While a group of tired parents waited under bright lights in our school’s multi-purpose room for our December PTA meeting to begin, I overheard EverWonder Camps co-founder Moley Evans talking about freezing things to kill them. I just had to ask.

Bed bugs. She had them. She hopes she doesn’t have them anymore. I just heard a freaky piece about bed bugs last week on NPR, and now my son goes to school with an expert. (Except that his buddy was apparently the only one of the family not to show bites).

Moley took the time to share her findings and her natural approach with her neighborhood moms email list, and she gave me permission to share some of her wisdom here. She’s on a mission to make sure everyone else knows what she didn’t know. Until she had to.

“I now believe that everyone needs to be well educated about bed bugs,” Moley says. “They are everywhere and the chances of bringing them into your home is high. I paid them no mind even though we travel, etc. I didn’t think it could happen to us because our house is clean. I was WRONG and they have made our life a living you know what. The cost to get rid of bed bugs is HIGH (in the thousands) and you should do everything you can to keep these from getting into your home. I am probably going to go overboard for a while, but I think it will help me feel better.”

When you have to go to the far reaches of sanity to deal with a problem, it’s nice to spare that of your friends and neighbors.

So just what are bed bugs, and what do they look like? There’s a word for answering that, says Moley: Google.
But how do you know you have them?

Moley explains, “Most people are allergic to the bites. My son does not seem to be allergic but the rest of us are. They are often hard to find. There are dogs that are specially trained to find them. Our exterminator looked for a good 10 minutes before he found a dead one on our mattress. Homes with severe infestations have bed bugs crawling on walls and mattresses are covered with them.”

Where do you get them?

“This is the scary part,” says Moley: “ANYWHERE! You could go to a 5-star restaurant for dinner and a bed bug can crawl into your purse. Most people pick them up at hotels. They are nocturnal and crawl into your luggage while you sleep at night. Other ways include:

* Your housekeeper could bring them in if he/she uses a vacuum that is used in other homes.

* Backpacks from school

* Jackets that are worn to school

* Your children can bring them home from sleepovers

* Overnight camps are a breeding ground for bed bugs

We think we could have brought them home from a bed and breakfast or that our children brought them home from school.”

What do you do once you find out you have them? That’s the $4 million question.

“There are different options,  Moley explains. “These are the three that I know of that involve professionals exterminators.

1. Exterminator comes in and uses toxic chemicals (ours was going to use 5 different ones with scary names and side effects). They quoted us $2,200.00. They ask you to do a ton of legwork including cleaning and bagging up all our clothes (days’ worth of work before they come) because the chemicals are so toxic and you don’t want them on your clothes, etc.

2. You could have your whole house heated to 120 degrees. The high heat kills bed bug eggs, larvae, and adults. This is very expensive and would have run us about $5000.00 for the size of our house (which is not very large). There are companies that do this. I have heard this is VERY effective, but we went with the third option because it’s guaranteed, natural, and much more cost effective.

3. Natural pesticides. I did a whole bunch of research and found David Hersh. He owns A Healthy Home in Silver Spring and uses cedar oil and diatomaceous earth. He also will keep coming until they are gone. He backs up his work which the first exterminator would not do. The first treatment should have killed 80-100% of our bed bugs. David asked that we only strip our beds and wash the sheets and dry them on HOT to prepare. We had already started all the other preparations so still ended up with a bizillion things washed and stored in bags in our basement bathroom which has a deep tub. David treated everything else in our closets with cedar oil. We also cleaned house and got rid of so much stuff because bed bugs like clutter. The cost for this was $1475.00. Our house now smells like a cedar closet. It was potent last night, but right now it just smells clean.”

Moley adds: “The other thing that kills bed bugs is freezing them.”
So how do you avoid bringing bed bugs into your home?
Moley’s advice:
“* When you go to hotels, put your luggage on the luggage rack or on top of the dresser. You can even store it in the bathroom. CHECK THE SHEETS AND BED AND HEADBOARD !!! Strip the sheets back when you do this and be thorough. If you see any sort of bugs, fecal matter, blood, etc., RUN! Do not stay in that hotel (and demand a refund). ”

Check out  Bed Bug Registry where travelers post bed bug findings when they go to hotels. Check this before making travel plans.

Try the natural spray Green Bug when at hotels:  spray luggage as soon as you get into your room as well as the bed and around the bed. You can also use it when you get home.

Moley adds:

“We borrowed a heating contraption that looks like a duffel over the weekend and “baked” our suitcases and a bunch of other stuff. They cost about $300.00 on Amazon and we bought one to use for after we go on trips, etc. You can put your entire suitcase and clothes in there. Each cycle (every time you put new stuff in) takes about four hours because they thing takes a while to heat up.

Personally, my children’s backpacks will never come back into the house and I am going to throw their jackets into the dryer every day after school for at least 40 minutes. I now use Ziploc bags as their lunch boxes, too.”

Moley didn’t expect to have this crash course, and had no idea how common this problem is or how tough to eradicate. Heck, the researchers in the NPR segment said that New York City alone spends at least $10 million a year to control bed bugs.

And you thought $5000 sounded like a lot!

I’m still in denial and am just going to try to get some sleep without dreaming of bites all night. But if I find myself in Moley’s shoes, at least now I’ll know where to start.

Jessica Claire Haney writes about living naturally (most of the time) on her blog, Crunchy-Chewy Mama, for her Washington Times Communities column, “Reading Ingredients: A Health-Conscious Mom,” and for All Things Mothering.