If you live in New York City (as I do) or in any major city, there’s one threatening home development you’ve probably heard of: bedbugs. They’re crafty little insects that will hitch a ride on almost anything into your home, immediately make your bed into a breeding ground, and put you through hell. It only takes one pregnant female to wreak havoc before you start waking up covered in itchy bites, sometimes in lines up and down any exposed limbs in the night.
Before this year, bedbugs had never crossed my mind. Sure, I knew they were out there — from passing discarded mattresses on the street and the occasional hotel horror story — but I never thought I would bring them home. I didn’t buy used furniture, I stayed in clean hotels, and I washed all my clothing and bedding on a regular basis.
I certainly wasn’t ready for bedbugs, and neither was my wallet. I’m 25 years old, paying off undergraduate loans, working full-time, and putting myself through part-time grad school. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that you can’t be cheap when it comes to dealing with bedbugs.
Here’s the breakdown:
Bedbug inspection – $275
If you think you have bedbugs, get an inspection — immediately. While I hadn’t seen any evidence of bugs, the inspector found them almost immediately in my box spring and even the floorboards of my bedroom.
Mattress, box spring, and pillow covers – $100
If you live in a major city and don’t have a bedbug-proof cover on your mattress or box spring, get one immediately. I didn’t, which is why they were able to easily make my bed into their feeding and nesting ground. The cover will also prevent bugs from getting in or out, effectively starving anything encased inside.
Garbage bags, plastic tubs, and Ziplocs – $50
Once I knew I had bedbugs, everything I owned immediately became a liability. Bedbugs are small and love dark nooks and crannies. They’re masters at hiding, and are annoyingly long-lived: some can stay alive without feeding for up to two years, and the eggs can stay dormant for even longer. I went on a cleaning rampage, throwing out every bit of junk I could. Anything I wanted to save had to be sprayed down with 91% rubbing alcohol (it kills bedbugs and eggs on contact) and put into a sealable container.
Laundry – $75
All of my clothes needed to be washed and dried on hot to kill whatever had hitched a ride. I can’t tell you how many loads of laundry I did over the first week, sometimes until 3 AM.
Dry cleaning – $315
I had a lot of clothes, coats, and bedding that couldn’t be washed and dried on hot. To avoid ruining my closet, these items immediately went out to a dry cleaner that specialized in bedbug infested clothing.
Handheld steamer – $20
Hot steam also kills bedbugs. I spent many a night steaming my shoes, purses and coats in the hopes of saving on extraneous dry cleaning costs.
Professional pest control / extermination- $0
Once all my belongings were safely cleaned and boxed away, it was time to bring in professional help. I rent my apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and according to NYC laws, your landlord is responsible for any type of extermination; it’s actually illegal to have a clause on your lease saying the tenant is responsible.
Luckily, my landlord was extremely understanding and fast. He had a PCO come right away to spray down my entire apartment, from my bed to the floorboards to my couch. Three weeks later, the PCO came again to spray the apartment down and kill anything that may have been missed or hatched in the meantime.
New mattress, bed frame, and bedding – $900
When you find out you have bedbugs, the immediate reaction is to throw out everything you own. I personally wanted to burn down my building and assume a new identity, but my budget wasn’t ready for that. Bedbug experts also recommend that you don’t throw away your larger belongings, as you could be spreading them to your community and anyone who picks up your stuff on the curb. However, I had been thinking about getting a new mattress for a while, and this was an opportune moment. After the second treatment, my old mattress, box spring and bed frame went in the trash (wrapped in plastic) and was replaced by a brand new one, fully covered in a bedbug-resistant cover.
Psychological trauma: priceless
The biggest expense of this ordeal was the psychological trauma of having bedbugs. My apartment and my bed used to be a place of relaxation and a reprieve from the stresses of city life. Now, it was the front lines of a never-ending battle. Every waking moment I had was spent cleaning, bagging, washing, or panicking. I dreaded going to sleep, afraid of being in my bed. While I’ve always been a bit of an insomniac, it now took me 3-4 hours and a handful of sleeping pills to fall asleep.
My grades suffered. My productivity declined. I missed deadlines at work. I was afraid of traveling, bringing friends over, or even seeing my boyfriend at his apartment. I felt nauseous and stressed constantly.
Worst of all was the not-knowing. I had no idea how I’d brought this plague upon my household. Did it come in my suitcase from a business trip? Sitting next to someone on the subway? Work? I had no way of knowing how — or how I could prevent it from happening again. Bedbugs don’t discriminate from the rich or poor, clean or dirty.
And yet, I know that I was able to deal with bedbugs with a huge amount of privilege. The more I read bedbug horror stories on the internet, the more I realized they were coming from low-income households without the ability to hire an exterminator. Some people owned their own houses or weren’t covered by their leases, and couldn’t afford professional help. Their DIY efforts to combat bedbugs usually made things worse, and turned their ordeals into year-long battles.
In comparison, I had an understanding boss and a proactive landlord. I had time to do all my laundry, and the money to buy the supplies I needed and even replace my bed. It definitely hurt my bank account, but I was able to deal without putting myself further into debt.
But don’t let me scare you. There’s no sense in worrying about something you can’t prevent happening, although you can take a few steps to reduce your risk. Buy a mattress and box spring cover. Check hotel beds for signs of bug activity, and thoroughly inspect your luggage after any trips. Don’t pick up used furniture — from the street, Craigslist, or otherwise — before you know there are no bugs.
And if you do find yourself in this situation, take a deep breath. You are not alone. Prepare yourself for the battle, get professional help, and stay aware. It’s a long battle, but it won’t be won without perseverance.
Marina is a twenty-something marketing specialist and sometimes graphic designer living in Brooklyn. When she’s not hustling between work and grad school, you can usually find her eating her way through New York City or hanging with cats instead of people.
Image via Unsplash