Bedbug Treatments: Facts and Myths

What works and what doesn't to get rid of a bedbug infestation?

A bed bug feeding
Getty Images/Oxford Scientific

Bedbugs aren't easy to get rid of, and in desperation, you might be tempted to try the first remedy you read about online. Unfortunately, many of these methods are ineffective—and some can even be dangerous. If you ever find yourself in a battle with these pesky varmints, make sure to separate fact from fiction before you fight back. Knowing what works and what doesn't will save you time, money, and aggravation.

Fact: You'll Need to Call Pest Control

The most effective means of getting rid of bedbugs is to call in a trained professional and have them apply a pesticide. Many pros also recommend giving your home a thorough cleaning because bedbugs can hide anywhere and pesticides can't be applied to everything you own. You'll need to get rid of clutter and launder anything washable in hot water. You may also need to steam-clean your carpets and furniture.

Fact: Pesticides Don't Always Work

Bugs can develop resistance to pesticides over time, especially if they're overapplied. Chemicals, such as deltamethrin, that were once commonly used to combat certain pests are no longer effective. According to research from 2017, bedbugs may be developing resistance to pyrethrums, the most common chemical used to combat them. 

Fact: You May Not Have to Toss Your Furniture

If the infestation is caught early, a professional pest control application and diligent cleaning should remove these critters from your furniture. More severe infestations are another matter. If your mattress is torn or separated at the seams, bedbugs have likely moved inside, making treatment near impossible. In such circumstances, replacement may be your only option.

Fact: Mattress Covers Work

A number of companies make bedbug resistant mattress covers that form an impenetrable barrier around the exterior of your mattress. If you've had your home treated for a bedbug infestation, using a mattress cover can prevent any remaining bugs in your mattress from getting out and biting you.

Myth: You Can Kill Bedbugs With Bug Bombs 

Bug bombs, or total room foggers, release a pesticide into the air in your home. Most bug bombs contain pyrethrin, one of the chemicals used to combat bedbugs, so you might think this product is an effective way to eliminate an infestation. Not so.

First of all, bedbugs (and other crawling insects) typically flee when pesticide is released, heading for cover in the deepest, most inaccessible crevices of your home. Second, effective treatment requires directed applications in all the places where bedbugs hide: behind moldings and casements, inside electrical boxes, or inside mattresses, for example. Chemicals released by a bomb simply can't reach such places adequately to kill all the bedbugs in your home.

Myth: Bedbug Sniffing Dogs are Highly Effective

While companies that use bug-sniffing dogs may claim a success rate of over 90%, the truth is, there hasn't been a lot of testing to see if these claims are true. (And at between $500 and $1,000 for their services, that's an expensive "maybe it works and maybe it doesn't.") In 2011, two researchers at Rutgers University did put some bedbug-sniffing dogs through their paces in real apartment buildings, and the results were nowhere near as effective as advertised. The accuracy of the dogs' detecting abilities averaged just 43%.

Myth: You Can Kill Bedbugs by Turning Up The Heat

Heat treatments do kill bed bugs effectively, but simply turning up your thermostat is not a heat treatment. To roast bedbugs in your home, you'd have to heat the entire house evenly to over 120° F for at least an hour (including the voids between interior and exterior walls and the insides of your furniture). No home heating system is designed to do that. Professional heat treatments usually involve sealing your home and using multiple heat sources throughout the house to raise the temperature.

Myth: You Can Kill Bedbugs by Turing Off The Heat

Temperatures below 32° F can and do kill bed bugs outside of the home—if temperatures remain below freezing for a prolonged period of time...but who wants to live in a freezing house? Moving out for the two to three months that it would take to starve bed bugs of their source of food (you) is equally impractical.

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