Bed Bugs Pose Unique Challenges For Fashion Lovers

Stylist.com
Monday, January 9, 2012

The thought of bedbugs is enough to make anyone's skin crawl. And the amount of hassle involved in eradicating the bloodthirsty pests once they've invaded our living space is cringeworthy, to say the least. But for those of us who are especially attached to our belongings -- say, for example, because they include prized pieces from Lanvin and Alexander McQueen -- an infestation can be especially traumatic.

When fashion-loving New Yorker Rachel* discovered bedbugs in her one-bedroom apartment this past November, she immediately worried for her wardrobe. "I've got pieces that I bought 20 years ago," she says. "I'm not someone who throws stuff out every season and gets a whole new look. I'm boringly consistent with the fact that I've had the same look since I finished high school, which means that there's a lot of very sentimental stuff," she says. And Rachel's accessories presented an even larger problem. She owns an estimated 300-400 handbags and roughly 200 pairs of shoes, many of which were also acquired years ago and hold personal value. "My clothes and handbags and shoes are my absolute love and passion," she explains. "It's not something I do for status; it gives me the same excitement that a doll collection gives a little girl."

Of course, standard instructions for bedbug elimination tend to be geared toward those with average-sized closets. "One of my best friends is one of those types who has two winter coats, two pairs of winter boots, and a sane amount of clothing, but what about people like me?" Rachel asks. "It's like going through Miss Havisham's house."

Rachel hired Long Island-based pest control company Boot A Pest and subsequently, she says, "I had to acknowledge to very burly men the excessiveness and insanity of my wardrobe, which even some of my closest friends don't know about."

The exterminators became especially familiar with her extensive jewelry collection. "Every day, I'd come back in a panic and say 'Well, what do I do with my cuffs?' because I love big costume jewelry," she recalls. "He'd say, 'Well you can just wash them.' And I'd say 'But I've got 500.' It was quite an ordeal, as you can imagine."

Though Rachel was initially worried about having to dispose of beloved garb, her fears were eventually assuaged. "[The exterminator] explained that they don't really live in your clothes. They'll go into your clothes if need be, just to be transported to where you're actually asleep, but they're not interested in staying in your clothes."

Boot A Pest owner John Furman says that running standard clothing through the dryer on high heat for 20 minutes should suffice. But for delicate vintage and dry-clean-only duds, he recommends using a self-contained heating unit called a PackTite, and storing the garments at 120 degrees for about 30 minutes. "Bedbugs and eggs can start to die at 113 degrees, and when exposed to 120 degrees it would take them about a minute," he says.

Jewelry, meanwhile, is generally a lesser concern. "Realistically, you'd have to have a heavy, heavy infestation for that to be questionable," Furman says. "As long as treatment in the apartment is being done properly, most times that stuff can actually be left out on top of a treated surface, such as a dresser." He continues, "You can use rubbing alcohol and wipe your jewelry down. It's going to rely a lot on visual inspection. Once you decontaminate everything and know there's nothing on it, you can pack it away in plastic totes or seal it in plastic bags or large trash bags."

As for shoes, Furman suggests using a PackTite, garment steamer or placing the shoes in a pillowcase, tying the ends together and running it through the dryer. "The last thing you can do if you don't have those options is to use a hairdryer," he says. "You're not necessarily going to kill the bugs, but if you're careful, you can place it on a sheet lain across a table, use the heat from the dryer to dry the bug out of the shoe, and then look to see if the bugs come out of it."

To make a future infestation easier to cope with, Furman says cutting down on clutter is key. "You don't want to store anything under the bed," he advises. "Most people don't have an option, because a lot of apartments in the city are small, and the bed is an ideal storage location. But if you have to do that, go to the Container Store and get those large plastic storage trunks--something that's going to seal really well," he says. "Garment bags made of fabric that end up infested become an issue and a lot of people freak out and end up having to lose clothes because they don't want to make the investment in the PackTite. Or they just get too freaked out by it because it was so close to the bed."

Rachel concurs that one of the worst parts of an infestation is feeling that your belongings have been contaminated. "It's just a horrible thing when you really adore your clothes to think they've been tainted," she says. "Psychologically, it's really hard."