Bed Bug Treatment & Control
Just spraying pesticides is not the solution
Control of bed bugs is best achieved by following an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that involves multiple tactics, such as preventive measures, sanitation, and chemicals, steam or heat applied to targeted sites.
Bed bugs are challenging pests to control. They hide in many tiny places, so inspections and treatments must be thorough. In most cases, it will be prudent to enlist the services of a professional pest control firm. (see professionals who specialize in bedbug control)
Experienced companies know where to look for bed bugs, and have an assortment of management tools at their disposal. Owners and occupants will need to assist the professional in important ways. Affording access for inspection and treatment is essential, and excess clutter should be removed. In some cases, infested mattresses and box springs will need to be discarded. Since bed bugs can disperse throughout a building, it may also be necessary to inspect adjoining rooms and apartments.
Bed bugs were treated years ago by wholesale spraying of pesticides. This practice is no longer permitted. Thoroughness is still important, but treatments today are generally more targeted and judicious. It often takes hours to properly inspect and treat a bed bug infestation, and follow-up visits are usually required.
Infested bedding and garments will need to be bagged and laundered (120°F minimum), or discarded since these items cannot be treated with insecticides. Smaller items that cannot be laundered can sometimes be de-infested by heating. Individual items, for example, can be wrapped in black plastic bags and placed in a hot, sunny location for at least a few days (the 120°F minimum target temperature should be monitored in the centermost location with a thermometer). Bedbugs also succumb to cold temperatures below freezing, but the chilling period must be maintained for at least two weeks. Attempts to rid an entire home or apartment of bed bugs by raising or lowering the thermostat will be entirely unsuccessful. Vacuuming can be very useful for removing bugs and eggs from mattresses, carpet, walls, and other surfaces. Pay particular attention to seams, tufts and edges of mattresses and box springs, and the perimeter edge of wall-to-wall carpets. Afterward, dispose of the vacuum contents in a sealed trash bag. Steam cleaning of carpets is also helpful for killing bugs and eggs that vacuuming may have missed. Repair cracks in plaster and glue down loosened wallpaper to eliminate bed bug harborage sites. Remove and destroy wild animal roosts and bird nests when possible.
While the former measures are helpful, insecticides are important for bed bug elimination. Pest control professionals treat using a variety of low-odor sprays, dusts, and aerosols. (Baits designed to control ants and cockroaches are ineffective). Application entails treating all cracks and crevices where the bugs are discovered, or tend to hide. Eliminating bed bugs from mattresses and box springs is challenging. If there are holes or tears in the fabric, the bugs and eggs may be inside, as well as outside. There also are restrictions on how beds can be treated with pesticides. For these reasons, pest control firms often recommend that infested beds be discarded. If disposal isn’t an option, encasing the mattress and box spring will be helpful if bugs are still present. (Allergy supply companies sell zippered bed encasements for dust mite prevention). Some pest control firms treat seams, tufts, and crevices of bed components, but they will not spray the mattress surface, bed sheets, blankets, or clothing. Vacuuming and brushing will further help to remove bugs and eggs from mattresses and box springs that cannot be discarded. Some pest control firms also treat beds with portable steam machines. The technique is useful, but does not kill bugs or eggs that are hidden inside the box spring or mattress.
Just spraying pesticides is not the solution! Residual insecticides (usually pyrethroids) are applied as spot treatments to cracks and crevices where bed bugs are hiding. Increased penetration of the insecticide into cracks and crevices can be achieved if accumulated dirt and debris are first removed using a vacuum cleaner. Many readily available aerosol pesticide sprays will cause bed bugs to scatter making eradication more difficult. Dust formulations may be used to treat wall voids and attics. Repeat insecticide applications if bed bugs are present two weeks after the initial treatment since it is difficult to find all hiding places and hidden eggs may have hatched.
Insecticides should not be used on bedding or linens. These items should be dry cleaned or laundered in hot water and dried using the “hot” setting.
Life cycle of the bed bug,
Starting from the top left, moving counter clockwise: eggs (1mm), 1st stage nymph (1.5 mm), 2nd stage nymph (2 mm), 3rd stage nymph (2.5 mm), 4th stage nymph (3 mm), 5th stage nymph (1.5 mm), unfed adult (5.5 mm), and fed adult.
Over-the-counter Foggers Ineffective Against Bedbugs: Ohio University Study
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State University entomologists have found that over-the-counter foggers or “bug bombs” commonly used by consumers are not effective at killing bedbugs — providing the first scientific evidence that such products should not be recommended for control of this increasingly worrisome, bloodsucking pest. The study appears in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, a peer-reviewed publication of the Entomological Society of America. “There has always been this perception and feedback from the pest-management industry that over-the-counter foggers are not effective against bedbugs and might make matters worse,” said Susan Jones, an urban entomologist with the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and a household and structural pest specialist with Ohio State University Extension. “But up until, now there has been no published data regarding the efficacy of foggers against bedbugs.”
Because a majority of bedbugs spend most of the time hiding in protected sites (under sheets and mattresses, in cracks and crevices, deep inside carpets, etc.), Jones said it is very unlikely that they will be exposed to the insecticide mist from foggers. And even if they come into contact with the mist, she added, many bedbug populations found in Ohio and throughout the U.S. have varying degrees of resistance to pyrethroids and will most likely survive application.
“Bug Bombs” or total release aerosol insecticides never work for bed bugs and can be very dangerous when used.
The mobile nature of bed bugs limits their prevention. Avoidance is especially challenging in hotels, motels, and apartments because occupants and their belongings are constantly changing. This affords many opportunities for the bugs to be introduced. Householders should be wary of acquiring secondhand beds, bedding, and furniture. At a minimum, such items should be examined closely before being brought into the home. When traveling in countries where bed bugs are prevalent, it might be prudent to examine the bed and headboard area for signs of the bugs, and elevate luggage off the floor. Warehouses, storage facilities, trucks and railroad cars may be infested so common bed bugs can infest homes by stowing away on new furniture stored or shipped from these places. Familiarity may help to avoid infestation, or at least prompt earlier intervention by a professional.
An Expert’s Opinion
Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist University of Kentucky College of Agriculture:
“Bed bugs are challenging pests to control. They hide in many tiny places, so inspections and treatments must be very thorough. In most cases, it will be prudent to enlist the services of a professional pest control firm. Experienced companies know where to look for bed bugs, and have an assortment of management tools at their disposal.”