Retail shops, hotels, offices and moving sales – what do they all have in common?

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

The ad said: “Moving out of the country and must sell brand new (four months old) living room set, master bedroom set and bedroom for kids. Have all receipts and paid thousands – yours for a fraction of the cost.” Intriguing, right? We called the woman, viewed the beautiful furnishings, saw the receipts, hired a mover, arranged a time for all furniture to be moved, went to the bank and were excited to have everything delivered into our garage. Why the garage? Because the movers were double booked and couldn’t complete the job until the next day. What a blessing! We closed the garage, went grocery shopping and returned to a foul smell. It was a sweet type of smell that is hard to describe. Since I had just taken a training one day before, I knew I needed to take a closer look at the beds – paying particular attention to the joints. There they were! I opened the dresser drawers, pulled them out, turned them over and ugh!  Nightstands, sofas, beds, everything we just bought had the telltale signs of BED BUGS.  What were the signs?  Weird blotches that were actually fecal matter.  Little black dots and streaks along the wood frames.  An occasional shedded external layer.  The movers even said they brushed away what seemed like tobacco “dip” as they were moving the furniture but had no idea they were brushing away fecal matter, eggs and bed bugs. 

One year ago, our NC State Specialist, Dr. Michael Waldvogel taught Cooperative Extension professionals all about bed bugs. The bed bugs actually range from being the size of a small freckle to an identifiable bug.  The size varies based on their age and the amount of blood they have inside them (they engorge).  Their weird sweet smell was a combination of blood and feces. They can live for months without a host, prefer human hosts but don’t mind biting pets if necessary.  They usually come out at night and are very mobile, moving from a bed to a bathroom to a living room sofa or a purse with no problem.  The smaller ones can travel through cracks in walls, electrical outlets and on wires between the walls.  They multiply quickly and can cause their own sort of home invasion.  Once you see one, it would be wise to take action. Your best bet is to call a trusted, respected professional and ask them how many bed bug cases they have treated.  Insecticides are the typical treatment used by most professionals but for people who prefer alternatives, then thermal remediation is an option.  When you feel comfortable with the pest control company, remember to call references.  If you don’t move quickly, bed bugs could multiply faster than you realize. 

So, how can you be certain you haven’t carried a bed bug in?  That’s tough.  First, never buy a second-hand mattress unless it’s been tagged as sterilized by a state-certified mattress sanitizer. Next, be careful buying second hand items.  Consider becoming more vigilant in looking at your possessions when you move from place to place.  Bed bugs have reportedly been found in malls, offices, camps, hotels and other places.  If you suspect you have them, start by looking at the corners of your mattress and behind headboards.  They like to hide in cracks and crevices so you will need to look closely with a flash light.  If you believe you were bitten in a hotel room or another public place, report it.  You cannot identify a bed bug solely on bites, even if a physician says they are bed bug bites.  Finding real evidence is key; the sooner someone can look into it, the better.

If you feel a bed bug might be stowing away from your vacation – consider taking your luggage, purse or clothes and placing them in a special container that heats to 130+ degrees for hours on end before bringing them into the house.  In fact, I have taken my purse and garage sale items, placed them in a plastic garbage bag and put them in my trunk when I knew it was going to be a very hot 105 degree day.  My trunk heated to 130 degrees all day (I actually kept them in there for several days) and anything that may have been in there was killed.  Our family also did something I haven’t seen in journals – once we realized we had purchased furniture that was about to infest our home, we immediately returned the furniture, came home, threw our clothes into a plastic bag and into a freezer for a week.  Anything that can survive a week of our freezer has got to be from another planet!  Remember, insects that are in walls, on or under carpeting, in furniture or on items like the radio or lamp on the nightstand indicate you need a professional.  Don’t delay in calling them.

Stay safe!    


The print version of this article was reduced due to space limitations.  First publishing occurred in September 2010.

Rachel Harris Monteverdi is a Family & Consumer Sciences Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, a division of North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University.  The Family & Consumer Sciences department incorporates prenatal to end-of-life programs.  Priorities for North Carolina citizens include:  Family & Parenting Education; Balancing Work & Family Workshops; Academic Success; Elder Care; Active Aging; Planning for the Future; Home Ownership & Housing Issues; Conservation & Environmental Issues; Leadership; Emergency Management and more.  Call 252-257-3640, email or visit for additional information.