After nearly three months of dealing with some sort of ‘invisible’ biting bug I’d like to take a moment to detail what we would do if we knew at the start what we know now. If you find this post and you have just started experiencing this problem, this is a ‘best practices’ snapshot of our current knowledge and experience.
This is a guideline for getting rid of the ‘bites’. I suspect that this guide could be shortened and that other very effective products could be mentioned, but I don’t know about them and can’t shorten it with my current knowledge. I wish Shannon and I could have found a step-by-step guide, even if flawed, three months ago when we first got this problem—so I offer this one to help anyone it can.
Step 1 – Place Internet Orders for Long Term Relief
It will take you about a week to receive all of the products you need to fight the bugs, so your first step should be to order the products. We have tried many options recommended by others and ones we thought of on our own. These are the products that have produced the best results, most of which are not commonly available and need to be ordered. I have broken these products down into two categories – products to fix the problem in your house / car / workplace, and products to help the problem on your skin.
- Products to Clean Your Environment – You should order ALL of these products, they are all important, so don’t skip any of them just because they seem unfamiliar right now. Feel free to shop around to get the best price.
- Diatomaceous Earth – DE is the fossilized remains of single cell diatoms. Diatoms look like a knife blade under the microscope, and they act like crushed glass to insects causing rapid dehydration. There are two kinds, amorphous (food grade) and crystalline. The crystalline type is made by subjecting the DE to heat, which changes the structure of the amorphous silica into crystalline silica. Crystalline DE is useful for filtering applications (pools, labs, etc) however it can cause silicosis if inhaled, and is ineffective against insects. You will want the amorphous silica food grade DE, which you will almost certainly need to order.Prices for food-grade DE vary dramatically. If you buy it in gel-caps as a supplement it will cost you $200/lb, however if you buy it in bulk you can get it for less then $1/lb. We bought a 50 lb bag for under $50 from Wolf Creek Ranch, however you can get smaller quantities for a reasonable price from Yardiac Garden Center.You will need about 1 lb to dust a 1500 sq ft house and 2-3 lbs for personal use (in shoes, on your bed, etc). This will get you about 1-2 weeks of treatment. We have used about 15 lbs since we got the stuff. We found out about this product from an out-of-town exterminator friend.
- Pyrethrum Powder – If you read much about this problem you will hear repeatedly that pyrethroids are ineffective against these mites. This is partially true in that a pyrethroid alone will almost certainly not work, however we had good success using it in combination with DE. I think that these insects quickly become immune to pyrethroids, so you will want to use the powder the right way so that you get rid of them the first time.I tried a synthetic pyrethroid (cypermethrin) in our cars (with a fogger) and it made a big difference the first time (not a total fix, but it helped a lot), however within a week they were back stronger then ever and additional uses of the fogger didn’t seem to do anything at all.The option I would use if I did it over again would be to purchase pyrethrum powder (shop around, this is just an example). What we did use was a dog flea powder (0.5% permethrin) that we bought locally for a very expensive price ($5 / 4 oz).Mix the pyrethrum powder and DE 25% / 75% and dust your house everywhere – electrical outlets, baseboards, shelves, decorations, curtains, etc. To do this dusting you will want a rose duster.We found out about this product from our exterminator friend as well.
- Rose Duster – A rose duster lets you quickly and effectively dust powder all over your home. If you don’t have one you can fill a sock with powder and hit it against your hand to create a dust. This is works about as well as a teaspoon works to replace a backhoe. I’d really recommend getting a duster, it will save you much work. The duster we bought was on sale at Tractor Supply Company, it is a Hudson. I’d shop around though as it recently started acting up with no obvious way to repair it.You will want to use the duster to place a fine layer of dust (not so heavy that it is clearly visible) over everything. Dusting is an art, so practice for a little bit before launching into it. DE will probably cause problems with your vacuum if you have one with the brain-dead design that pulls everything through the impeller. Ours is a Hoover WindTunnel that filters the dirt before it reaches the impeller and it does fine as long as we change the bag frequently. Don’t overdo it with DE. A little will go a long way when it comes to dusting the house. Later additon: It is possible that you may not even need to use DE to dust your home. We have come to believe the other products are effective enough to work without it. However as a treatment for shoes and in socks before things get better, as well as in use on the skin, DE is still indispensable.
- Nylar – This product made a big difference for us. Nylar is an insect growth regulator that mimics a hormone insects make when they molt. By interfering with this process the insects end up like Peter Pan, unable to grow up and thus unable to reproduce. We used Martins brand and had fantastic results. In fact, we were nearly rid of them until we got something out that we had not washed effectively; it was clearly still infested and they came back, though on a much smaller scale than before. The Nylar came to the rescue again because they have been gradually decreasing with hardly any work on our part (just a little vacuuming and dusting with DE).Nylar does not kill the buggers, so you must use something else to actually bring relief. Nylar will keep them from coming back in force after you use other products against them. This is a somewhat uncommon pesticide for home use and you probably won’t find it at your local garden center, though an agricultural supply shop might have it. We found out about this product from a coworker who had used it for fleas.
- Menthol Crystals & Diffuser – Menthol is used against mites by beekeepers, and some people who have gotten rid of these things claim that this is the key. We just found out about it and started using it on our latest flare-up (caused by re-infesting ourselves) and it made a very noticible difference within hours of starting it. You just put the crystals (a concentrated derivitive of peppermint) on a diffuser (a small heater), or on a piece of paper on a cup warmer (like the kind used to keep a coffee mug warm), and let them melt and then evaporate into the air. The resulting odor will give you the clearest sinuses you’ve ever had and hopefully dehydrate the insects. It smell like Vicks VaporRub (which incidentally, is said to be a good personal deterent to help you sleep).You can get a pound of crystals for about $30, and the site also sells diffusers (though their model doesn’t put out nearly as much vapor as our cup warmer does, I’d get a couple of these so you can do multiple rooms at once). This is the product you are most likely to skip because it seems unfamiliar and odd. Don’t. Save yourself the headache of living with the problem for longer then you have to by addressing it right away on multiple fronts. We found out about this from Jo at the Finding1Cure yahoo group. Later addition: Menthol crystals are the absolute best thing we’ve found for treating your car. Put them under the heaters and they’ll melt when the car is running. Or get an aromatherapy diffuser for use with a tea light, add the menthol crystals, and leave it in the car for a couple hours. Menthol doesn’t work overnight. But if you use it everyday for a week, the results are tremendous.
- XTREME Cleen – This is a carpet and laundry cleaner from a company called DermaTechRx. I can’t vouch for the company, but I can tell you that this product makes a world of difference. We injection cleaned our carpets and cars (using a rented Rug Doctor, which despite its name does not heat the water at all and never uses steam) and wow, what a difference. The biting came to an end, and thanks to the Nylar didn’t come back (until our re-infestation). We use Ammonia and Borax (1 cup and 1/2 cup per load) for our laundry every day, but we use this once a week to ensure that everything is completely clean.This company sells a lot of stuff, we tried a bunch of it and only found two of them to be really effective, this is one of the effective ones. You get 1/2 gallon for $70.
- TKO Cleaner (later addition – this stuff is awesome) – We buy it here. It is such a versatile, good cleaner that we continued to use it long after the bugs were gone for all our general cleaning at home.
- Products to Clean Your Skin – One of the hardest parts in the early days of this infestation was that no matter how much we showered we would feel biting and crawling just after getting out. Washing didn’t seem to help much even though we were taking three or more showers a day. Here are products we have found to be helpful with this problem. There are no magic bullets here, just products that help. You can expect to get out of the shower and feel clean and bite / crawling free for a while when using these products. These are products you will need to order, I will cover products you can buy locally later on.This is the far harder of the two stages, and I’m not going to go into too much detail. Hopefully if you act quickly the things suggested below combined with treating your environment may take care of the problem. If not, you may want to consider joining the yahoo group Finding1Cure to explore the many options for treating the skin problems. You’ll have to weed through a lot, much of which may not apply to your situation, but you may find something truly helpful.
- Rejuvinating Body Wash – This is the other product from DermaTechRx that we found helpful (we ordered a big ‘pack’ of stuff and only two of them stood out as being particularly effective). It is a solution of benzalkonium chloride (a common and very safe bactricide). There is probably a cheaper alternative somewhere (the company seems to target people with this problem, selling products with common ingredients for much more then the normal price), but this was what we found early on and it helps. You can get it here at 1 gallon for $120. You may wish to skip this one as Selsun Blue is only $90 per gallon and seems to be equally effective, though smellier.We found out about this product through a web search.
- Kleen Free – An enzyme cleaner that is sold for this problem. We tried using it on our house and it wasn’t very effective at getting rid of the bugs in our environment, however it has been a nice relief for bathing and spraying down our bodies. In fact, we still use this nearly every day after getting out of the shower or when we start to feel the crawling sensation. We keep a spray bottle of 8 to 1 dilution (water to cleaner) to apply and then let it air-dry on our skin. It works very nicely for this. Also, bathing in it brings a lot of relief, however it is quite costly and at one cup per bath is a very expensive way to treat yourself. One thing we notice, you must use a high enough concentration – 12 to 1 doesn’t seem to do anything, but 8 to 1 works well.As a cleaner, the stuff is amazing, you can spray it on a coffee stain (fresh) and watch the stain melt away right before your eyes. We love it.We recently found a product called Bug-Arrest that sounds almost identical in concentration but is about 1/2 the price. We are going to try it and see how it goes. Later addition: for our results, see The Great Enzyme Cleaner Shootout.
Step 2 – Buy Products Locally for Immediate Relief
A week never seems so long as when you are getting no sleep because of the incessant biting and crawling these things cause. Here is how you can get by between now and when the products you ordered (you did order all of them right? Yes they cost a fortune, but you will easily spend $5k on this if it gets out of hand, so try and move quick to save yourself money). Here is what you need:
- Ammonia – Find it at your grocery store or hardware store for $3 / gallon. You will want to immediately wash all of your clothes and bedding in this and borox. Use between 1 to 1-1/2 cups per load.
- Borox – At first I had some trouble locating this because it is often located in an obscure spot on grocery shelves. Dial makes the ‘20 Mule Team’ brand which is what we used. It is sold as a laundry booster, use between 1/2 to 1 cup per load.
- Denorex – This is an anti-dandruff shampoo that has coal tar in it. It will help greatly with the crawling sensation.
- Nizoral – Another dandruff shampoo. This one is very helpful and has no menthol.
- Selsun Blue – Another anti-dandruff shampoo. Alternate using this and the Denorex or Nizoral to wash your whole body. Choose the menthol version if possible, menthol seems to be an effective repellent. But, be warned, it will make you cold.
- Tea Tree Oil – You can find this at a health food store. When you get the DE you can mix this, DE, and water into a mud paste and apply it to your whole body. Shannon has written a post about this.
- Biokleen Bac-Out – an enzyme cleaner that you can find at health food stores, you use it like Kleen Free, except it has already been diluted and includes surfactants that make it soap up inconveniently. This is very expensive, but it will tide you over until the Kleen Free arrives.
- Vacuum Bags – Buy a lot of them and vacuum every day, at least once, sometimes twice, and throw out the bag every time.
- Bleach – Wash all hard surfaces with a strong (I used 20%) bleach / water solution (test to make sure the surface can handle it) every day until you can treat with the DE and nylar. Do not mix bleach and ammonia, it will produce a toxic gas.
- Boric Acid – Sprinkle on your carpets between vacuuming while waiting for the other stuff to arrive. You can find this at hardware stores or other places where pesticides are found.
- Bouce Fabric Sheets – Use in your dryer to repel them from your clothes. You can place these in your shoes, in your coat sleeves, on the floorboard of your car, in between your sheets, anywhere you want to keep the insects away. Bounce seems to particularly repel them.
- Spray Bottles – Get a lot of them, you will use them non-stop.
- Garden Sprayers – I’d get two of the 1/2 gallon pump style handheld models (not the wand kind, they are bigger then you need). These are sold at Wal-Mart in the garden center for about $6.
- 70% Alcohol - use to treat areas with crawling sensations.
- Vicks Vapor Rub – use to keep the bugs off you at night
- Painter Drop Sheet Plastic – use to wrap beds
- Big and Medium Garbage Bags – use to wrap car seats and to store clothing during the cleaning process
- Plastic (Foam) Flip-Flops / Shoes for Everyone in the Family – Never walk barefoot or sock-footed in your house until the problem is gone. This will make a big difference so it is best to invest in footwear you can use around the house and just out of the shower. It seems like they stick to your shoes and get tracked to new locations, so spray down the bottom of your shoes with the ammonia solution before going places. Crocs or a knock-off of the brand are a great choice.
- Keep The Humidity In Your Home Low – We noticed horrible problems when we tried using a humidifier, things got better when we lowered the humidity. Keep the humidity low while you wait for your products.
Step 3 – Start Cleaning Your Home (with the temporary products)
So you have the tools and products to address your problem. Here is what you need to do:
- Wash all (I mean all) of your non-dry-clean clothing, home fabric decorations, pillows, etc in ammonia and borox. This will be a huge job, and we handled it by putting most of our clothes and decorative curtains and such in storage. You should put your dry-clean clothing in storage as well (seal in trash bags and put in a garage or rented outdoor facility – we rented a facility). Anything you will keep in your house that is fabric should get washed. You may want to remove the newly washed curtains, etc. and wait until you have the house treated before bringing these items back in.
- Wrap your bed in plastic. I recommend the 6mm painters drop sheets sold at Wal-Mart or Home Depot. Use duct tape to seal it shut, do this for both the top and bottom sections.
- Put your pillows in plastic trash bags, push the air out, and seal them. Do this after washing them if possible.
- Vacuum very thoroughly. Get everywhere, especially at the baseboards and then throw out the bag
- Wash all hard surfaces with a strong bleach solution. Test to make sure it won’t ruin the surface before using.
- Now take a shower and wash all over with Denorex / Selsun Blue. Let it sit on your skin for a while (2 min?) before rinsing.
- Spray your newly wrapped bed and pillows down with a 25% ammonia / water solution or with TKO solution and let air dry, then make your bed with your newly washed sheets and blanket. You will need to wash your sheets and blankets every day and spray down your beds and pillows every day.
- Put Bounce fabric sheets in your bed to keep the mites out while you shower.
- Rub yourself with Vicks Vapor rub to keep the bugs away at night. Be exceptionally careful about going from the shower to the bedroom, wear flip-flops (sterilized with a ammonia spray or TKO before use) and get into bed without touching the floor. This should provide you with a pretty good nights sleep until your products arrive.
Step 4 – Clean Your Home And Treat It For Bugs
So now you have all the products I recommended and are completely bewildered by the array of boxes and not-very-helpful labeling on the products. This is the order and steps I would take to clean my house if I had to start over again.
- You have bagged and stored all of the cloth in your house right? If not, do that now. Your closets should be mostly empty and all clothing, decorative pillows and throws, curtains, etc bagged and stored out of your house.
- Get out the menthol crystals and the diffusers (or cup warmers) and put them in your worst rooms. I’d recommend putting them in the bedrooms to start. Rotate them daily throughout your house.
- Rent a Rug Doctor (or other injection-extraction carpet cleaner). I wrote to the company and confirmed that the machine does not heat the cleaning solution. This is important because the Xtreem Cleen can create toxic fumes in warm water so you want to mix it with cold water as the packaging suggests.Vacuum, then clean all of your carpets and allow some ‘overspray’ on your baseboards and junctions with hard floors. Use the machine to clean your fabric furniture and your beds (you will need to unwrap them and throw out the plastic). Allow this to dry (you will probably want to send your family out of the house for the day during this procedure, perhaps even stay at a hotel).Vacuum then clean the upholstry, carpets, headliner, and trunk of all your vehicles. Allow this to dry.
- Wash your hard flooring with a strong bleach solution (I used 20% Chlorox to water, but can’t take responsibility if this causes problems for you). Allow this to dry as well before applying anything else.
- Spray down your leather furniture with a 25% ammonia / water solution or with TKO. Check an inconspicuous area first to make sure it won’t damage it, I didn’t have any problems, but your mileage may vary. There is something called TKO Cleaner that is highly recommended by others and can also be used on dry-clean items. Though we originally used ammonia, once we tried TKO, we liked it so much better, we switched to it entirely. You can use it in your laundry. And you can use it in spray solution with about 2 tablespoons of TKO per large spray bottle.
- If your computer keyboard, workspace and mouse can handle it you should spritz it with the ammonia or TKO solution. I had an Apple keyboard with seemed designed to channel even the smallest liquid directly to its most sensitive area. If you have one of those keyboards it would be a bad idea. My current $8 keyboard (from newegg) handled being spritzed multiple times with nary a hiccup. My laptop did fine with it as well, though again, use your judgement since it could end up as a costly mistake.
- Mix the Nylar (if you use the Martin’s IG Regulator) at a ratio of 1/2oz to 1/2 gallon into one of the 1/2 gallon sprayers. Evenly spray your carpets, beds, furniture (all types), hard flooring, lower walls, closet walls, electrical outlets, chairs and tables (undersides only), and other cracks crevices and surfaces (I sprayed my computer bag and even lightly spritzed my palm pilot). If you have a computer keyboard that can tolerate it I would spray the Nylar on it as well. Don’t forget to spray your cars. Allow the Nylar to completely dry.
- Mix the DE with the pyrethrum powder (75% DE, 25% PP) and put it in the duster. Lightly dust all surfaces, bookcases, carpets, hard flooring, chairs (undersides), tables (undersides & legs), computer area, beds, closets, electrical outlets, etc.
- Wash all of your clothing (that you haven’t already washed) in the Xtreem Cleen cleaner. I think the ammonia works well, but sometimes I’ve wondered if a particular article of clothing was really clean. I’ve never had even a doubt with the Xtreem Cleen, so I’d wash everything in it at least once. Again, for dry-clean clothes you might try TKO cleaner, I don’t have any experience with it thought.
- Rewrap your bed with new plastic. Slip a large (30 gallon) garbage bag over the seatbacks of your car seats (cut a hole in the bottom for the headrest). Place garbage bags on the seats of the car. This will prevent you from re-infesting your car or vice-versa (you may be able to skip this if you have leather seats). Spray the now-plastic seats down with ammonia after each use.
- Clean your workplace. Otherwise you will re-infest yourself and be very misearable at work.
Step 5 – Clean Your Skin
There is far to much detail and information for this step to possibly be included in this post. Please check out the yahoo group finding1cure for more detailed information about the many options and suggestions for this step. In the meantime, here are a few quick recommendations of things we do to help us.
- Take a bath in Kleen Free – This really helps with the crawling sensation.
- Spray down with a 8 to 1 mixture of water and Kleen Free when needed throughout the day. Take a small spray bottle with you to work and go into the restroom and spray down when needed.
- Dab yourself all over with tea-tree oil, this has helped some.
- Use Vick’s Vapor Rub on your body at night to keep the bugs away
- Powder yourself with DE all over before bed at night. This is an alternative to using the mud rub.
Hopefully these tips will help someone. We hope this will make you much more comfortable quickly!
Later addition: Using these methods, we became free of the mysterious bugs. We found that re-infesting ourselves through some forgotten clothing not washed with the correct cleaner could happen easily. But we now had the tools to treat these minor resurgences quickly and easily before they had a chance to get out of hand. Gradually things got better and better. We never went back to the misery of what we had started with and had endured for over 2 and a half months. We pray that others will have similar results.