Fact Sheet FS1251
Bed bugs, (Cimex lectularius L.), have gradually become a common urban pest in the past decade. People get bed bugs in various ways such as visiting an infested place, bringing in infested furniture, or through the natural dispersal of bed bugs from an infested neighboring room within a multi-occupancy dwelling such as an apartment building. Many people try to control bed bugs themselves to avoid the expense of hiring a professional service, however, professional services offer the advantage of a technician who is properly trained in pesticide safety and effective bed bug management. Although professional pest control services usually are more effective, for those who still wish to control bed bugs on their own, we provide a summary of the cost-effective versus money-wasting materials and methods. This information will help you combat bed bugs safely and effectively.
- Reduce clutter or put items in plastic boxes
- Encase mattress and box spring
- Install bed bug traps
- Launder or hot dry bed linens at least weekly
- Use a heat chamber
- Place small items in a freezer for 4 days
- Apply steam to furniture
- Remove bed bugs using a vacuum machine
- Discard heavily infested items
- Apply repellent to pants, socks, and shoes
What Doesn't Work
- Switch sleeping location
- Ultrasonic pest repeller
- Dryer sheets and plant oil-based repellents
- Moth balls
- Rubbing alcohol
- House cleaning materials
- Most natural pest control products
- Most consumer pesticide sprays
Cost-Effective Bed Bug Control Materials and Methods (What Works)
- Place Items in Plastic Containers or Plastic Bags
- Mattress and Box Spring Encasements.
- Bed Bug Traps.
- Frequent Laundering and Hot Drying. Drying cycles alone or in combination with washing with a hot water cycle are effective in killing bed bug eggs and mobile stages (Naylor and Boase 2010). Frequent washing or hot dyring is essential for eradicating bed bugs that are hiding in clothing, bed sheets, pillow cases, blankets, and other washable fabric materials. These items usually cannot be treated with insecticides.
- Containerized Heat Treatment. zappbug.com) is a foldable heating box using regular outlets as the power source (Figure 4).
- Freezing. Another method for treating items that cannot be laudered is to freeze them. Household freezers usually have a temperature of -17.8°C (0°F). Small items such as shoes, telephones, and books can be de-bugged by wrapping them in plastic bags and placing them in a freezer for four days (Olson et al. 2013).
- Repellents Containing DEET.
Money-Wasting Bed Bug Control Materials and Methods (What Doesn't Work)
- Switching Sleeping Location. This method does not work because bed bugs can live in a vacant room for a few months without feeding. In addition, bed bugs can follow the carbon dioxide released by a human and migrate to the new sleeping location. Switching your sleeping location makes bed bug control more difficult because bed bugs are likely to become more widely-distributed throughout the home as a result.
- Ultrasonic Pest Repellers.
- Dryer Sheets and Plant Oil-based Repellents.
- Moth Balls.
- Rubbing Alcohol. Many web pages recommend using rubbing alcohol for bed bug control. The rubbing alcohol products available usually contain 70% or 91% isopropyl alcohol. Laboratory studies by Rutgers University show direct spray of either of these two products killed a maximum 50% of the bed bugs. In addition to their low efficacy, rubbing alcohol products are flammable materials, can create a fire hazard, and should not be used to control bed bugs.
- House Cleaning Materials.
- Most Natural Products and Detergents. There are numerous bed bug control products based on plant-derived materials or detergents. Unfortunately, most of them are ineffective (Singh et al. 2014). Of 11 tested products tested, only two (EcoRaider and Bed Bug Patrol) achieved more than 90% bed bug mortality when directly sprayed on bed bug nymphs under laboratory conditions. One product (EcoRaider) caused 87% egg death when directly sprayed to eggs. Other evaluated essential oil products had little to no effect on bed bug eggs.
- Pyrethroid Sprays. Pyrethroids are a class of insecticides commonly used for indoor pest control. Recent studies show the majority of the field bed bug populations are resistant to pyrethroids. The effectiveness of these products when used as the sole method of control is often very low due to prevalence of bed bug insecticide resistance.
Final Thoughts for Eliminating Bed Bugs
The most effective way to achieve bed bug elimination is to follow an integrated pest management (IPM) principle that includes monitoring, using a combination of several treatment methods, follow-up evaluation of the results, and re-treatment until elimination. After treatment, bed bug numbers become small and more difficult to find. To avoid premature termination of treatment, use a combination of visual inspection and bed bug monitors to detect bed bugs and confirm they are indeed eliminated. Stop treatment only when you cannot find bed bugs after using the above-mentioned methods for a month. When more than a few apartments are infested in a multi-unit dwelling, a building-wide approach will be necessary and will most likely require the experience of a pest management professional.
- Cooper, R., C. Wang, and N. Singh. 2015. Evaluation of a model community-wide bed bug management program in affordable housing. Pest Management Science 72: 45–56. DOI
- Jones, S. C., and J. L. Bryant. 2012. Ineffectiveness of over-the-counter total-release foggers against the bed bug (Heteroptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 105: 957–963. DOI
- Naylor, R. A., and C. J. Boase. 2010. Practical solutions for treating laundry infested with Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 103: 136–139. DOI
- Olson, J. F., M. Eaton, S. A. Kells, V. Morin, and C. Wang. 2013. Cold tolerance of bed bugs and practical recommendations for control. Journal of Economic Entomology 106: 2433–2441. DOI
- Singh, N., C. Wang, and R. Cooper. 2014. Potential of essential oil-based pesticides and detergents for bed bug control. Journal of Economic Entomology 107: 2163-2170. DOI
- Wang, C. L., L. H. Lu, A. J. Zhang, and C. F. Liu. 2013. Repellency of selected chemicals against the bed bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 106: 2522-2529. DOI
- Wang, D. C. Wang, G. Wang, C. Zha, A. L. Eiden, R. Cooper. 2018. Efficacy of three different steamers for control of bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.). Pest Management Science. DOI
- Yturralde, K. M., and R. W. Hofstetter. 2012. Efficacy of commercially available ultrasonic pest repellent devices to affect behavior of bed bugs (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 105: 2107-2114. DOI
Photo credits: Richard Cooper (Figure 2); ZappBug company (Figure 4); Karen Vail from University of Tennessee (Figure 6); Changlu Wang (all other figures).
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