Hopefully, you'll never be cursed with a bed bug infestation, so you'll never have to think about any of this. There are a lot of articles about bed bug treatment online these days, much of it good information, and some of it misinformation. Should you ever find yourself battling bed bugs, make sure you know the myths and misconceptions about bed bug treatment. Knowing what works and what doesn't will save you time, money, and aggravation.
1. We should bring back DDT to get rid of bed bugs for good.
Oh, for a cheap and easy solution to the bed bug problem. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for bed bugs. Set aside the environmental and health impacts of DDT for a moment, and let's look at how DDT works. DDT acts by binding to the sodium pores of cells, allowing sodium to flood the cells and causing the nervous system to misfire. Today, the pesticides of choice for bed bugs are pyrethrums, but bed bugs are quickly developing resistance to this class of pesticides. Do you know how pyrethrums work? They bind to the sodium pores of cells – just like DDT. Bed bugs with the genetic mutation that makes them invincible to pyrethrums will be just as resistant to treatment with DDT.
2. You can treat bed bugs yourself by using bug bombs.
Bug bombs, or total room defoggers, release a pesticide into the air in your home. Most bug bombs do contain pyrethrin, a chemical used to treat bed bugs, so you might think this product is an effective way to eliminate a bed bug infestation. Not so. First of all, bed bugs (and other crawling insects) typically flee when the pesticide is released, heading for cover in the deepest, most inaccessible crevices of your home. Second, effective bed bug treatment requires directed applications in all the places where bed bugs hide – behind molding and casework, inside electrical boxes, or inside mattresses, for example. A bug bomb will not reach these areas adequately to kill all the bed bugs in your home. In fact, a bug bomb is one of the least effective treatments you can use for any insect problem.
3. If you have bed bugs, you have to throw away your mattress, couch, and other furniture or you will never get rid of them.
This one falls into the "It Depends" category. In some cases, you may need to discard heavily infested furniture items to win the war. If your mattress is torn or separated at the seams, bed bugs have probably moved inside, making treatment near impossible. But even in that case, a good quality mattress encasement can often be used as a barrier to trap them inside the mattress for good. If a pest control company can fumigate your home (which is costly and not always an option), there's a good chance your furniture can be saved. With persistent inspections of your furniture, lots of vacuuming, and targeted treatments by a professional exterminator, you have a good chance of keeping your couch and other upholstered items. So don't put your furniture on the curb at the first sign of bed bugs!
4. The best way to detect bed bugs is by using a bed bug sniffing dog.
In the past few years, a number of pest control companies have started touting their success in using specially trained bed bug sniffing dogs to find bed bugs. Companies that use bed bug sniffing dogs may charge between $500 and $1,000 for this detection service, and may claim a success rate of over 90%. But the truth is, there hasn't been a lot of testing to see if these claims are true. Until recently, the only studies of these claims were done in very controlled environments, not in real world conditions. In 2011, two researchers at Rutgers University did put some bed bug sniffing dogs through their paces in real apartment buildings, and the results were nowhere near as good as advertised. The accuracy of the dogs in detecting bed bugs averaged just 43%.
5. You can kill the bed bugs by turning up the heat in your house.
Heat treatments do kill bed bugs effectively, but simply turning up your thermostat is not a heat treatment. For this method to work, your home must be heated to over 120ºF for over an hour, and everything must be heated to that temperature evenly. That means the voids in exterior walls and the insides of your furniture must reach that temperature and stay there for an hour. You just can't do that by turning up your thermostat. A professional heat treatment usually involves enclosing your home and using different heat sources in various areas of your home to safely raise the temperature throughout the structure. And whatever you do, do not use a grill, propane heater, or other portable heat source to kill bed bugs in your bedroom. People have started fires and exposed themselves to deadly carbon monoxide fumes while attempting to treat their own homes with heat.
6. You can kill bed bugs by turning off the heat in your house.
Just as bed bugs can't withstand extreme heat, they can't withstand extreme cold. Temperatures below 32ºF can and do kill bed bugs, but not quickly. To kill the bed bug eggs, your home must remain below freezing for at least a month. And the real trick is in dropping the temperature rapidly. If you simply turn off your furnace and let the temperature drop, the bed bugs can adapt and go into diapause, waiting until it warms up to become active again.
7. Just move out of your house for a while, and the bed bugs will starve and die.
How long are you prepared to stay at a hotel? It's true that bed bugs require blood meals to complete their reproductive cycles. If they go too long without finding a host, they won't survive. At normal room temperatures, though, bed bugs have been known to last for 2-3 months or more without a blood meal. In some conditions, bed bugs can survive an entire year without eating. So overall, simply vacating the premises is not a very effective strategy for eliminating these pests from your property.
8. A mattress cover can prevent a bed bug infestation.
A number of companies make bed bug mattress covers, or mattress encasements, that you can use if you're concerned about bed bugs. All these covers do is create an impenetrable barrier to bed bugs around the outside of your mattress. If you already have bed bugs in your home, any bed bugs living in your mattress will be trapped inside the cover for good, unable to bite you, and they will eventually die. Any bed bugs elsewhere in your home will still have free access to your bed and to you, although they won't be able to take up permanent residence inside your mattress. If you don't yet have bed bugs, a mattress cover will keep the bed bugs out of your mattress, should they ever find their way into your home. Again, it will not keep you from getting bed bugs, nor will it keep bed bugs from biting you in your bed.
9. Any product that says it kill bed bugs will work.
If it's not legally considered a pesticide product, it doesn't require registration with the E.P.A. And if it's not a registered pesticide with the E.P.A., then any claims made on the label don't have to be proven with scientific data. Also, keep in mind that how the chemical pesticide is applied makes a difference. For example, some companies market total room foggers (aka bug bombs) that disperse pyrethrin, a chemical that does work on bed bugs. However, room foggers don't allow the chemical to reach the places where bed bugs hide, making it a considerably less effective way to treat bed bugs than having a professional pest control specialist use the same chemical in your home.
10. All you need to get rid of bed bugs is the right pesticide.
Unfortunately, a pesticide application is almost always required to eliminate bed bugs completely. A pesticide alone, however, isn't going to get the job done. You're going to need to do a lot of housekeeping and cleaning, because bed bugs can hide anywhere and everywhere, and pesticides can't be applied to everything you own. You'll need to get rid of your clutter, and launder everything that's washable in hot water. You'll probably need to do a lot of vacuuming, and may need to steam clean your carpets and furniture.
- Bed bugs bite back thanks to evolution, Understanding Evolution, September 2010.
- Limitations of Home Insect Foggers ("Bug Bombs"), Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
- Bat Bugs, Bed Bugs, and Their Relatives, W.S. Cranshaw, M. Camper and F.B. Peairs, Colorado State University Extension
- Detection Tools and Techniques, by Dr. Changlu Wang and Richard Cooper, Pest Control Technology, August 2011
- Bed Bug Myths and Facts, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, accessed January 24, 2012.
- Your Guide to Bed Bugs, Pest Control Technology, August 2004.
- FAQ List for Bed Bugs, New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, Cornell University, accessed January 24, 2012.