Integrated pest management (IPM) practices are important to effectively treat bed bug infestations. Mattresses can be a particular challenge, as this is a prime harborage site and only a handful of insecticides are labeled for use on mattresses. Pest management professionals (PMP) should use several methods when treating mattresses, including mechanical removal (vacuuming), heat or cold treatment, cleaning, dusts, aerosol or spray insecticides specifically labeled for use on mattresses that have contact kill or both contact and residual properties, as well as permethrin-impregnated mattress liners to help prevent re-infestation.
When we’re talking about treating “beds,” we’re talking about the entire bed structure: mattress, box spring, headboard, and bed frame. “We believe the bed frame and headboards are oftentimes more infested than the mattress itself,” said Timothy Wong, director, M&M Environmental, New York.
“Beds themselves are oftentimes more important, because there are no encasements for the bed frame,” added Wong. The same products labeled for use on mattresses will likely be labeled for the entire bed structure. Carefully read product labels thoroughly and use the product only as directed.
Using insecticides not labeled for use on mattresses can be dangerous
“Research and analysis have been done by manufacturers of insecticides to secure a product registration and approval from the EPA,” said Wong. This is how an insecticide is determined to be safe for a particular use, including on mattresses. Very few products are labeled for this use.
When treating mattresses, only use insecticides labeled for that use and carefully follow all product directions. “Using any products not labeled for mattresses will pose a potential health risk and hence a potential liability for the PCO and applicator,” added Wong. Never spray bed linens or anything else that will come into contact with the customer. Exposure to insecticide residual should be prevented.
Effectiveness of insecticides labeled for use on mattresses
As with any pest control product, the effectiveness of a bed-bug insecticide labeled for use on mattresses, whether aerosol, spray, or dust, depends on the insecticide used, how it’s applied, and the level of infestation. Spray insecticides are most effective for a quick kill through direct contact and will offer varying long-term residual effect depending on the product used. Consider bed bug resistance when choosing a pyrethroid- or non-pyrethroid-based insecticide.
Dust insecticides have a long-lasting residual effect, and can improve treatment when used in conjunction with spray insecticides. If dusts are carefully applied, especially in areas in which people and pets won’t come into contact with it, they can be beneficial. Dust forms of insecticide should be used with equal caution as sprays and other forms of insecticides. Even diatomaceous earth (DE) dust can be toxic when inhaled, which can cause respiratory complications.
Insecticides can be successfully used as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to bed bug treatment. Mechanical removal by vacuuming is the first step, which although effective, may not remove all of the bed bugs. Next, use heat or cold treatment. Finally, a spray and dust insecticide application will complete the process. The process may need to be repeated, so follow up to ensure effective treatment.
Treat areas of the mattress and box spring that have active bed bug infestations—adults, nymphs, eggs, and even fecal staining—in typical harborages, including mattress tufts, seams, folds, labels, and edges. Treat the entire flat surface of the box spring. “I would not treat the flat surface of mattresses where people are sleeping. Emphasis would be on sides and tags,” said Philip Koehler, AB, PhD, endowed professor, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Encasements and Liners
Encasing newly purchased mattresses and box springs can prevent them from becoming infested by physically preventing bed bugs from reaching them. It won’t prevent an infestation, but it will make detection and treatment more effective. Using both permethrin-impregnated mattress liners and encasements can also help prevent re-infestation of mattresses and box springs.
Worst case scenarios
There are locations where treating bed bug-infested mattresses can be daunting, such as homeless shelters, affordable housing complexes, and campus housing. In most of these places, mattresses are either on the floor or supported by springs or plywood. If these areas are not treated, bed bug control is difficult or impossible.
“In one homeless shelter we worked in, every bed was infested with bed bugs. That was because people had to check out every day and check in again every night. Every bed was infested as a result of people moving to different sleeping locations every night,” said Koehler. Personal belongings being brought in to the shelter are prime contributors to the rapid infestation of bed bugs.