Non-Chemical Bed Bug Management

Bed bugs are one of the most labor-intensive pests that pest management professionals (PMPs) tackle. These tiny, cryptic (i.e. well hidden) creatures can get into almost anything inside of human spaces and are keenly adept at spreading by themselves or hitching a ride. Often, digging into the PMP toolbox and utilizing a combination of tools is necessary to get complete control of bed bug infestations. Aside from pesticides, there are multiple non-chemical options that can be used in conjunction with other treatment methods for bed bug control. Non-chemical essentially means anything that doesn’t require a pesticide like vacuuming, mattress encasements, steam, and heat for bed bug control.

Recent research out of Rutger’s Entomology Department evaluated the effectiveness of some non-chemical management strategies against bed bugs. They compared two different non-chemical programs in three different high-rise buildings in New Jersey, two managed by a private company and one by a public housing authority. The buildings had 7 years of bed bug infestation history with documented self-treating, treatments by housing staff and some PMP interventions. For one program, the researchers steamed furniture, vacuumed, installed mattress encasements, installed pitfall traps, asked clients to wash bedding and provided brochures for client education. In the second program, they did all of the same non-chemical options but also added silica dust applications to furniture and baseboards.

The non-chemical methods alone completely eliminated bed bugs in 36% of the apartments and reduced the total number of bed bugs by 89%. In the non-chemical program plus silica dust, bed bugs were completely eliminated in 40% of apartments and there was an overall reduction of 99% of bed bugs. The bed bug numbers declined more quickly with the addition of silica dust. In apartments with low levels of bed bugs, the researchers found it was possible to eliminate bed bugs using only the non-chemical methods. However, client communication is always key, and the researchers hit a few snags with residents. In one apartment, the resident refused to accept they still had bed bugs and removed the encasement from their bed. While significant reduction (98%) of bed bugs did happen in this apartment, complete eradication required the cooperation of the client. Sometimes the hardest aspect of pest control is not the insects, but rather finding a way to better communicate with clients to encourage cooperation.

Brittany Campbell, PhD, BCE

References:

Abbar, S., Wang, C., & Cooper, R. (2020). Evaluation of a non-chemical compared to a non-chemical plus silica gel approach to bed bug management. Insects11(7), 443. https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4450/11/7/443

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