Bedbugged! Furniture as weapons of war

By Theresa Braine  | September 8, 2011 - 1:56PM

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

People in the midst of a bed-bug infestation often say things like, “I’m going to buy a metal bed. Bed bugs will not harbor in there.” My second exterminator, Bobby, even spouted that back to me: “Bed bugs hate metal,” he said more than once.

This is at best wishful thinking. At worst, it’s serious self-delusion. The grim truth is that bed bugs go anywhere they want. They do not know whether they are in a metal bed tube or a wooden joist. They know only that there is body warmth and carbon dioxide being emitted nearby.

So is there an ideal “anti-bed-bug style”? Should bed-bug avoidance measures influence your choice of headboard, furniture, artwork, paint color, floor coverings and the materials that go into the making of walls and floors? And do you really want to arrange your life around this?

If the answer to the last question is “yes”—keeping in mind that this won’t prevent bed bugs, just make them and their telltale signs easier to spot—some types of furniture and housewares provide more protection in this regard than others.

Let us start, naturally, with beds. A metal frame will not necessarily deter bed bugs. Much has been made of the fact that bed bugs’ teeny-tiny feet do not gain traction on smooth surfaces.

This is true, the experts say, but the surface has to be really smooth. As this video from entomologist Lou Sorkin demonstrates, metal is not always as insurmountable as it looks.

Thus, buying a metal frame does not necessarily afford you an advantage in terms of keeping the things off your bed. Indeed, a metal frame may instead complicate the problem. The key is not keeping them out so much as making them visible if your prevention/avoidance methods fail.

“You actually want a bed that is easy to inspect so they are easy to identify,” David Cain, British pest control guru, writes on “My experience is that infestations in locations with metal beds often result in the bed bugs being in locations further away from the bed where they are harder to treat.”

For this reason, you may actually want to steer clear of the metal. However, platform beds and captains beds give the pests too many places to hide and are hard to inspect, so you might want to steer clear of those if you are skittish.

You might want to go instead with something spare that can be taken apart easily for inspection. Make it something that you can physically handle yourself.

I saw an all-acrylic bedroom set online once, though that seems a bit over the top. You don’t want to render your bedroom uninhabitable. (Bed bugs do that well enough on their own.)

I bought a platform bed, the same model I’d bought after the first infestation. I figured that since I had seen bugs crawl out from the previous one, I knew exactly where they’d go. Cain suggested I take it a step further: Shellac the thing, covering over all the crevices, so that there is only one place for bed bugs to hide and my very bed becomes a detection tool.

Moving beyond the bed, the best advice I can offer is to think like a bed bug. It is often said that the term bed bug is a misnomer, because they hide in anything. Therefore, rather than thinking beds, you need to think cracks and crevices.

With floor coverings, you may want to get area rugs that can be cleaned or laundered rather than wall-to-wall carpeting.

Then there’s artwork. Bed bugs have been known to harbor behind picture frames and the like. So you might want to forego hanging that print above the bed and put it elsewhere in the apartment, where bugs are less likely to nestle behind the frame.

Your bedside table is another potential hiding place. Bed bugs can hunker down in indented screwheads, clock radios and other such items. So, if you are bent on reducing those hidey holes, you can, again, either shellac the furniture or find something with fewer cracks.

When it comes to colors, fecal stains can be more easily seen on light-colored walls and furniture than dark. Same goes for linens. Some experts suggest not having extra frillies, such as a bedskirt that can serve as a hiding place.

Maintaining your paint job also isn’t a bad idea, since bed bugs can harbor under chipping paint. And of course, as has been said many times, a lack of clutter greatly reduces their hiding places.

Bottom line: There is no furniture that will prevent or deter bed bugs. As long as you’re emitting carbon dioxide (which all-in-all is a good thing), you will attract the things, regardless of what your nightstand is made of. So just try to relax, focusing on decluttering your place and simply living your life—if bed bugs show up, you will deal.  

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


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