How to Use a Bug Bomb Safely

Follow 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 for home insect infestations. In truth, few pests can be wiped out using bug bombs. The devices aren't particularly useful for controlling infestations of cockroaches, ants, or bed bugs, and for this reason it's important 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 also 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, make sure to do so 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 in 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 pests that are inside or under a protective covering will survive to bite another day. Meanwhile, your counters and other surfaces will have been coated with pesticide, meaning you'll have to scrub them down before cooking or sleeping on them.

If you are serious about eradicating an infestation, 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 pests, you may want to hire a pest control company. 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 particular pests; pyrethrin, the main pesticide in 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 somewhat risky as they contain flammable materials including potentially harmful pesticides. 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 to the sprayed area (typically two to four hours).

Use Only the Number of Bug Bombs Specified

Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better. 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 activated, 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 pesticides. You may 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

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. To be extra safe, place the bug bombs a minimum of six 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 have occurred because individuals were unable to vacate prior to discharge of a bug bomb. In fact, a CDC study on bug bomb safety showed a full 35 percent of reported health issues occurred because users 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 after activating the product. 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. Don't reenter your home until it is safe to do so according to 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 has passed, 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 returning to your home, 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

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 secure 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 reentering a building because a bug bomb set off an alarm
  • Homeowners returning too soon after setting off a bug 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.