Q. How can I tell if my apartment is infested with bedbugs? A friend has just gone through a nightmare experience trying to get rid of them. She had to throw out her mattress, couch and other furniture, have the whole place fumigated and everything dry cleaned. It cost thousands of dollars.
I saw a bug the other night in my bedding and the next night I had a bite. I am totally freaked out. I can’t afford an exterminator to find out.

A. Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) were once rare in the U.S. but are now making a dramatic resurgence. The bites can cause intense itching.
These pests are very hard to eradicate, but researchers at Rutgers have come up with an easy and inexpensive way to detect them (Science News, Jan. 16, 2010). Put 2.5 pounds of dry ice in a 1/3-gallon jug such as a Coleman cooler with a flip-up spout. The spout should be left slightly open, so the carbon dioxide can leak out.
Place the cooler in a plastic pet-food dish and tape a piece of paper to the outside of the dish as a gangplank for the bedbugs to climb. To make the plastic even more slippery, dust the dish with talcum powder. Within 12 hours the carbon dioxide will lure bedbugs to the trap and you will see them in the bottom of the plastic dish if you have any.

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  1. dwd

    Another thought for ASE. If these folks are in an apartment, then it will be difficult to eliminate bedbugs, roaches or any pest unless all apartments are treated at the same time. Pests can reinfest from one apartment to another if only one apartment is treated.
    Your best bet would to persuade the landlord to check and treat all apartments.
    Forty years ago while in college my friends and I moved into a house that had been divided into an upstairs and downstairs apartment. We kept fighting roaches and they would go away and return. It finally dawned on us they were migrating from upstairs. The upstairs folks moved out so we treated both upstairs, and downstairs and crawlspace and finally eliminated them. I still do my own household pest control 40 years later.

  2. ASE

    I tried the trap using dry ice for two nights. So far no luck. The dry ice cost me about $1.50 per night, available at Harris Teeter. Part of my problem is working with a family that speaks very poor English and really doesn’t understand what I am up to. The first night, after I left, they put the trap in the kitchen thinking it was to catch roaches. (another of their problems) The second night they kept it in the bedroom but they left the light on all night. They said that keeps a lot of the bugs away. Also I am not sure if the trap will compete with a real human being. If anyone is interested I will continue to let you know the results of my experiments.

  3. dwd

    For A.S.E. asking about other ways to generate co2.
    My first response is dry ice might be a little pricey, but you only need enough for a night or two. Perhaps you could persuade a grocery store to donate some or drop the price since this for refugees in need.
    Vinegar and baking soda would work, but I think it would be short lived and not last over night. And would probably give off a vinegar odor. Not sure if it would attract bedbugs.
    There don’t seem to be any ways to generate CO2 without some drawbacks. I found two ways that might be cheaper and with different drawbacks than co2. I got these from the net and have not tried either one.
    First is fermentation of sugar water and yeast. Here is a youtube video
    on a kid making one for plants in a fish tank that uses tubing and a 2 liter bottle. I provide it because it does provide a recipe which one could scale down for the half gallon jug – it is basically warm water, brown sugar and a bit of yeast. You would probably not want the jug with more than a quart of the mixture in it. Warning: DO NOT CLOSE THE SPOUT. CO2 will build up pressure. I make my own root beer and I have blown up bottles by letting it sit at room temp for over 7 days. Note you are fermenting sugar water with yeast so alcohol is being produced as well. Not sure if it would give off a beer like smell or if it would attract bedbugs. If it spilled it would be messier.
    Second is a commercial method that costs about 30$ and generates CO2 for 6 months. This would be cost effective if you are using it at different apartments over that time frame and probably safer than dry ice. It provides some kind of growing medium that looks like a powder. This one looks safe, but you would not want young children to get into it and if spilled it might make a mess.
    Commercial CO2 generators would be even worse because they use propane gas and cost 500$.
    Good luck.

  4. ot

    I don’t know if it is accurate or not but I read or someone told me that the bugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide given off when humans breathe and that dry ice also emits carbon dioxide as it melts.

  5. ASE

    Also, just in case a solar aficionados reading: as has been noted, one way to rid an item of Bed Bugs is to heat them (over 116 F) so I’m thinking about something like a solar oven in which you could put your black plastic bag of clothes (minimum) or even your couch or bed (large version). It could be built on a small trailer and taken to the home of someone who is in need. The internet is full of plans for small ovens but nothing big enough for a bed. Any one have a thought?

  6. A.S.E.

    Each time I read about this trap it calls for Dry Ice. Is there a reason not to use the vinegar & soda method? I am drying to help some very low income refugees lower the bedbug population in their apartment and the less money we have to spend the better? Thanks. And also to E Cook, our local grocery here in Charlotte sells dry ice.

  7. E. Cook

    This test for bedbugs is not that simple since obtaining dry ice is not so easy for everyone. Dry ice is not available just everywhere.

  8. Lionel M.

    Your article in today’s Hartford Courant confirmed to me, there must be bedbugs in my bedroom & in my bed. I have had what I felt were mosquito bits on my back and sides and thighs. These were raised very itchy mounds.
    I shall try the dry ice method as recommended.
    I have never seen any crawling insects in or on my bed or under the dust cover.

  9. jdb

    Does hot water (clothes washer) and hot air (clothes dryer) kill bedbugs? please answer. Thanks, JDB

  10. Greg Pharmacy Student

    Boric Acid powder, which can be bought at a hardware store, pharmacy or large boxes like Meijer, is safe and will kill the bugs. Vacuuming removes them. It might be a good idea to get a new mattress. Wrapping a mattress in plastic will keep them in place. Hot temperatures will kill them too.

  11. Wes

    Fleas can jump. I believe bedbugs just crawl.
    I wish Science News had posted a photo of their jug and dish combo with dish size. I have joined their website and made the same observation. Like a previous reader I would assume the contraption would be placed near or possibly on the bed.
    One note. Dry ice can give you frost bite so handle it with tongs or some kind of insulated gloves. An oven mitt might work. You do not want to use bare hands.
    We have not been hit by them, but it makes one think twice about motel rooms. I am even considering buying a camping trailer and bedbug problem elimination is one for the pros column in buying one.

  12. Ed W.

    Re the dry ice detector for bed bugs. Carbon dioxide is an attractant in many traps. Usually, it is generated with baking soda and vinegar, rather than the far more expensive dry ice. Just put a very little of each in a closed container, set it up as described in this article and make a pin hole in the container at water level.

  13. Greg Pharmacy Student

    Dan B.,
    Bedbugs like mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide, so this detector releases carbon dioxide to attract the bugs and the bowl with talcum traps them. I would put the trap in the bedroom. You can also look for bedbugs at night in bedding or on walls. The picture above is accurate in shape, but they are about the size of an eraser head at the largest and lighter colored when younger then turn darker brown.

  14. Brent B.

    Also, don’t buy used mattresses! There was a cable TV show called “Verminators” which dealt with these bugs — they used an elaborate set of heaters to superheat and kill the critters. I guess long after humanity has expired, the bugs will still be having a picnic. Wonder if there are any good herbal (and non-toxic) bedding treatments or preventatives for bed bugs, which could be used in the washer? Thanks for providing this service.

  15. MAC

    I also would like to see the set up of the dry ice “catcher”. I don’t have them, don’t want them, but I heard that an apt in another bldg had them and I don’t want anything that crawls, flys or bites so I am always looking for the cure in case. Thanks

  16. abigail

    Twenty Mule Team Borax – found in hardware stores and groceries – is an effective insect killer. It kills the eggs as well as the bugs. Put some in your vacuum cleaner bag when you are cleaning up so the bugs will not breed in there.

  17. HA

    Some people mistake bedbugs for fleas that may be brought in by your cat or dog. I have done this myself. My cat sleeps on my bed and I noticed bugs on the bed. After cleaning it, I assumed they were bedbugs, but I have since learned that the kitty brought fleas in.

  18. daniel b.

    Regarding the newspaper article on how to capture bedbugs with dry ice and pet dish, would you please tell me where to place the pet dish. On the bed? On the floor by the bed? Should I sleep in another room while using the pet dish? I would really like your input on this problem. Thank you
    Dan B.

  19. Greg

    You can also rid your bedding of dustmites buy just hanging sheets/blankets/pillow cases on the line on a sunny day. The ultraviolet light kills them dead. Also vacuum the room/rooms twice a day. Goggle up “life cycle of dustmites” and you’ll find from egg to adult is 1 month. By frequent vacuuming, you are interrupting the life cycle so they can’t repopulate. Heat also kills the dustmites. Put all your bedding in the dryer for just 10 minutes before you sleep. All of the above will solve your problem in a week or two and it’s a lot cheaper than having your home fumigated.

  20. kaf

    I’d love to see a picture of the set up if you could get one.

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