No doubt you’ve heard of the city’s little bedbug problem. The critters are basically everywhere by now, so it’d be easy to freak out and never touch another item that isn’t shrink-wrapped and certified “bedbug free.” But, of course, you gotta live, right? Our world of broke-dom is one of swaps, yards sales, vintage shops and used bookstores. We don’t want to have to give up on all this, but with bedbugs in the picture, we have to be extra careful. Because, really, we may be on our own. As one Park Slope vintage shop told us when we asked about anti-bedbug measures: “We don’t guarantee. The customer has to be responsible.” Here’s what a few other Brooklyn merchants have to say, and what you can do to protect yourself.
Since anti-bedbug measures are now part of the real-estate market, we thought they might be creeping into the used-goods market too. But after approaching a few stoop merchants, flea market sellers and vintage store owners with the claim of bedbug paranoia, it became clear there’s still a mixed bag in these circles.
Aside from the classic caveat emptor we got from the vintage spot in the Slope, just as discouraging was the Fort Greene vintage merchant (“What can we really do?” he replied), who was just barely aware of the little guys. And from a stoop seller nearby, “well, all my stuff has been washed, but I can’t vouch for her…” (pointing to another seller next to him).
But, to our relief, some others did have more of a handle on the problem. They inspect what comes in, wash and dry (or dry-clean) goods, and flat-out reject certain items. The bottom line from one high-turnover second-hand shop (which we’ve all frequented at one time or another): “We inspect what comes in, we reject couches with torn covers, and definitely no mattresses.”
So, some merchants are doing their part, but bedbug prevention isn’t exactly S.O.P quite yet. Since it seems we have to be ever-vigilant, here are a few tips to keep your new used stuff from infesting your home:
First, how to kill ’em
Both heat and cold will eliminate bedbugs, but you’ll have better luck with heat (it takes 15 minutes at -26 degrees Fahrenheit to freeze bedbugs, which is a kind of cold your freezer likely won’t reach). On the other hand, Seven minutes of 115 degrees will kill adults and eggs, and that’s do-able in any home dryer or oven. Another option is a Packtite, a new $300 product that’s essentially a portable bedbug killing machine. But it’s also currently out-of-stock due to, we imagine, OVERWHELMING DEMAND. So, for now, anyway, you’re left with your trusty household appliances. As for big items like free mattresses and stuffed couches—even the Salvation Army is starting to refuse them, so take a hint.
This one’s simple: Throw them into the dryer. Since thermal death for a bedbug occurs at 115 degrees and the average clothes dryer settings of low, medium and high are 140, 150 and 180 degrees respectively, drying a bundle of potentially infected clothes at any setting will do the job. It is suggested to run the dryer for more than 20 minutes so that all articles of clothing reach the needed core temperature.
Yes, fabric’s not the only home for bedbugs. They like books too. But luckily, books can be cooked (don’t worry, paper really does need 451 degrees Fahrenheit to burn). Many ovens go as low as 170 degrees. Place books on the middle rack along with a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to maintain humidity. Cook for an hour for the entire book to reach needed core temperature. Another instrument for heat is the inside of a hot car. One library decided to sit their delivery truck in the hot sun, raising its internal temperature to 120 degrees for 30 minutes.
Unfortunately again, it’s not just the soft stuff. To quote NY Mag on bedbugs in furniture: “the bugs have a special predilection for the tiny nooks and imperfections in fabric and wood.” The solution: For hard surface pieces like end tables and wooden chairs, rubbing alcohol (and some people swear by combining it with ammonia) actually kills bedbugs on contact. Be sure to really soak your stuff, especially in the cracks and seams. However, bear in mind that this is limited to pieces without any cloth surfaces, so it might be wise to leave that lacy floral lamp on the sidewalk.
How to go to a theater with peace of mind (ok, not used goods, but still important)
The list of NY theaters to be afraid of is only growing: the Pavilion, Court St., Times Square, even the opera (NYC and the Met). So should you never brave a big screen or stage again? You should, but take some precautions. Before heading out to a show, you can check the Bed Bug Registry, a national clearinghouse for all addresses with reported (even self-reported) bedbug sightings. With the number of people in and out of theaters, if a place has bedbugs, someone probably will have reported it. If you’re still worried after your show, there are some (slightly tedious) steps you can take. Once you get home, bag your clothes right away in a giant plastic bag and seal it. Then promptly shower and scrub, and get your clothes into the dryer ASAP. Bedbugs like to hitch rides home in loose clothing, so isolating that is most important. While they can grab onto your hair, they’re not specifically designed for it, so the chances are slim.
There are many more comprehensive DIY bedbug killing resources out there. For example, this one includes dismantling furniture and more. So, really, whatever your second-hand weakness, if you don’t already have bedbugs, you should be able to keep it that way.
Have you gone to extreme measures to keep bedbugs out?