Talking Shop with Elizabeth Knote, inventor of Bedbug Baker

Monday, October 17, 2011
Elizabeth Knote owner of Bed Bug Battalion and Cape Kil Pest Control stands inside her invention the bed bug baker Friday, October 14, 2011. (Laura Simon)

Bedbugs don't stand a chance against Elizabeth Knote. She's invented the Bedbug Baker, which heats luggage or furniture to a fatal temperature of 122 degrees.

The owner of Cape Chemical Company in Cape Girardeau will be showing off her creation at the National Pest Management Association's annual conference in New Orleans being held Wednesday through Saturday.

The organization's research shows bedbugs are a growing problem in the U.S. Last year, 80 percent of surveyed companies said they'd treated hotels for bedbugs this year, up from 67 percent a year ago.

"People may have them for several months and not know it. They start in the box springs, and then they'll go to the mattress," Knote said. "Typically, 90 percent of them are within five feet of the bed, but they'll get into desks, behind mirrors, in your curtains and in corners. They get into computers. When they get into computers, that's a big issue because you can't really heat computers very well. They're taking them and putting them in the freezer."

Bedbugs were common before World War II, but with the use of DDT bedbugs vanished in the 1950s. The pests remained prevalent in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe and were first spotted back in the U.S. in New York City in 2001.

Bedbugs have been found in hotels, schools, movie theaters, clothing stores and rental furniture across the nation. They look similar to ticks and, like ticks, feed on the blood of animals and people. They are in the same insect family as head lice. They are most active between 2 and 6 a.m.

Knote said Cape-Kil gets at least one call a week to treat bedbugs in local apartments or homes.

She started a new company, Bedbug Battalion, to market the Bedbug Baker and kits for college students to detect and control bedbugs.

A small magnifying glass can be used to identify bedbugs. (Fred Lynch)

The Bedbug Baker has two layers of insulated tenting covered in a flame-resistant material she worked with local company RM Coco to produce. Several sizes are available depending on whether customers want to treat an entire room or just a few suitcases. She created four prototypes before finalizing the models she's now marketing to other pest management companies, hotels, schools and offices. While displaying her invention at the second annual Bedbug Summit in Chicago last month, it was featured in a Reuters article about entrepreneurs capitalizing on exterminating bedbugs.

Q: How did you get into the field of pest management?

A: My father Charles Knote, started Cape-Kil in 1949. When I was in college at Purdue, I thought at sometime I might be involved the family business. When I graduated, I worked for Monsanto at a chemical plant in Sauget, Ill., for a few years, and then I moved back to Cape.

Q: How did you become so interested in battling bedbugs?

A: I first heard about bedbugs in 2002 at a conference at Purdue. Then we started getting some calls. We had a house that it took us six treatments to kill the bedbugs. We carefully treated every crack and crevice, and you want to know something? Just spraying doesn't work. It just doesn't work. So then I decided to go to the first Bedbug Summit in Chicago last year. While I was there I saw an old friend of mine, Dr. Philip Koehler, head of the structural entomology department at the University of Florida. I told him I was thinking of doing some kits for college students and I told him I wanted to go to Florida and see how he did his thermal heat chamber. He said, "Lizbe, why don't you just make my thermal heat chamber into a kit?"

Q: Why are bedbugs so hard to get rid of?

A: There are a couple of reasons. Eighty-eight percent of them are resistant to pesticides labeled to treat your furniture. Secondly, cockroaches have pads on their feet. You can spray a pesticide and they can walk over it and they're deader than a door nail. But bedbugs have claws on their feet, so they just tippy-toe right over that and they don't get controlled. The first nymph is a millimeter wide. They can just crawl in the middle of that mattress and just not come out for some time. In the lab they've lived for 18 months without a blood meal. So they'll hang out, your pesticide degrades and there they are. Ready. Those are the reasons they're hard to control, but they're not resistant to heat. That's what's really cool about this system. We heat up the furniture, the things you don't want to put a pesticide on and then put residual treatments in the walls.


Pertinent address:

Elizabeth Knote owner of Bed Bug Brigade and Cape Kil Pest Control stands with her invention the bed bug baker Friday, October 14, 2011. (Laura Simon)

33 N. Frederick St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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