The Most Eco-Friendly Way To Get Rid of Bed Bugs?

The Most Eco-Friendly Way To Get Rid of Bed Bugs?

Alisa Opar
Published: 09/15/2010
Bed bug. Photo: Dr. Harold Harlan, AFPMB Image Database
Four years ago, when there were just murmurs of bed bugs rather than today’s full-blown public awareness campaigns against them, Jeannie Mills started getting bites. At first she figured they were from mosquitoes because it was summertime. “But then I had left a sweatshirt on my bed and gone out of town for a couple days,” she recalls. “When I came back, I found two little tick-like bugs sitting on my sweatshirt, and that's when I connected the dots.”
Mills, an environmental journalist, was mortified. “I think there’s a misconception that people who get bedbugs are dirty or leave food out in their apartment,” she says. “In reality, it's got nothing to do with being dirty or clean. But it's also embarrassing because you don’t want friends or family knowing that you've got an army of blood-thirsty bugs lurking in your home.”
Well versed in green living, Mills was reluctant to use a chemical solution, but her landlord called an exterminator. “There were a lot, and I mean a lot of chemicals involved, which still scares me to this day. Sometimes I still consider ditching the furniture that was exposed to those insecticides, and this is four years later,” she says.
The insecticides worked, though Mills ended up moving out of the apartment soon after. “If I had to do it all again, I probably would’ve just set fire to the building with all my things in it and just moved on with my life,” she says, half-kidding.
Others have tried non-chemical bed bug removal, only to resort to pesticides in the end. One 30-something New Yorker who also fell victim to bed bugs said her last-ditch chemical assault led her to “fall from environmental grace.”
So what is the most eco-friendly to get rid of bed bugs? In a joint statement, the CDC and EPA said: “Although bed bugs may sometimes be controlled by non-chemical means alone, this approach is often very difficult, potentially less effective, and usually more resource intensive.”

Because bed bugs have developed resistance to many chemical pesticides currently used, the agencies stress the importance of integrated pest management—including heat-treating clothing and furniture, sealing cracks and crevices, and using non-chemical pesticides such as diatomaceous earth, and judicious pesticide use.

The key to insecticides is using them properly, says Richard Pollack, a Harvard University entomologist. “With most products used against bed bugs, even a little bit of misuse around home is not likely pose measurable risk to residents or the environment.” Problems arise when people “have a knee-jerk reaction, go to the hardware store or nursery, buy whatever pesticide and spray immediately and heavily before they know who the enemy is.”
Bites alone aren’t enough to indicate the location of an infestation—it can take up to 14 days for bed bug bite marks to develop, according to the CDC. You have to find the critters themselves, which are small, flat, reddish-brown, wingless, and range from 1 to 7 millimeters long.

Rough sex: In her "Green Porno" series, Isabella Rosalinni explores bed bugs' violent mating ritual.

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