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Nov 19 2017
by Rina Lee

How to Prevent and Deal with Pest Infestations in Dorms

By Rina Lee - Nov 19 2017
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The combination of late-night Oreo crumbs, mid-morning cereal spills and afternoon pizza stains, in conjunction with the ancient unwashed carpet and our unfortunate tendency to shed more hair than our beloved dog Rover, makes for a bountiful breeding ground for all sorts of unexpected visitors in our dorms. And by visitors, we mean those of the “quick, call the exterminator!” variety – not the “oh wow, he’s so cute!” kind. Unless you find bedbugs cute, that is.

Pest infestations are not uncommon events in the kingdom of dorm rooms. Often, students will drowsily stir from yet another midnight-feast-induced coma to discover angry red welts running up and down their arms and legs. And 99 percent of the time, this discovery will soon be followed by hysterical screams and a mad sprint down to the residential office. Unfortunately, however, it’s quite likely that the office already has numerous similar cases on its hands, meaning that it may be weeks and weeks before the exterminator can finally visit your room. And the things that will certainly happen to your arms and legs during that wait time are too full of gruesome details for us to get into here.

At the risk of sounding like a receptionist at the doctor’s office, the only way to avoid becoming another poor sufferer of a pest infestation is prevention, prevention and prevention. However, Fresh U recognizes that sometimes, even with the best of prevention, things just happen for reasons we will never understand.

So, with that said, here is a compilation of the best tips and advice on how you can personally prevent and deal with three of the most common dorm pests – ants, bedbugs and lice. Hope you don’t get too squeamish!

1. Ants

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If you’re suffering from a seemingly sudden onset of allergies, asthma or a slew of other respiratory problems, you may want to give your room another look. That’s right – ants may the culprit at play here. They are also known to even carry and transmit several serious pathogens, such as salmonella, staphylococcus, clostridium and streptococcus, all of which can potentially lead to fatal health complications. 

The best way to prevent ants from entering your home is to stop leaving out those late-night drinks and snacks on your kitchen counter and start cleaning up any spills and crumbs immediately! As researcher Lawrence Zweibel at Vanderbilt discovered, ants possess a ridiculously remarkable ability to scent out food, with around 400 different odorant receptors, compared to the 174 of honeybees, 158 of mosquitos and 61 of fruit flies. So remember to wash your dishes, vacuum your carpets and either seal your leftovers in airtight Tupperware or stick them in the fridge. 

However, if you are a chronic sufferer of the “leaving-out-pizza-boxes” syndrome, and have unfortunately begun to notice unending lines of tenacious ants busily marching up and down your room, you may want to give the following home remedies a try.

Tip 1: Kill the scouts.

If the infestation is just in its beginning stages, and there are only a few lone ants crawling about your home, do not let them make it back to their nest alive! Once these scout ants discover a potentially edible tidbit, they’ll make their way directly back to their nest, all the while leaving behind a pheromone trail that swarms of other ants from their nests can use to follow back. So if even just one scout and its pheromone trail gets away – that’s it. Brace yourself for an infestation!

Although this may be cruel, the easiest and quickest way to kill these scouts would be to simply stomp on them (but OK, we’ve all done this at one point in our childhood). A less hands-on method would be to use a damp paper towel or a vacuum to cleanly sweep up all the ants.

Tip 2: Seal all cracks.

Take a tube of caulk and thoroughly seal up all the cracks around your windows, doors, walls – block any place that may serve as a potential entry point for a horde of hungry, swarming ants.

Tip 3: Apply salt.

You may also want to consider spreading handfuls of salt around your house or dorm, especially around your doors and windows. In addition to keeping out medieval witches and demons, salt is also believed to effectively kill ants as well by dehydrating their exoskeletons.

Tip 4: Trap with tape.

Take a roll of tape that you know you can trust for its sturdiness and its stickiness, and fold them inside-out so that they’re sticky-side up. Then place these lengths of tape onto popular ant gathering sites. Voila – ant traps on a budget!

2. Bedbugs

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These flat, reddish-brown, disk-shaped bugs, ranging from only 1 – 7 mm in length, are the bane of dingy roadside motels and dirty dorm rooms alike. They are at their most active during the night, where they can fearlessly crawl out to feast on the blood of yet another unsuspecting slumbering mammal.

The only good thing about these vampiric nightmares is that unlike most other blood-sucking insects, bedbugs do not transmit diseases onto their victims. 

The bad news: Their bites are incredibly, unbelievably itchy, and are often accompanied by a burning sensation that can last for days. You also run the risk of developing a nasty infection from excessive rubbing and scratching, so try your best to avoid doing so!

So how on earth do you avoid getting bitten? Or get rid of them?

Tip 1: Examine your second-hand items.

Bedbugs are amazingly adept hitchhikers. Most people who experience bedbug infestations eventually discover that they had unknowingly carried the bedbugs into their homes through second-hand furniture or clothing. Thus, make sure to check for signs of bedbugs on your second-hand item before you actually bring it into your room!

Common signs of bedbugs include small, rust-colored stains (crushed bedbugs), minuscule black marks (bedbug excrements) or thin, pale yellow shells, about 1 mm in length (bedbug eggs).

When disposing of such suspected items, make sure you tightly enclose them in a sturdy container or thick plastic bags to avoid spreading the infestation to a passing stranger!

Tip 2: Heat

Bed bugs and their eggs will be killed within twenty minutes if exposed to a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you suspect an infestation has already begun in your room, immediately put all your clothing, blankets, sheets, towels, etc. through the washing machine, then run through the dryer at the highest temperature possible. Expose as many items as you can to direct sunlight afterwards as well.

In addition, try to lay your hands on one of those commercial steam cleaners, and thoroughly clean your carpets, paying close attention to cracks and crevices. Remember that bed bugs are only about the width of a credit card. So if your credit card can fit, those bedbugs definitely can.

Tip 3: Freeze

Just as high levels of heat will kill off bedbugs, so will high levels of cold. If you have smaller items, such as purses, picture frames or hats, that you suspect have been infested with bedbugs, but may find difficult to clean using heat, simply wrap them in a plastic bag and stick them into your freezer. The length of time for which each item should be left in the freezer will vary depending on the size, but generally, experts recommend sometime between several days to a week

3. Lice

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No one wants to get lice. Ever. Ask any kindergartener and they will tell you. These little parasites will claw onto your hair and feast on your blood through your scalp.

We all have the basics of lice prevention battered into our brains. Don’t share hats, don’t share combs, don’t share pillows. Despite all this, however, there is always someone who ends up getting lice. And despite the prevalent theory that lice love living in dirty, unkempt areas, the truth is that your personal hygiene or the cleanliness of your home has absolutely nothing to do with getting lice. So what can we do?

Tip 1: Tea tree oil

A 2012 study published in Parasitology Research shows that even just a 1% tea tree oil solution will be enough to cause the death of all lice within the applied area in an astounding 30 minutes. For the best results, experts recommend rubbing several drops into your scalp, letting them sit overnight and combing out your hair the next morning.

Although tea tree oil is extremely effective, it’s important that you test a few drops on the back of your hand to rule out any potential allergic reactions. If no rashes or reactions occur, you should be good to go.

You may also want to consider switching over to tea tree shampoo as a safety precaution as well. In addition to helping prevent lice (though on a less concentrated scale than the tea tree oil solution), the shampoo will also help moisturize your scalp and stimulate new hair growth!

Tip 2: Coconut oil

Thanks to its high-fat content and vicious nature, coconut oil is an excellent treatment for lice. By coating your hair and scalp with a thick, generous layer of coconut oil, you’ll make it difficult for the lice to hang on to your hair, causing them to fall out. If applied thickly enough, the coconut oil will even suffocate the lice, killing them and preventing further reproduction. Coconut oil is also known as a natural moisturizer with an antibacterial quality, so it will also help prevent some of the irritation and infections that the lice can cause.

The most simple treatment requires you to take a tub of pure coconut oil, heat it, then generously apply it all over your head and scalp. Make sure to thoroughly rub it in. Thoroughly shampoo the hair and dry it, then apply another coating of heated coconut oil. This time, wrap the head in a shower cap or towel and leave it on overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

Tip 3: Garlic

Just like vampires, lice will also find garlic, which is packed with anti-parasitic properties, to be highly, highly unpleasant and deathly. Mix freshly pressed garlic juice into 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil and then thoroughly apply this mixture to the hair. Put on a shower cap and wait for about an hour or two. 

And there you have it. Fresh U’s top picks and recommendations for preventing and dealing with the three most common pest infestations in your dorms. But here’s hoping that you’ll never actually have to carry out the “dealing with” part in real life!

And always remember: prevention is key! 

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash


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Rina Lee - University of Toronto

Rina is an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and the associate editor at Fresh U. You can contact her at rina@freshu.io.

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