I dedicate this post to a friend, whose current state of perpetual war against invisible blood-sucking enemies not only qualifies her as a vampire-huntress, but also takes me back to the good ole days when I too had… bedbugs.
It was the year 2009, and we had bedbugs. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t relax, couldn’t stop itching- and most frustrating of all- I couldn’t see them. I was being held psychological hostage by a legion of invisibugs, and the only proof I had of their existence was a chronic itch and spotty bedsheets.
I say I had bed bugs. What I really mean is that bed bugs had me. In the beginning, they were definitely winning.
We called a pest control service. Pest control promised they could get rid of the bugs- money back guaranteed- and came to hose down our home with oily, smelly, probably mutagenic toxins that killed everything in our house except for us. Oh, and the bedbugs. It did nothing to the bedbugs.
We called the pest control guy back, and he demanded to see evidence of our bugs. Because ghosts are hard to catch, we had nothing to show him, but the man grudgingly sprayed again.
The bugs survived. We called pest control again, this time with a tiny jar of living bedbugs. Yes, we actually found some. It turns out they weren’t ghosts, they were ninjas. We found where they were hiding- in the walls.
How did we know to look in the walls? Through simple process of elimination, of course! Because after we had thrown away every piece of furniture in the house except for the sofas and the dining table, there was nowhere for them to hide except the walls.
Realizing that pest control wasn’t helping and didn’t like us anymore, we decided to pull out all the stops and unleash the greatest weapon in our our anti-bedbug arsenal: the internet.
Not all of what the internet had to say about fighting bedbugs was relevant to the UAE though- many of the products effective against bugs simply aren’t sold here. So information about the diatomaceous earth, thermal heating bags, and even full-room heating equipment that people have access to in other parts of the internet wasn’t as useful as it was frustrating. We were, however, able to figure out the general method behind the madness, and it goes like this:
When it comes to the bugs themselves, you only have two options- they are contain or kill. Whatever can’t be killed, contain it. Whatever can’t be contained, kill it. And now, some Do’s and Don’ts.
Do: Contain the Bugs
No bug is unkillable, but some bugs can be inaccessible, and despite the nightly urge to personally murder all the bugs keeping you up, you may find you’re not able to because they’re ninjas. And while it would be far more emotionally satisfying to somehow kill all the bugs in your mattress rather than contain them, there’s no way you can do so short of setting your mattress on fire. Nine out of ten experts agree, a flaming mattress can be less than conducive to a restful sleep.
Yes, you could freak out and throw all of your worldly possessions away, but unless you replaced them with plastic lawn chairs and a tarp on the floor, you’d probably just have to throw those away too. An unprotected mattress is essentially a padded fortress with free food, because the bugs can actually be living inside of the mattress- crawling out to bite you by night and then hiding inside to perplex you by day.
You need to encase your mattresses and pillows with something made specifically for containing bedbugs. I’m sure there’s more than one company, but the only one I’ve found in the UAE so far is Protect-A-Bed. They make more than one kind of cover, be sure to buy the one that specifically has Bug Lock. Homes R Us carries them. So does Homestead in Karama, but Homes R Us frequently has sales and you can find the covers discounted sometimes.
The covers can be expensive- a king size cover is around AED 400ish and pillow covers nearly sixty each. Think of this though- it’s still cheaper than replacing your mattress and pillows multiple times.
A covered mattress means none of the “in” bugs can get out, and none of the “out” bugs can get in. However, don’t be lulled by the false sense of security that the bugs want you to have. It takes 18 months for bedbugs to starve to death, and until then, they will continue to fall in love, get married, have kids, and poop inside of the mattress cover. None of this will reach you as long as the cover is closed, but you may start to see faint black or brown stains showing from within. Ignore them.
Oh, and while you’re out shopping in Homes R Us, pick up white bedsheets and pillow cases, as well as a lightweight cotton duvet that can be washed and dried with high heat often. Forget the fancy satin set with tassels and sixteen decorative pillows you got from Dragon Mart. Right now, you just want to be able to wash your bedding often as well as easily spot any new bugs or bug poop.
Other ways to contain the bugs include:
- Taping over places where bugs could be hiding. Think about the corners on the back of nightstands, the place where the wall meets the floor- around light switches, AC controls, electric sockets- bugs are looking for dark cracks and corners to hide in. Your goal is to trap the bugs and make them rue the day they moved in. Use duct tape for long term, or painting/paper tape for short term taping. Use colored electrical tape for color-coordinated giggles.
- Painting over the bugs- if you have a room partition made from plywood or an old villa where the tiles on the floor don’t line up with the wall, paint it over. Use a thick, light-colored paint that will essentially glue the bug and their eggs in place. They won’t be dead. But they certainly won’t be going anywhere.
- Painting over wooden furniture- If you have furniture that you either can’t or don’t want to replace immediately, paint that too. You can turn your infestation into that Pinterest project you’ve always wanted, and give your bed, dressers & shelves a bright, cheerful coat of paint that the bugs can’t escape through. You can also- less conspicuously- paint the backs and bottoms of some furniture items (dining & coffee tables) white to seal in old bugs and make living there harder for new bugs. Also, they’re easier to see on a white background. Please Note: if you’ve painted things together properly you will not be able to take them apart again. Doing so may unleash bugs or drop eggs.
- Put the legs of your bed into little bowls of vaseline or oil. No, it’s not good for your furniture. But it’s not good for the bugs either. While this method doesn’t guarantee that bugs can’t fall off your bed or hitch a ride into bed with you, it does make life a little harder for any bug with ambitions of world travel.
Don’t: Spread the bugs around
Don’t call pest control: Chemicals don’t work. If standard pest control chemicals worked on bedbugs, we wouldn’t be having a standard worldwide bedbug epidemic.
Don’t use bug spray. You won’t kill the bugs, you’ll only irritate them and like all fickle UAE expats, they’ll simply break their lease and take out a new one- moving from your bed to your bedside table, or your dresser, or the electrical socket closest to you. They’re not interested in going new places or seeing new things, they just want a safe, dark place to hide where they are as close to their source of food as possible.
Don’t move: Don’t go and sleep in another room. While this may be the first thing that comes to mind when you discover you have bugs, don’t do it. If the bugs wake up and discover there’s no food at home, they go out to eat and the infestation will move and grow throughout your house. So unless you want bedbugs in every room of your house, stay put.
If you do have to throw something away, smash it to bits or set it on fire first. Please.
Don’t give bugs a lift: Bedbugs are spread from room to room by their own legs, but from house to house and office to office by your legs. And even wheels. People have been known to have bedbug infestations in their cars. These people probably don’t live in the UAE where the heat in a parked car could kill bedbugs and bake cookies too, but it’s not always summer here and wherever you picked up a bedbug from, someone else gave it a lift halfway there.
- Isolate dirty clothing, protect clean clothing. You will need some light colored plastic buckets/storage boxes with airtight lids. Use them for storing clothes (or whatever) with the desired outcome of not letting bugs leave dirty clothes or infest clean clothes.
- When you wake up in the morning, take off your pajamas and put them into the airtight bin. Walk your nekkid self to the bathroom and take a shower to make sure there aren’t any bugs there either. Then, when you get dressed, walk out the room and don’t come back unless you must. If you must, don’t sit on the bed or any piece of furniture that may have bugs on it.
How can I find them?
Bedbugs hide in the tiniest, darkest, closest places possible to your warm, tasty body. Telltale signs include brown or blackish spots on furniture. This is bedbug debris from their wild partying habits. You may not always see this unless you have a decent number of bugs.
Other signs are eggs- bedbug eggs are about the size of regular- not kosher- salt grains. Their six-legged mommas glue them to the back of your furniture for safe keeping.
Check for bugs and their eggs around the places where people sleep, and don’t limit yourself to only the bed. Make sure to check:
- Where the floor meets the wall, or along baseboards or wainscotting
- Inside (yes, inside) or electrical outlets, light switches, AC control boxes mounted inside of the wall
- Beneath the edges of carpets or rugs
- Along any crack of your bed or bedside tables. Remember, you bed has a bottom as well as a top, and bedbugs have as much respect for gravity as they do personal space. Turn things upside down and inside out.
- Within the holes where your furniture is screwed together.
- Around light fixtures
- Behind picture frames, posters, mirrors, etc
Can I kill them already?
Yes, but you have to know how. Bedbugs can be killed by:
- Dry heat in excess of 120 degrees
- Water heated to boiling
- Rubbing alcohol
Good news, the UAE is full of dry heat, so if you get infested during the summer, you can put furniture outside for a few days to properly roast it. Yes, that may ruin your furniture. Or it may not. After having thrown away enough wooden furniture, I now only buy beds with metal frames which can be easily dismantled and set outside to bake.
I’m not going to go into the details on rubbing alcohol, because I’m not sure if the proof of pharmacy grade isopropyl in the UAE is high enough to kill bugs. If you have info about this, please feel free to share.
Your two best weapons against the bedbugs are a steam machine and a hot air dryer.
I bought my steam machine from Ace Hardware, and it’s a Karcher. When I bought it, Ace only carried two models. I bought the cheaper one, and I wish I had spent a bit more to get one specific feature- the continuous refill. With the machine I have, you have to wait until the machine cools before being able to open the tank and refill it, and you only have 20 mins of steam time between refills with 20 mins of cooling. With the other model, you can add more water and keep on steaming.
Don’t be tempted to buy a clothes steamer or a tiny kettle steamer. You need steam plus pressure to force the steam into cracks and hard to reach places. The max steam pressure a machine can generate is measured in bar. If the machine doesn’t have a bar rating, then it doesn’t shoot, and your precious steam will just waft away into the air instead of forming a lethal, bug-killing blast.
Dryers in the UAE come in two kinds- useless and not. The standard dryer is useless- it works with condensation. Assume most dryers are condensation dryers, and ignore them. They don’t get hot enough to kill the bugs. If you wash and dry your bugs without enough heat you will only get cleaner bugs. You need very hot, very dry heat. You need a convection dryer.
You don’t see these in the UAE very often because they work by creating lots of hot, dry air- something we’ve already got enough of. If you’re not sure whether the dryer you’re looking at is a convection dryer or not, check the back. If it has a big hole that blasts hot air and need a long bendy pipe to be poked out of a window so your house doesn’t turn into an oven, then you’ve got the right one. I bought mine used off of Dubizzle.
You can also boil bugs to death if you have a fancy enough washing machine. They water temperature needs to be higher than 120F or 48.8C.
There are lots of other little tips and tricks, but for the most part this is what you need to know. Contain and kill. Use dry heat, alcohol, boiling water or steam. Do not panic. Do not spray, and DO NOT GO OVER TO OTHER PEOPLES’ HOUSES IF YOU KNOW YOU HAVE BUGS.
Just don’t. It’s mean. That’s how they get around.
Lots of people won’t admit to having bedbugs because hey- who wants to admit to having bedbugs? but bedbugs don’t live in your house because you’re dirty and inferior. They live in your house because the world is a global community, Dubai a revolving door of expats, and bedbugs love to travel. Enough said.