bed bugs in car upholstery
Questions About Bed Bugs

Can Bed Bugs Infest Cars and Upholstery?

Bed bugs are irritating enough when they’re in your home. But if you think they’re in your car, too, that’s another level of annoying. But, if you don’t live and sleep in your car, is it possible for bed bugs to live in your vehicle?

Bed bugs can hide inside cracks and corners in the fabric. You can also find them in the plastic casing, just like you can find them in the walls in houses. To get rid of them, use the same treatments as you usually would such as steam cleaning, heat, CO2 or home remedies.

You could also hire an exterminator, although the pesticides they use aren’t the best thing for you to breathe in traces of when you’re driving. You would be better off treating the infestation yourself.

Bed Bugs in Car Upholstery

Yes, bed bugs can infest car upholstery. A bed bug’s favorite hiding spot is in a hidden crack or fold, which is narrow enough for them to fit in, but where they also won’t be disturbed. Car upholstery is perfect for them. So, where do bed bugs hide in cars? There are plenty of places, including:

  • Underneath and even inside your car seat, especially if it’s fabric. Can bed bugs live on leather car seats? If there’s lots of stitching and piping for them to hide next to.
  • Underneath and around the carpeting of your car. Again, bed bugs love fabric, and they like to lay their eggs in corners, or get underneath the fabric itself.
  • Underneath and around any mat that you have in either the passenger or driver side footwell.
  • In the plastic casing of your seat belt holder. Bed bugs will live almost anywhere so long as they’re in proximity to their host.

Your imagination can run wild trying to figure out all the places they can live. However, there aren’t likely to be that many, even if you do have a lot in your home.

Likelihood of Bed Bugs in Cars

The likelihood of finding bed bugs in your car upholstery is quite slim. There are many reasons for that:

  • They don’t have access to you at a time when they can safely feed. When bed bugs feed, they like for you to be completely still. If you move in your sleep, they tend to scatter. If you’re sat in your car seat, you’re continually moving the wheel to steer and moving your feet for the pedals. This makes it impossible for them to feed on you.
  • Bed bugs don’t like hot and cold extremes. The heat of summer and the dead of winter are too much for them. They might not necessarily all die, but temperature extremes do make it more difficult for them to breed, at least.

What’s far more likely than a full-blown infestation is for just one or two to live in your car. They won’t regularly feed on you because you move around too much for them to do so.

However, the important thing about them being there is that they can restart an infestation that you’ve treated in your bedroom. They can very easily get into a fold of your clothes or accessories, and you can accidentally bring them into the house.

car fumigation for bed bugs

How Do Bed Bugs Get in Cars?

Can bed bugs travel in cars? They most certainly can. Cars and public transport are one of the easiest ways for bed bugs to spread. But how do they get in the car in the first place?

  • If you have bed bugs in your home, then you may have them in your car as well. Bed bugs especially love to hitch a ride in clothing or bags.
  • Someone with bed bugs in my car. If a friend, relative or colleague has bed bugs, then they can pass them on to your car if you give them a lift.
  • Bed bugs and rental cars. Because so many different people use them, bed bugs more commonly affect rental cars and taxis than regular cars. If you used a rental car, there’s a chance that one hid in your bag or clothing and got into your car afterward.
  • Bed bugs in the trunk of a car. If you have bed bugs, and some get into a bag that you store in the trunk of your car, they’ll happily hide in the upholstery in your trunk.
  • A bed bug found you when you were in a communal place. Maybe you put your bag down next to somebody else’s bag when you went swimming. Or maybe when you were on public transport, there was a bed bug underneath the seat.

While it’s important to try and figure out where they came from—so that you can prevent getting another infestation—sometimes it’s just not clear. This is especially the case in houses, because they can even come from next door.

If you’re not sure where the bed bugs in your car came from, you could go back in your diary and try to figure it out. If you don’t, you’ll get another infestation in no time!

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs in a Car

There are two ways to tackle any bed bug infestation: either by hiring an exterminator, or by trying to get rid of them yourself. Hiring an exterminator has always been the best way to get rid of any pest. Many generalist pest controllers struggle to get rid of bed bugs. That’s why you have to pick a specialist that works solely on bed bugs.

Car Fumigation for Bed Bugs

Because you can get bed bugs in your car, many exterminators offer car fumigation for bed bugs. They use pesticides like they do if they fumigate your home. Unfortunately, while pesticides do tend to work for other infestations, bed bugs are becoming immune to them. That’s because pest controllers have used the pesticides for so long, and in such large quantities, that when just a few bed bugs developed an immunity, they quickly spread.

The other problem with pesticides is that they’re bad for you. According to Penn State University, the point is that they’re toxic to life; that means they’re toxic to bed bugs, pets, and you. How bad they are for is based on both the amount of time and the amount of pesticide you come into contact with. Needless to say, but if you’re spending a lot of time in your car, that’s lots of trace pesticide you’re inhaling.

That’s why pest controllers have started using other methods to get rid of bed bugs. In particular, they try heat treatments and CO2 treatments to kill them. Bed bugs hate high temperatures, especially anything over 118 degrees. After just twenty minutes, temperatures of 118 degrees or more are enough to kill every single bed bug and every single egg. CO2 fumigation achieves the exact same thing, but over a longer time span (a day or more).

how to get rid of bugs in your car

Can Bed Bugs Survive in a Cold Car?

They do die in the cold, but it’s only infrequently cold enough for the temperature to kill any of them. When temperatures hit freezing, they start moving around less and less, feeding less and less too. Over time, they start to die. If the temperatures go far below freezing, then they start to die more quickly.

The exact same applies to the heat, in that only exceptional temperatures can kill them. Temperatures do get very high in cars, but the high temperature has to be consistent. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. That’s why you have to take matters into your own hands and deal with the infestation yourself.

Getting Rid of Bed Bugs in Your Car Yourself

If you, like most people, would struggle to afford an exterminator then you should try getting rid of bed bugs on your own. There are many surprisingly effective methods of doing so. Let’s take a look, step by step, at how you can get rid of bed bugs in a car.

1) Clear Your Car Out

Take everything out of the car that you can. This includes any carpeting or mats on the footwell floor, any seat coverings, any blankets that you keep in the back seat. Take everything and double bag it. Keep the bags stored outside until you start the bed bug treatment.

2) Search for Bed Bugs

Start by inspecting your car. Take a small torch and look everywhere that they might be hiding. Pay special attention to the underneath of your seat.

In particular, you’re searching for the following:

  • Bed bugs themselves. They’re likely to be hidden in cracks where you can’t get at them easily.
  • Blood smears left behind after the bed bug bit you. These are little bits of your blood that they dribbled out unintentionally.
  • Fecal spots, which are small, black and sticky. This is what you get when a bed bug goes to the toilet. It’s digested blood. You’ll find a lot of it around their harborage, the name for the place they like to live. If you see these spots, then the bed bugs are not far away.
  • Discarded shells. Bed bugs go through several life stages called instars, almost like leveling up in a video game. When they feed, they grow larger and have to get rid of their shells. These shells stick around for a long time, so you’ll see plenty of them around their harborage.

You should also check yourself for the signs of bed bug bites. If you’re being bitten, you’ll find small red spots in clusters around your body. If the infestation is in your car, then you’re likely to find the bites around your legs, hips, thighs and lower back.

An infestation in your car isn’t going to be able to bite you around your upper body unless they’re in the headrest—but even then, because you’re moving your head around so much, they’re likely to concentrate lower down your body.

3) Start the Bed Bug Treatment

Next, you should treat everything that you took out of your car. Take the bag of things that you collected earlier, and kept outside. Bring it indoors and empty it directly into the washing machine or dryer (whichever is best). Make sure to empty it directly, so that you don’t accidentally scatter any bed bugs or their eggs.

Set the washer or dryer to the highest setting possible. The heat, or heat and water combination, can kill both bed bugs and their eggs. Leave them in for at least half an hour, but preferably longer (the longer, the better). Once the cycle’s over, take the things out and put them in a sealed plastic bag or tub until the car is clean.

Make sure that everything is machine washable/dryable. If not, then you’ll have to throw it away. It’s a sad fact of bed bug infestations that they’re incredibly hardy and can survive almost anything except extremely hot or cold temperatures. They can even survive without food or fresh air for a year! So, anything that isn’t washable, throw it away.

4) Clean Your Car

Now, that’s only half the battle. You have to clean your car next. You should start by vacuuming your car very thoroughly. This isn’t enough to get rid of an infestation on its own. But it does reduce the number of bed bugs, which is always a good thing. Make sure that you don’t just vacuum the floor, but every part of the car that you can: underneath and around the seats, the bottom of the seat itself, every crack and fold in the fabric of the seat, the headrest—everything!

Make sure to use the vacuum’s extensions when you’re using it. The small brush will be more effective at getting bed bugs out of folds in fabric than the vacuum cleaner alone.

The problem is that bed bugs are excellent at hiding in very tight spaces. This makes it hard for the vacuum’s power to reach them. Not only that, but eggs are practically cemented in place when a bed bug lays them. Believe it or not, but a vacuum cleaner isn’t powerful enough to suck them up.

where do bed bugs hide in cars?

5) Options for Getting Rid of Bed Bugs in a Car

There’s more than one way to kill bed bugs. One of the very best is with heat, but because you can’t put your car in the washer or dryer, you’ve got to think outside the box on this one.

Let’s take a look at a few of the ways you can kill bed bugs in car upholstery, and you can pick which of them would be most effective for you.

  • Pesticides. This is the way that most pest controllers do it, although it isn’t always effective because bed bugs have evolved to grow more resistant to common pesticides. And, as we said, the problem with pesticides is obviously that they’re bad for your health.
  • Carbon dioxide. This is like fumigating with pesticides, but it won’t leave any nasty chemicals behind. A study in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that it can kill up to 100% of bed bugs and their eggs. You can use a CO2 cylinder or dry ice to try and replicate this in your car, but there are no guarantees that it will work. Leave the car for at least 24 hours. Just don’t sit in there with the bed bugs!
  • Diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth dries out bed bugs quickly, which will kill them. It’s an effective method of controlling bed bugs indoors. Achieving the same results in a car isn’t necessarily difficult, you’ll need to use a lot, and put it everywhere that you commonly see bed bugs. You should continually reapply it if you want it to work.
  • Steam cleaner. Steam cleaning is effective both because of the temperature of the water, the force of the water, and because of the water itself. Steam can also get into every crack and crevice of your car, whether you’re talking about plastic casings or the fabric of a seat. You can also reuse a steam cleaner over and over again. That’s what makes it the most effective method of getting rid of bed bugs in car upholstery.

Aside from these ideas, you could also try home remedies like essential oils or vinegar/apple cider vinegar. There’s growing evidence that they do actually work, if not as well as other methods.

6) Double Check for Bed Bugs

Once you’re done with your treatment of choice, vacuum the car again. This is to pick up any dead bed bugs and any discarded shells that you missed last time. If the treatment was successful, then your car should be completely clean at this point.

After vacuuming, do a thorough inspection to check that you got rid of them all. Go back over all the places that you originally checked: the fabric folds in the car seats, the underneath of the seat itself, the headrest, and any plastic casing where you think they might be. Fingers crossed, you shouldn’t see any live bed bugs. If you do, then you’ll have to start the treatment again.

7) Put Everything Back Where You Found It

If you can’t see any live bed bugs no matter where you look, it’s time to put your stuff back in your car. If you took out any carpeting, mats, seat covers, blankets or anything else.

Before you do, give your things a quick examination to make sure they’re completely clean. If they were thoroughly infested, then you’ll likely find lots of dead bed bugs in your washing machine or dryer. But don’t be surprised if you don’t find any, because bed bug infestations in cars don’t tend to be that big anyway.

8) Repeat the Treatment

Over the coming weeks and months, keep repeating the treatment. It’s vital that you keep going, because if you missed just two or three eggs, then the infestation could get just as bad as it was again within a month or two.

You should consider using home remedies like essential oils or similar. They don’t kill big infestations, but they are effective at preventing infestations from starting. So get some diatomaceous earth or make a tea tree spray, and apply it regularly. This is vital to keeping bed bugs out of cars.

9) Keep Your Car Clutter-Free

Moving forward, make sure to keep your car clutter-free. Bed bugs love clutter, because the more places they have to hide, the bigger the infestation can be.

This applies in houses just as much as in cars, where bed bugs will hide underneath discarded clothing, underneath furniture, and in dirty corners. The exact same applies to cars, so get rid of your clutter to get rid of your bed bugs too.