Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a PCT e-newsletter titled “Targeting Bed Bugs,” which was sponsored by MGK.

Customers are typically asked to do extensive preparations prior to bed bug inspection and treatment. It’s a labor- intensive process some customers physically may not be able to do, not have the room to do or simply ignore. Extensive preparation disturbs bed bugs, and then they may move from typical sites around beds and sleeping areas to voids and other hiding places. Intensive customer preparation often makes effective bed bug control more difficult, rather than more effective.

LOW-PREP APPROACH. Bed bugs are left undisturbed when customers leave everything in place using a low-prep approach. Consider asking customers to treat a bed bug infestation like it’s a crime scene and to touch nothing. Allow the professionals to do their job. It will help them more effectively identify, treat and develop a plan to address the infestation.

“We’ve been a believer in limited-prep for about 10 years,” said Jeffrey C. White, entomologist, director of innovation and technical content, BedBug Central, Hamilton, N.J.

There’s no universal definition of the customer low-prep or limited-prep approach prior to bed bug treatment in either homes or apartments. “We don’t require customers to do anything before initial treatment. We first want to evaluate the situation then make recommendations. Some companies do an assessment first, then return to provide the first treatment,” said White. There are benefits to inspecting and treating at the same time. The technician can methodically work on one area, expose the bed bugs, treat, then move on to the next area. Prior to subsequent visits, customers may be asked to do targeted preparations.

TECHNICIAN IS IN CONTROL. “Low prep is better because it puts the technician in control of the situation. It’s then their responsibility to strip beds, move furniture, remove dresser drawers — all while providing service,” said Larry Pinto, entomologist, co-author of the Bed Bug Handbook, and owner of Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md., publisher of the industry newsletter, Techletter. The technician does everything customers would typically be asked to do using an extensive preparation approach. Technicians can then choose what items will require customer treatment and direct needed preparations. There’s a greater likelihood that customers will comply with specific preparation activities. Customers may be asked to address things that a technician can’t or shouldn’t deal with, such as excess clutter.

BED BUGS NOT SCATTERED. “Residents who use a more extensive prep have already disturbed bed bugs so much that they’re no longer where they used to be. They’ve already scattered and may find harborage in places they normally wouldn’t,” said Pinto. If no preparation is required, the technician can immediately identify and treat bed bugs on the mattress, for example.

POSSIBLE LIABILITY. Low-prep protocols are more work for technicians who are responsible for completing tasks customers otherwise would have been required to do with a more extensive preparation approach. There may be increased technician health and safety issues, including injury while moving mattresses, breaking down bed frames and moving furniture. Although these may not be significant risks, they’re still risks. There’s also a greater liability with regard to property damage and possible accusations of theft as technicians are handling personal belongings.

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. A low-prep alternative is more than an approach, it’s one that can improve customer satisfaction. You’re not asking tenants and homeowners to turn their lives upside down. Customers easily can become frustrated, disgruntled and angry when they’re asked to do extensive preparation, and therefore far less likely to comply. Treatment also may be more effective, which will definitely satisfy customers.

IMPACT ON EFFICACY. Some companies using the low-prep approach report faster and more effective control of bed bugs, which is reinforced by research in heavily infested, affordable-housing communities. One study conducted at Rutgers University found that “out of 114 apartments treated for bed bugs, 95 percent were solved with no involvement from the tenant.” Other companies using the low-tech approach are finding efficacy to be about the same as using a more extensive preparation approach, but as mentioned previously, it can still improve customer satisfaction.

INDUSTRY ADOPTION. “Low prep is a 180-degree switch from what the industry has been doing. It’s becoming more accepted, but companies offering it are still in the minority,” said White. Informal estimates range from 5 percent to 20 percent of pest control companies nationally are offering customers low-prep options, although it’s likely closer to the low end of the range, he added.

Low prep goes against everything the industry has been taught. The industry has been encouraging extensive prep for effective bed bug treatment. Low prep is a drastic change in philosophy and pest control companies and technicians are rightfully skeptical. It’s a completely different way of approaching bed bug treatment and it’s going to take time for the industry to embrace this relatively new concept.

“For a decade or more the industry has been promoting extensive prep for effective bed bug treatment. It’s been the accepted industry position,” said Pinto. “Protocols and methods of pest control evolve. Low-prep options for bed bug treatment is one of those evolutions.”