25 Dec Vacuum cleaners and bed bugs

Most exterminator instruction sheets include a line about frequently vacuuming the home with emphasis on using the crevice tool. While I fully support a clean home to maximize the residual pesticide’s efficacy I wonder about the effectiveness of the vacuum as a bug removal tool.

Bed bugs can be effectively removed from the mattress and box spring seams and the occasional open area such as the removable slats under a captains bed with a vacuum but any exterminator worth his salt would be addressing these areas anyways making homeowner efforts redundant. And vacuuming other areas of the home will remove very few bed bugs due to the bed bug’s penchant for remaining hidden in deep cracks and crevices that are impossible to access with a vacuum. For example, bed bugs are rarely found in the open on the floor (unless they have pyrethroid poisoning in which case they would probably die anyways) so thorough vacuuming of the floor will be of limited bug removal value. And vacuuming a baseboard crack will have little effect because the bugs tend to hide in the deepest and least accessible spots. Furthermore I have attempted to remove bed bug eggs from a couch and found they were deeply buried into crevices and cemented on so tightly I needed a wire brush to remove them. A vacuum will not remove these eggs. As such I suggest homeowner efforts should be redirected into more useful activities such as ensuring that freshly sterilized clothing is worn outside the home to reduce the transfer of bugs to favourite places. Homeowner cooperation is often in limited supply – why waste their energy on work of dubious value?

Once the vacuum has been used in an infested home it is possible that an incredibly small percentage of the bugs in the home may be in the vacuum. As such I would recommend discarding the bag as soon as possible as would most exterminator instruction sheets. But what about the hose, secondary filters, and other mechanical parts (I have seen bed bugs caught in the beater bar)? For these situations I recommend purchasing a bottle of pyrodust PCP 13074 (RAID in powder form) and sprinkling a small amount on the floor. Then vacuum up the dust and all the hoses and other mechanical parts will be coated in this dust – perfect.

One must keep in mind that some vacuums do not filter very well and succeed only in moving the dust from the floor to the air. I recommend discarding these units and purchasing models that can actually filter dust effectively. Using a $39 model to vacuum Pyrodust would only fill the air with pyrethrin – not nice. I would discourage that practice.

A second issue arises with legality of this maneuver. The label directions on a pesticide must always be followed and specifically vacuuming dust is not on the label. Given it is legal to use this product on mattresses (the most chemically sensitive part of the home) vacuuming a small amount of pyrodust with a proper vacuum would, I expect, not be harmful. But to follow the letter of the law you can place the pyrodust beside the baseboard first and then vacuum it. Therefore the pyrodust was applied as per label directions and was “cleaned up” later. I would expect that most applications of pyrodust in a home are cleaned up in this manner anyways. This is just a bit more targeted and deliberate.

Of course every person must make their own decision about how to interpret the label directions. Read the directions and, if you think my suggestion is inappropriate, don’t follow my suggestion.