Bed bugs – Disposing of Furniture and Possessions

Disposal of beds, furniture, clothing, and other items because they are infested with bed bugs should generally be discouraged in residential situations and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  • Disposal of infested items does not guarantee bed bug control.
  • Disposal of these items can result in a serious financial burden for residents, particularly in lower income areas.
  • Replacement items may become infested if brought into a room prior to treatment of the infestation.
  • Disposal may result in spread of bed bugs to new locations.

Mattress, box spring, and furniture encasement can be a cost-effective alternative to disposal.

Some customers will prefer to dispose of infested items even after assurance that they can be successfully treated. Hotels and other sensitive sites may prefer to dispose of all bed bug infested furniture to avoid negative public relations.

When disposal of infested materials is necessary, steps should be taken to minimize the likelihood of spreading bed bugs in accordance with applicable laws or ordinances for discarding bed bug infested items.

Items that are badly damaged and deteriorated may not justify the effort and expense to treat them and should be discarded.

  1. Visible or readily accessible bed bugs should be eliminated by vacuuming, steaming, freezing, insecticide treatment or other methods.
  2. Prior to removal from the infested area, mattresses, box springs, and furniture should be sealed in plastic to trap bed bugs inside.
  3. If left for pick-up, furniture should be labeled as bed bug infested, and then damaged to render it unsalvageable.
  4. Disposal should be coordinated with trash pick-up, or items should be taken directly to a disposal site.

Bugs that resemble the human bed bug

Bed bugs are reddish-brown, small–about ¼” long-wingless and very flat. They prefer to feed on human blood, although they may bite other warm-blooded animals, including pets. During the day, bedbugs hide near the bed. They use heat-seeking thermo receptors to find their sleeping victims at night.

Life Stages: Eggs hatch into nymphs, newly hatched nymphs are tiny-about 1/16” of an inch. Nymphs go through 5 molts to reach adult size and they must feed before each molt. Females can produce 5-7 eggs per week, laying up to 500 in a lifetime. Bed bugs grow fastest and lay most eggs between 72°- 80°F. They feed only on blood when people are sleeping or sitting quietly, often when it’s dark.

They seek shelter in cracks and crevices when not feeding. They poop out “blood spots.” Spots look like dots made by a fine felt-tipped marker. You’d see them near where they fed and near their hideouts. Adults can live over a year without a meal. Can be found in the cleanest of clean places. But clutter makes them harder to get rid of. They have no “grooming behavior”- meaning that insecticides meant to be swallowed by roaches and flies won’t work on bed bugs.

Bat bugs: The differences between these two pests are subtle and more often than not, only a trained professional would be able to tell the difference. Bat bugs and bed bugs look almost identical in body shape and color. The most useful identifying feature is their hair; a bat bug has longer hairs on their upper thorax than those of a bed bug. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to see this difference without the use of a microscope.  

As for behavior, both are blood-sucking parasites that feed on warm-blooded mammals. Although both feed exclusively on blood, their preferred host varies. Bed bugs prefer feeding on humans, while bat bugs prefer bats, as their name suggests. Bat blood is essential to the survival and reproduction of the bat bug, however, they have been known to feed on other mammals, including humans when abandoned by their bat hosts.

Bat bugs are often found inside a structure when bats have established a colony in attics, wall voids, unused chimneys, or any uninhabited areas within a building. Typically, bat bugs will be found in cracks and crevices in bat roosting areas.

Swallow bugs are found commonly in barn and cliff swallow nests, but readily invade the structures and bite humans as well. They are not incriminated as vectors of any diseases to humans, but their bite is known to cause minor to serious reactions on humans. The swallow bug is distinguished from other, similar species by its antennae, where the last two segments are the same length. This species also tends to be a grayish brown color, rather than the reddish brown of the Human Bed Bug.

Poultry bed bug: In a breeder facility, hens and roosters, typically in high numbers, are used to provide hatching eggs for broiler production. Several regions of the broiler breeder facility may serve as shelter and hiding places for bed bugs. Typically, feeders and waterers are hung over platforms made of wooden slats that provide excellent shelter for bed bugs. Also, the corners of galvanized metal nest boxes and cardboard boxes used to transport eggs are typical sites for bed bugs. Because of the high density of animals and the resulting stress, heavy infestations of bed bugs in chicken houses may lead to excessive feather loss, cloacal irritation, lesions on the breast and legs, and even anemia in extreme cases. Consequently, production may be decreased, feed consumption may increase, and egg spots from bed bug fecal deposits may be observed, potentially diminishing the value of the eggs as well as the profitability of the chickens.

NOTE: The eggs and meat are not harmed directly by bed bugs. However, there can be indirect harm such as anemia from blood loss. Bed bugs are not like ticks that remain attached to animals. They just feed for a few minutes and then run away, so the chickens themselves when sent to market should not have any bed bugs on or in them.

Psocids (Book Lice) are tiny little bugs – about 1/16 ” long and they are not actually lice at all and are harmless. But, they are still bugs and must be dealt with accordingly!

If you’ve got any dried out or decaying plants, you might find these little critters enjoying a plant buffet, or they may even be lurking around your stored food.

For identification purposes, the head and abdomen of a book louse appear large, and the midsection is narrower. Huge, compound eyes protrude from the sides of the head. They also have thread-like antennae that sweep back toward the abdomen. Not all book lice have wings, but some do (usually the book lice that stay outside), and when they do, there are four of them – two smaller front wings and two larger back wings. Most of the ones you will be hunting indoors should be wingless book lice.

The Future of Bed bugs

Today, on the downside, we have a much more mobile society, a lot more stuff, fewer chemical treatment options.

The upside is that we now have powerful dry vapor steamers and ziploc bags. Those two factors alone tell me it may be easier in some ways to live with bed bugs these days, but it may actually be harder to get rid of bed bugs.

Your best bet for getting rid of bed bugs is the same today as it was

in 1940: thoroughness;  Dr. Potter’s footnotes cite the following words of wisdom, from a 1940 pest control manual:

You can count on intensive research into more and better products to eliminate and control bed bugs as they affect more and more people. You have seen that current strategies are imperfect, and that the easiest way to successfully manage these new-to-us pests combines careful preparation and monitoring with chemical and non-chemical bed bug treatments.

But it’s always possible that totally non-chemical solution will present itself, and you can live bed bug-free without exposing your family to any product that you feel is unsafe. Because of the health reasons, it’s doubtful that that a DDT will make a return to the market place as a treatment to the bed bug problem; researchers may discover or invent another, safer pesticide that eliminates the bed bug threat. But until then, we are only left with imperfect treatments.

Bed bugs in the early 1900s

Bed bugs received a big reproductive boost in the early 1900s, when central heating of buildings became common. By the turn of the century, cast iron radiators were delivering warm air to every room in the house, a process made even easier in the 1930s by electricity, fans and forced air heating.  This enabled the bugs to thrive year-round, whereas before that, populations followed a more seasonal trend, increasing as the weather warmed. Besides being introduced on infested items, the bugs sometimes moved from house to house, escaping through exterior windows and doors and traveling along walls, pipes and gutters.

During the war years, bed bugs were transported on bedding into many public air-raid shelters. They also feasted on sleeping soldiers in barracks and battlefront trenches, and were spread on belts, backpacks, canteens and helmets. One interesting account from World War I states, “In the East African campaign the bugs invaded the cork lining of the sun helmets of the soldiers. As the helmets were piled together at night, all soon became infested and the soldiers complained of bugs attacking their heads.”

In the early 1900, a Chicago court ruled that no one shall be required to pay rent for a house or apartment that was infested with bedbugs.

In Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s, an estimated one-third of dwellings in major cities had bed bugs. In the 1930s, a survey of 3,000 moving vans in Stockholm, Sweden found bed bugs on 47% of the vans inspected, foretelling big concerns for moving and storage companies today.


Bed bugs in the early 1800s

As noted earlier, bed bugs became plentiful in North America with the coming of European settlers. As a deterrent, beds were often made from sassafras wood and the crevices doused with boiling water, arsenic and sulfur.

This provided only temporary relief. As villages became cities, life became crowded with people and bed bugs from around the globe. Ships and railroads afforded ideal accommodation for the bugs, and rapid transit to where they had not been before.

Hotels and boarding houses were especially buggy, and smitten travelers unwittingly carried them from place to place in their trunks and satchels. Vigilant travelers learned to pull beds away from walls and immerse the legs in pans of oil.

Others relied on pyrethrum powder: “Dusted between the sheets of a bed, it will protect the sleeper from the most voracious hotel bug.

It is during the late 1800s when the first mentions of the phrase warning against bed bugs appear. “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”  This suggests that the expression could have indeed been an actual  warning, urging people to be on guard against the biting of these pesky creatures.


Basics in Inspection and Detection

Live bed bugs

  • Bed bugs are visible in their adult form.  They are approximately the size of a pencil eraser, red to brown in color, flat and oval in shape
  • .Blood Stains from crushed bugs or Rusty (sometimes dark) spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses and walls.
  • Fecal spots, eggshells and shed skin may be found near their hiding places.
  • An offensive, sweet, musty odor from bed bug scent glands may be detected when infestations are severe.

Eggs / Molts

  • It takes approximately 1 month for the life cycle to go from egg to adult, under ideal conditions.  The nymph will molt  5 times in that month.


Fecal Matter

  •   Fecal spotting tends to appear as not as red blood but instead as dark/black      stains or smears from the digested blood that is excreted.

Blood  Spots

  • The bed bug is unable to digest all of its blood meal and therefore excretes a portion of the undigested blood on the areas where it crawls.  Another event that occurs is that as they are feeding the individual will move around in the bed and squeeze the bed bug between their body and the bedding.


  •  A bed bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow feeding tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place.


Early Destroyers (Exterminators)

Methods of managing bed bugs today can be traced to the first European exterminators. Among the most famous were Tiffin and Son of London, who formed a business back in 1690 to exterminate bed bugs for the wealthy.

The gas-lit sign over their shop read: “May The Destroyers Of Peace Be Destroyed By Us. Bug-Destroyers To Her Majesty.” Recognizing the constant threat of infestation, Tiffin noted: “We do the work by contract, examining the house every year. It’s a precaution to keep the place comfortable as servants are apt to bring bugs in their boxes and clothes.”

Many “secret formulas” over years Claimed to control bed bugs. These advertisements were from the early 1900s.

Tiffin reported finding the most bugs in beds, but cautioned “if left alone they get numerous, climb about the corners of the ceiling, and colonize anywhere they can.”

The Spread of Bedbugs

As civilization expanded, bed bugs spread throughout Europe and Asia, reaching Italy by 100 A.D., China by 600 A.D., and Germany and France in the 1200s and 1400s. Heat generated from sleeping and cooking fires allowed the bugs to live comfortably both in castles of the wealthy and huts of the working class.

The poor, however, suffered the most; an observation made in the 15th century and attributed to a lack of vigilant cleaning: “For they do not breed in beds of which the linen and straw is frequently changed, as in the houses of the rich” (DeAnimalibus Insectes, 1603).

Bed bugs were first reported in England in 1583, but were probably there earlier. Soon after, they hitchhiked their way to the Americas with European explorers and settlers. Aided by commerce, infestations initially arose in bustling seaport towns, appearing farther inland later on.

Treatise on Bedbugs
Title and facing page from Southhall’s 1730 treatise on the bed bug. The book sold for a shilling, while a bottle of his secret “Nonpareil Liquor” bed bug killer cost two.

The History of Bedbugs

ANCIENT ORIGINS. Bed bugs have been biting people since the beginning of recorded time. Studies suggest the bugs first parasitized bats and then humans inhabiting the same caves in the Mediterranean region where civilization began. Most likely, relations between bugs and people were intermittent back then since hunters and herdsmen moved around a lot, making it harder for bed bugs to become established.

Life became easier for the bed dwellers with the formation of villages and cities. Fossilized bed bugs have been unearthed from archaeological sites dating back more than 3,500 years — a time when they were considered both pest and potion. The Egyptians, for example, drank a bed bug cocktail as a cure for snakebite.

Ancient mattressIn a cave in South Africa, archaeologists discovered the layered remains of ancient mattresses from around 77,000 years ago—and if that isn’t interesting enough, it turns out modern humans aren’t the only ones concerned about bugs between the sheets! The ancient sleeping mat’s top layer was made with insect-repelling leaves that scientists believe were used to ward off bed bugs.