Step 5. Remain vigilant. Always.
Two years later, I still have nightmares of waking up and finding my arms and legs covered in bug bites. After four years of living in New York City I've seen them rip relationships apart. Complacency is death and blood-sucking monsters are no fairytale. Still, in the words of Sun Tzu, "The good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat."
To ensure that no bed bugs crawl across your bed again, do these things, at all costs:
Avoid friends who have bed bugs. Just say, "Sorry, I can't hang out that night." Boom, done. "Bed bugs are primarily transported by humans and their belongings," says Paul Curtis of Terminix, another extermination service.
Avoid bringing things into your home like trash and used furniture. Curtis: "Probably the second-most-common way."
Combine pest control strips with your luggage. 1) Buy this. 2) Stick it (opened) in an empty suitcase. 3) Put the suitcase in a sealed garbage bag for a couple weeks, and voila! Fumigated suitcase.
Reduce clutter in your home, and wash clothing and bedding often. The less often your fabrics drag across the floor and the more often they get nuked in a dryer, the lower your chances of getting bed bugs are.
Seriously, get mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements. They'll be cheaper than anything remotely involving a professional extermination.
Use the Bed Bug Registry. It's a service that lets you look up and report bed bug activity just about anywhere. When you travel and stay in hotels, pack a black light.
Count your blessings. "I worked on a case on the Upper West Side a couple years ago," says King of M&M, launching into a horrific story. "The people living there had these built-in wall units on every wall. Every wall was lined with books, tens of thousands of books, with bed bugs just crawling across them and walking across the ceiling. It was a very heavy infestation. Even their beds and couches were built-in. In that situation, no amount of spraying could ever fix it. It involved, like I said, contractors, carpenters, a moving company. Everything had to be disassembled."
Go the full monty. "This is my wife's rule, by the way," Curtis says, but it's the first thing he does when he gets home after an extermination. "I have to stop in the garage and I have to do a thorough inspection of my suitcase and my belongings, my clothing, and especially shoes. That's an overlooked item. You can not have a live adult or nit bedbug anywhere, but you can have that very small egg, about half the size of a grain of rice. It could just be in one of the crevices in the soles of your shoes or in the seams, where it's sewn together."
It may all sound like a lot, but finding that egg versus not finding that egg would mean dealing with the bed bug problem all over again, and no one wants that. Dan and I still obsessively steamed our clothes for six months after our infestation. In some ways, they never go away.
If they came back, "I’d probably be really depressed and sad," Dan -- still my roommate -- tells me now. "I don’t think I’d react with the same level of panic that I’d reacted with in the past. More like despair and impotence. We'd spray poison everywhere. Steam shit. Do what needed to be done."
Complacency is not an option. In the course of killing bed bugs, channel your inner serial killer. Don't just get rid of bed bugs: Murder the fuckers. Be a bit of a dick about letting friends bring weird shit into your house. Worry about therapy later. Own the fact that, yes, you care for the sanctity of your home, hearth, and health. You will sleep easier if you do these things, and no one will judge you for them.
They will judge you if you still have bed bugs.