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Mattress and Box Spring Encasements

Richard Cooper's Mattress Encasement Evaluation

In the fall of 2007, Richard Cooper conducted research into the leading bed bug mattress encasements. The research was presented to his fellow entomologists from around the United States at the Entomological Society of America’s annual meeting in December of 2007.  Watch the video.

The use of encasements is discussed throughout this web page due to the important role that they play in a bed bug management program. BugLock® encasements, manufactured by Protect-A-Bed of Chicago were the first encasements to become commercially available that were specifically designed for bed bugs. The BugLock® encasements were also the first encasement to be backed by scientific data, proving their effectiveness against bed bugs. Scientifically proven encasements can be used as an early detection tool as well as a reactionary measure for trapping bed bugs and preventing the future re-infestation of beds.

Mattress Covers vs Mattress Encasements

Difference between Mattress Encasements & Chemically Impregnated Covers

Chemically impregnated covers are often confused with mattress encasements. It is important to realize that the chemically impregnated covers are radically different than bed bug encasements both in concept and function. For this reason it is important to understand the differences between encasements and chemically impregnated covers as well as the concerns that we have regarding efficacy claims.

Take Home Points Regarding Impregnated Mattress Covers

  • The covers are not likely to be repellent enough to prevent hungry bed bugs from feeding on the person sleeping in a bed that has one of these covers on it.

  • The covers are not likely to control bed bugs by killing them as they come in contact with the treated fabric. Bed bugs typically require exposure to pesticide residues for many hours or days before morality occurs. Bugs are not likely to spend very much time in contact with the cover.

  • The concepts of repelling bugs and killing bugs are contradictory. The reality is that the covers probably do a little of both, but not a lot of either.

  • The covers don’t prevent bed bugs from infesting and living inside the box spring under the mattress and in the bed frame.

  • It is unnecessary to introduce a chemical into the sleeping environment when non chemical options exist (encasements) that have been proven to be effective and are recommended almost universally by bed bug experts around the world.

  • There is a significant difference between mattress covers and mattress encasements. For a detailed explanation, please see our section titled Pesticide Impregnated Mattress Covers.

Proactive Use of Encasements

As discussed in other sections of this web page, encasements can be used in a proactive manner before a bed bug infestation ever begins. Encasement of mattresses and box springs will greatly aid in the early detection of bed bugs and can prevent the infestation of beds in the event that bed bugs are somehow introduced. Once encased, bed bugs are unable to get inside of the encased mattresses and box springs. With their movement restricted to the smooth outer surface of the encasement, they are exposed and can be readily detected during a visual inspection. In addition, while they may be able to rest on the outer surface of the encasement they are unable to infest the interior of the mattress or the box spring.

Reactive Use of Encasements

Encasements also play a very important role in helping to eliminate bed bug infestations. The majority of bed bugs are typically associated with the mattresses and box springs. Eliminating them from these areas is very time consuming as well as challenging not to mention that in most cases the beds simply becomes re-infested as bugs migrate from other parts of the structure to the bed in search of a blood meal. Encasements are a very simple and highly effective method for dealing with the bed bugs that are associated with beds by trapping bugs inside and preventing migrating bugs from re-infesting the mattresses and box springs. The use of encasements also increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the follow up visits by taking the complexity of the bed out of the equation. Follow up visits simply involve inspection of the smooth surface of the encasements rather than having to carefully examine the wooden framework, coils, padding, or piping associated with the mattress and box spring.

bed bug found in a matress seam box spring with bedbug fecal matter stains matress protected from bed bugs with mattress encasements

Protection of Replacement Beds

Despite the fact that it is not necessary to dispose of infested beds, there are some people that simply cannot deal with the thought of sleeping on an infested bed that has been encased and are intent on disposing of the infested beds and replacing them with new mattresses and box springs. In the event that infested beds are going to be discarded it is critical that steps be taken 1) to avoid spreading bed bugs during the disposal process and 2) to protect the newly purchased mattresses and box springs from becoming infested.

1.  Proper Disposal of Bed Bug Infested Beds

Infested mattresses and box springs should be completely encased and sealed tightly before discarding them from an infested dwelling. Failure to do this often results in the spread of bed bugs as bugs and eggs fall off during the disposal process. In addition, bed bugs are often dispersed along the travel route, infesting hallways, stairwells and other parts of the building in settings like hotels, apartment buildings, college dormitories. Care should be taken when prepping an infested mattress or box spring for disposal to be sure that they are sealed tightly enough to prevent further spread of the infestation. Heavy polyvinyl sheeting or shrink wrap can be used to seal infested beds. Disposal bags specifically designed for beds can also be purchased for the proper removal and disposal of beds. It is also advisable to label infested items with a prominent message indicating that these are in fact infested items (i.e. “BED BUG INFESTED ITEM – DO NOT TAKE”) so others are alerted that these items are infested.

bedbug infested mattresses that have not been properly disposed ofbags made specifically for disposing of or storing mattresses 

2.  Encasement of Replacement Mattresses and Box Springs

Encasements should be used to protect new beds that have been purchased to replace infested beds that have been discarded. Even though the majority of bed bugs are often associated with beds, it is critical to recognize that most bed bug infestations are not limited to the mattresses and box springs that have been discarded. Instead, bed bugs are almost always found in other parts of the structure and will simply infest new beds that have been purchased. For this reason it is very important to encase the new mattress and box spring in encasements that have been specifically designed for bed bugs.

Finding an Effective Encasement

There are many encasements available in the marketplace, but many are prone to failure and may not work effectively against bed bugs. The first truly effective bed bug encasement on the marketplace is the BugLock® encasement, manufactured by Protect-A-Bed of Chicago which has been shown through rigorous scientific tests to be completely escape proof and bite proof (see executive summary of research). It is strongly suggested that you only use encasements that have strong scientific data backing the claims for use with bed bugs. It is our opinion that using an unproven encasement may be worse than not encasing the bed at all. Unproven encasements may provide a false sense of security and can actually protect or promote the survival of the bed bugs.

In order for an encasement to be effective it must be both bite proof, meaning that the bugs cannot feed through the material, and escape proof, meaning that the bugs cannot get in or out of the encasement after it has been installed. However, unless the encasements have been specifically designed for bed bugs it is very unlikely that they will be both bite proof and escape proof. 

We have worked very closely with Protect-A-Bed of Chicago setting out to design the first effective encasement for bed bugs. During the development, different types of materials were examined and it was determined that there are some fabrics that bed bugs could actually feed through.

mattress encasement material being tested  testing for bed bug bite capability

We also learned that the type of zipper used to manufacture the encasement is critical. In tests, immature bed bugs were able to escape the confines of the encasement by weaving their way through the teeth of a closed zipper (when larger zippers were used).

zipper of a bed bug mattress encasement  tiny bed bug escaping from a zipper that is too large

The area where encasements are most prone to failure is at the zipper end stop (area where the zipper comes to its final resting position when fully closed). Most zipper end stops that were examined left large gaps when the zipper was pulled closed.

zipper with large gap left open  bed bug mattress encasement with no gap left

Some of the zippers examined closed tightly enough to prevent the entry or escape of bed bugs when pulled completely shut, but if the zipper backed off even a tooth or two, an opening large enough for bugs to get in and out of the encasement was created.

this mattress encasement would allow bed bugs to escape  this zipper lock prevent bedbug escapes

A secure end stop is the area where the BugLock® encasement is superior to any of the other encasements that we have examined. The Bug Lock® feature secures the zipper end stop, making it impossible for bed bugs to enter or escape. A foam pad beneath the zipper end stop completely secures this area. In fact, the seal is so complete that during the efficacy testing of the encasement the zipper had to be pulled back beyond the end of the BugLock® feature to enable bugs to escape.

mattress encasement with buglock protection  the buglock feature protects against escaping bedbugs the zipper must be pulled back to before the buglock before bugs can escape

Secure Seal® is another recent modification to the Bug Lock® encasement that provides an added level of security. This new feature “locks” the encasement in the fully closed position using an electrical zip tie that secures the zipper end stop to a fabric loop that is woven into the encasement material. Not only does the Secure Seal feature prevent the zipper from backing off, but it also provides a “tamper resistant” mechanism by preventing the zipper from being opened without first cutting the electrical tie.

secure seal protects the zipper from becoming undone 

Protecting the Encasement

Encasements should not be removed once they are installed. Instead they should be viewed as the new exterior surface of the mattress or box spring. Fitted sheets or mattress pads that can be laundered can be used to protect the encasements from staining. It is also important to recognize that the encasements are only effective as long as they are not compromised in any way (ripped, worn or torn). The area where encasements are most vulnerable to becoming compromised is where the box spring rubs against the bed frame. Some bed frames have sharp edges, bolts or other protrusions that when rubbed against may damage the encasement. One way to provide additional protection of the box spring encasement is to install additional padding (i.e. felt pads) in areas that are potentially damaging to the encasement. We have recently begun experimenting with felt pads with an adhesive backing that helps pad the encasement without creating a new harborage for bed bugs to hide behind.

bolts and sharp edges can tear encasements sharp edges on a bed frame can rip box spring encasements felt applied to bed frames can protect your mattress encasement

using a padded cover can protect your mattress encasement from stains a washable cover used to protect the encasements


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