Instructables
Picture of Kill Bedbugs in your luggage
Do you stay in hotels a lot?

Will you be staying with a friend or relative in an urban apartment or condo?  

Returning from college?

Bedbugs are terrible creatures, you absolutely don't want them in your home, and if you have them you shouldn't spread them to others.

So how can you be certain not to bring bedbugs back to your own home after spending time away from home?

Fortunately heat is a pretty good way of killing bedbugs. I built this device with the following objectives in mind:
 - Safety - no pesticides; minimal fire risk
 - Ability to kill bedbugs by heating the luggage to an internal temperature of 125F 
 - Low-cost, easily available parts
 - Basic electrical skills 
(someone who knows how to install a new light fixture or outlet in their home safely).
 - Only using basic tools (drill, knife, screwdriver)
 - No soldering, no programming an arduino, etc.
 - Usable as a prophylaxis
(you should be able to use it every time you travel, whether you have encountered bedbugs or not)



Read on!





 
 
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Step 1: Why I built this device

Feel free to skip forward to the next step where we will start the build...

I recently had the misfortune to stay in a hotel - a good quality hotel that I had stayed in multiple times before - and had my first bedbug encounter.

I knew a bit about bedbugs because my Mom's apartment had bedbugs several years ago (they had crawled in from a neighbor's apartment). It took her almost a year to get rid of them - several whole-apartment pesticide sprays, repeated laundering of all her clothes and bedding, replacing the bed, etc. I did not want to have them in my home!

When I travel, I normally check my hotel room pretty thoroughly when I arrive (see http://bedbugger.com/2006/10/19/faq-how-can-i-avoid-bedbugs-while-traveling/ for tips) but this time I missed their little hiding place and woke up in the morning with bloodstains on the sheets (yuk! and it was my own blood!).

So now I had my luggage that's been in a hotel room with bedbugs for several says and I needed to be certain that I wouldn't be carrying them back to my home.

I bought some large trash bags on the way to the airport. When I got home, I unpacked in an empty bathtub (so I could see if any bedbugs had escaped), all my washable items went straight into a hot wash and dry, I stripped off and washed all the clothing I was wearing, and then I sealed my suitcase in two knotted trashbags and had a shower.

Bedbugs can live without feeding for up to 18 months. So now I had a suitcase with various non-launderable items including my favorite leather jacket inside that I won't be able to use for 18 months until the bedbugs inside starve to death.

What to do now?

I found a device called a "Packtite" for sale on the 'net: http://www.usbedbugs.com/PackTite-Portable-Heating-Unit_p_6.html which looks like it would do a reasonable job - but it's over $300, and I didn't want to spend that kind of cash on this problem.

Various sources around the 'net state that you can kill bedbugs and their eggs with a temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

This instructable is my attempt to produce a heater for luggage that could be built simply and easily to raise the internal temperature to 125 without destroying the luggage itself. Read on for the rest! 
Cdn Sapper2 years ago
Very good instructable, bedbugs really "suck" pun intended...one thing you might want to do is add switches to control each or groups of lights so you could run it with all to bring up the heat and then reduce the number of bulbs to maintain the temperature. A thermostat could also be added to regulate the temp.
arty3 years ago
Recycle a temperature limit-switch out of a gas furnace or electric water-heater. Water-heaters have two, and the lower switch is adjustable. It's range is from about 120 < 180, which sounds perfect for this task. If I recall correctly, the lower-limit switch on a gas furnace toggles at about 125 dF... but I don't remember whether it is opening or closing at that temp.

Very good idea. Thank you.
marcgr (author) 3 years ago
Check out my latest, improved version of this at:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Kill-bedbugs-with-your-Christmas-lights/
marcgr (author) 3 years ago
There's a great discussion going on over at http://bedbugger.com/forum/topic/build-your-own-luggage-heater

I copied a few of my comments back here:

- I agree absolutely, if you have no technical skills or if you are concerned in any way about safety, you should buy a UL-listed product like the Packtite instead of making your own.

- I agree absolutely, if you don't know what a GFCI outlet is or how to use one, you should buy a UL-listed product like the Packtite instead of making your own.

- I agree absolutely, the Hacktite should only be operated in a location where there is absolutely no risk of damage to property other than the contents of the hacktite, should the unit catch fire.

- Many of us live with "metal boxes that use electricity" today; ask anyone who owns a stainless steel fridge. Remember that 60 years ago just about any appliance that used electricity would have been made of metal and not plastic; devices today are safer than those devices of 60 years ago but the devices of 60 years ago were not intrinsically unsafe.

- Availability of incandescent bulbs: I don't think they are totally phased out until 2014, and in any case, you could probably still find them after that for many years at garage sales etc. If you buy your lightbulbs today, take one trip a week and have the "hacktite" on for a few hours after each trip, I'm sure they'd all last beyond 2020.

- I'm generally thinking the Hacktite would be operated outside and therefore if some BB's escaped through the lid or cord hole during treatment then it wouldn't be a big problem. If you are concerned, you could put some double-sided tape around the top and seal the cord hole.

- A dimmer would make it a bit easier to use. During my tests, I didn't find it a big inconvenience to open the unit and change bulbs to reduce the heat output (I started out with seven 100W bulbs in mine which was way too much; I ended up with a mix of 25's, 40's 60's and 100's totalling 370W at the end).

- I thought about a single heat source such as a hot plate or similar but couldn't find a commercial item with a low enough heat output; most hotplates, irons, heaters, hairdryers, etc are more like 1000W or 1500W. I also wanted to use something with a large surface area (multiple lightbulbs) so that the surfaces would be cooler and less likely to ignite a strap or something falling onto them.

- I don't know about cool spots. I assume the same issue arises with Packtite?

- I was really only kidding about DDT

- Good point about holding the temp at 120 for an hour. I saw some data that said that 125 kills everything in less than a minute, but follow whatever research you want to believe.

- I have no knowledge of the patents on the Packtite, but I don't believe there is a court in the world that would prosecute an individual for building one item for their own use even if that item infringed upon a patent of another. Where one might get into trouble is if one tried to set up a business selling hacktites if the hacktites infringed upon the patents in Packtite.

- Right now the Packtite is sold over the internet at $299 and I'm guessing the volumes sold are in the hundreds or thousands and the Packtite inventor/manufacturer is making a few bucks off of each one, as he rightly should. What I'd love to see is a large manufacturer put ten million of them on the shelves of retail stores next year (and every year) at $50 or less and the Packtite inventor make a dime or a quarter on each one through license fees to the manufacturer.

- I'm hoping this very discussion will encourage more people to heat their luggage, thus slowing the spread of bedbugs. Some people will build their own heater, some will look at the instructable, decide the effort/risk is too high, and decide to buy a Packtite instead.

carlos66ba3 years ago
Good idea! For those out there, I'd recommend not only grounding the unit, but also using an isolation transformer. In fact, that way, I'd use a 12 V line and bulbs inside so as to minimize any chance electrocution (won't happen with 12 V).
marcgr (author)  carlos66ba3 years ago
Thanks!

One major objective for me was to do this very low tech to make it as widely applicable as possible. This first version of this project could have been built by Thomas Edison.

An isolation transformer would improve the safety, but would add to the cost. you would need about a 400W transformer and that's not exactly a small item. Besides, Edison didn't believe in transformers :-)

Another thing I had thought about was wiring ten 12v bulbs in series, at least the current would be limited if you shorted out one of them. But then it would make it harder to control the power as I had orignally intended.



I understand your points. As for controlling the power: a simple dimmer would do. Alternatively, you can simply wire a diode in series with the lamps and this would halve the power (not much fine control!).
Hoopajoo3 years ago
Well, it is a good start to an idea that modern society definitely needs.
Have you considered removing the clothes from the luggage and utilizing a tiered racking system for even heat distribution and a PC fan for air flow? I think the PC fan should be sufficient as it is a closed system and therefore only minimal flow would be needed.
marcgr (author)  Hoopajoo3 years ago
There is good evidence that washing items on the hot cycle will kill bed bugs.

However, one of the ways that the bugs like to travel is in the seams of your luggage, and there was no way to launder my whole suitcase...

Good idea on the fan, when I return from my next trip I will see if I can fit one in somewhere!