If you think applications for nonwovens have already reached a plateau, think again. Nonwovens' newest role: getting rid of bed bugs.
Bed bugs, which were considered eradicated about 50 years ago, are back with a vengeance. Almost daily there is another report in the lay press about bed bug infestations in a clothing or department store, hotel, movie theatre or office building. Hospitals have also reportedly had bed bug infestations.
"With increased international travel, the banning of potent residual insecticides such as DDT, and a lack of vigilance by the public, these blood-sucking critters are making a comeback with a vengeance," said Michael Potter, professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky.
According to the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA), bed bugs can live in almost any crevice of any household item including sofas, chairs, nightstands, dressers, along the edge of baseboards, wall-to-wall carpeting, cracks in wood molding, ceiling-wall junctures, behind wall-mounted picture frames, clocks and phones. In mattresses, they tend to congregate along the seams and edges. They also hide in box springs, bed frames and headboards.
Several companies are already offering nonwoven products for mattresses and box springs that are aimed at preventing bed bug infestations. Still others are in discussions with researchers to see if they can develop a nonwoven product to eradicate bed bugs.
Protect-A-Bed, North Brook, IL, manufactures a polypropylene mattress encasement dubbed the" Bug Lock Encasement." Mike Simpson, Protect-A-Bed's director of marketing said, "We've applied some of our high-end technology to our encasements with our new patented bug lock on the zipper. Underneath the top layer of the encasement we put our miracle membrane to make it waterproof. We tested our regular encasements with entomology labs to make sure they were entry and escape proof—so bed bugs couldn't get in or out of the encasement. We came up with a locking mechanism at the end of the zipper so that at the last three inches it locks that zipper in place. Underneath the very top layer we applied our miracle membrane, which is a polyurethane coating. It is air vapor porous, but you can't stain your mattress because it's waterproof."
Noting that the ten-year-old company began developing products for bed bugs four years ago, Mr. Simpson said, "We developed our original encasement for allergies which would lock out dust mites. Then the bed bug problem came along and we immediately shifted gears and tested it to make sure it was bed bug proof. Most of the encasements we have are completely bite proof. We saw our sales pick up with pest control agencies, hotels and now with consumers." The company distributes its products to 30 countries and is seeing growth in the U.S. and the U.K.
Pointing out that the encasement should be left on a mattress for one year or more, Mr. Simpson said, "Bed bugs can live long without feeding.If you take the encasement off before that time, they can reinfest your home. Entomologists tell us that 65% of the bugs will live in the mattress or around the headboard. Their favorite spot is the box spring because it's wide open. Our nonwoven product is used more on the box spring because it's not as durable as the polyester encasement we have for the mattress. We have a nonwoven for the boxspring and a nonwoven for the mattress."
Protect-A-Bed sells a Bedbug Kit that includes the nonwoven box spring encasement and Allerzip, a woven mattress encasement and two woven pillow protectors.
When queried whether he foresees the development of pillowcases made of nonwovens to ward off bed bugs, Mr. Simpson said, "We haven't done that yet. Nonwovens are good for what we use them for. Even the people who have major issues like the hotels really like it. There's a lot of research being done into covers for couches and chairs and other things that repel the bugs. I've had apartment complexes call me saying they have a new pest deposit policy. When your furniture is going in you have to encase your mattress prior to bringing it in."
Clifton, NJ-based Twelve Steps To Heaven offers nonwoven box spring encasements and polyester mattress encasements. Twelve steps To Heaven's president Dale Wagner said, "You can't use a nonwoven encasement for mattresses because if you put it on your bed and you toss and turn, eventually it will start tearing because the fabric is stiff. If you put a nonwoven encasement on the boxspring, you put it on once and you can leave it there.A lot of hotels like the nonwoven box spring encasement because it's less expensive than the polyester encasement. I come across a lot of people who don't like the nonwoven. If I bring a sample, they open it up and say, 'It's coarse' and a lot of them get turned off.The nonwovens do work well for the box spring, but for the mattress encasement you really can't use them."
Twelve Steps To Heaven also sells a nonwoven encasement for luggage. "When you get to the hotel, you put the suitcase in the protector and zip it. If you take the stuff out of your luggage and put it in the drawer you may get the bed bugs and end up taking them home," said Mr. Wagner.
One chemical manufacturer exploring nonwovens solutions for bed bugs is Milliken & Co. Pat Carroll, sales marketing director for Milliken's nonwovens mattress area said, "Based on what our research people have been looking into, there aren't any chemicals that will kill the bed bugs that are legal with the Environmental Protection Agency( EPA). We are doing a lot of work and investigation into what can be done short of some of the remedies such as freezing or 'frying' bed bugs. You can put a Gore-Tex coating or any coating on a fabric to make it airtight. If you put it on the mattress all it will do is keep bed bugs from getting into crevices of the mattress. You also have sheets and pillowcases on top of your mattress. The problem with bed bugs is they will go underneath the bed—between the foundation and mattress. They'll hide along the bed railings. They may never appear as long as no one gets in the bed. We are actively looking at methods we could bring to market that could have an impact on helping to control bed bugs. If you put a raincoat on a mattress and seal it up, bed bugs aren't going to get into the mattress, but that doesn't mean bed bugs won't be in the room or in the carpet. Obviously there would be a market. We are actively working with our PhD's looking at what alternatives there are. We don't want something to market that could be harmful. Everybody's challenge is going to be is the environment friendly way of trying to come up with a solution that doesn't create some other kinds of issues with health. If you found something that would kill a bed bug and prevent them, How long do you have to go though testing to make sure it doesn't have any impact on children or people? It's really going to be a tough nut to crack."
Mr. Carroll pointed out that there are allergen type barriers which encase mattresses. "They may end up being something that is better than nothing, but is it killing bed bugs and their next generation? Insects have short life spans but they procreate quickly and lay a lot of eggs."
Another company that would like to offer a solution for bed bugs is nonwovens producer William T. Burnett. Mike McAlister, plant manager at William T. Burnett said, "We are only in a discussion stage among ourselves. All of the major producers are discussing and trying to come up with ideas that would help alleviate the issue."
Precision Textiles, Totowa, NJ is offering a box spring protector encasement that is made from spunbond polypropylene material. The company also offers a mattress protector made of a nonwoven high loft material that is quilted between a plush terry fabric and a quilt backer nonwoven.
Shaile Dusaj, director of sales and marketing for Precision Textiles said, "Encasements made of soft and smooth surface fabrics work better for bed bug problems. Since the box spring is not the sleeping surface, the feel of the surface is not important. The mattress and box spring encasements can be used either as a proactive or reactive approach. Mattress and box spring encasements are recommended to keep new mattress sets free of bed bug infestations. After bed bug infestations and treatment these are recommended to make sure that any bed bugs that have survived the treatment are trapped. In the absence of any food they will die.Using the proactive and reactive approaches lets your mattress set last longer and keeps it safe from bed bug infestations."
Precision's nonwovens products for bed bug infestations are manufactured in China and sold mainly in the U.S., with some sales in Asia and Europe. Since the beginning of the year Precision has sold 600,000 units of its bed bug infestation products.
Can nonwoven dust mite barrier products for mattresses and pillows be effective against bed bugs?
Terry O'Regan, Freudenberg Industrial Business Segment Manager for Freudenberg Spunweb Co., which offers a nonwoven dust mite barrier material called Evolon said, "Bed bugs live in seams and folds or under the roping used to edge mattresses, furniture and headboards--basically anywhere that is dark. Dust mites live inside the mattress and pillow. Barriers like Evolon trap the mites inside them. A flat sealed seam mattress cover made of Evolon could keep bed bugs out of the mattress, but the rest of the room will still have the problem."
Mr. O'Regan continued, "Dust mites are an allergy issue. They are very separate and distinct problems. We have a very active business in Europe and a growing business in the U.S. for dust mite protection. A dust mite is six to eight microns in size. It's very tiny. Up until Evolon was created, the only way to make a mattress cover or pillowcase dust mite barrier was to put a film on it, which made it 'plasticy,' noisy and hot. Because of the way Evolon is made it will filter down to about two microns so when you put it over a mattress or pillow the dust mites can't get out.Dust mites are typically in mattresses, pillowcases and carpets. Bed bugs are larger. Typically they don't live in a mattress. How do you deal with a bug that doesn't live in a specific area? You can put a barrier up against it. If you take a fabric headboard, and roping around the edges they'll live behind the roping or in the seam where the roping goes around the mattress. They are fairly large to see with a naked eye. I don't see any textile application, nonwoven or otherwise that can be a barrier for bedbugs. They are going to live wherever they can get 'dark.' You have to exterminate the room in one fashion or anther to get rid of them. You can encapsulate the mattress but that doesn't mean the room will be free of bed bugs. Encapsulating a mattress is typically a dust mite barrier material, not a bed bug barrier material.Putting a mattress case on a mattress is not going to solve the problem."
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