Pests news from BPCA

27 November 2020

PESTWATCH: Bed bugs - fail to prepare, prepare to fail


In this PestWatch, BPCA Technical Manager Dee Ward-Thompson takes a look at why bed bugs are so difficult to control and what pest technicians can do to reduce the risk of failed treatments. 

Bed bugs fail to prepare prepare to fail PestWatch BPCA PPC magazine


  • Despite their name, bed bugs harbour in a variety of places and are well-known travellers
  • Amateur attempts to control bed bugs often make the problem worse
  • In multi-occupancy properties, it’s crucial to gather evidence to help you build a picture of how the infestation is spreading
  • Preparation and co-operation are key to successful bed bug treatment.

Rookie mistakes

Why are these pests so difficult to manage?

As we have stated, bed bugs are small and get into even the slightest of cracks and crevices.

For obvious reasons, a common misunderstanding among amateurs is that bed bugs are only found in bedding and mattresses.

In reality, they can hide out in all sorts of places: electrical sockets, clothing, behind picture frames and even in telephones and radios.

Another top reason for control failure is lack of preparation and managing customers’ expectations. Unfortunately, some treatments are carried out when the pre-control preparation has not been completed or when the customer has not been made aware of the importance of getting the areas ready for treatment.

This leads to ineffective treatments and inevitable callbacks.

Prior to any treatment, the affected area needs to be prepared. This can be done either by the pest management company or the customer if they are able and willing to do so.

This should be agreed prior to the treatment commencing and a checklist is very useful to have, which clearly sets out what needs to be done and who is responsible.

Make sure you discuss this with the customer and explain why it’s vital, and that you may choose not to carry out the treatment if these tasks have not been carried out.

Another reason they can be tough to control is that they carry a stigma, so sometimes customers will avoid calling a professional straight away due to being embarrassed. Instead, the customer may try to treat using an amateur product, which could prolong the infestation and lead to it running out of control.

Another downside is that amateur products can, in many cases, make the infestation worse by causing the bed bugs to migrate to other rooms in the house or even to adjacent properties.

A bed bug survey is one of the most invasive types you can carry out

All in this together

Infestations in blocks of flats, student accommodation and residential homes can be particularly difficult to resolve due to the migratory behaviour mentioned.

Multi-occupancy properties can be extremely challenging; in almost all cases treating a room or flat without investigation of and potentially treating adjacent properties can lead to treatment failures.

At the very least, you should look at the properties above, below and either side.

I’ve been involved in some cases where residents have visited other flats on a totally different block and transported bed bugs with them. And I have also come across common rooms that are the source of the infestation.

In all of these situations, the key to success is investigating as many rooms or flats as possible, and taking time to talk to residents about their daily activities.

Gathering this evidence will help you build a picture of the situation and point you to all of the key areas that could be infested.

No easy answer

With bed bugs, each case will be different and will come with its own challenges.

The most important thing is to ensure you carry out an in-depth survey; this is crucial and no treatment will be fully effective without one.
In-depth means look everywhere, leaving no stone unturned.

Often, when dealing with distressed customers, I’ve found that they hired a pest control company which failed to survey the whole property, leaving rooms uninspected and untreated.

Others have quoted over the phone, turned up the next day and treated with an insecticide with no survey, or have even used so-called ‘heat treatments’ which turned out to be a wallpaper steamer/stripper (these were not BPCA members I must add)!

A bed bug survey is one of the most invasive types you can carry out, in terms of being in a customer’s personal space.

Having someone looking in their bedside drawers and other areas around their house can be very distressing for the customer.

You must make sure that you explain fully what the survey will entail before you arrive to conduct it, so they understand why it is necessary and are happy for you to do so.

Once your survey is complete, discuss all of the options for control with your customer.

There will never be a ‘one size fits all’ treatment, so include details of what will be used, what rooms will be treated, how long it will take, and be very clear on any guarantees.

There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a control programme and this will all depend on the level of infestation, the type of property affected and (to some extent) the customer’s preference.

Finally, you need to consider post-treatment actions; this is just as crucial as the other steps.

Make sure you discuss what you have done with the customer and leave them with all of the details.

This should include:

  • Any chemicals used
  • Details on when areas are safe for them to enter
  • What is the follow-up procedure
  • How long it will take for the treatment to work.

Managing customer expectations will reduce the risk of unnecessary callbacks and put the customers at ease.

In summary, with enough preparation, you can reduce the risk of failed bed bug treatments.

Prepare the customer for the survey, prepare the control programme and finally prepare them for the treatment.

Want us to cover aspecific species?

Suggest what pest should get the PestWatch treatment by contacting the editors.

Source: PPC101

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