My last couple of blog posts have taken a look at some of the natural remedies that people offer in response to pest infestations. I've investigated whether lavender and lemongrass can keep mosquitoes away (yes) and whether baby powder is an effective deterrent for ants (not really), and now - with summer finally on its way - I've started thinking about the upcoming December holidays, and the possible pest-related problems that we may encounter, such as bed bugs.
Every year my family and I spend the week between Christmas and New Year down at the coast. We rent a holiday house off AirBnB and decamp to the beach to work off the excesses of the Christmas feast. So far we've been lucky in our accommodation choices: they may be basic, but they have always been spotlessly clean and pest-free (except for the one year when we were plagued by a troop of baboons who liked to raid the fruit bowl - but they were a different sort of pest entirely).
With any rental accommodation there comes the risk of bed bugs, especially in peak holiday season. The words "bed bugs" are enough to strike fear into the heart of any accommodation owner or frequent traveller, but if you are lucky enough to never have met one, bed bugs are nocturnal biting insects that like to feed on human blood.
Where do you find bed bugs?
Bed bugs conceal themselves in tight cracks and crevices, and although they are mostly associated with hotel or guest house beds they can be found hiding in a wide variety of other places such as luggage, car seats, shoes, electrical switch plates and aeroplane seats! Unfortunately, they are also very easy to bring home with you, as bed bugs are seasoned hitchhikers, discreetly stowing away in luggage and belongings and travelling from one location to another.
Whilst bed bugs will feed on any warm-blooded animal, it has been found that they prefer to dine on humans. There's been an ongoing debate regarding whether bed bug bites are a cause for concern, but according to the Centre for Disease Control in America, "bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection."
Natural remedies for bed bugs?
Working for a pest control company, it has - of course - crossed my mind that I could very well decamp to the coast for my week of R&R, only to find that the AirBnB property I've rented (miles away from any sort of professional pest control solution) is infested with bed bugs. Red itchy bumps are definitely NOT what I want to give my family for Christmas.
So, in an attempt to be proactive, I thought I would investigate whether there are any natural remedies - the sort that might be readily available on holiday - that I could use against bed bugs. My investigation revealed that hot water, cedar oil, orange oil (in fact essential oils of just about every description), paraffin and extra virgin olive oil are all natural remedies for killing bed bugs. But here's the bugbear. They will only work if you can actually get the treatment onto the insect. And therein lies the problem.
Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to find. I've already mentioned that they are nocturnal, so during the day they are inactive (and well hidden). You need to use a torch to look for them and pay close attention to the seams of mattresses, headboards, sheets and box springs. If you do find any, the oils listed above will kill them but these natural remedies provide only what is termed a "contact kill'. Oils and similar products don't act chemically; instead, they physically suffocate the insects by blocking their spiracles. Which means that if you don't actually get oil on the bed bug they won't pick it up from a surface in sufficient quantity to suffocate themselves.
Contact vs. residual kill
The issue with treating bed bugs properly is getting to the ones you can't find because none of these home remedies provides any sort of residual kill (by that we mean remaining chemically active on whatever you spray it on for some time after the treatment). Rentokil R&D has tested oils for a residual kill effect on bed bugs and has found there to be absolutely none. And that means that if you miss a single gravid (pregnant) female, the treatment fails and you still have a bed bug infestation. And as I mentioned before, they are notoriously difficult to find, which means that the chances of missing a few are very high.
So, will I be packing the essential oils and going bed bug hunting this holiday? Probably not...the oils will kill any bed bugs that I might be lucky enough to find, but the hundreds of hours it would take me to actually find them is sure to drive my family even more crazy that the itchy bumps.
I'll take my chances, and if we are unlucky enough to spot a bedbug, I'll be sure to refer the owner to our Initial blog on how to keep your Air BnB property hygienic as well as to a reputable pest control company such as Rentokil whose trained technicians not only know what to look for but are also able to completely get rid of a bed bug infestation.
If you think you may have brought bed bugs home with you from your travels, visit our website for some tips to prevent them from spreading to your home, alternately contact the experts at Rentokil for a free survey and quotation.
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