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Hoarders With Bed Bugs

By Chris Williams on May 15, 2013.
Adult male bed bug

Question

Even though she denies it, I think my sister is a hoarder. Her apartment is a disaster with piles of clothes and stuff everywhere. There’s not even any place to sit because every surface is covered. This is bad enough but she also has bed bugs. I’ve tried to tell her that the clutter makes the bed bug problem worse. That is true isn’t it? She says her life style has nothing to do with her bed bug problem.

Answer

While anyone can get bed bugs, people with clutter are much more likely to have a problem getting rid of bed bugs. Hoarders are people with extreme clutter and no desire or means to correct the situation. I would say that there is no chance of eliminating an established bed bug population from the home of a serious hoarder unless the place has been cleaned up.

From a pest control viewpoint, there are several problems when it comes to excessive clutter and bed bug infestations:

  1. Hoarders are not able or are not willing to prepare their place for bed bug treatment. There is just too much stuff for them to bag and remove items before bed bug service. Hoarders will not tolerate other people organizing or removing their items.
  2. Bed bugs and other pests love clutter. Bed bugs are adapted to hiding in cracks and crevices. The more clutter, the more places there are for bed bugs to hide.
  3. The more places there are for bed bugs to hide, the harder it is to inspect and find where they’re hiding and, consequently, where we need to treat. Because effective bed bug control requires treating the bugs in their hiding places, you can see the problem. They can be anywhere in a hoarder’s home. There are just too many places to check.
  4. It’s physically impossible to move around to reach potentially infested spots. Often the bed is so buried that there is no way to take it apart for treatment. Working in a hoarder’s home involves some very real health and safety concerns including tripping and crushing from falling items. There will always be places that just can’t be accessed that will act as bed bug hot spots and will reinfest the rest of the apartment.

It’s not that hoarders won’t clean up; they can’t clean up. True hoarders are not just lazy, they suffer from a mental health disorder that almost always require expert intervention. Sad to say, but your sister will probably not clean up unless forced to by her property manager, or local health department, or local fire department (hoarding is a serious fire hazard). It will be a slow process and often social services, a therapist, and others must also be involved. Some companies that specialize in helping people prepare for bed bug service will help hoarders address their problem.

Photo credit: Armed Forces Pest Management Board / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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