They’re creepy, they’re crawly, and experts have warned that they’re spreading throughout London. Many Britons continue to be worried about bed bugs in the UK following reports of widespread infestations in Paris last month - and recently, a library in west London was forced to close temporarily after staff discovered the critters there.
On Monday 30 October, Ealing Central Library closed its doors when bed bugs were spotted in furnishings. It is expected to reopen on Thursday 2 November after the infestation was treated by pest controllers in order to prevent the spread.
Videos of bed bugs reportedly spotted on London’s public transport system further fuelled panic that the insects, which are notoriously difficult to get rid of as they breed and spread very quickly, may hitch a ride on commuters’ clothes and follow them home. Last month, London mayor Sadiq Khan said that the issue was a “real source of concern”, but reassured people that Transport for London was taking “steps to make sure we don’t have those problems in London”.
Bed bugs are small insects that feed on blood, often leaving red, itchy bites on people, and are usually found in furniture and bedding. While infestations of bed bugs are difficult to eradicate, Dennis Mathews, lead research scientist in microbiology at Dyson, has several top tips for maintaining a clean, bed bug-free home.
Watch: Bed bugs found in west London library - as pest controllers say spread is 'out of control'
How to prevent bed bugs
Mathews said it is likely that bed bugs will travel on our clothes or luggage when we travel from place to place, and can be picked up from hotels or public transport. In order to avoid the critters getting onto your belongings, he recommends making sure that you keep your luggage off the floor while you’re away, and do not place it directly on the bed when you get home.
“Consider storing luggage in an attic or garage away from soft furnishings and clothes between trips,” he said. “If you are concerned you have picked up bed bugs on your clothing, or you have left clothing on the floor of an infested hotel room, be sure to check it closely, shake it vigorously and put it in the laundry as soon as possible, storing it in a sealed plastic bag until then.”
If you are unlucky enough to have picked up bed bugs and an infestation begins, it will need more than a thorough vacuum and washing your sheets, Mathews said, and you should seek advice from pest removal experts in your region. In order to get rid of them, experts may recommend fumigation using chemicals, or a non-chemical heat treatment. You should also wash your bedding at a high temperature and keep any potentially contaminated fabrics in sealed plastic bags until they are ready to wash.
“But there are ways to manage your home environment to keep it clean and healthy, make it less hospitable for bed bugs and also minimise other nasties like pollen, dust and dust mites,” Mathews added.
How to keep your home bed bug-free
Remove and wash bedding
Mathews recommended walking sheets and blankets at high temperatures (60C or higher), as this will “help to break down and reduce allergens and kill living nasties like bed bugs or dust mites”. You should wash and change your bedding once a week.
Vacuum your mattress
Vacuuming your mattress regularly with a high-powered vacuum can also help remove microscopic dust mites, skin flakes and allergens, as well as bed bugs on the surface. Mathews recommended making sure your vacuum “has a fully sealed filtration system to avoid allergens or debris being expelled back into your face as you clean”.
Focus on hard-to-reach areas
Pay attention to crevices or folds in your mattresses where dust and allergens can gather, such as the edge of the mattress where there may be a seam. You should also regularly vacuum under your bed, as dust mites “thrive in dark, warm and humid areas with plenty of skin flakes that often remain undisturbed, and bed bugs like dark, untouched locations where they can hide”.
Flip, repeat, remake
A strenuous, but important task to complete is flipping your mattress over and vacuuming the other side too, Mathews said, as this helps to “keep concentrations of invisible allergens low”. “You may want to consider using a mattress protector which will absorb excess sweat and dust flakes and can be more easily washed,” he added.
Keep your eyes peeled
Be vigilant and keep watch for any signs of bed bugs as they can spread quickly. It is vital to take action in the early days of an infestation. Mathews advised that you should “look for any spots of blood in the bed, exoskeletons or small brown debris (their faeces)”. “A sweet or musty smell might also be a sign of infestation,” he said.
Stay tidy and vacuum regularly
Try to remove clutter around the bedroom to provide fewer opportunities for bed bugs to hide. Keep the space around and under the bed clear and regularly vacuum these areas.
Shop now: Dyson V8 Cordless Vacuum Cleaner | £329.99 from John Lewis
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Read more about bed bugs:
Bed bugs: Expert reveals tell-tale sign to know if you’ve been bitten (Yahoo News UK, 5-min read)
Bedbug infestations up 65% - how to get rid of them (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)
How to get rid of bed bugs - the 65p 'home remedy' and other expert tips (The Argus, 5-min read)