Non-chemical control tools and tactics like vacuuming are important components of effective bed bug control. Vacuuming alone cannot eliminate bed bugs (except possibly in a very limited new infestation), and vacuuming is typically used in conjunction with insecticide treatment and other non-chemical controls. Vacuuming allows you to:
- Eliminate large clumps of clustering bed bugs quickly, or physically remove those that may be isolated
- Eliminate insecticide-resistant bugs
- Reduce insecticide use in badly infested sites that may otherwise be treated repeatedly
- Control bed bugs in sites or on materials where the use of insecticide is not safe, practical or effective
- Provide an alternative control method in sites where clutter is bad
- Remove dirt, dead bugs, shed skins and other debris that can improve the effectiveness of insecticide treatment and give you a “clean slate” for follow-up inspections
Timing is everything. Vacuuming is most effective before bed bugs are disturbed and while they are still gathered together in clumps. They can be difficult to dislodge with a vacuum since they cling tightly to rough surfaces like bare wood and fabric. Eggs are the stage least susceptible to vacuuming since they are coated with a transparent “cement” that adheres to most surfaces.
CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON. It is probably best to choose a vacuum designed and marketed specifically for pest control, with a HEPA filter system that will keep allergens from bed bugs from becoming airborne as you vacuum. A crevice tool is the most efficient accessory for removing clumps of bed bugs. Use it for most sites, including corners, edges seams, cracks and crevices. Using the strongest suction possible, place the crevice tool at a 45-degree angle on the surface, and push it forward so that bugs and eggs are crushed and get sucked into the tool rather than being pushed to the side.
A stiff brush attachment can be useful on surfaces that require more friction and penetration to dislodge bugs and eggs. The disadvantage to a brush attachment is that the brush may hold bugs or fling bugs outward into new locations. Use a powered “carpet beater” attachment for rugs and, when practical, upholstered furniture.
USE A DEDICATED VACUUM. Bugs or eggs may occasionally get caught in the ridges of the vacuum hose or on brush bristles, or survive their trip into the bag or filter, and then be transported to new locations. Check the brush after use. Some technicians will vacuum up a small amount of diatomaceous earth, boric acid or other inorganic insecticide at the end of the job to kill any bed bugs that have survived in the vacuum. Pest control companies should have procedures in place to counter the risk that vacuums might infest service vehicles with bed bugs, or worse, infest other clients, even though this risk is probably low. Vacuums used for bed bug control should be “dedicated” to bed bug service, and never taken into any other type of account. Between jobs, place tape over end of the nozzle to keep any surviving bugs from escaping the vacuum.
TARGET YOUR VACUUMING. Vacuum up any visible bed bugs or eggs in key sites in and around the bed, but whether bed bugs are visible or not, also vacuum these sites:
- Floor under and around the bed/under upholstered furniture (use a powered carpet attachment for carpeting)
- Upholstered furniture
- Intersection of the baseboard and floor near the bed
- Potentially infested cracks and crevices in the bed frame, furniture, and walls near sites of infestation
When finished, seal the vacuum bag with tape, then place it into a sealed plastic bag for disposal. For bagless vacuums, dispose of the canister’s contents into a sealed plastic bag then wash the canister. Depending on the type of filter, it should be bagged and disposed of, or washed and dried after use.
There’s one other advantage to having a vacuum on the job — it’s a quick way to get rid of bed bugs that are hitchhiking on your clothes and shoes!
The authors are well-known industry consultants and co-owners of Pinto & Associates.