Bed Bugs6:49

A city-wide swap meet Sept. 6-7, that invites people to put used furniture and housewares on the curb to give away, is being met with concern by some landlord and tenant groups.

They are warning collectors of free items they could bring home more than just furniture.

The vice president of the Federation of Rental House Providers of Ontario says informal swaps like the upcoming Treasure Exchange Days can give new meaning to the term "flea market."

“The first three words that pop into my head [are] 'bedbug epidemic time bomb'," Mike Chopowick said.

Chopowick said swapping used furniture is a major cause of bedbug infestations. Instead, he recommends buying at thrift shops that carefully inspect their wares.

Kenn Hale

Kenn Hale of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario says tenants who pick up furniture off the street can have trouble getting their landlords to deal with the bugs. (Supplied)

Tenants who pick up furniture off the street can have trouble getting their landlords to deal with the bugs, added Kenn Hale, who speaks for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.

"Either the landlord does it and tries to claim back from you, because they find out that you brought in some used furniture, or the landlord refuses to deal with it and says, ‘well you caused the problem you fix it yourself’."

Hale said tenants could be held responsible for the cost of bedbug cleanup if they bring in the bugs.

Leave questionable items alone

But Thunder Bay’s co-ordinator of Solid Waste Recycling said many municipalities successfully run these events.

“Municipalities wouldn't be offering these as part of their waste programming if they were seeing a problem with bedbugs. It just wouldn't happen," said Jason Sherband.

Treasure Exchange Days are part of an effort by the city to be more environmentally friendly, he noted.

"It's to encourage reuse. It's to encourage less waste going to the landfill. So we view this as a positive event," said Sherband.

Sherband said next month's exchange is a pilot and, if the city sees a problem with bedbugs, they'll reconsider the event.

Destroy infested mattresses

In the meantime, Chopowick said his organization’s members, many of whom are in Thunder Bay, have been cautioned “to not facilitate the distribution of furniture.”

“In fact, we've notified our members that, if tenants even throw out an old sofa or mattress or something like that, [they need] to destroy that type of furniture by either slashing the mattress or breaking down an old sofa or dresser or bookcase, or things like that, to render it unusable.” 

Chopowick said pest control experts have told them reusing of “old furniture is a significant cause of the spreading of bedbugs. And anything we can do to stop that … is helpful." 

bedbug waste

If furniture items are dirty and grungy then that could be the waste, the cast and fecal matter of bedbags, a pest control expert says. Above is a magnified picture of bedbug waste. (National Pest Management Association)

Tips to avoid bedbugs

For those who opt to pick up furniture and housewares, Abell Pest Control director of business development Mike Heimbach offers tips on how to avoid picking up bedbugs along with your free items:

  • Avoid mattresses, box springs, bed-frames, lamps, dressers and clock radios. Solid items such as bed frames are easier to inspect than cloth-covered items such as sofas, he said.
  • If people really need items such as mattresses, Heimbach said to carefully inspect them.
  • "If you look at the mattress seams and pull the seams back, if they're nice and clean, then you're more than likely OK.  If they're dirty and grungy, then that could be the waste, the cast and fecal matter of bedbags. That's the number one place they're going to hide is in the seams of the mattress."
  • People can buy mattress encasements that prevent bedbugs from getting into mattresses and to seal any bedbugs that are already in the mattress permanently inside, although he notes that such encasements are not cheap.
  • Sofas and furniture items made with cloth can harbour bedbugs.
  • He said it can be even more challenging to spot bedbugs in sofas but you can try pulling the cushions off and look for stains similar to those you might find on a mattress.
  • People can find photographs of bedbugs and bedbug stains on the internet, he said.
  • Heimbach says there's no easy way to kill bedbugs on newly-acquired furniture before bringing it into your home.
  • "If you had a small item, theoretically, you could put it in your deep freezer for … three and a half weeks, like a clock radio or something," he said.  "But if you're bringing home a chair, you probably don't have a deep freezer it could fit in." 
  • To kill bedbugs on clothing, Heimbach says to launder the clothes, then put them in the dryer on maximum heat for at least half an hour — and only have the dryer half full to make sure it maintains the high temperatures.