It was a silly bedtime rhyme we said when we were kids — a line that meant nothing to me other than it was funny: "Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite!"
It would be many years before I came to understand that there are bedbugs and they are no laughing matter. Bedbugs are parasites of the cimicidae family that feed exclusively on blood. They're tiny, nocturnal and able to hide inside cracks and crevices. They're also really good hitchhikers — they jump into luggage from an infested hotel room or even hide in the seams and zippers of clothing manufactured in an infested factory.
A worldwide problem, bedbugs are resurging, causing property loss, expense and inconvenience. The good news, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is that bedbugs do not transmit disease. But they can torment their blood hosts in ways I won't get into here. The best way to prevent bedbugs is regular inspection for signs of an infestation — droppings, bite marks and mysterious brown stains on bedding.
While hiring a professional pest control service that specializes in bedbugs might appear to be the best way to go, it can be very costly. But there's more good news: You can do this yourself with remarkable long-term success. Just know that it will require diligence, tenacity and around $50 to do the job right — far less than the thousands you'd end up paying a professional bedbug service.
To get started, you will need at least 10 pounds of food-grade diatomaceous earth, or DE, and a powder duster (costs about $25). Make sure you are getting food-grade DE, not the DE that is used in swimming pools, which has been chemically altered (it won't work for this purpose). Food-grade DE is a natural pesticide that's cheap, free of harmful chemicals, easy to apply around your home and safe to apply near food, pets and children.
The following steps are from the folks on the DiatomaceousEarth website, where you can find additional and very helpful information:
Step 1: Steam clean your home. Bedbugs cannot tolerate heat above 130 degrees F and below 32 degrees F.
Step 2: Wash all washable fabrics in very hot or cold water — above or below the temperatures listed above, respectively. You may have to adjust your water heater to accommodate. Dry on high heat, and then store all washed fabric items in sealed plastic bags or containers.
Step 3: Vacuum your entire home — every crevice, crack, corner and place a teeny-tiny bug could be hiding. Vacuum carpets thoroughly, and if at all possible, steam clean the carpet as well. Dismantle furniture as much as possible, and vacuum every surface. Pull the drawers out and turn items upside down to vacuum underneath. Look for cracks in the wood, and get into all the tight spots with a good hose attachment. Consider a total-encasement mattress cover for every bed that is or may become infested.
Step 4: Apply food-grade DE for both treatment and prevention. Use the powder duster to get the fine powdered DE into every crack and crevice, behind appliances and along windowsills and door jams. Remove the electrical switch and outlet faceplates, and spray in those areas. Work DE into furniture, mattresses and carpeting.
Step 5: Leave the DE undisturbed for as long as possible, even up to a few weeks, before you clean it up. Leave as much of the DE in place as possible, especially in areas that are not visible or bothersome like windowsills and baseboards.
Step 6: Repeat as necessary. Bedbugs are persistent. Your situation may require more than one treatment. Just know that repeating these steps is necessary to break the cycle of infestation. If you are diligent using DE in your home, it will prevent future infestations.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.