Bed-bug-infested furniture: Deface, defile or deconstruct?

By |  November 15, 2016
  • Too often, infested furniture is merely discarded.

  • Discarded furniture and bedding are a major source for new bed bug infestations.

Even though 15 years have passed since the reintroduction of bed bugs, it’s still common to hear of people who discard their furniture as soon as they learn they have an infestation. This practice only serves to spread the infestation around, as discarded furniture is often picked up by others and taken home.

The cruel truth is that discarding furniture rarely, if ever, solves a bed bug problem — it only results in two infested homes. Ending the cycle requires education and training, where communities are taught the proper response to bed bugs and, if necessary, the proper way to discard furniture.

De-infest first

Photo: Mark Sheperdigian

Photo: Mark Sheperdigian

The best course of action is to eliminate the bed bugs and have the furniture cleaned. If the furniture has been fouled beyond cleaning, it should still be de-infested before it is discarded. Eliminating bed bugs from a heavily infested piece is quite difficult, and should be left to pest management professionals (PMPs).

After treatment, mattresses can be encased. Encasements can even be put over other pieces of furniture as an alternative to throwing them out. If the appearance is unacceptable, couch and chair covers can be purchased to put over the encasements.

When heat is going to be used, the time to discard furniture is after the heat treatment. One of the major advantages of heat is its ability to penetrate to the very core of mattresses, couches and other complex pieces.

Deface, defile or deconstruct?

Visible furniture in the dumpster often doesn’t remain there. Photo: Mark Sheperdigian

Visible furniture in the dumpster often doesn’t remain there.
Photo: Mark Sheperdigian

Most of the common strategies for the safe disposal of infested furniture usually involve defacing, defiling or deconstructing. Some communities require furniture or mattresses to be spray painted in large letters BED BUGS – DO NOT TAKE. Oddly enough, if the bugs aren’t evident, these items may still be taken.

A more effective method for disposal is to have furniture slashed and/or broken apart. For apartments, condominiums and other multi-family housing, a large dumpster is often used so discards aren’t visible to the public.

Three things to keep in mind before discarding furniture:

  1. It’s virtually impossible to vacuum all the bed bugs off a couch, but if you are diligent, you can get many of them.
  2. You may see couches and other items sitting out on balconies in the winter with the hopes the cold weather will do them in. In truth, bed bugs are quite cold-tolerant and cannot be reliably eliminated by environmental cold. Freezing has been shown to be effective in eliminating bed bugs, but extreme cold temperatures have to be achieved quickly and held for protracted periods. In the U.S., it never gets cold enough long enough.
  3. Don’t adopt an “always do this” strategy. In some instances, the furniture really does need to be discarded; in others, there is no real reason to do so. Be practiced in the different methods and choose the best ones for each situation.

Contributor Mark Sheperdigian can be reached at

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