As restaurants, travel, schools and workplaces return to normal and pandemic restrictions ease, pest control experts are seeing a greater need for bed bug control.
“Our bed bug calls are high,” says Con Murphy, owner of Cranbrook Pest Control, which serves the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Even hotel and motel work increased, he reports, despite less leisure travel.
According to the PCT 2021 State of the Bed Bug Control Market survey, sponsored by Bayer and conducted by independent research firm Readex Research, 44 percent of PMPs reported that the pandemic had either a minor or significant negative impact on their commercial bed bug services, particularly in hospitality. However, 52 percent expected the share of revenue from bed bug control services at their locations to increase in 2022.
While higher demand for bed bug control is good for business, controlling the pests can be challenging when sentiment toward pesticides is high and regulations limit the use of chemical products.
“Our options are really limited, so we’re going to innovate,” says Murphy, who has developed a comprehensive program that relies less on chemical treatment and more on monitoring equipment, mattress covers, biological pesticides, vacuums, and portable thermal tents. “We’ve really changed our chemical business model; we were forced to do it.”
The following are reminders from The Mallis Handbook of Pest Control (10th Edition) to help PMPs hone their vacuum, steam, cold, and heat treatment skills for bed bugs.
vacuuming. Using a commercial vacuum, ideally with a HEPA filter, is an effective and efficient way to get rid of large numbers of bed bugs. However, this must be done in a targeted and methodical manner, focusing on areas where the pests reside or congregate. Rift and crevice attachments that channel the vacuum’s suction power increase your ability to remove bed bugs from havens. However, vacuum cleaners are often unable to remove bed bugs from crevices and are not very effective at removing eggs cemented to substrates.
It’s also important to properly care for the vacuum cleaner itself to keep it from becoming infested. After each use, remove the vacuum bag, seal in a plastic bag and discard immediately.
STEAM. Portable commercial steamers reach temperatures of up to 220 degrees F (100 degrees C), which is more than enough to kill bed bugs and eggs on contact. Research has shown that they can emit lethal temperatures up to 6 cm deep in cracks and up to 2 cm under fabric surfaces. This penetrating ability makes them effective when used on the outer layers of upholstered furniture, as well as when applied to crevices and crevices of furniture, moldings and mattresses. Bed bugs exposed to sub-lethal temperatures from steamships are often flushed from their havens where they can be exposed to steam, residual insecticides, or removed by vacuuming.
Most commercial vaporizers come with a variety of attachments. Larger vapor heads tend to be more efficient and effective than smaller nozzle-type attachments because they cover a larger surface area and reduce the force with which the vapor is expelled. When applied at high pressure, steam can dislodge bed bugs and blow them off the substrate, allowing them to escape the deadly effects of the steam. To maintain lethal temperatures, keep the steam head in close contact with the surface being treated, as the heat will rapidly decrease as it mixes with cooler air the further the head is removed from the surface.
Note that steam can damage leather, suede, silk, and wood furniture that has been waxed or polished.
FREEZE. While gradual freezing of bed bugs and eggs may take several weeks to take effect, the immediate drop to below-freezing temperatures on contact results in mortality at all life stages. The Cryonite system is a tool that uses freezing temperatures to destroy insects and their eggs. It releases CO2 at -110 degrees F (-79 degrees C) and creates dry ice “snow” that is deadly on contact. Like commercial steam units, this tool also flushes insects out of havens. Proper application distance is required so that high pressure does not disperse bed bugs before they can be killed. According to the manufacturer, it is a good option for treating electronics, sockets and antiques.
HEAT CHAMBERS AND UNIFORM HEAT TREATMENT. Exposure to high temperatures can be very effective in destroying bed bugs and their eggs.
According to research by Dr. Stephen Kells, University of Minnesota, rapid mortality of bed bugs and eggs is achieved at a temperature of 122 degrees F (50 degrees C), but a longer time frame is required to achieve 100 percent mortality at lower temperatures or at gradually increasing temperatures. With a slow rise in temperature (6.5 degrees F/14.2 degrees C per hour), adult beetles survived up to 90 minutes in 113 degrees F (45 degrees C) conditions, while eggs survived up to 8 hours, but both died in less Time than a minute when temperatures hit 122 degrees F (50 degrees C). This has significant implications for structural heat treatments that rely on gradual temperature rise.
Portable heat chambers have been used effectively by the pest control industry to treat furniture and household items infested with bed bugs that cannot be tumble dried or treated with insecticides. Chambers can be built or purchased in different sizes.
Heat can also be applied to entire rooms or structures to control bed bugs. Commercially available systems use either direct fired propane or electric heating units or a combination of both. Propane gas heaters are more efficient, but their use may not be legal in all communities. Electric heaters are less efficient but are an effective alternative to propane. However, it may not be practical to use enough electrical power to run these heaters for large jobs (e.g. apartment buildings) in a single visit.
Heat treating challenges include excessive clutter and cool spots for pests and eggs to survive. For example, bed bugs can hide under objects that the heat cannot fully penetrate. Therefore, successful heat treatment requires continuous manipulation or movement of objects in the environment to ensure lethal temperatures are reached and distributed to all areas where insects and eggs may be present.
Fans help distribute the heat, and temperature probes and sensors—placed in areas where airflow is limited, like under pillows and between mattresses—help technicians monitor, regulate, and document the heat treatment process.
The duration of the heat treatment will vary depending on the extent of the bed bug infestation, the type of items in the portable heat chamber, the construction of the house (e.g., wood frame, panel, etc.), how well sealed it is, its contents, and the degree of clutter.
Technicians need extensive training on how to reach deadly temperatures while avoiding damage to personal belongings and structure, and customers need to be provided with a thorough list of items that need to be removed prior to treatment. This list can be extensive, and an infestation may require alternative treatment for these items.
Heat also provides effective control of other pests such as roaches.
FROM THE REPORT. How much has the downturn in the commercial market, particularly hospitality, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your bed bug business over the past year?
- significant positive impact: 2%
- modest positive effect: 8%
- neither positive nor negative impact: 46%
- low negative impact: 28%
- significant negative impact: 16%
- no answer: 1%
Source: Readex Research, August 2021; 184 respondents
How do you think the percentage of revenue generated by your location’s bed bug control services will evolve over the next year?
- Increase: 52%
- stay the same: 41%
- decrease: 7%
- no answer: 1%
Source: Readex Research, August 2021; 184 respondents