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Eradicating Bed Bugs in Paris

Last week a friend of mine in Paris emailed in a panic: her neighbor told her he had bedbugs, and she already found a few suspicious bites on her arms. I told her not to freak out until she was 100% sure they were bedbug bites. But I was already freaking out for her.

Last fall I got bed bugs, aka punaises de lit. I still have no idea if I picked them up when traveling around France and the UK for a month, if my dogsitter brought them along after staying in a youth hostel, if something I picked up at the flea market was infested, or if they came through the floors from a neighbor's apartment. That part wasn't important.

What was important were the bites on my arms, the little red dots on my sheets, and -- the final proof -- the live specimen running across my bedroom wall when I awoke at 3am. I tore apart my entire flat (it was probably the first time I really appreciated how small it is), inspected every inch of my bed, the furniture, the books on my nightstand. I kept waiting to find a huge, ugly infestation. But I found nothing. I thought maybe they were hiding in the old wooden floors.

Step 1: Cleaning Everything You Own

I cleaned, vacuumed, washed all of my linens, steam-cleaned the floors (I rented steamer on Zilok), and sprinkled the non-toxic Terre de Diatomée (or diatomaceous earth) around the baseboards. I spent three days going back and forth to the laundromat with my clothes in black plastic bags (my neighbors probably thought I had bodies in there), and bagged up everything else that wasn't essential. I pulled the bed away from the wall, placed the feet into cups full of poison and wrapped in double-side sticky tape. If they can't eat, they can't multiply, and I wasn't going to let them eat me! 

I thought I was out of the woods, no more bites for over a week. Experts recommend setting an alarm to wake at 3am or 4am with a bright flashlight to catch them in action. If you've ever had bedbugs you'll know you never need the alarm; sleeping through the night becomes impossible. So one morning at 4am I awoke and turned on my bedside lamp only to find one right there feasting on on my arm. I was so surprised I grabbed him and he popped like a little pomegranate seed, leaving a splatter of blood in my hand. MY blood. Sorry to gross you out, but this is why people who get bed bugs are so traumatized: you can't sleep. 

Happily, I managed to eradicate the little suckers, but I didn't do it alone. After the "splatter incident", I decided to make an appointment first thing in the morning with professionals. I had been obsessively reading every single website about bedbugs since the first sighting, so I knew the regular aerosol bombs that people used for fleas or roaches wouldn't work on bedbugs. Only professional treatments would do the trick. I knew this meant spraying my apartment with extremely toxic chemicals, but I tried my best and it hadn't worked. And my mother was coming for Christmas!

Step 2: Affordable Extermination Services

There are companies in Paris who have the bedbug sniffing dogs, companies that will heat up your apartment to cook them to death, and professional exterminators who will come do the job. But these were all quite expensive (several hundred to several thousand euros), and I didn't have any personal recommendations for a reliable one, so I chose to go with SMASH, an affordable option guaranteed by the City of Paris. SMASH stands for Le Service Municipal d’Actions de Salubrité et d’Hygiène, a municipal health and hygiene service that eradicates pests like rats, roaches and bedbugs (they also treat mold, collect used syringes, and maintain defibrillators in public spaces) for businesses and individuals.

To have your personal residence treated, you first need to call to make an appointment with your local SMASH office by phone. They will tell you how much it will cost depending on the size of your apartment. Mine was €149 for a one-bedroom flat, which they bill after the treatment. 

To prepare for the visit they tell you to bag everything that's already clean, cover any electronics and artwork that can't get misted with the spray, and completely strip the bed ad mattress. A few days later two agents arrived in HAZMAT suits. They assured me that I could sleep there that night, but to make sure and air it out a few hours before bed.

The down side is that even after airing out the apartment for several hours the fumes were still too strong to sleep there, so I went to a neighbor's for the night. The old wooden floors and my hand-stuffed wool mattress had been completely doused, and needed a further week with the windows open all day (in early November) to finally smell "normal". They recommend waiting at least two months before mopping the floors to kill any bedbugs that hatch from eggs that didn't get destroyed by the spray. I added a special bed-bug mattress cover, and continued to sleep with the bed away from the wall and its feet in traps for the next two months until I left for the US in January for a month. After that, with still zero bedbug sightings, I finally scrubbed the floors and put the apartment back to "normal", but continue to be vigilant, both at home and when traveling. I inspect the mattress carefully each time I change the bedding, and do the same in each hotel I visit. I'll admit I also do inspections when I stay with friends, because you never know!  

Remain Vigilant

People often ask if France has a bedbug problem like New York or Montreal. There have been articles about bedbugs in Paris since 2010, but to me it never hurts to remain vigilant whether you think there's a chance you'll get them or not. A year later I still jump sky high if I mistake a little peice of black fuzz in my bed for a bug, so I'm crossing fingers for my friend. Compared to some people's experiences I got off relatively easy, but only because I acted immediately. If you think you might have bedbugs, use the two-step approach of cleaning and treating for the best results. 

To make an appointment with SMASH, call your local office:

- For the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th arrondissements call 01 56 53 77 30.

- For the 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements call 01 40 33 74 50.

Other local bedbug resources (in French) can be found here: Traitement Nuisibles, but beware of unscrupulous charlatans and always get referrals for pricey exterminators or other professional treatments. Don't be tempted to use hazardous chemicals yourself (especially on your mattress or pillows, even diatomaceous earth). 

If anyone else living in France has suggestions or resources for battling bedbugs, please leave a comment below. 

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Reader Comments (5)

Excellent advice! With how much travel I do, especially to questionable locations, I am *so* paranoid about bringing bedbugs home from a hotel. Literally the first thing I do when I get into a hotel room (before setting anything down anywhere) is to pull back the sheets on the bed to inspect the corners and the seams. I've heard so many horror stories about them - people having to thrown away all their books, furniture, etc - that I'll do whatever it takes to keep those suckers away!
October 11, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterk_sam

I had this problem long ago in Paris, when I just moved into a new rental with a bed in it; I went to the Pharmacie on the corner of Rue Saint Dominique and Ave. Bosquet, - always a good choice of pharmacie, they are very nice and helpful - and the pharmacist gave me some non-dangerous (I have a dog, why I didn't want any poison in my home) tablets of some sort to place under the madras and within a week, problem solved. After than I just kept one of these under the madras and I never saw any bugs again.
This is an easy solution, and cheap as well, and if you have house pets, it will not harm them.
October 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette
This is definately becomming a more widespread issue with more and more locations around the world coming underthreat from Bed Bugs. Thanks for the info though, good article.
December 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDan
Great post, but quick question, sadly my french is sill very limited. I need to dry clean some of the items in paris. I am not sure where they would A)take them and B) use proper cleaning "PERC" to kill the bedbugs. Do you have any idea?
February 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHatemyliferightnow
Oh my, sorry to hear that! I have no idea which drycleaners would accept the bedbug items, let alone whether they use PERC to kill them. Anyone have any suggestions?
February 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler-Hall
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