Bluffs Advocate

Legal Department

Making War on Bedbugs

Heat, chemicals, washing - techniques vary

By Barbara Warner

Please remember when reading my column, I’m only sharing general information. None of what I write should be taken as legal advice, opinion or an offer to represent you. You should consult with a lawyer if you have legal questions or concerns.

            Last month I wrote about how to identify bedbugs. I hope you all took a good look at the nooks and crannies in your mattresses, furniture, and elsewhere in your home. I hope no one found any bedbugs—but if you did, don’t despair! This month I’m writing about how you can get help.
        Most importantly, choose the right pest control company.
        No government licence is required to apply either heat or off-the-shelf chemicals to kill bedbugs. With no shortage of bedbugs in Toronto, there is no shortage of shady, self-proclaimed pest control experts out there. I’ve discovered contractors whose business practices left me with a sick feeling—like finding the bedbugs in the first place. Some will heat your house far higher or far longer than required by science or common sense. Some will claim you can solve your problem with a series of chemical treatments and a small steamer. All of these strategies are unproven. Many contractors stress the urgency and use high-pressure sales tactics on anxious clients, whether they be landlords, tenants, or property managers.
        Ask questions. Don’t be shy! You want this work done right the first time, so ask questions. Ask what type of treatment they recommend and why, what preparation you must do, ask business licence numbers, both for operating a business and for the application of restricted chemicals. Look up their rating with the Better Business Bureau. Hold out for a grade of B+ or higher, and pay attention to the way the company may have resolved any complaints against it.
        Don’t sign anything or give your money or credit card number to anyone until you’ve identified the extent of your problem and obtained three quotes. Follow your gut instinct—if a company seems too good to be true, it probably is. I did research for heat treatments on a 2000 square foot house with a 600 square foot basement. Techs who came to the house quoted $2500, $3700 & $4600 for similar services. Online estimates ranged from $3000 to $7000. I think CBC’s Marketplace should do an investigation into this industry. Frightened tenants, cash-strapped landlords, and busy corporate property managers are excellent targets for a business with little regulation and lots of potential work.
        If you’re a tenant, you may not have much say in who the landlord chooses. But, you can still call for free quotes, get educated on the options and present your findings to your landlord or property manager. If they don’t have an ongoing contract with anyone, they may be willing to take your recommendation. At the least, you will be better informed and better prepared to deal with whatever treatment you receive.
        Do not panic. You do not need to get rid of mattresses, box springs, pillows, and linens right away (if at all!) and you don’t want to introduce new furniture to your home while it’s infested. Wait until the treatment is done then reward yourself with new items, if needed.
        Do not start spraying cleaners and poisons. Unlike the nursery rhyme, you can’t hit bedbugs with your shoe until they’re black and blue. Trying to kill bugs yourself is usually an exercise in futility; most self-help merely keeps the bugs at bay. You can only truly get rid of bedbugs two ways:  having a licenced professional use hard-hitting pesticides, or having your home and belongings heated to appropriate temperatures (above 50 C or 140 F for a lengthy time. Neither of these can be done effectively on your own.
        Do call for help. If you’re a tenant, tell your landlord as soon as possible.  If you’re a property manager or landlord, call a licenced, reputable company and get a tech out to the unit asap
        It’s vital that you write everything down daily—every bedbug-related action you take, when, with whom, and why.
        Do contact the City of Toronto’s Public Health unit which deals with bedbugs. Contact information is at: Report the infestation. Get tips on how to prepare for treatment. The city’s materials are a few years old, so they focus on chemical treatments only; consider all current options.
        Do your laundry. You need to kill any eggs and bugs which are hiding in clothes, linens, and other fabrics. Wash with very hot water and put everything that is heat-safe in the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes (commercial dryer) or 60 minutes (a home dryer). Do this every day until after all bugs are gone, otherwise the females can lay eggs, which can hatch and grow. Use light-coloured sheets to make the identification of bugs easier. Delicate or plastic items that can’t go in the dryer at high temps should be dry-cleaned or stored for 12-18 months.
        Do get an inspection. Have a pest control technician come see your problem. Don’t put faith in any quotes given over the phone, online, or via email.
        Choose the right treatment. Chemical treatment is cheap and has been used for decades, however it’s best used in limited areas where the outbreak has been identified. It requires moving of belongings and furniture as well as some luck, to ensure the whole infestation has been eliminated. Heat treatment is newer in Toronto, but the results are backed up by the science: bedbugs of the type found in Canada die at around 43 C, and their eggs at 50 C. But heat treatment means anything that will melt, explode, or deteriorate between 50 and 60 degrees must be removed for up to 18 months, to ensure any eggs and bugs are dead.
        Do put things in storage. Put clean, dry bed linens and clothes into plastic bags and put the bags into clean plastic bins with snap lids. Don’t let fabrics touch other fabrics, drag on the carpet, etc. Place the linens away from the infestation, such as in your garage or a very clean bathroom (with no towels or clutter) which has already been inspected and found to be bedbug free). Keep lids firmly closed on the bins.
        For other items, wash with hot soapy water, air dry, vacuum if possible, and box or wrap and tape.
        Do get rid of things you don’t need. Embrace this opportunity to get rid of things you don’t need. Anything you throw away from an infested area should be sealed in plastic or taped and marked “DO NOT TAKE—DANGEROUS” or “INFECTED” or “BEDBUGS”: whatever will keep people from taking your belongings and infesting their own homes.

Barbara Elizabeth Warner is a Barrister & Solicitor at WarnerLaw. You may contact her at 647-918-5387, or @WarnerLaw on Twitter.