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After a TikTok user rehabbed a couch from the curb, a bedbug expert urges caution

A screenshot shows TikTok user yafavv.mandaa finding a blue couch on a New York City street. The video spurred questions about whether the sofa might have bed bugs.
Screenshot by NPR
A screenshot shows TikTok user yafavv.mandaa finding a blue couch on a New York City street. The video spurred questions about whether the sofa might have bed bugs.

After a TikTok user found a used couch on a New York City curb and rehabbed it to use in her apartment, some were quick to point out one tiny issue: it might have bedbugs.

The user, yafavv.mandaa, shared footage of her and her family cleaning the couch, and said in a follow-up video that it sat at her father's workplace for two weeks before she took it home.

"If there was bed bugs, we would have seen it!" she said.

But some worried the creepy-crawlers could still be hiding inside the modern, blue sofa.

"It looks so good but I'm SO SCARED about it being BED BUG CENTRAL," one user replied.

As it turns out, if you acquire a piece of second-hand furniture that has bedbugs, even a thorough cleaning and time may not be enough to fully eradicate the Cimex lectularius from your furnishings.

"In my mind, it may not be worth the risk," Jim Fredericks, senior vice president at the National Pest Management Association, told NPR.

First of all, bedbugs can be hard to spot. Large infestations may put lots of the blood-sucking insects or their droppings on obvious display, but eggs or freshly-hatched nymphal bedbugs are less easy to see. They may also be lying low in hidden areas of a piece of furniture, such as seams, crevices or even the inside.

"At low levels, bedbugs are sometimes hard to detect, and so you may not even realize that you have a bedbug problem until the bedbugs that you've brought in with that couch have kind of blossomed into a full-blown infestation, maybe even in multiple rooms," he said.

Fredericks, who is also a board-certified entomologist, said it's possible to get bedbugs out of a piece of second-hand furniture with vacuuming, steaming and thorough cleaning. But miss just a few, and you could be in trouble.

"If there's a hundred bedbugs on this couch and you kill 90%, you still have 10 bedbugs, and that's enough to start a new infestation."

Some people who find bedbugs in their beds think they can just sleep on the couch for a while, Fredericks said, but bedbugs can walk and will follow you to another room.

Forgetting about the piece of furniture for a while to try to wait them out also won't work, since bedbugs — which he referred to as "little, six-legged vampires" — go into a state of dormancy in the absence of food.

"Bedbugs are known to be able to live for more than six months without a blood meal," he said. "So by trying to just starve the bedbugs, what you wind up with are just really hungry bedbugs when you return to that spot."

Fredericks says it might be best to just skip that piece of second-hand furniture. But if you absolutely must have it, he recommends exercising extreme caution and calling a pest control expert.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez