Bed Bug Treatments
There are several methods currently employed by various pest management companies for the control and elimination of bed bugs. Chemical insecticide treatments are by far the most common methods used by the industry. However, there are a variety of alternative methods available, some completely chemical-free. Below is a brief description of the most common methods available, along with the pros and cons of each type of treatment. With the notable exception of true fumigation, no method is one-hundred percent effective, one-hundred percent of the time.
Chemical Insecticide Treatments
The use of chemical insecticides is the most prevalent method of bed bug control worldwide. Depending on where you live in the world, the choice of insecticides varies. In the U.S., the majority of insecticides used are from the synthetic pyrethroid chemistry of insecticides. These products, many of which were developed in the late seventies and eighties, work by opening sodium-ion channels in neurons at the insect’s nerve axon, which causes the nerves to fire spontaneously, and ultimately leads to spasms and expiration. These products, when used properly, generally have had good safety records. The University of Kentucky, and others, have confirmed that these products aren’t without problems though. Strains of bed bugs have been found to be resistant to some of these insecticides, causing some experts to call for bringing back some of the previously available chemistries.
Some of the other available insecticides include mitochondrial poisons such as chlorfenapyr, and desiccant dusts such as silica or limestone which dehydrate the insect.
Insecticide treatments are tedious, labor-intensive, and repetitious. They’re costly and involve a lot of preparation prior to the application. Success is largely dependent on the diligence of the pest control service technician. This work involves heavy lifting and an acute attention to detail. Service techs must also be able to effectively communicate with customers, explaining every aspect of the preparation and post-treatment actions required.
Readily available; effective if properly treated; affordable for most.
Resistance problems with some insecticides; heavily dependent on the applicator’s diligence; insecticides objectionable to some; high treatment failures especially in homes with lots of clutter.
Steam is a viable option for some situations. Direct contact with an appropriate steamer will kill bed bugs and eggs. This is tedious work, but if done methodically it can be an effective method of control. Many pest control vendors use this method in tandem with chemical insecticide treatments. Hospitals and nursing homes, where rooms are institutional (and much less complicated and clutter-free than an apartment for example) may have greater success using this method.
Non-chemical; anyone can do it if diligent; effective as long as direct contact is made to the bug or egg.
Because steam must make direct contact with the bug or egg, there’s a high probability that some will be missed; tedious; if direct contact isn’t made, steam may provide an environment they actually prefer.
Vacuuming is a mechanical method of bed bug elimination. Every bug collected in a vacuum is one less bug biting someone tonight. We recommend this method. It’s paramount that the bags be removed afterwards and discarded from the building completely. Canister-type vacuums should be emptied outside the building and washed with a detergent solution prior to returning to the building. When vacuuming, use the crevice tool at the edges of mattresses and box springs. Be sure to vacuum crevices in the bed frame, seams on couches and cushions, and along baseboards especially near beds and couches.
Method readily available to anyone; non-chemical; instant suppression of the problem.
Not generally regarded as a stand-alone solution; can be laborious for some; some may not own a vacuum.
True fumigation is a rarity in the northeast. Some people confuse aerosol “bombs” with fumigation, they are not the same. True fumigation is serious work that involves a tremendous amount of human and financial resources. Fumigation is the introduction of gases to confined spaces that permeates all contents to achieve a one-hundred percent kill of all living creatures inside. Fumigation is a gas. Bug bombs are tiny liquid droplets.
Generally considered one-hundred percent effective.
Availability in the northeast is rare; costly; requires specially trained person to perform; can be dangerous if not well planned & executed; has no residual to prevent future infestations.
Thermal Remediation (Heat Treatments)
Thermal remediation involves introducing a high temperature (heat) to an area for a prolonged period of time to reach the thermal “death” point for bed bugs. Generally heat treatment professionals strive for a temperature of 120 to 140 degrees F for a prolonged period of time to kill bed bugs and their eggs. It’s not enough to simply raise the temperature, the air must be moved to achieve uniform saturation of the area. It may take many hours–sometimes in excess of twenty-four hours–to uniformly saturate the treatment area.
Non-chemical; generally effective if performed by highly experienced persons; very little preparation required.
Expensive; no residual to prevent future infestations; can be prohibited in some locales; requires highly experienced persons; risk of premature aging of some building materials; risk of fire sprinkler activation; can be challenging in multi-family housing properties.
Cryonite® (aka Rapid Freeze) Treatments
Cryonite is a system that utilizes carbon dioxide to produce a rapidly deployed “snow” delivered through a patented Cryonite gun. As with steam, a direct contact with the bug or egg is required to assure effectiveness.
Nonchemical; the snow penetrates some crevices easily; low cost materials may make it affordable to some in certain areas.
Direct contact with snow is required; velocity of snow expulsion may blow insects about the room; likelihood of direct contact with one-hundred percent of population is not likely.
Botanicals (cedar oils, etc.)
There are many botanical oils for sale on the internet for the control of bed bugs. Most of these products make claims of questionable validity. These products work by asphyxiating or suffocating the bugs by covering their spiracles (analogous to nostrils of a human being),]. One purveyor of these products has built a substantial business by selling these oils with spray and fogging equipment as “packages.” Ecologic Entomology knows of no one that has eliminated a bed bug infestation using these products.
Naturally-derived and generally regarded as safe.
Questionable efficacy and claims by manufacturers.