Bed Bug Treatments: Facts and Myths

A bed bug feeding
Getty Images/Oxford Scientific

Bed bugs 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 are ineffective, and some can even be dangerous. Should you ever find yourself battling bed bugs, make sure you know the facts and misconceptions about bed bug treatment. 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 bed bugs is pesticides applied by a trained professional. But many pros will also recommend that you give your home a thorough cleaning because bed bugs can hide anywhere, 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 also may 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 that were once commonly used, such as deltamethrin, are no longer effective. And if research from 2017 is correct, bed bugs may be developing resistance to pyrethrums, the most common chemical used against bed bugs. 

Fact: You May Not Have to Toss Your Furniture

If the infestation is caught early, a professional pest application and diligent cleaning on your part should remove bugs from your furniture. More severe infestations are another matter. If your mattress is torn or separated at the seams, bed bugs have probably moved inside, making treatment near impossible. 

Fact: Mattress Covers Work

A number of companies make bed bug mattress covers, or mattress encasements if you're concerned about bed bugs. These covers create an impenetrable barrier to bed bugs around the outside of your mattress. If you've had your home treated for a bed bug infestation, using a mattress cover can prevent any remaining bugs in your mattress from getting out and biting you.

Myth: You Can Kill Bed Bugs With '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.

Myth: Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs Always Work

Companies that use bed bug sniffing dogs may charge between $500 and $1,000 for their detection service and may claim a success rate of over 90 percent. But the truth is, there hasn't been a lot of testing to see if these claims are true. 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 percent.

Myth: You Can Kill Bugs By Turning Up The Heat

Heat treatments do kill bed bugs effectively, but simply turning up your home's thermostat is not a heat treatment. For this method to work, your home must be heated evenly to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit for at least an hour. That includes the voids in exterior walls and the insides of your furniture, and a home heating system can't do that. A professional heat treatment usually involves enclosing your home and using multiple heat sources in throughout the home to raise the temperature.

Myth: You Can Kill Bugs By Turing Off Your Heat

Temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit can and do kill bed bugs outside if temperatures remain below freezing for a prolonged period of time. But no one would want to live in a freezing house, and 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.