How to Avoid Bed Bugs with New or Used Furniture

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As more horror stories about bed bug infestations in New York, Chicago, San Diego and other cities surface, I become more and more thankful that I’ve never had to deal with the little buggers. From what I understand, it can take months to find out that you have a bed bug problem, and by that time, they may have infested your entire home. I also understand they are incredibly difficult to get rid of, sometimes requiring extreme measures.

With hospitals, college dorms, hotels and even schools reporting bed bug problems, it’s only natural for people to become more cautious. Don’t be fooled though — bed bugs have been around for a loooong time, but media attention is making the public — particularly those who have never had to deal with these pests — more aware of the problem.

Here are some tips to help you avoid exposure to bed bugs when you bring new furniture into your home:

Inspect used pieces carefully

You all know that I am a huge fun of used furniture from thrift stores, consignment stores, yard sales and curbside finds. However, the reality is that you have no idea of the conditions in which these pieces were housed before you find them. I would recommend inspecting a piece as carefully as possible before deciding to purchase. There is no guarantee you’ll find beg bugs even if they are present, but you’ll never know if you don’t check. After you bring a piece home, store it away from your main living areas until you’ve had time to clean it thoroughly, perhaps in a basement, garage or patio. If it is an upholstered piece, have it steam cleaned.

Reupholster used pieces quickly

Sometimes, you’ll find a piece of furniture that is in not-so-great condition that has bones you absolutely love. I’m a big fan of anyone who can see beauty in a terrible piece and take the time to restore it to glory. However, if you bring home a piece of upholstered furniture that is visibly in bad condition, be aware that you could be bringing home bacteria and pests. Again, isolate the piece until it can be thoroughly inspected and cleaned. However, in this case, I would also suggest having the piece reupholstered as soon as possible. Avoid bringing it into bedrooms or living areas until you’ve had time to replace worn fabric and cushions after thoroughly cleaning the piece.

Buy new furniture made in the U.S.

Even retail stores that exclusively sell new items are being hit by the bed bug problem. It’s one thing to have beg bugs on older pieces, but can you imagine how shocked a person would be to find out the source of their bed bug problem was a new piece of furniture or clothing? Buying furniture locally, or at least in the U.S., is great for reducing carbon emissions, but it is also a good way to help avoid hidden pests. Production policies overseas tend to be more lax than they are domestically, and there is often little oversight to ensure manufacturers are actually taking the precautions they claim. So if you needed another reason to support U.S.-made furniture, there it is.

Ask lots of questions

When you’re buying new furniture, don’t be afraid to question your retailer. Find out where it was made, what it is made of, where it was stored and how it got to the store or warehouse from which you’re making your purchase. If you’re uncomfortable with any of the answers, or if you don’t get answers at all, shop elsewhere.

Avoid buying used mattresses & bedding

There are a lot of things I’d buy used, but mattresses aren’t among them. Many thrift stores don’t accept mattress donations, and with good reason. When people sleep, skin cells, sweat and bodily fluids seep into their mattress. Add to that the threat of getting bed bugs, and you should be sufficiently grossed out enough to avoid buying a used bed. This is also true for bedding, including sheets and blankets. While these are more likely to have been laundered regularly, use caution before taking in used bedding and make sure you give it a thorough inspection.

If you suspect you may have bedbugs…

There are a few signs to look for if you suspect you may have bedbugs. Look for itchy red bumps on your body that look similar to mosquito bites. Because bedbugs inject a mild anesthetic when they bite, you may not feel them when they do. The bumps are an indicator that you have been bitten. Secondly, bedbugs are filled with blood, and their bodies burst easily. They typically leave small blood stains where they infest.

If you suspect you have an infestation, call a pest control specialist as soon as possible. As them about eco-friendly pest control methods, and try to avoid harsh chemicals if at all possible. Don’t hold me to this, but I have read that some exterminators have successfully used steam cleaning to eradicate bed bugs.

Share your knowledge

Have you ever had to deal with bed bugs? Was it in your own home or elsewhere? Were you able to get rid of them, and how? Please share your experience in the comments below. You’ll likely be helping someone else!

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5 comments… add one

  • danielle April 14, 2011, 2:41 am

    Hey, I just felt the need to thank you for this post, I really appreciate you and your efforts. Be well, Danielle

  • Tiffany August 24, 2011, 1:06 pm

    This didn’t help at all….
    if I choose to buy used furniture how do I prep/clean the piece to decrease my chances of getting bedbugs?

    • greg June 27, 2012, 10:13 pm

      the prob with bedbugs is they can hide deep down in the cushioning of sofas and mattresses. so doing a high steam method only works if you can penetrate the depths of it with the high heat. the only prob is you have to be careful if the sofa/mattress has wood in it, as too much moisture will ruin it. and as noted, they can live up to 18 months dormint. so you could buy a piece of furniture and 3 months down the line they suddenly pop out. the easiest thing for mattresses is to buy the plastic covers that zip. do this do both the boxspring and mattress. that’ll prevent them from escaping. check it frequently for chew marks or stains. a solid wood piece are fairly easy just take a flashight, as bedbugs hate light and will flee from it, to it and if you see any of the eggs or bugs vaccum them off. also, please note that bedbugs dont just live in furniture: they can be in books, wicker, clothes, and just about anything else. the only thing they dont like are platics and metals. hope that helped

  • Rita September 8, 2013, 12:40 pm

    If I suspect a piece of furniture might have bedbugs, I dust it liberally with diatomaceous earth that can be purchased at most local garden supply stores (Home Depot?).

    “Diatomaceous Earth (food grade): bug killer you can eat!

    Diatomaceous Earth (often referred to as “DE”) is an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (such as bed bugs, ants or fleas) it compromises their waxy coating so that their innards turn into teeny tiny bug jerky. But it doesn’t hurt mammals. We can eat it. We do eat it! It’s in lots of grain based foods because lots of grains are stored with diatomaceous earth to keep the bugs from eating the grain!

    Die bugs! Die! Die! Die!

    I have heard two explanations of how diatomaceous earth works.

    One is that on a microscopic level, the diatomaceous earth particles are very sharp looking. These particles stick to an insect and get stuck between its exoskeleton joints. As the insect moves, it gets physically cut up.

    The other explanation is that diatomaceous earth sticks to the insect and somehow causes them to dry out. I think this approach involves scratching the insects waxy layer which then allows precious moisture within the insect to get out. So their teeny tiny bug-innards turn into teeny tiny bug-innards-jerky.”

  • Candace March 1, 2014, 10:01 am

    Hello, this was very informative for me. I had a bedbug problem about 2 years ago. It was during the summer & I noticed red, very itchy welts on my skin. It seemed like wherever I went they were there. My little 2 year old noticed a bug crawling on the side of the living room couch & my husband put it in the toilet. I told him not to flush it down, I wanted to see it first. It’s a good thing that I did because it was a bed bug & it was engorged. I immediately started looking for them & found them under the couch & my kids bottom bunk bed. I had a Haan steamer & steamed everything. I also went out & purchased a portable garment steamer with attachments. I threw out my couch & my bedroom mattress. It was exhausting but I got rid of them. If my son hadn’t seen the first one it would’ve gotten out of control.

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