Bedbug traps inexpensive way to control pests

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 4, 2014.

Bedbugs thrive in the summer and can be unwanted travel companions. Photo: Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
Bedbugs thrive in the summer and can be unwanted travel companions. Photo: Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

Summer may be travel season, but it’s also peak time for some unwanted guests: bedbugs. The blood-sucking pests reproduce quickly in warm temperatures, and spread by hiding in travelers’ luggage or on furniture when people move to new homes.

In 2013, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health received 586 complaints of bedbugs in hotels or apartment buildings – a five-year high. Dr. Johnson Ojo, manager of the department’s Healthy Housing Program, said complaints spike in summer months, even in very clean places like 4-star hotels. The bugs, which are about the size of an apple seed, don’t transmit disease, but their bites can be itchy, and they’re difficult and costly to eliminate.

A team of University of Florida scientists has devised do-it-yourself bedbug traps that could help tackle the problem. The materials – masking tape, glue, baby powder and disposable plastic food containers – cost about $1 per trap. An online instructional video teaches people how to assemble and place traps under the legs of furniture like couches, easy chairs and beds.

Dr. Roberto Pereira, one of the entomology researchers who developed the inexpensive trap, said the idea came after a large homeless shelter asked his team for help. The shelter couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars a professional company would have charged to eliminate the bedbugs.

Pereira said the traps alone won’t get all the pests. Homeowners should still contact the pros for help. But the traps can predict how big the infestation is, and whether any bugs remain after one professional treatment. Pereira also recommends thoroughly vacuuming or steam cleaning furniture, purchasing special mattress covers that block bedbugs, and laundering clothes and linens at the highest heat settings, which will kill the pests.