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Do-it-yourself bed bug control: What does and doesn't work

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

Jeff Hahn, University of Minnesota

Photo 1: Bed bugs are a serious insect problem today.

After an absence that lasted for decades, bed bugs have become a significant pest problem in our lives again. Unfortunately, they are usually very challenging and costly to control. Still, the most effective solution to eliminate them is hiring a pest management company to treat them; they have the experience and understanding of bed bugs to effectively control them.

However, residents can become frustrated with controlling bed bugs (and its cost) and may resort to a variety of do-it-yourself solutions. Unfortunately, many of these methods are not only ineffective but can make the problem worse and be potentially harmful to people and pets.

The following is a list of what research has shown to be effective and ineffective in bed bugs control.

What does not work?
  • Insecticides purchased in hardware stores, retail variety stores, grocery stores,
    pharmacies, and other places that sell insecticides to the public.  The active ingredients in the products are not effective against bed bugs. This can lead people to use insecticides excessively and even apply insecticides that are not labeled for indoor use, such as landscape and garden insecticides which can be harmful to people and pets. Using ineffective insecticides can also cause bed bugs to disperse, making them more difficult to eliminate. 
  • Bug bombs or foggers (also called total release insecticides).  These products contain ineffective insecticides which does not reach bed bug hiding places when they are
    activated. Excessive use of bug bombs can potentially cause explosions and fires and cause severe damage to buildings. See also the December 2012 Yard and Garden News for more information.
  • Moth balls.  They have very little effect, if any, on bed bugs. They can be irritating to people's eyes and noses.
  • House cleaning products.  These chemicals are not effective in eliminating a bed bug infestation. They can cause bed bugs to disperse, making the problem harder to control.
  • Isopropyl alcohol.  A very labor intensive method that can kill some bed bugs but the alcohol has to come in direct contact with them. The majority of bed bugs will be unaffected. 
  • Ultra sonic repelling devices. The sound these devices emit does not kill or deter bed bugs. 

While working with a pest management service is the most effective means of eliminating bed bugs from a home, there are some effective steps that people can use to help in their battle against bed bugs. 
  • Heat treatment. Clothes laundered in hot water and/or dried in temperatures hotter than 122° F for 20 minutes will kill all stages of bed bugs. This is typically the medium-high setting. You can also heat treat curtains and other fabrics, rugs, shoes, backpacks, stuffed animals, toys, and similar objects by drying them for about 30 minutes (for a full load).
  • Cold treatment. All stages of bed bugs will be killed when infested objects are placed in a freezer at 0oF for four days.
  • Mattress encasements.  They protect mattresses that are bed bug free from becoming re-infested. Encasements on infested mattresses and box springs trap bed bugs inside them and allowing you to continue to use them.
  • Interceptors. Bed bug interceptors are placed under bed legs and captures bed bugs that try to climb up or down beds.  It is used primarily as a monitoring tool to help determine whether bed bugs are present (if that is an issue).
For more information, see Let's Beat the Bed Bugs web page.

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