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How to handle a bedbug infestation in your French home

How to handle a bedbug infestation in your French home
Bedbugs in a container (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD / AFP)

As bedbugs ravage France, here's what to do if you find yourself itching at bed-time.

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Bedbugs (punaises de lit) are a growing problem in France. 

A recent study by the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety found that approximately 11 percent of French households between the years 2017 and 2022 experienced a bedbug infestation.

More recently, people have reported the pests in plenty of unexpected locations - like trains and cinemas - leading to international headlines and sparking concern across the country.

READ MORE: Trains, Metro, cinemas: Why bedbugs are causing growing concern in France

Here's what you can do if you believe you have a bedbug infestation in France.

First steps - First learn how to recognise a bedbug - they are approximately four to seven milimeters long and brown to purple in colour.  

If you have bites on your arms and legs, and/or traces of blood on your sheets, then you might want to check for bedbugs. Concentrations of small black dots tend to be a sign of bedbugs.

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They tend to inhabit dark, narrow and inaccessible spaces, and they often spread by being carried from one place to another in furniture, clothes, and luggage.  You might be at risk of bedbugs if you have travelled recently, or stayed in a hotel or other accommodation where bedbugs are present. You are also at risk if you recently bought second-hand objects, like used furniture, or if you live in a shared building and another apartment has bedbugs.

The French government has also opened a dedicated phone number -  0806 706 806 - for answering any and all questions about dealing with bedbugs. 

If you are not sure whether or not you have a bedbug infestation, you might consider using a canine detection service to check your home. 

You can also purchase traps to lay out overnight to see if you catch any of the insects. Many different options are available with online retaillers. 

Legal and administrative options - The first thing is to determine where the bugs came from, as that affects whose responsibility the infestation is.

Sometimes bedbug infestations occur in common areas of apartment buildings, in this case, it would be up to the building 'syndicate of co-owners' (syndicat) to pay for treatment. 

The cost of the treatment would then be divided according to the number of apartments treated. In extreme cases, where the entire building is impacted by the pests, including in common areas, then the disinfection expenses would be charged in addition to usual building fees.

It is not unheard of to come across a situation where one apartment sought to exterminate the bedbug issue in their private space, but the neighbour has not dealt with it and therefore the infestation continues. In this scenario, if that home is deemed the source of the bedbug proliferation then legal action can be taken against the owner by the other owners in the building.

If you're a tenant then your landlord may pay the costs if your home is not considered 'decent housing' - although it can be hard to prove that the landlord is at fault, especially if you have been living there for more than a year.

If the tenant wishes to force the landlord to take action then they should send registered, dated mail to the landlord to ask that the infestation be dealt with professionally and for the dwelling to be brought into compliance.

READ MORE: Lettre recommandée: Why you need them and how to send them in France

Practical options - While you can take some steps on your own, like washing all bedding and linens at 60C or freezing at 20C for at least 72 hours, you will likely need to call in a professional to get rid of the bugs completely. 

To find a professional exterminator, you can consult the government approved list HERE.

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

On the website, you can select your département and you will be given several options of qualified pest control professionals who specialise in bedbugs. If you want to find your own exterminator, you can try searching key terms like "débarrasser des punaises de lit" (get rid of bedbugs) or  "l'extermination des punaises de lit" (extermination of bedbugs) or "traitement punaises de lit professionnel."

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In order to avoid scams, be sure to read online reviews and get several quotes from different companies before deciding. You can also ask to see relevant certifications, such as the ‘Certibiocide’ certificate which demonstrates a government-verified training has taken place to handle toxic chemicals.

If the company offers canine detection services, you can ask whether or not they are qualified according to the standards of the ‘Union of experts in canine bedbug detection’ (Le Syndicat des Experts de Détection Canine de Punaises de Lit or SEDCPL).

If the dog sniffs out bedbugs, be sure to ask the handler to show some kind of physical proof of the infestation prior to leaving and definitely before starting any treatment.

If you're renting, then your landlord may be responsible for costs, but if they're dragging their heels and you can't bear the bugs any longer you may decide to go ahead and pay for the pest-controller yourself.

If you do this, keep all receipts and quotes, and take photos when possible. You may still be eligible to gain compensation from your landlord for the work.

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General tips to avoid bedbugs

Inspect the room - Bedbugs tend to stay in areas where they have access to humans, making beds and couches the most common places you will find them. They tend to avoid the light and prefer dark, hidden locations.

Start by looking over the bed, pull back the sheets and look for stains. Look around the mattress, headboard and glance over the slats. Do not be afraid to move furniture to see if there are any bedbug traces underneath or behind. People often forget to look below carpets and rugs, as well as around outlets, so check those spots as well. 

Any type of wood or fabric could be a risk, particularly if it is in close proximity to the bed.

Be careful about your suitcase and clothes - When entering a new place, even if it appears very clean, you should still remain cautious. Do not put your suitcase or any clothes on the bed or other furniture (especially cloth-covered pieces), until you have checked for bugs. 

Typically bedbugs avoid tiles and places that are less frequented by their food source (humans), so the bathroom is a good option.

Avoid unpacking your clothes into drawers, instead you might consider hanging your items or leaving them inside the suitcase.

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While taking the train, try to leave your bags on the wooden luggage racks instead of on fabric-covered seats beside you.

If you are particularly worried, after returning home from a trip to a place that may have had bedbugs, dry the clothes you wore (in the dryer for at least 20 to 30 minutes) or seal them in a plastic bag until you are able to do so.

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