and insecticidal sprays are dubiously marketed as an effective solution to bed bug infestations.  Many of the active ingredients in these products are no longer effective at controlling bed bugs.3 However, these chemicals are frequently still powerful enough to drive bed bugs deeper into furniture or farther away from the site of application.  Unfortunately, this makes containing and addressing the problem more difficult.  

Thoughts on Pesticides and other Residual Treatments

Heating an item above 120 ℉ (50 ℃) in a heat chamber or in a dryer on high heat will kill bed bugs in minutes.  So, why is there any need to do anything in addition to heating?  Is there really a need to use chemicals?  Maybe, or maybe not.  When properly applied, pesticides provide some residual protection against pests that may be reintroduced to your facility after you have heated and cleaned an area, or that might have been overlooked during your inspection and treatment process.  The duration and potency of this protection will vary, but most professional pest controllers will use some residual chemicals in their treatment process.  So, should you apply pesticides or residual products after you are done heating and cleaning?

Unfortunately, we cannot provide easy to follow advice regarding pesticide use in your facility.  The truth is, most over the counter insecticides are not effective against bed bugs.  Other pests such as fleas and lice have shown varying levels of resistance to over the counter products that used to be effective.  At this point, many products used by professional pest control companies are also less effective than they once were.  However, manufacturers have also devised new formulations and products that seem more effective, at least for the moment. 

Any advice we might provide would probably be dated in less than two years.  Bed bugs have shown a remarkable ability to develop resistance to insecticides.  However, bed bugs remain susceptible to extreme temperatures.  Our advice is to focus your efforts on what can be done to prevent and address pest introductions and to quickly resolve the situations where a pest makes its way into your facility.  If you and your pest control company determine that a situation warrants the use of residual products allow them to handle the selection and use of chemicals.  If you are working with a good company with good service people, they will know what product to apply, and where to use it for maximum effect. 

Conclusion

The information in this section should help you respond quickly and effectively to bed bug and pest control issues at your facility.  Keep in mind that pest management is an ongoing process.  Bed bugs can be a difficult pest to eradicate, even for professional pest control companies.  Reintroduction by clients is also likely.  It’s best to remain vigilant and work proactively to combat these pests.  

Tools such as mattress encasements and climbup monitors will help you detect bed bugs quickly, and give you a sense of where to concentrate your efforts.  Heating furniture and bedding to above 120 ℉ (50 ℃) for an hour or more will kill any bed bugs and eggs. When you continue to encounter pests, repeat the previous steps, continue to actively search for early signs that a problem may be developing.  Finally, let your pest controller know where you are seeing bed bug activity.  That way they can target their use of residual products to achieve the best results.

Next, let’s discuss what you can do to prevent bed bugs and other pests from being introduced into your facility.