How Does Bed Bug Pesticide Work

US EPA

Bed Bugs

When Treatments Don’t Work

If the goal is to eliminate bed bugs, the job has to be done correctly. Bed bugs are so small that they can live in a crack the width of a credit card, increasing the control challenge.

Pesticides often are an important part of a control strategy but they must be used properly for the treatment to work. There can be many reasons for failure of a pesticide treatment to completely control the bed bugs, including:

  • Not finding all the bed bugs.
  • Inadequately preparing area (failure to remove clutter, seal cracks and crevices, etc.).
  • Overlooking treatment of any of the known resting areas (bed bugs may rest or hide in hampers, bed frames, even furniture).
  • Failing to treat nearby areas where bed bugs may have migrated (adjacent rooms or other apartments in multi-dwelling housing).
  • Disregarding recommended label rates (applying pesticides at too low a rate may not kill bugs and may speed up development of resistance to that chemical).
  • Not following up on treatment in an appropriate timeframe (many pesticides will not kill eggs, so treatment must be repeated after the eggs hatch, or the infestation will not be controlled).
  • Not allowing enough time for a pesticide to work (some pesticides, such as drying agents or growth regulators, may be effective but take some time to kill the population).
  • Bed bugs becoming resistant to a specific type of pesticide.
  • As insects, such as bed bugs, are exposed to a pesticide over time, the most susceptible ones are killed first, leaving only the less susceptible ones to breed. This can result in a rapid decline in relative effectiveness of the pesticide.

Pesticide Resistance as a Cause of Treatment Failure

While there is evidence of resistance in some populations to certain types of pesticides, pesticide resistance can only be verified in laboratory tests. Researchers are currently trying to determine the scope of the resistance problem, which will vary from community to community. This research will support the development and use of effective control strategies.

Because of the potential for resistance, homeowners and others trying to control bed bug infestations must always use pesticides appropriately and according to the label. It is also important to:

  • be vigilant in surveillance, identification, and monitoring efforts;
  • hire trained, experienced, and reputable pest management professionals; and
  • use a comprehensive approach.

For example, you may wish to:

  • choose different types of pesticides from the list of currently labeled ones for sequential treatments; or
  • use pesticides for which insect resistance has not yet been reported, such as diatomaceous earth, in combination with other control techniques.

Remember, as illustrated in the list above, resistance is only one of many possible causes of a treatment failure. All possibilities must be explored in any situation.

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US EPA

Bed Bugs

Pesticides to Control Bed Bugs

Finding and Using Bed Bug Pesticides

  • Use EPA’s Bed Bug Product Search tool to help you find a pesticide product
  • Consult a pest management professional to inspect your residence and, if needed, apply approved pesticides to treat any infestation.
  • The Cooperative Extension Service office in your area can assist with choosing appropriate pesticides for your area and situation.
  • Read When Treatments Don’t Work before reapplying or trying a different product.
  • Sometimes people want to try things to control bed bugs that are not legal. See Stay Legal and Safe in Treating for Bed Bugs for more information.

EPA has registered more than 300 products for use against bed bugs. Most of these can be used by consumers, but a few are registered for use only by specially trained professionals. EPA evaluates data on the safety and the effectiveness of the products before approving them.

These 300 registered products fall into seven chemical classes of pesticides that are currently registered and widely used for bed bug control:

There is also an additional chemical class registered for a very narrow use pattern. Dichlorvos (also known as DDVP, an organophosphate) is registered as a pest strip for treatment of small enclosures.

Each chemical class kills bed bugs using a different mode of action. It can be helpful to use pesticides that differ in their mode of action because it can reduce the likelihood that the bugs will develop resistance. The following paragraphs discuss in more details each of the more commonly used chemical classes for bed bugs.

Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids:Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are the most common compounds used to control bed bugs and other indoor pests. Pyrethrins are botanical insecticides derived from chrysanthemum flowers. Pyrethroids are synthetic chemical insecticides that act like pyrethrins. Both compounds are lethal to bed bugs and can flush bed bugs out of their hiding places and kill them. However, where resistant bed bug strains exist, these treatments may cause them to move to a new hiding place or temporarily flush them out of existing locations.

Some bed bug populations have become resistant to pyrethrins and pyrethroids. Sometimes using a combination product (either multiple pyrethroid or pyrethrin active ingredients, or one that combines different chemical classes into the same product) can improve bed bug control. It can also be helpful to switch to an entirely different chemical class to control resistant bed bug populations.

Some pyrethroid pesticides come in the form of a total release fogger. See Should I Use a Fogger? for information about fogger use and safety.

Desiccants:Desiccants work by destroying the waxy, protective outer coating on a bed bug. Once this coating is destroyed, the bed bugs will slowly dehydrate and die. Desiccants are a valuable tool in bed bug control. Because desiccants work through a physical mode of action, the bed bugs cannot become resistant to desiccants as they can to pesticides with other modes of action. In addition, they have a long-lasting effect and don’t disturb normal bed bug activities.

Examples of desiccants include:

When using desiccants to control bed bugs it is critical to use those that are registered by EPA and labeled for bed bug control. Desiccants that are intended for other uses, such as food-grade or for use in swimming pools, pose an increased inhalation risk to people. Use of desiccants is limited to cracks and crevices use only to reduce inhalation risk.

Biochemicals:Cold pressed neem oil is the only biochemical pesticide registered for use against bed bugs. Cold pressed neem oil is pressed directly from seeds of the Neem tree, a tropical evergreen tree found in Southeast Asia and Africa. The oil contains various compounds that have insecticidal and medicinal properties. It is also used in making products including shampoos, toothpaste, soaps, and cosmetics. Performance trials conducted at the approved label rates show both products control bed bug adults, nymphs, and eggs.

Pyrroles:Chlorfenapyr is the only pyrrole pesticide currently registered for use against bed bugs. The compound is a pro-insecticide, i.e. the biological activity depends on its activation to form another chemical. The new chemical disrupts certain functions in the bed bug’s cells, causing its death.

Neonicotinoids:Neonicotinoids are synthetic forms of nicotine and act on the nicotinic receptors of the nervous system by causing nerves to fire continually until they fail. Because neonicotinoids use this different mode of action, bed bugs that are resistant to other pesticides will remain susceptible to the neonicotinoid.

Insect growth regulators:Insect growth regulators are chemicals that mimic juvenile growth hormones in insects. They work by either altering the production of chitin (the compound insects use to make their hard external "shell" or exoskeleton) or by altering an insect’s development into adulthood. Some growth regulators force the insect to develop too rapidly, while others stop development.

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Bed Bug Insecticides

– Sprays & dusts to combat bed bugs –

Summary: New insecticides are now available that can be used to eliminatebed bugs(all stages) and their eggs that may have been missed during the cleaning of bedding and furniture.

Using bed bug sprays and dust insecticides

The most important part of any bed bug treatment is to thoroughly clean places where bed bugs hide and lay their eggs. These areas includemattress seams and folds,cracks and crevices in bedroom furniture,baseboard molding, and other places near beds where bed bugs might hide (see Bed Bugs for additional information). Cleaning can be done with an ordinary vacuum cleaner and mild upholstery cleaner, butsteam cleanersmay be the most effective.

Once hiding places are as clean as possible you can apply aresidual insecticideto control any bed bugs and eggs that you might have missed with cleaning alone. This application is tricky, however, because products applied to bedding or bedside furniture have the potential to contact anyone who sleeps in the bed. For this reason the material must be safe and used strictly in accordance with the label instructions.

Bed bug(4th instar larva, unfed) – about 1/5". After feeding bed bugs become less flattened, more rounded.

Insecticidal dusts (see below) should be used to treat baseboard moldings and bedroom furniture. Dusts are easy to apply to small cracks and openings without danger of over-application and spillage. Dusts also have longer residual activity than most other types of insecticides.

Are bed bug sprays really necessary?

Surfaces like mattresses can be treated with a residual spray insecticide but only use products that are specifically labeled for this use (check package instructions).

Residual spray insecticides are not absolutely necessary if all surfaces are thoroughly cleaned. However, it is easy to miss a few areas where bed bugs might be hiding, or a few eggs that are tucked inside the fold of a mattress. This is where a residual insecticide comes in, to eliminate the last few survivors of the cleaning process.

Apply avery light sprayto mattress seams and folds, the undersides of bedside furniture and the bed frame. Do not saturate, a light spray is all that is necessary. Bed bug sprays should NOT be substituted for thorough cleaning of mattresses and treatment of cracks and crevices with a dust insecticide.

Bed bug sprays, dust insecticides & cleaners

To properly treat a bed bug infestation you’ll needfabric cleaner or steam cleaner,a dust-type insecticide,a bulb duster, anda residual insecticide spray. There are kits available as well as individual products. Almost any fabric/upholstery cleaner can be used as long as you don’t get mattress fabric too wet. Steam cleaners can be used as well and will be more efficient for large jobs. The dust insecticide is usually a natural silica or pyrethrum insecticide, both work well but the silica has longer residual activity. For the residual spray insecticide I prefer the new botanical insecticides. I would suggest starting out with a kit such as one of these, then replace individual components as necessary.

Bed Bug Control In Homes, Dorm Rooms, Motels/Hostels

Using the following steps you should be able to easily clear, and prevent, most bed bug infestations so long as you catch the infestation at an early stage.

  • Launder bedding as normal.
  • Treat cracks and crevices where bed bugs hide in rooms and around beds with a dust insecticide. So called "crack and crevice" treatments should include baseboards and furniture, and other small, protected places where bed bugs can hide during the day. Dusts should be applied with a duster that allows you to puff the insecticide into tight places.
  • Clean soiled mattress fabric with upholstery cleaner or steam.
  • Apply an aerosol spray or wettable powder insecticide to mattress surfaces and seams, follow label instructions for approved uses.
  • Suppliesfor these treatments as well as Bed Bug Control Kits are available here (DoMyOwn.com).

Mission:To provide accurate, up-to-date and unbiased information for solving common insect and mite problems around your home, business and landscape using least-toxic methods.

Please see the Disclaimer statements as well.

What Good Is a Bed Bug Mattress Cover?

Eve Mattress/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Bed bugs are a pervasive pest that can find their way into any home by unwitting hosts. They can do this simply by hitching a ride in suitcases if you visit a hotel with an infestation, transferring onto your clothes from a movie theater seat, or traveling on visitors who come into your home. These bugs are erroneously associated with pests that only live in filthy living conditions. In fact, they can live and breed anywhere, including inside clean, uncluttered homes.

To protect your mattress from an infestation or to curb a mattress infestation that may have occurred, you can purchase a bed bug mattress encasement to trap the bugs inside the encasement or discourage bugs from making a permanent home in your bed. While mattress covers can provide some protection, however, you need to do much more to guarantee a bed-bug-free environment.

What Is a Bed Bug?

The common parasitic bed bug, from the cimicid family, feeds on human blood usually during the nighttime hours when humans are sleeping. Bed bugs can be seen with the naked eye and are roughly the size of a lentil. They have round brown or red bodies and are easy to spot on white surfaces. They prefer to live close to their human food source and make their homes in beds. Between 85 and 90 percent of the bed bugs in an infested home are typically found on or within 15 feet of the bed.

Bed bugs do bite; they actually saw into their host’s body and feed off their blood. While bed bugs don’t carry disease, their bites can cause blisters and itching, particularly for people with allergies. Bed bugs are very hard to control. Once they’ve infested a home, getting rid of them can be a challenge.

The Benefits of Mattress Covers

Most people are familiar with mattress covers. They are usually designed like a bottom sheet and provide protection for the top of a mattress. Ordinary mattress covers do little or nothing to stop bed bugs. Mattress encasements, however, can help minimize an infestation.

A mattress encasement is a tightly-woven fabric case that surrounds your mattress and box spring. Once it is installed, bed bugs already in the mattress cannot escape or breed, and will eventually die inside the encasement. Any bed bugs left outside the encasement will be easy to spot and remove. They will find no creases or hiding places where they can breed.

Mattress encasements not only repel and stifle bed bugs, but they can also provide a variety of other benefits. For example:

  • A good mattress encasement can protect against dust mites and other pests as well as bed bugs.
  • Most mattress encasements are waterproof, meaning that they will protect your mattress and box spring from spills and leaks.
  • Mattress encasements can eliminate the risk of infestation if used with a new mattress and box spring.

Buying Mattress Encasements

Bed bug mattress encasements can be purchased for as little as $20, though you may wish to explore the more expensive options, as they are more likely to be reliable, sturdy, and bug-proof. It’s possible to purchase a pesticide-treated encasement, but the potential health hazards outweigh the slight increase in protection from insects.

Many pest control supply companies sell mattress encasements online. If you plan to purchase a bed bug mattress protector, make sure you choose one that is specifically designed for bed bugs. There are special features, such as bugproof zippers, different materials, and chemically-treated covers, that you can consider at the time of purchase. Do check the reviews to be sure you’re purchasing a product that is reliable and well-made. Another consideration is noise, as some encasements are made of fabric that crinkles as you move in bed. This could interfere with your sleep.

Even after you install your encasement, remember that adult bed bugs can live for well over a year without a blood meal. Leave the encasement on for at least that long or for the life of your mattress to be sure all resident bed bugs are dead and there are no new infestations of your mattress occur. Meanwhile, if your home is infested, you need to hire a pest management company to completely eradicate the bed bugs.

Bedbug Treatments: Facts and Myths

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

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

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 isnota 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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