Bed Bugs Pose Unique Challenges For Fashion Lovers
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
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
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
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."