City life can be full of sick surprises: mice, cockroaches, subway smells. But a discarded mattress with “bedbugs” written on it represents a special kind of horror. Now materials scientists think they can stop those suckers with a nano-web.

A team at Stony Brook University led by materials science and engineering professor Miriam Rafailovich created a nano-web from microfibers that are 50 times thinner than a human hair that simply stops bedbugs. This non-toxic material is also far more dense than fabrics or carpets, which are basically open doors for the nasty critters.

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“The microfibers trap them by attaching to microstructures on their legs taking away their ability to move, which stops them from feeding and reproducing,” Rafailovich said in a university report about the research.

Several years back while living in Queens, I saw a discarded bedbug-ridden mattress in the apartment building atrium. The guys at the local hardware store calmed me down. They armed me with Sterifab spray and tips: pull everything away from the walls, wrap furniture legs with duct tape, sticky-side out, and get a good mattress cover. The intense paranoia paid off but my neighbors weren’t so lucky.

Back in the Stony Brook lab, the new nano-web successfully trapped live bedbugs and termites. And, unlike some chemical treatments, bedbugs can’t build up a tolerance for it — because they can’t do anything when they’re stuck. The team said they’re working with the private company Fibertrap to get the material commercialized. Here’s hoping that happens soon.

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For now there is no escape from the bedbug threat, especially if you look at Orkin’s list of top bedbug cities. Nano-web or no, never let your guard down.

Credit: Joshua Hill