As restaurants, travel, schools and workplaces return to business as usual and pandemic restrictions loosen, pest management professionals are seeing greater need for bed bug control.
“Our bed bug calls are up,” says Con Murphy, owner of Cranbrook Pest Control, which serves the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Even work at hotels and motels increased, he reports, despite lower levels of recreational travel.
According to the PCT 2021 State of the Bed Bug Control Market survey, sponsored by Bayer and conducted by independent research firm Readex Research, 44 per cent of PMPs said the pandemic had a negative impact, either modest or significant, on their commercial bed bug services , especially in the hospitality sector. However, 52 per cent expected the percentage of revenue generated by bed bug control services at their locations to increase in 2022.
While the higher demand for bed bug control is great for business, controlling the pests can be a challenge where anti-pesticide sentiment is high and regulations restrict the use of chemical products.
“We’re really limited with what we can do, so we’re getting innovative,” says Murphy, who developed a comprehensive program that relies less on chemical treatment and more on monitoring devices, mattress encasements, biological pesticides, vacuums and portable heat tents. “We’ve really changed our business model from chemicals; we’ve been forced to.”
Following are reminders from the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control (10th edition) to help PMPs hone their bed bug vacuum, steam, cold and heat treatment skills.
VACUUMING. Using a commercial vacuum, ideally with a HEPA filter, is an effective and efficient way to eliminate large numbers of bed bugs. But it must be done in a targeted, methodical manner, focusing on areas where the pestshore or congregate. Crack and crevice attachments that channel the suction of the vacuum will increase your ability to remove bed bugs from harborages. Vacuums, however, often fail to remove bed bugs from cracks and are not very effective at dislodging eggs cemented to substrates.
It’s also important to take proper care of the vacuum itself so it does not become infested. After each use, remove the vacuum bag, seal it in a plastic bag and discard it immediately.
STEAMING. Portable commercial steam units reach temperatures of up to 220 degrees F (100 degrees C), which is more than sufficient to kill bed bugs and eggs upon contact. Research has found they’re capable of delivering lethal temperatures up to 6 cm deep within cracks and up to 2 cm beneath fabric surfaces. This penetrating ability makes them effective when used on the outer layers of upholstered furniture, as well as when applied to the cracks and crevices of furniture, moldings and mattresses. Bed bugs exposed to sublethal temperatures from steamers often are flushed from their harborages, where they can be exposed to steam, residual insecticide or removed by vacuuming.
Most commercial steam units have a variety of attachments. Larger steam heads tend to be more efficient and effective than smaller, nozzle-type attachments because they cover a greater surface area and reduce the force at which the steam is emitted. When applied at high pressure, steam can dislodge bed bugs and blow them off the substrate, allowing them to escape the lethal effects of the steam. To maintain lethal temperatures, keep the steam head in close contact with the surface being treated, because the heat diminishes rapidly as it mixes with cooler air the further the head is pulled from the surface.
Be aware that steam can damage leather, suede, silk and wooden furniture with a waxed or polished finish.
FREEZING. While a gradual freezing of bed bugs and eggs may require several weeks to be effective, the instantaneous drop to subfreezing temperatures causes mortality of all life stages upon contact. The Cryonite System is a tool that uses freezing temperatures to destroy insects and their eggs. It releases CO2 at -110 degrees F (-79 degrees C), producing dry ice “snow” that is lethal on contact. Like commercial steam units, this tool also flushes bugs out of harborages. Proper application distance is necessary so bed bugs are not dispersed by high pressure before they can be killed. According to the manufacturer, it is a good option for treating electronics, outlets and antiques.
HEAT CHAMBERS AND WHOLE-UNIT HEAT TREATMENT. Exposure to high temperature can be very effective in destroying bed bugs and their eggs.
According to research by Dr. Stephen Kells, University of Minnesota, Rapid mortality of bed bugs and eggs is achieved at a temperature of 122 degrees F (50 degrees C), but a longer timeframe is needed to achieve 100 percent mortality at lower temperatures or at temperatures that rise gradually . At a slow rate of temperature increase (6.5 degrees F / 14.2 degrees C per hour), adult bugs survived up to 90 minutes in 113 degrees F (45 degrees C) conditions, while eggs survived up to 8 hours, but both died in less than a minute when temperatures reached 122 degrees F (50 degrees C). This has significant implications for structural heat treatments that rely on the gradual increase of temperature.
Portable heat chambers have been used effectively by the pest management industry to treat household furniture and items that are infested with bed bugs and cannot be put into a clothes dryer or treated with insecticide. Chambers can be built or purchased in various sizes.
Heat also can be applied to entire rooms or structures to control bed bugs. Commercially available systems use either direct-fired propane or electric heating units or a combination of the two. Propane heaters are more efficient, but their use may not be permitted in all municipalities. Electric heaters are less efficient but are an effective alternative to propane. However, harnessing enough electrical current to power these heaters for large jobs (eg, apartment buildings) in a single visit may not be practical.
Challenges to heat treatment include excessive clutter and cool spots that allow the pests and eggs to survive. For instance, bed bugs may harbor under items where the heat cannot fully penetrate. As such, successful heat treatment requires continuous manipulation or moving of items in the environment to ensure lethal temperatures are reached and distributed to all areas where bugs and eggs may be present.
Fans help distribute the heat and temperature probes and sensors — placed in areas where airflow is limited like underneath cushions and between mattresses — help technicians monitor, regulate and document the heat treatment process.
The length of heat treatment varies, depending on the extent of the bed bug infestations, the type of items in the portable heat chamber, and the home’s construction (eg, wood frame, slab, etc.), how well it is sealed, its contents and level of clutter.
Technicians require extensive training on how to achieve lethal temperatures while avoiding damage to personal items and the structure, and customers must be provided a thorough list of items to remove before treatment. This list can be extensive, and alternative treatment for these items may be necessary if they are infested.
Heat also provides effective control of other pests, such as cockroaches.
FROM THE REPORT. How much of an impact did the COVID-19 pandemic’s resulting downturn in the commercial market, particularly the hospitality sector, have on your bed bug business last year?
- significant positive impact: 2%
- Modest positive impact: 8%
- neither a positive nor negative impact: 46%
- modest negative impact: 28%
- significant negative impact: 16%
- no answer: 1%
Source: Readex Research, August 2021; 184 respondents
How do you expect the percentage of revenue generated by your location’s bed bug control services to change in the next year?
- increase: 52%
- remain the same: 41%
- decrease: 7%
- no answer: 1%
Source: Readex Research, August 2021; 184 respondents