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DIY bedbugs

Sometimes, your clients simply cannot afford traditional bed bug monitoring or heat treatments. But  here are two DIY monitoring and control techniques developed by researchers at the University of Florida.

The resurgence of bed bug infestations in the United States over the past decade has forced the pest control industry to look for solutions to monitor and control these pests. There are currently a vast range of control solutions and monitoring tools that can be used to manage bed bug infestations. Unfortunately, many of these control solutions are cost prohibitive to various income groups or agencies dealing with bed bug infestations.

In Florida, there is a need for less expensive alternatives for controlling and monitoring bed bugs in homeless shelters and migrant farm worker communities. There are about 20,000 sheltered homeless individuals and 50,000 migrant farm workers (including family members) in Florida. Homeless shelters experience new introductions of bed bugs regularly and most agencies do not have the budgets to pay for continuous bed bug treatments. Migrant farm workers also have difficulties affording bed bug control. A little more than half of unaccompanied migrant farm workers make less than $10,000 each year and a majority of migrant farm worker families make between $10,000 and $25,000 per year.

These budget constraints led the University of Florida to develop instructions on making a bed bug interceptor device made from common household items and a do-it-yourself compartmentalized heat box used to eliminate bed bugs from furniture and personal items.


Monitor Materials.

The low-cost, do-it-yourself interceptor trap is used as an affordable method to monitor for bed bugs in a room. Like commercially available interceptor traps, the trap can be placed under each bed leg to prevent the movement of bed bugs onto and off a bed. The trap can be constructed from items commonly found around a household.

Items needed include:

  • A container with a smooth outer wall that a bed leg can fit into. Note: The container needs to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the bed. There are many plastic recyclable containers that can be used. We used a container similar to that you receive when you order soup “to go” from a restaurant.
  • A larger container with a smooth inner wall into which the previous container will fit into without any of the walls touching. Note: A 0.5 inch of space between the larger and smaller container walls is enough. Once again, this container should be strong enough to hold the weight of a bed when placed under a bed leg. We used a disposable plastic Tupperware container in our trap.
  • A roll of 1-inch masking tape.
  • Talcum powder.


Monitor Construction.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. On the inside of the smaller container, apply a piece of masking tape from the center of the bottom of the container to top edge of the inner wall of the container. Three more pieces should be added in the same fashion and evenly spaced from each other around the container.
  2. Wrap masking tape tightly around the outer wall of the larger container from the top edge of the wall to the bottom of the container.
  3. Glue or tape the smaller container to the center of the larger container. Center the smaller container and make sure that none of the walls of either container touch each other.
  4. Apply talcum powder to the smooth outer wall of the smaller container and the smooth inner wall of the larger container. These two smooth surface walls have created a moat that bed bugs will become trapped in. 

This trap can be constructed for less than $1 if all of the materials are already present in client’s household or are recycled from things that would be thrown away. While these traps are much cheaper than commercial alternatives, they are not perfect alternatives to traps on the market. These traps take around five minutes each to build correctly, they are less aesthetically pleasing and are less durable than commercial traps that are available. However, these traps will work for monitoring bed bugs and can be used by individuals who cannot afford commercial alternatives.


Heat Box Supplies.

We have seen interceptor traps capture thousands of bed bugs in homeless shelter facilities, but traps are not meant to control bed bugs alone. A do-it-yourself compartmentalized heat treatment box was designed as an affordable method for agencies to treat bed bug-infested furniture and personal items. The concept behind the heat box is to construct an insulated box around infested furniture and raise the temperature to a lethal killing temperature (120°F) for a few hours. After the treatment is completed, the furniture and personal items are bed bug free. Items needed include:

  • Six 8-foot by 4-foot by 2-inch thick polystyrene sheets
  • Masking tape (2 inches wide)
  • Two remote thermometers (indoor-outdoor thermom- eters)
  • Two box fans
  • Two oil-filled space heaters


Heat Box Construction.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Gather the furniture to be treated into a central area. This works best on carpeted floors. If the floors are tiled or cement you may need to place insulated mats or carpet on the floor where the furniture will rest.
  2. Place a space heater next to but not touching the furniture. Place the other space heater on the opposite side of the furniture but not touching the furniture.
  3. Place each box fan next to each heater so that when the fans are turned on they are blowing hot air into the furniture.
  4. Place each remote thermometer in areas of the material to be treated so that sensors are not exposed directly to the heat.
  5. Turn on the heaters, box fans and remote thermometers.
  6. Create a square outer wall surrounding the infested furniture with four of the insulation boards. The sidewalls should be staggered in placement (see figures at left). Use the masking tape to hold the four pieces of insulation board together.
  7. Make a roof over the square outer wall with two remaining insulation boards. Use the masking tape to hold all of the insulation boards together forming a box.
  8. Tape over all joints of your newly created insulated box (including the floor junction) so heat cannot escape.
  9. Let the furniture heat in the box for two to four hours once the temperature reading on all the thermometers reaches 120°F.
  10. After the heating is done, turn off heaters and fans and disassemble the heat box.

The equipment needed to build a heat box can be purchased for less than $400 and can be continuously used to eliminate bed bugs from infested furniture. The heat box also can be used proactively to treat furniture or personal items before the items are permitted into a facility. Killing bed bugs in the furniture alone may not eliminate an infestation in the entire facility. Nevertheless, while there are disadvantages to using a heat box, the continuous need of treating newly infested furniture in a homeless shelter and the limitations of the agencies’ budget ultimately outweighs these disadvantages.


IPM Techniques.

The do-it-yourself traps and heat box can be incorporated into an Integrated Pest Management program. The following non-chemical control procedures can be taken to manage a bed bug infestation:

  1. Bed bugs can be physically removed from the premise by vacuuming carpets and harborage locations. Common harborage locations include: cracks and crevices of furniture, cracks and crevices of bed frames, seams of mattresses and upholstered furniture, behind bed frame head boards, and wall and ceiling junctions. After vacuuming up bed bugs, vacuum bags should be immediately disposed of into a tightly sealed garbage bag to prevent bed bugs from infesting the vacuum.
  2. If a bed is infested, bed linens and comforters should be washed and dried on high heat to kill all bed bug life stages.
  3. Infested (or suspected to be infested with bed bugs) furniture can now be heat treated using the heat box treatment technique. Heat-treated furniture, such as beds, can be protected from further infestation by placing do-it-yourself traps under each bed leg. The do-it-yourself traps also will alert clients to continued bed bug activity after all treatment procedures were conducted.

While these procedures will greatly reduce bed bug numbers, they may not eliminate a bed bug population on their own. A certified pest control operator may be needed to supplement these control procedures to eradicate bed bugs from a premises.


Closing Thoughts.

Both the do-it-yourself trap and heat box are especially useful in low-income facilities such as homeless shelters, migrant farm worker communities and for others in similar situations. While these solutions may not be the best methods for monitoring and controlling bed bugs, they are solutions that all socioeconomic groups can use.

It is important to remember that bed bugs are a community problem and the best treatment and control measures may not be an option for all members of society. Besides economic boundaries faced in bed bug control, language and cultural barriers exist. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer services has taken an active roll in educating migrant farm worker communities in Spanish about bed bugs and do-it-yourself methods of monitoring these pests. Assessing these at-risk communities and developing methods of communicating information and affordable control methods may be difficult but are required to reduce the overall community’s impact from bed bugs.

All of the authors work in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida. Ben Hottel is a graduate student, Roberto Pereira is an associate research scientist and Philip Koehler is an endowed professor.