Dear PoP – Bed Bugs!

Photo by PoPville flickr user rockcreek

“Dear PoP,

We moved into our DC row house about a year ago. Within three months, my wife started getting bitten by some kind of insect at night that caused painful allergic reactions that swelled, itched, and literally keep her from sleeping. It’s a nightmare.

We contracted a pest control company, who quickly discovered we had bed bugs. After 5 or 6 home treatments with heavy chemicals (it normally only takes two)…the bed bugs are a bad as ever.

We finally hired a pest control company with a bed bug-sniffing dog to come and try and identify the source of the bugs, and during the course of the inspection the pest inspector became increasing convinced the bed bugs were coming from our next-door neighbor’s row house, with whom we share a brick wall.

He knocked on their door, and they actually let him bring the bug-sniffing dog inside, who immediately signaled they had bed bugs too. In reality, he didn’t need the dog because he said he could literally see bugs crawling on their walls. They also told him that they “get bitten all the time”, yet have done nothing about it.

I am guessing that part of the reason why they’ve done nothing is because that bed bug treatment of a typical DC row house can range from $1K-$3K…and our neighbors are a low-income household.

But the following realization hit us like a ton of bricks. No matter what we do…as long as our neighbor has bed bugs…we will too. Which brings me to my question.

Does anyone know if there are any DC government programs that provide bed bug treatment services to low-income households? Is there anyway to “seal off” the porous brick walls of a DC row house to keep bugs from coming through? Has anyone been in a similar situation…and how did they successfully deal with it?”

This is a terrifying scenario. I know bed bugs have also hit New York City pretty badly. Any advice or suggestions for this particular situation besides moving?

43 Comment

  • Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuuuuuwwwwwwwwwww

    • Don’t be like that. Bed bugs are serious problem (I have them at the moment), and it’s hard to get good advice because of the associated stigma. If they are treated as just another home-maintenance problem, people will talk about them freely.

      You’d be surprised how many people in DC have beg bug problems. I bet some of your friends do.

  • Buy large bug treatment sprayers and regularly spray your home. Focus on the following: (1) floorboards between neighbors and any area bedbugs can get between properties (ie even around electic outlets -they usually are not in hot attics) (2) thresholds for every doorway inside your home (3)the interior of your home.

    Bedbugs are small. But containing them from coming into your home, and then if inside containing them to a room or two is critical to eliminating. If the neighbor keeps breeding them they will continue to bother you. I know several homes who have used this method every 3 months with success.

    Good luck!

    • Over the counter remedies don’t work for bedbugs. Trust me. THey are right to get a pro. If I were them I would negotiate a rate with the pest company to do the neighbors and just do it myself.

    • i am a landlord and we had a serious bedbugs issues. when i was told about it i went to witness for myself since i have never seen them and they were all over the bedrooms. after one 1000$ treatment went away for 6 months but then came back.

      since then i decided since there is no 100% way to get rid of them i would treat the house myself with professional grade stuff every 3 weeks. i have yet to see a bed bug since then. this preventive measure is the best way to go.

      i went to AMERICAN PEST MANAGEMENT off a tip from friend who owns several apartment buildings in dc and he said he buys the stuff and sprays the hell out of his apartments.

      American Pest Managment
      6460 New Hampshire Avenue
      Takoma Park, MD 20912
      (301) 891-2600

      They are also very helpful in explaining to you how to deal with them and also have a checklist of what to do and where to spray for bedbugs.

      Good luck!

  • Oh that is terrible. Bed bugs will be the scourge of the 21st century.

  • Sounds like it might be worth it for you to pay for your neighbors treatment…

  • Ugh that SUCKS. I’m not aware of anything but my apartment/condo building got them last summer and it was a pain. Luckily they never got into my apartment (although my neighbor had them) and the building paid for the treatments. What a nightmare.

  • What do they look like?

  • Plaster over the wall.

  • Terrifying! If you think that your neighbors won’t be comfortable with you paying for their treatment, you could try to work out a deal and a payment plan with the exterminator. Then give the neighbor the company’s contact info and tell them that the company has special deals available.

    If the neighbors are renters, then their landlord should have to deal with it.

  • Email both DCRA and DHCD immediately!

  • I have the exact problem right now, except it’s with roaches! Trying to get the HOA to do something about it.

    • Roaches are nothing compared to bed bugs. Bed bugs are the worst thing you could ever imagine. You could move and you would probably bring them with you.

      • Oh, I know. At least the roaches don’t bite and are mostly confined to the kitchen. But it’s still frustrating and disgusting.

      • Yeah, a friend of mine said that an expert on bed bugs told him that those things could survive a nuclear winter! Sadly, my advice would be to move and get rid of anything that they could have laid eggs in (mattress, sofa, etc). Even if you seal off your house from your neighbor and spray for them, they’ll come back within a few months. And be sure to get the advice of aomeone who is not an exterminator b/c of course they would be happy to maintain your business indefinitely.

  • Sorry to hear about your situation. As mentioned above, find out if your neighbors are renting the unit. If so the landlord is responsible for treating the problem. You might also check the unit on the other side of your neighbors to see if they have noticed bedbugs as well. If you have multiple neighbors bringing this to the landlords attention its more likely they will fix it.

  • they are pretty much the worst. we had them in my old place in adams morgan, my landlord paid about 1k for a full row-house treatment, but luckily we were moving out within a month anyway. my roommate’s room was ground zero, i got off pretty easy, with only a few sightings in my room. i even kept my bed and bedding. she, however, has moved TWICE in the last two months and brought them with her to both apartments. budbegs are hell. but i never even thought that maybe the city would offer to remove them from low-income housing. that’s certainly a service that should exist, if it doesn’t already.

  • Is there a potential nuisance lawsuit or something?

    • this is the most disturbing thing on here. treat the bugs not the lawyers!

      • Lawyers to force the neighbors to treat the bugs. Is the idea truly that “disturbing”? Grow up. I was just asking if there’s a fallback option, in case direct negotiation fails.

        I think being powerless to do anything about the problem of a bedbug infestation caused by your next-door neighbors would be actually disturbing.

        • Yeah, it’s sounding like hiring a lawyer might actually be the least expensive thing to do in this situation.

        • The problem with hiring a lawyer is that if the neighbors may be judgment proof if they are low income. So spending the money on a lawyer will only mean that 1) your neighbors have a nuisance judgment against them that they can’t afford to pay, 2) the neighbors still can’t afford an exterminator, and 3) you can’t afford an exterminator for yourself or the neighbors because you sank that money into lawyers fees and court costs.

  • Sorry but it is time to realize you just lost whatever you paid for the house, or you could sell it to someone else and allow them to loose the money.

  • Have you tried contacting the DC Department of Health? Maybe they’d have some ideas… It’s sad to think that moving would be your only option.

  • For what it’s worth, after bombing my apartment on multiple occasions to no avail, I’m having success with Diatomaceous earth. It’s a naturally-occurring odorless powder that’s safe on the skin. Four-pound bags are available at a hardware store for $10.

    After thoroughly vacuuming my room, I dusted the powder on/around my bed-frame, over my baseboards, and around my bed. Bites still happen here and there, but the number has drastically gone down after the first treatment. Online resources say after repeating the process for a few weeks, all the bugs will be killed.

    • My exterminator said never to bomb bed bugs. It just drives them into the walls and other rooms (or neighboring apartments) where it is harder to kill them.

      I did the heat treatment, very expensive but it worked. Of course i’m still paranoid since i don’t know where they came from so i keep interceptor traps filled with diatomaceous earth on the legs of my bed so they can’t get on the bed if they do come back.

  • Hire a professional. Place your bedding in the protective liners that you can purchase. It usually takes 3-4 treatments to rid your house of them — assuming the infestation is not coming from next door. We had them and it was hell to get rid of them. We have been good for the past 12 months. We used Terminix.

  • I had a problem with roaches and ants. The guy that lived below me was a mess and it got to the point where I did not keep food at my place just to keep the bugs out. I told him that I would pay to have his place bug bombed and I would take him to a baseball game while they bombed the place. It worked for almost four months then they came back. Good luck.

  • My sincerest sympathies! We had them too, and after doing everything possible concerning DIY home treatment, in conjunction with 2 professional treatments, we were able to finally eliminate the bed-bugs after a few months. Definitely call in the pros, seal up any cracks and crevices, use home spray, get a mattress cover, and wash and dry everything you can. All the methods listed on here so far will certainly help, but it will take a while and it will be a long and excruciating process.

    Unfortunately, even though we were able to kill the bedbugs, other bugs (spider beetles) keep on coming through the ceiling and floor of the apartment (we have the basement unit of a converted house on Park). Unless everyone in the building is as vigilant as you are, your problem will keep coming back.

    In the meanwhile, definitely get a spray, treat the mattress, get a mattress cover, and put sticky tape on all the legs of your bed to at least make it a “safe zone”. Don’t place any bags or purses on your bed, and get fully undressed when you climb in at night. At the very least, you can stop getting attacked in your sleep!

    Best of luck.

  • We are currently treating our new house from the prior tenants bed bug infestation. Fortunately it is being completely gutted/renovated and is entirely empty right now so that we can treat the whole house easily.

    A couple things we have been told though from our exterminator (as others have mentioned):

    – put all your laundry in plastic bags/bins and wash your clothes in hot water and turn the dryer on high. The heat of the dryer actually kills the bed bugs if they are on your clothes. The bins also protect your clean clothes from them getting on those as well.

    – clean constantly. Vacuum your floors/sweep up a couple times a week or more which will help get the stragglers and will get rid of some of the eggs

    – check your mattress for “tiny black spots” in the seams in particular and the lining. Also get one of those specialty zip-tight liners for your mattress if it’s not infested as other people have mentioned

    – bed bugs apparently can fit in a crack in your wall or wood beam like a 16th of an inch wide and live almost 2 years without food (your blood). So any furniture you have you need to disassemble every piece of it and clean all the joints/hinges/parts that you can and inspect them. So take your chairs apart/ your couch whatever.

    – bed bugs don’t carry any diseases so at least you don’t have to worry about that. They also can’t fly, but they can scurry pretty quick. I have seen them run and they are fast. For those who have never seen them they look like a tick, but are flatter and brown.

    – apparently there has been a huge infestation of bed bugs in DC, but actually Maryland has them the worst. Maryland we have been told is the 4th worst state in the nation for bedbugs. They once were almost eradicated entirely from the US, but are making a comeback. We were told it could possibly be because so many people travel to and from dc, but that’s kind of a big assumption

    – If hire an exterminator they should come every 2 weeks for at least 3 treatments. The bed bug eggs (which look like little black beads) take two weeks to hatch so if you wait to long, even if you kill off the adults, the eggs will hatch and you will have the same problem all over again. So you need to hit them almost exactly every two weeks.

    – apparently one of the main chemicals they use to treat them is Bedlam

    That’s all I can think of at the moment. Hope we all get rid of these nasty suckers.

  • It sounds like everyone has mentioned a million remedies, but a few things:

    -DO NOT start sleeping in other rooms. 90% will continue living on the bed and frame to feast upon you. You need to keep them contained there.

    -Bed bugs die from extreme heat. After you’ve encased everything, steam clean (a $50 steamer from bed, bath and beyond will do) your entire bed frame, behind your base boards near the bed, etc.

    -Rather than buy an expensive product, get yourself some 90% isopropyl alcohol and spray down the bed frame (maybe do first before the steamer sprays the bugs around.)They die pretty much on contact.

    -Thrown away all vacuum cleaner bags after use.

    -Now that you’ve blasted them in your house, put Diatomaceous earth along the wall you share with the offending row house next door. This powder cuts bugs as they walk through it. If you get everything in your house and create a barrier, you can contain this issue without considering your house “a loss.” That’s too dramatic. Anywhere in the city that you move you may be screwed. They’re everywhere.

    Lastly, don’t buy that couch on Craigslist. I think you know what I mean.

  • Have you checked out I have found it to be a reliable resource. There is a lot of information in response to your post that is correct and a lot that is incorrect. DE rocks…bombing is terrible. You may never get rid of them if they are next door but caulking and DE helps considerably. Are the next door neighbors tenants or owners? If they are tenants, the landlord may be liable for eradicating the issue. If they are owner, there isn’t any DC law out there to help right now. I’ve talked to a lawyer about an issue in my condo building and that’s been tough to deal with.

    I do recommend interceptors and mattress encasements…if they can’t feed on you in the bed, they will come to other furniture if they are hungry enough.

    Clean, keeps things simple, do not necessarily throw things away. It doesn’t make the situation go away and it’s a waste of money.

    Definitely hire a professional that has references! Certified too! And then follow their recommendations. Each exterminator handles things differently…

  • I feel your pain! We had them in NYC for like 2 years they would just keep going back and forth from our apartment to our neighbors.

    I personally would get rid of your mattress buy a new one and leave the plastic on it when they deliver.

    Steam cleaner- as they person above mentioned. Heat is one of the the things that will kill bed bugs. Ditto on washing and drying your clothes and then keeping them in plastic. Also, take down any curtains…… cloth wall hangings.

    At the end of the day, it isn’t going to do much if your neighbor’s house has them, too.

    I know it is hard to swallow but paying to have your neighbor’s house treated would probably be the best long term investment for your sanity. Unless, of course, it is a landlord situation then I would talk to the landlord

    They are horrible and no matter what you do to your house they will come back if the neighbor’s have them.

  • My heart breaks for anyone who has bed bugs. It take a serious mental toll on anyone who has experienced them. These are absolutely awful thing and the city is exploding with them. People just don’t realize it because of the stigma. There’s probably a greater stigma about having bedbugs than having AIDS.

    Unfortunately, they are impossible to beat. I was renting a row house and we got an infestation about six months ago. Three treatments seemed to almost eliminate them but never really did it completely.

    We just moved to an new apartment and I’ve started getting bites again. So either they came with us, or residence #2 has them as well. I’ve given up and am just living in constant discomfort.

  • Ugh, bedbugs are the worst! You basically have to kill ALL of them, in your house and in the neighboring house, or else they will come back. They are SO much worse than roaches, for all the reasons people have said. Going to bed with the certainty that another animal is waiting patiently until you finally fall asleep so that it can feed on your blood is really traumatic and will mess with your head like you cannot believe. (Though it may inspire you to have some heavy existentialist epiphanies!)

    Go with the professional exterminators. Find a way to eliminate them in the house next door, even if you have to pay for it, but maybe DCRA of DOH will help. It’s the only way. You will not be able to reach most of them directly with insecticides because of where they hide, so the idea is to create chemical or diatomaceous earth barriers that they will have to cross to get where they are trying to go. I don’t think they transmit insecticide from one to another, though, so this means you have to wait for every single bug to come in contact with the stuff. Be prepared to have to throw away your mattress, box spring, and bed frame. Run all your clothes/blankets/linens through the hot cycle of the dryer (you can skip the washer, the heat of the dryer is enough), maybe go to the laundromat to use their giant dryers, and then seal them immediately inside garbage bags until you absolutely need them.

    And know that there are thousands of other households in DC that are dealing with the same thing and are just too embarassed and freaked out to admit it. Good luck!

  • Columbia Heights is ground Zero for the DC bedbug explosion. All those folks cramming into small apartments.Good luck. I had to move and pay a pro to come treat my new place and all my stuff. It worked.

  • Hey there Everyone. I am the guy who sent the original post, and I just wanted to pass along a sincere THANK YOU for the amazing outpouring of empathy and great ideas. I’ve been on PoP for a long time, and I can’t remember the last time so many people had such personal experiences and constructive feedback on the issue at hand. This is such a great forum.

    As with anything that carries a stigma, my wife and I just feel better knowing that we are not the only ones out there on the front lines of this battle! We are really appreciative of everyone who took the time to share their suggestions…and will be looking into many of them.

    Thanks again!

    • The Mount Pleasant ANC has been warning of this problem since 2008. Bed bugs are everywhere, and an infestation is not an indication of lack of cleanliness. They’re found in the best of homes and hotels. And yes, they’re dreadfully hard to exterminate. Our cleaning lady, who is something of a fanatic about cleaning, got them, courtesy of a second-hand infant playpen, and had a devil of a time getting rid of them.

      The DC Government is aware of the problem. We had a visit from Girard Brown, of the District Department of Health, to talk about the problem, and what people can do about infestations. You should contact the DOH to see if they can do something for your neighbors.

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