Should I Use a Bug Bomb? That Depends on the Pest

Insect foggers.
When should you use a bug bomb?. Debbie Hadley

Bug bombs, also known as total release foggers or insect foggers, use an aerosol propellant to fill an indoor space with chemical pesticides. These products are often marketed as all-purpose extermination tools that are easy for a homeowner to use.

But is a bug bomb always the right choice when confronted with a home pest problem? Learn when to use a bug bomb, and when you shouldn't.

Bug Bombs Work Best on Flying Insects

When should you use a bug bomb?

Almost never, to be honest. Bug bombs are most effective on flying insects, such as flies or mosquitoes. They don't provide much control for cockroaches, ants, bed bugs, or other pests that most concern homeowners. So unless you live in the Amityville Horror house, you won't find a bug bomb to be of much help with your insect problem.

Consumers are fooled into using bug bombs for roaches and bed bugs because they believe the airborne pesticides will penetrate every crack and crevice where these insects hide. Quite the opposite is true. Once these hidden pests detect the chemical fog in the room, they'll retreat further into walls or other hideaways, where you'll never be able to treat them effectively.

Got Bed Bugs? Don't Bother With a Bug Bomb

Are you battling bed bugs? Don't bother using a bug bomb, say entomologists at Ohio State University. Their most recent study showed bug bomb products are ineffective for treating bed bug infestations.

The researchers studied three brands of foggers that list pyrethroids as their active ingredient. They used 5 different bed bug populations collected from Ohio homes as their variables, and a laboratory-raised bed bug strain known as Harlan as their control. The Harlan bed bug population is known to be susceptible to pyrethroids.

They conducted the experiment in a vacant office building on campus.

The OSU entomologists found the foggers had little adverse effect on the 5 bed bug populations collected from the field. In other words, the bug bombs were virtually useless on the bed bugs that are actually living in people's homes. Just one strain of the field-collected bed bugs succumbed to the pyrethroid foggers, but only when those bed bugs were out in the open and directly exposed to the insecticide mist. The foggers simply did not kill bed bugs that were hiding, even when they were only protected by a thin layer of cloth. In fact, even the Harlan strain - bed bugs known to be susceptible to pyrethroids - survived when they could take shelter under a piece of cloth.

The bottom line is this: if you have bed bugs, save your money for a professional exterminator, and don't waste your time using bug bombs. Using ineffective pesticides inappropriately only contributes to pesticide resistance, and doesn't solve you problem.

Don't believe it? Read the OSU study yourself. It was published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, a peer-reviewed publication of the Entomological Society of America.

Bug Bombs Can Be Hazardous

Regardless of the targeted pest, a bug bomb should really be a pesticide of last resort, anyway.

First of all, the aerosol propellants used in bug bombs are highly flammable, and pose a serious risk of fire or explosion if the product is not used properly. Second, do you really want to coat every surface in your home with toxic pesticides? When you use a bug bomb, a chemical cocktail rains down on your counters, furniture, floors, and walls, leaving behind an oily and toxic residue.

If you still feel a bug bomb is your best pest control option, be sure to read and follow all directions on the label. Remember, when it comes to pesticide use, the label is the law! Take all necessary precautions to prevent accidents or health hazards. If the bug bomb treatment doesn’t work the first time, don't try it again – it's not going to work. Consult your county extension office or a pest control professional for help.