11 Bed Bug Myths Debunked

Bed bug infestations can be tricky to handle, but you may be doing more work than you need to. We asked Jeffrey White, an entomologist and bed bug expert—White has invested hundreds of hours treating affordable housing complexes for bed bugs, advising other pest-control professionals about these critters, and lecturing public housing organizations around the globe—to give us the latest research-backed tips for tackling bed bugs in multifamily housing. Read on to see if you can separate bed bug fact from fiction, or whether it may be time to update your pest-control procedures.

If you missed it, check out our comprehensive bed bug webinar with Jeffrey White here:


True or False?

Bed bug bites are a good indicator of bed bug issues.

False: The best way to tell if you have bed bug issues is by spotting the actual bugs or by looking for their droppings. Not everyone reacts visibly to bites, and, for those who do, the reaction is easily confused with other things. “Infestations can get pretty big and no one will ever know,” said White.

Tenants are vocal about bed bug infestations.

False. “The biggest issue you’re facing is silence,” White said. “I’ve walked into units that have thousands of bed bugs crawling everywhere, including on the person I’m talking to, and they didn’t report it. It happens all the time.” Why? White says shame and mental health issues play a role. And older adults, who often don’t react to bed bug bites, may not know they have an issue. “You have to be proactive in your approach to bed bug control because the infestations that aren’t reported are the source of your problems,” White said.

Dogs that have been trained to sniff out bed bugs are a surefire way to tell if you have an infestation.

False: Canines are a good resource, but they aren’t foolproof. “Dogs occasionally return false positives,” White said. “Conduct a visual inspection to confirm what the dog is telling you. If you can’t find any bed bugs, set monitors out for two weeks and check again.”

When looking for bed bugs, you need to inspect every corner of the unit.

False. Inspecting beds, furniture that is near the beds (such as nightstands), and couches is sufficient. If you don’t find evidence of bed bugs in these areas, you don’t need to continue searching.

Most bed bug request for proposals (RFPs) are sufficient.

False: “Most RFPs actually request poor pest control,” said White, who, in addition to running a pest control company, serves as an expert witness in class-action lawsuits related to affordable housing. “I’ve had instances where the pest control company throws their hands up in the air because the management company says, like, ‘We’re looking for a new provider and our budget is $75 per apartment.’ That’s ridiculous. Properly structuring the RFP is important.”

View A Sample Bed Bug RFP*

Pesticides are the best way to kill bed bugs.

False. Research has shown that bedbugs have a strong resistance to many pesticides. Chemicals can be effective, but your pest-control specialist should be using multiple tools, like vacuums, monitors, and perhaps steamers and bedding encasements. “These tools help address pesticide resistance and show that the company is a little more progressive in its approach,” White said.

A one-bedroom apartment requires one hour to properly treat for bed bugs.

True. “If your pest control company is in and out in 10 minutes, that’s not enough time to render a proper bedbug treatment,” White said. “If it’s a one-bedroom apartment, they should be spending at least an hour on the initial service. Probably the number one indicator of a company that isn’t doing a good service is that they’re not spending an ample amount of time in each unit.”

Before bed bug treatment can begin, residents need to fully prep their units.

False. “The amount of prep work that pest control companies require of you and your tenant never made sense to me,” says White. “I understand how it came to be, but I challenge it. What we train companies to do is evaluate first and then make targeted prep recommendations based on what they see.” In lower-level infestations, White said there’s no need to prep the entire apartment. He cites a Rutgers University study of 114 apartments infested with bed bugs, most of them in affordable housing buildings, in which 95 percent of the infestations were solved with no tenant involvement. The exception: Sheets and comforters need to be laundered and dried thoroughly on a high-heat cycle to kill remaining bugs.

You need to dispose of bed-bug-infested furniture.

False: Pest control companies do not recommend the widespread disposal of furniture. “It’s not reasonable,” said White. “We only recommend disposal if the infestation is bad. We’re talking hundreds, maybe thousands, of bugs, or if the furniture is just so old and broken down that you can’t effectively treat it.”

It’s important to routinely treat common areas for bed bugs.

False. Treat, no. Inspect, yes. “Don’t apply pesticides unless you have a reason to,” White said. “Routinely inspect common areas and maybe put some monitors out, but don’t treat unless you identify a problem.”

It’s easy to bring bed bugs home.

False. (Whew!) Bed bugs don’t jump or fly; the only way they get from one place to another is by walking or hitchhiking. “I’ve been in hundreds of infestations, and I only brought bed bugs home once,” said White. “As long as you don’t sit on the furniture or rub up against it, the chances of getting a bed bug on you are very slim.” That said, be cautious in bad infestations, because you can get bugs in the treads of your shoes. “If you’re worried, wear booties,” White said.

*Reprinted with permission from Bed Bug Central. Consult your in-house counsel before issuing an RFP.

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