It’s important to catch the bugs early. If you’re moving into a rental unit that’s been freshly painted and cleaned, there’s little chance you’ll know they’re there. Ask around: Former residents and neighbors might give you some history. Online resources such as Bedbugregistry.com — which lists buildings that have had recent infestations — could help.
If you think you’ve got bedbugs, undertake a serious inspection of your bed and the area surrounding it. Check the sheets and mattress for blood marks, black fecal matter or the bugs themselves, which as adults are about the size of an apple seed. Lift your mattress, look under box springs and bring a flashlight to check crevices. These guys are good at hiding. “I’ve read that they can fit into a crack as flat as a credit card,” Henry says.
If you only find a few bugs, the problem can probably be managed without professional help — “but there’s a lot of work involved,” says Gerard Brown, the D.C. Department of Health’s program manager for rodent and vector control.
Kill every bug you can find, then wash all of your clothes and bedding in hot water. Invest in a tight cover for your mattress and box spring, available at big-box stores that sell household goods.
If your searches regularly turn up five bugs or more, it’s time for outside help.
Capital K9 offers a range of options, from the increasingly popular dog inspections to sniff out the bugs, to chemical treatments or an intense heating process that warms the entire house to more than 120 degrees. Other firms use nontoxic products — although David Hersh, president of pest-control company A Healthy Home (240-351-6604), says that when it comes to bedbugs, “even people committed to the green lifestyle will go with the thermonuclear option.”
If the bugs were there when you moved in, or if other units in your building are infested, your landlord may be legally required to pay for treatment. Some landlords just decide it’s better business to pay for eradication than acquire a bad reputation.
That’s how it worked for a man whose Northwest D.C. group house developed a problem last month.
“Our landlord had someone come and check, and they confirmed it,” he says. After the subsequent heat treatment, the bugs seem to be gone. “The landlord paid for everything, and it was definitely more than $3,000.”
That renter, who also chose to remain anonymous, is remarkably philosophical about the bugs. “I’m not so freaked out,” he says. “I just sort of assume this is the price you pay for living in an urban area.”