Bedbugged! How to leave the apartment, and bloodsuckers, behind

By Theresa Braine  | April 7, 2011 - 10:07AM

Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.

 So I had a share nailed down, and just in the nick of time. My landlord, Rocco, told me he was raising the rent by a hundred bucks or so as of July 1—clearly a ploy to drive me out, though he didn’t have to take extra measures given that it was mid-May, a month after Arnold’s departure, and I was still getting occasional bites every time the contractors worked on his vacated apartment next door.

Now came the Sisyphean task of extracting myself from a borderline questionable apartment (in terms of bed bug status) without bringing any strays. I was sure my stuff was fine, since this time the bugs had been localized near my bed as opposed to scattered in my living room as they’d been during the first infestation.

Nevertheless, I planned to disinfect everything I owned as if it was crawling with bed bugs. Treating everything is the best way to ensure that you don’t bring them with you.

The question was, how to do that? Should I have my stuff professionally heat-treated? Hire someone to gas it with Vikane? Or rely on the trusty Packtite to heat-treat, leaving larger items behind?

Involved in this calculation were several variables, the most obvious being price, so I hit the phones.

First I investigated some fumigation places. That would be the quickest and surest route to bed bug-free living—just have someone seal all my possessions in a pod and infuse them with sulfuryl fluoride (brand name Vikane), an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that deprives both critter and egg of oxygen, leaving no residue. It can kill all the bedbugs in your life in one treatment.

People often undertake this treatment even if they’re not moving—some companies will gas and then store your things while your dwelling is treated—but if your building management is not doing what it takes to treat your apartment, then it’s wasted money. People leaving an infested place and starting over, though, have every reason to consider this option.

I found it would cost $2,000—more than my possessions’ total worth. Heat treatment, in which heat is applied instead of gas in either a pod or the moving truck, was about the same. It gave me pause. Realistically, how many of my things did I want to save?

My new, $400 bed frame was a bedbug graveyard, karma that I did not want to bring to a new abode. I planned to leave it behind no matter what. The futon mattress, well, yes, it was protected with an encasement, and was perfectly fine, but did I want to spend $2,000 to treat that when I could replace it for one-tenth of that price?

Aside from the mattress I had a coffee table that a friend had given me when she’d moved, the cruddy vinyl faux-papasan chair and a never-assembled Ikea table. The former two items I had no problem leaving behind, and the latter could easily be wiped down. This left me with a bunch of boxes.

I sought professional advice, calling upon John Furman, who had eradicated the first round of bed bugs the previous year. I was doing double duty reporting a story on how to move without bed bugs, which I had pitched figuring I might as well make use of my research and earn back some of the money I was spending on the move.

“You can’t afford not to do fumigation if you’re dealing with quality of life, furniture,” he told me. “I would beg, borrow and steal to find out how to get that money to do a fumigation.”

Anything but Vikane is “always just a roll of the dice,” he said. “You can never say with 100 percent certainty that you’re not taking the problem with you.”

He reminded me that one can’t consider one’s apartment bed bug free until 60 bite-free days after the most recent treatment. I was getting bitten three months after. He said people still within that 60-day window are best off not moving at all.

Although a fan of the Packtite, Furman noted that it leaves margin for error. What if, he said, the thermometer wasn’t accurately measuring for some reason—it wasn’t in the center of the stuff being treated, or something went wrong, such as a power outage while I was out? Then the person treating this way might not know that it never got up to the 120 degrees for the full hour required to kill both bugs and eggs.

My parents weighed in, too. “Do the gas, honey,” my mother urged.

“Yes. Then you’ll be rid of this in one fell swoop,” said my father. “You’ve been through enough. We’ll lend you the money.”

I agonized. Would I be sure enough of my self-treatment? All it would take was two surviving eggs of opposite sexes, or an inseminated female, to start the whole thing all over again, and in a new space.

However, I wasn't taking any furniture with me; it was just boxes that were easily treatable in the Packtite.  

"It’s more the stuff that you carry out that you don’t heat treat," Furman had said of the danger. He was also referring to a move during an active infestation, which I didn't have. It had been 60-plus days since my last treatment, and the occasional bites were few and far between, not escalating. 

Also, once I had explained to Furman that I was talking about boxes, shoes and clothes, and that I didn't plan to bring anything remotely questionable into my new apartment, he begrudgingly said that it sounded ok, provided those stipulations were met. 

“It’s the safest option outside of fumigation,” he said of heat treatment. 

Thus, funding or no funding, I could not bring myself to shell out for a few boxes of books and other possessions that I knew were clean. I had already leaned on my parents over the previous year. Most of my things already been inspected and sealed; I was going to treat them again. The clothes I would do at the laundromat anyway. And, given that I worked at home, I could indeed monitor the Packtite. I was certain I could pull it off without putting anybody at risk. 

In the end, I opted to treat everything myself.

Next week: Method and madness -- do not try this at home.


 Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily NewsPeopleNewsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the bed bug trenches and how to climb out with your sanity intact.






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