Battling Bed Bugs

PMPs get creative in the fight against these prevalent pests

Bed bug infestations continue to be one of the greatest challenges for the pest management industry. According to an NPMA survey, nearly 97% of pest professionals have treated bed bugs in the past year, and 66% say the prevalence of these problematic pests is on the rise. While the majority (69%) say their bed bug service is effective, there are still plenty of cases where traditional techniques don’t do the trick.

This is why some PMPs are thinking outside of the box when it comes to the war on bed bugs. During the virtual 2020 Global Bedbug Summit, industry experts presented helpful advice and cutting-edge techniques for detecting and exterminating bed bugs. Keep reading to learn more about a couple of unique remediation tactics and how to protect your business from bed bug litigation.


In his Global Bedbug Summit session entitled “Release the Hounds: Industry Update on Canine Scent Detection,” Mark Sheperdigian, BCE and VP of Technical Services with Rose Pest Solutions in Troy, Michigan, discussed how this specialty bed bug service has evolved over the last 20 years.

“To date, there is no more accurate and efficient method for detecting bed bugs than a well-maintained bed bug scent-detection canine team,” he emphasizes. “They are best at detecting low levels and single bugs, which is how most infestations start out.”

Particularly for apartment communities and other multi-family residences, Sheperdigian says early detection is the most effective way to reduce infestation rates and slash bed bug management costs. While the dogs cannot actually find bed bugs, they are trained to detect and alert to the source of the scent of bed bugs and viable eggs. These effective canine teams can be used for early detection in the accounts that need it most.

“Over the last dozen years, we have learned a lot about the dogs’ strengths as well as their limitations,” Sheperdigian explains. For example, in the past, PMPs would often consider using a second canine team to verify an alert when no bed bugs were visible. “We now know the best way to handle such an event is to place monitors and move on,” he adds. “Rather than trying to be smarter than the dogs, we now simply need to avoid the biggest error—making unnecessary treatments. We know the dogs are good, but also know they are not infallible, and we have adjusted our procedures to accommodate their limitations.”

Looking to the future, Sheperdigian predicts there will be an increased need for support personnel, trainers and canine behaviorists for scent detection teams. “Scent detection of other pests already exist, but it may increase in numbers as companies become more comfortable with the care and feeding of a canine scent detection team,” he adds.

While most of today’s canine detection teams are outsourced, Sheperdigian believes pest management companies could benefit from having their own team. “The value of early detection in large multi-family accounts cannot be overstated. It doesn’t take too many accounts of this type before scheduling and pricing become problematic,” he points out. “Having their own canine teams allows a pest management firm to schedule at will, control pricing and oversee quality and training.”

His advice to pest management companies considering adding this service? Do your research. “Before you get into scent detection, or even subcontracting a bed bug scent-detection team, learn about their capabilities and limitations so you can properly build a program,” he says.


While the use of fumigants as bed bug treatment is growing in popularity, it is still considered a specialty service. At the Summit, Dr. Dini Miller, professor of entomology with Virginia Tech University, discussed how fumigation could fit into a pest management company’s bed bug control program.

“Fumigation has typically been used in those states that are plagued by dry wood termites,” she explains. “We really don’t have a way to get at insects in wood except for fumigation when a house is tented.” In the past, fumigation was not offered in states that do not have dry wood termites, including most eastern and northern states. However, as bed bugs have become widespread across the nation, fumigation is now a sought-after service in all 50 states.

Dr. Miller has been researching chamber fumigation as way to treat small spaces and personal items infested with bed bugs. “Until now, when most pest control companies came to treat bed bugs with insecticides, they would give the customer a long list of preparation instructions,” she explains. Customers were instructed to take all of their items that may be infested, including books, photos, shoes and stuffed toys, and place them into plastic bags. “So, imagine a customer, who might be a 77-year-old lady, has to pack up all of her personal belongings and put them into plastic bags.”

Because the items may have bed bugs on them, the customer must keep them in bags for at least a year, depending on the temperature, or possibly never open the bags again. “These prep instructions are too hard for most people, particularly the elderly and disabled, which is the demographic that’s particularly plagued by bed bugs,” says Miller. In many cases, customers also are instructed to throw out their couches other furniture because they are contaminated with too many bed bugs.

This is where chamber fumigation can help. “With chamber fumigation, you get a moving truck, fill it with all of the customer’s furniture, clothes, pictures, stacks of books, cover the truck in tarps and fumigate it,” she explains. “This service is 100% effective for bed bugs. Fumigation is the only thing we’ve got that will kill everything, every last egg.”

Chamber fumigation could be a great addition for pest management companies based in states without dry wood termites. This service may be particularly appealing to customers who live in an apartment building. “If the apartment owner doesn’t want to pay $100,000 to have 300 units tented and treated, you could offer chamber fumigation to treat their items and then just treat the rest of the apartment.”

Fumigation also can be used to treat cars. While heat sources have been used to treat vehicles in the past, excessive temperatures can damage LCD monitors and other high-tech devices in today’s modern cars. “We tested covering cars with 6-millimeter polyethylene sheeting and then fumigating them,” says Miller. “We were able to document that they killed every live stage. Even when we hid the eggs in the seating and folded them into the floors, it still killed all the eggs in the car.”

Dr. Miller says fumigation just makes the most sense for smaller environments and personal items. “A lot of families can’t afford to have their entire house tented and fumigated, especially in states that only have one or two companies offering it,” she says. “So, for companies that don’t know if they want to start in the structural fumigation business, they could get started this way. Pest control companies would be doing their customers quite a big favor if they can treat their items in a way that is 100% effective, so they don’t have to throw everything out. The need is definitely there, and there’s a big market for chamber fumigation.”


Because we live in a litigious society, pest control companies must work extra hard to avoid legal landmines associated with bed bug services. In her Summit session, Gail Getty, BCE with Getty Entomological Research and Consulting in La Crescenta, California, discussed how to keep yourself out of hot water when it comes to bed bug litigation. She says you can protect your company and employees by tightening up your operations and providing the best quality service for clients.

“Many of your customers, be they residents or landlords, may not be well versed in pest management,” she points out. “Your recommendations not only address the current bed bug issues at hand, but also long-term goals and prevention.” She says understanding the legal issues associated with bed bug services will allow you to more clearly communicate with your customers.

As for protecting your employees, Getty says it all comes down to empowering your team with confidence. “This is done through employee training, proper documentation and quality assurance,” she says. “Documentation is key and including this in employee training is critical.” Your staff members should be trained to know what details are important to document and why, she says. That way, the technician will be able to confidently address legal questions down the road.

“Have serious internal conversations about documentation and standard documents given to clients before you are engaged,” she emphasizes, adding that it’s important to regularly review policy, procedures and written documents, especially those given to customers. “It is here you can set your mission or bed bug management philosophy.”


Photo: Frantisek Dulik/