How to Use a Bug Bomb Safely

Follow these important precautions to keep your family and property safe

Dead Fly on Window Sill
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Bug bombs, or total release foggers, fill a confined space with pesticides using an aerosol propellant. People tend to think of these products as quick and easy fixes to home insect infestations. In truth, few insect pests can be wiped out using bug bombs. They aren't particularly useful for controlling infestations of cockroaches, ants, or bed bugs, and it's necessary to know when it's appropriate to use them.

Used incorrectly, bug bombs can be downright dangerous. Each year, people ignite fires and explosions by misusing insect foggers. Bug bomb products can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments, which in the young or elderly can be fatal. If you are planning to use a bug bomb in your home, here's how to do it safely and correctly. 

Why Bug Bombs Alone Are Not Effective

Bug bombs—sometimes called roach bombs—can be a useful part of an integrated pest management program. Alone, however, they are not especially effective. The reason is simple: the pesticide in a bug bomb (which is not always particularly effective against roaches, fleas, bedbugs, or silverfish) kills only those bugs with which it comes into direct contact. Most household pests are well known for their ability to hide under baseboards, inside cupboards and mattresses, in drains, and along baseboards. 

Set off a fogger and you'll kill off only those bugs that happen to be out in the open at any given moment. Any that are inside or under a protective covering will survive to bite another day. Meanwhile, your counters and other surfaces have been coated with pesticide, meaning you'll have to scrub down your surfaces before cooking or sleeping on them.

If you are serious about eradicating an infestation of cockroaches, bedbugs, fleas, or other common pests, you'll need to do much more than simply set off a bug bomb. Because it does take work and know-how to safely and effectively rid yourself of these pests, you may want to hire a pest control company. Pest control experts may use bug bombs as part of their arsenal, but they will also:

  • Set bait traps.
  • Spray directly into areas that are protected and likely to harbor pests.
  • Use chemicals that are specifically intended to eradicate your particular pests; pyrethrin, which is the main pesticide in most foggers, is most effective against flying insects—but not cockroaches or fleas.
  • Return to reapply pesticides as needed.

How to Use Bug Bombs Safely

Bug bombs are intrinsically somewhat risky: they contain flammable materials including potentially harmful pesticide. To use them safely, follow all of these instructions.

Read and Follow All Directions and Precautions

When it comes to pesticides, the label is the law. Just as the pesticide manufacturers are required to include certain information on their product labels, you are required to read it and follow all directions correctly. Understand the risks of the pesticides you are using by reading carefully all label sections beginning with Danger, Poison, Warning, or Caution. Follow instructions for use, and calculate how much pesticide you need based on the package directions.

Most foggers are intended to treat a specific number of square feet; using a large bug bomb in a small space can increase health risks. In addition, most foggers have information about how long to wait before returning (typically two to four hours).

Use Only the Number of Bug Bombs Specified

Contrary to popular belief, more is not better in this case. Manufacturers test their bug bomb products to determine the safest and most effective number to use per square foot of living space. If you use more than the specified number of bug bombs, you only increase the health and safety risks that come with using them. You won't kill any more bugs.

Cover All Food and Children's Toys Prior to Using the Bug Bomb

Once the bug bomb is used, the contents of your home will be covered with a chemical residue. Do not eat any food items that were not covered. Young children tend to put toys in their mouths, so it's best to seal toys inside garbage bags or put them in toy boxes or drawers where they won't be exposed to the pesticides. You might also want to cover sofas, chairs, and other upholstered furniture that can't be wiped down.

Tell Your Neighbors About Your Bug Bomb Plans

Condos and apartment buildings usually share common ventilation systems or have cracks and crevices between units. If you live in close quarters, make sure to let your neighbors know when you are using any airborne pesticide product, and ask them to turn off any ignition sources (stove and dryer pilots, for example) in their units. Your neighbors may prefer to cover their adjacent ductwork, too.

Unplug Anything That Can Spark

This step goes especially for appliances that may cycle on and off. You would be amazed by how many people forget this important point. The aerosol propellants used in bug bomb products are highly flammable. A gas flame or ill-timed spark from an appliance can easily ignite the propellant. Always turn off all pilot lights, and take the extra precaution of unplugging refrigerators and air conditioners. And just to be extra safe, place the bug bombs a minimum of 6 feet from any potential source of a spark.

Once You Activate the Bug Bomb, Vacate the Premises Immediately

Silly (and obvious) as this may sound, a good number of reported incidents occurred because the user was "unable to vacate prior to discharge" of the bug bomb. In fact, a CDC study on bug bomb safety showed a full 35 percent of reported health issues occurred because the bug bomb user failed to leave the area after activating the fogger. Before you activate the product, plan your escape. 

Keep All People and Pets out of the Area for As Long As the Label Indicates

For most bug bomb products, you need to vacate the premises for several hours during and after its use. Do not, under any circumstances, return to the property early. You risk serious health issues, including respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments, if you occupy the home prematurely. Go to the movies, have some dinner, take a walk in the park, but don't re-enter until it is safe, according to the time on the product label.

Ventilate the Area Well Before Reentering

Again, follow the label directions. After the prescribed amount of time to allow the product to work, open as many windows as you can. Leave them open for a minimum of one hour before you allow anyone to reenter the home.

Once You Return, Keep Pesticides out of Pets' and People's Mouths

After re-entering, wipe down any surfaces where food is prepared, or that pets or people may touch with their mouths. Clean all counters and other surfaces where you prepare food thoroughly. If you left pet dishes out and uncovered, wash them. If you have infants or toddlers who spend lots of time on the floor, be sure to mop. If you left your toothbrushes out, replace them with new ones.

Store Unused Bug Bomb Products Safely, out of Children's Reach

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of airborne chemicals, and you shouldn't risk an accidental discharge of pesticides by a curious child. Like all hazardous chemicals, bug bombs should be stored in a childproof cabinet or other inaccessible, locked location.

If You Are Exposed to a Bug Bomb

While most people understand that they should leave the house after setting off a bug bomb, there are quite a few reasons why someone might be exposed to pesticide-containing fog. According to the CDC, the most common reasons are related to:

  • Bug bombs being set off without warning in apartment buildings with shared ventilation systems
  • Someone re-entering the building because the bug bomb set off an alarm
  • Homeowners returning too soon after setting off the bomb
  • Infants and pets being exposed to residual pesticides on blankets, carpets, or other surfaces

If you're exposed to pesticide from a bug bomb, you may experience nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, leg cramps, burning eyes, coughing, or wheezing. These symptoms may be mild or severe; they are, of course, most dangerous among very young children and people who are allergic to the pesticide. If you do experience symptoms, visit the emergency room to avoid complications. You'll also want to ventilate your home and clean all surfaces carefully.