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Do Bed Bug Bombs Really Work?

Bed bugs are difficult to remove from your home. On the face of it, they are a potent insecticide spray that will kill any bed bug that breathes it in the toxic fumes, at a fraction of the price of hiring a pest control company. That’s why bed bug bombs have become so popular.

Bed bug bombs do kill bed bugs, because they contain reasonably effective insecticides (pyrethrins). However, they don’t succeed at completely removing bed bug infestations. That’s because they don’t kill eggs, and because many juveniles and adults will be able to hide away from the toxic spray.

Of course, you can still use them, and they’ll kill a significant part of your bed bug infestation. Just don’t think that they’ll solve the problem in its entirety overnight, because they won’t. There are also other disadvantages of bed bug bombs that you need to know.

What Are Bed Bug Bombs?

Bed bug bombs, also known as aerosol foggers, are a method of killing or dispersing bed bugs. They’re a basic aerosol canister, but instead of containing something nice like whipped cream or body spray, they contain an insecticide that kills bed bugs (among other things).

This insecticide is usually pyrethrin, pyrethroid or permethrin that’s highly toxic to life. Most will also contain a proprietary blend of other chemicals, even scents, that make it more toxic to bed bugs or less unpleasant to use.

They work when you leave them in an enclosed room to continually spray the air. You’ll then have to stay outside of that room, if not outside the whole house, for several hours.

Should I Use Bed Bug Bombs?

We would broadly recommend against using bed bug bombs. That’s because there are more effective ways of managing bed bugs. However, they are one of the few methods of controlling bed bugs that do have genuine scientific evidence to back it up.

There’s no doubt that a bed bug bomb can kill an exposed bed bug, but it’s the ones that stay hidden when you spray it which are the ones that will come back—and with a vengeance.

If you do want to use a bed bug fogger, make sure to buy one that specifies that it’s for bed bugs. Some foggers are marketed for cockroaches, for example, while others are advertised as generally killing ‘insects.’ Different insects respond to insecticides in different ways. For example, a cockroach will die on exposure to boric acid, while a bed bug will be fine. So if you do want to buy a bed bug bomb, check the label to see if it specifies ‘bed bugs.’

Some but not all bed bug bombs also need to be lit, almost like a firework. This means that they’re a fire hazard as well as the other drawbacks described above. That’s for the following reasons:

  1. You have to leave the lit bed bug bomb alone in a room, with no supervision.
  2. The aerosol can be flammable.

Of course, bed bug bombs are designed not to explode, but leaving something flammable in a room with something that’s lit is never a good idea no matter how you slice it.

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Bed Bug Bomb Ingredients

Bed bug bombs typically contain one of many chemicals, which are known insecticides. The exact chemicals used varies by brand, but they usually contain pyrethrins. Specifically, they often contain permethrin, which is one chemical in the pyrethrin family.

Pyrethrins are synthetic chemicals that are based on extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. They were first synthesized in 1973. It’s a popular insecticide that’s especially useful against fleas, mosquitos and other small pests. That’s why you can find them in cat flea collars and other similar applications. You can buy permethrin and other pyrethrins as liquids, powders, and aerosols. In the U.S., the lice treatment Nix contains permethrin.

Permethrin can kill all sorts of animals, including people, although some animals are more susceptible to it than others. In particular, insects are highly susceptible to it because their bodies can’t neutralize it and make it safe easily. Permethrin works in many ways. It affects any insect that ingests it, but even touching it can kill them. It affects their nervous system, causing uncontrollable muscle spasms. It eventually leads to paralysis and death.

Permethrin is used to treat scabies, as part of a cream. Studies on creams like these suggest that only 0.5 or 1% of the permethrin is absorbed through the skin. Even if ingested or breathed in, it’s metabolized in the liver. It goes through a chemical process there which renders it harmless, before it’s excreted in urine. However, that doesn’t mean you can stand around breathing in bed bug bomb fumes.

Are Bed Bug Bombs Safe?

Bed bug bombs can also harm people. An old report detailed on WebMD looked at how often people were injured or even killed by bug bombs. The author found that in the eight states that released figures (Florida, California, New York, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, and Washington) 466 people had become ill as a result of bug bombs between 2001 and 2006.

There are many reasons why bed bug bombs aren’t always safe for use. Typically, it’s user error that leads to injury, as is often the case. But with something so significant as exposure to insecticide, even just a small error can cause lasting harm.

Potential factors which contribute to insecticide exposure include:

  • Inability to vacate the room quickly enough once the fogger starts pumping out insecticide.
  • Unintentional discharge, i.e., when you accidentally start to spray when you’re not expecting it.
  • You are entering the building again before the smoke has fully cleared, meaning that you get a partial dose of insecticide.
  • You are using too many foggers at once, to kill as many bed bugs as possible. This won’t make them more effective, but it will leave you at a higher risk of breathing in toxic fumes.
  • Not warning somebody that the room is being fumigated. A friend, family member or neighbor might poke their head in the room to see what’s going on, only to be greeted by an insecticide.

More than anything, there’s a risk of bed bug bombs hurting you if you don’t read the label of the product you bought. Companies that trade in the U.S., selling things like pesticides, are legally obliged to detail how to use them. If they didn’t, there would be thousands of deaths each year. So, they tell you exactly how to use them with a minimum risk of harm or damage. So, long story short, read the label and follow the directions and you’ll be fine.

There’s also the risk that residual chemicals hanging in the air, or spread over your belongings, could pose a risk. While permethrin has been classified as non-carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there’s still every chance of long-term health issues associated with using products like these. That’s something you frequently see with pesticides. At the very least, there’s more risk than there is from using diatomaceous earth or tea tree oil for bed bugs.

Bed Bug Bombs and Babies

In the reports referenced above, there was a case of one infant who may have died as a result of bug bomb poisoning. The house was treated, but upon waking the next day, the infant’s parents found that their child had died.

Why would babies be particularly susceptible? It’s because they’re smaller. Many things that aren’t toxic enough to kill an adult are toxic enough to kill a child or small animal. Tea tree oil is a great example. If you put it on your skin neat, you’ll experience a slight allergic reaction.

This same reaction is more severe still if you ingest it neat. But that reaction, which is enough to make you sick, is enough to make a child much sicker if you use the same dose. And that same dose is more than strong enough to kill an insect.

The use of any permethrin is only permitted for babies that are older than two months.

Are Bed Bug Bombs Safe for Pets

For the reason that bed bug bombs aren’t safe for babies, they aren’t safe for pets, either. Pyrethrins and pyrethroids weren’t first invented as insecticides. They were first invented by scientists looking for a way to kill invasive species of snake.

Pyrethrins and pyrethroids can also cause toxicity in dogs and cats. If this occurs, you may notice drooling, lethargy, tremors, vomiting, and even seizures. When you leave the room/house for the bug bomb to do its work, take your pet with you to avoid the possibility of them reacting to it. Only return once the smoke has cleared, as advised by the label of the product you bought.

All that being said, they’re generally not as toxic for pets and people as they are for insects. That’s because people and pets can metabolize these toxins more quickly than insects can. That means that your body can render them harmless quite quickly, at least compared to insects. Cats, however, are nearly as susceptible as insects. You should avoid using these products if you have a pet cat—although avoiding them if you have any pets is probably a good idea.

Side Effects of Bed Bug Bombs

As with any pesticide you can think of, bed bug bombs have many side effects. They range in severity and complexity, from simple shortness of breath all the way to being fatal. These effects include, but may not be limited to:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Irritation of the upper airways
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • A burning, stinging sensation in the eyes
  • A headache and dizziness

As you can tell, most of these effects relate to the respiratory system. That’s usually the case when you breathe in toxic fumes like these. To avoid these side effects, you ought to follow the instructions on the label of the product you bought. This usually means vacating the room while the bed bug bomb is working.

If you do find yourself experiencing any of these effects, you should do two things. First, vacate the room or building as soon as possible so that you can get some fresh air. Don’t bother trying to open a window. The bed bug bomb’s fumes will clear away over time anyway.

Once you’re outside, make a quick assessment of your condition. If the effects aren’t very severe, then you can likely get away with just waiting for the smoke to clear and going back inside. However, if they are quite severe and don’t clear within a few minutes, you should go to a hospital or clinic for an assessment. It might be expensive, but bed bug bombs can be fatal if you inhale too much of their fumes, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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How Does a Bed Bug Bomb Work?

When you use a fogger, it works like this:

  1. You place the canister in the room you’d like to use it in. Ideally, place it close to the bed bugs’ main harborage (where most of them live, e.g., under your mattress).
  2. Activate the canister and leave the room. You may even have to leave the building entirely, depending on how strong the insecticide is.
  3. Wait for however long it says you should on the canister. This varies with the strength of the bed bug bomb.
  4. When you go back in, air the room out to make sure that any residual fumes are released from the room.

During the time you spend outside the room, any bed bugs out in the open—or at least that were relatively exposed—will have died. That’s because foggers work best on contact. However, the chemicals in the fogger will hang around for a while; any bed bug that scuttles around that night trying to find you, for example, will get a significant dose too. That’s why the army treats their new uniforms with permethrin, because it can deter mosquitos and other insects long-term.

Do Bed Bug Bombs Work?

Bed bug bombs are ineffective at killing bed bugs. That’s not to say that they don’t work at all, because there’s evidence that they can kill bed bugs. However, there are better, more effective ways to kill bed bugs out there.

Why don’t they work as well as other products? Because of how well bed bugs can hide. Bed bugs are experts when it comes to wriggling into cracks, crevices, and other tiny spaces. Their bodies are wide, but extremely thin, which means they can slip unnoticed into gaps in furniture, or between the baseboard and the wall, for example.

What does that have to do with bed bug bombs? Well, the ‘fog’ they make doesn’t penetrate these tiny spaces. Sure, it gets pretty much everywhere in the air; but if the bed bug is in a tiny crack in the floorboards, or has hidden in the piping underneath the mattress, then they’re not going to come into contact with any of the insecticide you’re trying to spray them with.

Even worse, because bed bug bombs repel the bed bugs as well as kill them, this can make the infestation harder to kill. That’s because when they smell traces of the insecticide in the air, the bed bugs might scatter: into the wall, underneath the carpet, into the floorboards and other hiding places. From there, they can access other areas of the house, which means that they can infest other rooms as well. And even if you spray the whole house, they might hide in the wall and only come out to feed on you.

Why Bed Bug Bombs Don’t Work

Throughout the past hundred years, pest controllers have been using various substances to try and kill bed bugs. The most popular, historically at least, was DDT. Over time, bed bugs almost became extinct in the U.S. It got to the point where the majority of people had never even seen one—and what a time it was.

Unfortunately, people took to spraying pesticides even when there were no bed bugs present. And when they were found, they were bombed with far more pesticide than was necessary. Of course, this kept numbers down at the time. But over the course of decades, bed bugs gradually became immune to various pesticides.

Bed bug bombs typically contain one of a family of chemicals, pyrethroids/pyrethrins. However, according to the Journal of Economic Entomology, bed bugs are becoming immune to these pesticides too. Most bed bugs collected for scientific studies like these demonstrate at least a partial immunity.

Since most kinds of bed bugs bombs contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids, that explains why they’re not as effective as they could be. Coupled with the fact that bed bugs can hide from the spray itself, and that means that bed bug bombs really aren’t your best choice for tackling an infestation.

Do Bed Bug Bombs Deter Bed Bugs?

One upside to using bed bug bombs is that they can deter bed bugs in the long-term. Permethrin hangs around on surfaces and in fabrics long after the spray has finished spraying. Any bed bug that picks some up on their nightly wander will die on contact with it. The problem, though, is that bed bugs are experts at avoiding harsh chemicals or anything that might be toxic to them.

While this means that there’s less chance of the permethrin killing the bed bug, it does mean that they’re repelled. That’s good news for anyone that’s finally managed to kill their infestation, because a new infestation is less likely to spring up afterward. Ultimately, bed bug bombs are best used in conjunction with other treatment methods, so that its limitations aren’t exposed.

Can You Bed Bug Bomb a Car?

Did you know that bed bugs hide in cars and public transport? This is the reason why bed bugs are becoming so common in big cities—because they hide in buses, trains, and subways, waiting to get into somebody’s bag so that they can bring them home. So, how do pest controllers manage bed bugs in these places? Can you use bed bug bombs?

Yes, you can, but the same problems apply as above. That’s because bed bugs in cars tend to hide in places like:

  • Underneath the carpet lining the driver or passenger side, or underneath any mat, you’ve put down there.
  • Inside the plastic body of the car door or ceiling.
  • Inside the body of each seat, underneath the fabric.

When the bed bugs hide in places like these, they make it difficult for you to get anywhere near them—let alone with a bed bug bomb. They stay hidden in piping or similar tiny cracks, which are often doubly hidden by fabric or plastic coverings.

Because they can avoid the direct spray of the bomb, they’ll most likely be unharmed. So, while you definitely can use a bed bug bomb in a car, it’s likely not to be as effective as you’d hope.

Do Bed Bug Bombs Work in a Storage Unit?

A bed bug bomb would work in a storage unit just like it would work anywhere else. The point of it is that you don’t have to know where to spray it. It sprays on its own. So, anywhere that you could put it down is theoretically somewhere that it could work.

If you didn’t know, it’s especially important to stop bed bugs from living in storage units. Because there’s a high turnover of people leaving their things there and picking them up, storage units are a prime breeding ground for bed bugs. Someone might store a mattress in one, for example, that’s teeming with bed bugs. These bugs will then spread out in search of a host—as they will when one isn’t around. They’ll hide in the corners, in the walls, any crack or gap they can find.

Then, when it’s time for you to store things in a storage unit, your property will pick up this infestation, and you’ll bring it home with you. That’s why you should take a look around any storage unit before you use it, to make sure that it isn’t infested. And, if you so choose, you could use a bed bug bomb to make entirely sure that you aren’t picking up an infestation as well as boxes of your old things.

Do Bed Bug Bombs Kill Eggs?

It’s highly unlikely that a bed bug bomb will kill eggs. It’s not that pyrethrins won’t necessarily kill an egg upon contact—they probably do, like they do with adults. Eggs absorb moisture from the air around them, for example, so it’s no surprise to learn that they might absorb other things too.

But the question isn’t whether they absorb it or not. The fact is that bed bugs lay their eggs as far out of the way as possible. They’ll lay them in the cracks underneath furniture or your bed frame, for example, where they can’t be accessed by anything—let alone smoky air. This is why bed bugs themselves are quite easy to kill if you can find them, but infestations keep coming back. It’s the eggs that hatch and grow into adults which re-establish an infestation you kill

The point is obviously to keep them as safe as possible, and while they didn’t anticipate insecticides when they laid them, it does provide their eggs with some protection. And unlike other kinds of spray, you can’t take a bed bug bomb and spray it wherever you want. You have to leave it to spray on its own. That’s why bed bug bombs aren’t effective against eggs.

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How Long does it Take to Bed Bug Bomb a Room?

So, bed bug bombs are made with dangerous insecticides. As is the case with anything like this, you have to avoid breathing them in, because they might be toxic for you as well. You’re not supposed to stay in the room while the bed bug bomb is working, so how long should you stay outside, or at least in another room?

Generally, bed bug bombs require you to stay outside the room for at least two hours, up to four hours. Throughout this time, the bomb won’t necessarily be releasing any insecticide. It might run out long before that. However, you have to wait for the chemicals to settle and the air to clear before you go back in. Otherwise, you may as well stand in there while it’s running (which will hurt you, and could even kill you).

Once the time has passed, head back indoors, ideally covering your airways with something to prevent breathing in any latent fumes. Open a window and promote airflow, for instance with an overhead fan, so that you can get some clean air running through. At this point, any bed bugs that would have been affected by the bomb will be dead anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you clear the air.

How Long do Bed Bug Bombs Last?

The amount of time that the permethrin itself lasts depends on the concentration level that your bed bug bomb contains. Most contain 0.5% permethrin, which is more than enough to kill an insect, but typically not enough to hurt you.

At 0.5% permethrin, traces will remain for up to six weeks. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, 60% of permethrin applied to a surface is still there after 20 days. It will last for less time on clothes or anything else that’s washed.

This is good news because it means that even if permethrin can’t kill every bed bug, it can deter them for that amount of time—if not longer. It can also kill any bed bugs that were hidden at first, but decided to come out later.

What to Do Before You Use a Bed Bug Bomb

Before you use a bed bug bomb, to maximize its effectiveness, you should consider starting by getting as many bed bugs out into the open as possible. There are many ways you can do that:

  • Start by removing and washing all of the bedding on your bed. Bag it up inside your bedroom, and take it directly to the washing machine. Put the bag inside, flip it, and shake it until everything’s out. Then, wash everything on high heat. Bin the bag outside.
  • Take steps to seal the room up. This means putting tape or something similar over any cracks, sealing up the gap between the baseboard and the wall, and so on. By sealing up the potential entrance and exit points, you’ll stop the bed bugs from being able to escape. This will mean that more of them will die when you finally start to spray.
  • Flip the mattress in your room and spray with something like tea tree oil to encourage the bugs to scatter. Do the same with any furniture that you think they’ve infested. The point is to get the bugs out in the open, so that they’ll be more susceptible to the fogger.

At this point, you’re ready to use your bed bug bomb. It’s important that you get it working as soon as possible, to minimize the chance that the bed bugs can find somewhere else to hide.

Alternatives to Bed Bug Bombs

If you want a better alternative to bed bug bombs, you’ve got quite a few options. The best way to get rid of bed bugs is undoubtedly using heat treatment.

This is a method that can only really be done by a pest control operative, because only they have access to the expensive equipment and experience that’s required to pull it off successfully.

It’s quite similar to bed bug bombs, except it can penetrate through furniture and kill any bed bug no matter how well they’re hiding.

How Does Heat Treatment for Bed Bugs Work?

The pest controller will first seal up your room, so that heat can’t escape from it. They will then move around your room/house, setting up thermometers that they can check to see if the air is hot enough to kill bed bugs. The bed bugs themselves have to reach temperatures of 118 degrees (at which they die in 90 minutes), or 122 degrees, at which they die practically instantly. The air temperature will range between 135 and 145 degrees, which is what’s necessary to penetrate deep into furniture, mattresses and similar.

They will then turn on specially designed equipment that can raise the temperature of the whole room or house to the necessary level. This can take some time—between six and eight hours usually. The air temperature might hit 135 degrees, for example, but the inside of furniture will only be 90 degrees. At this temperature, the bed bugs are unharmed. You need to wait for the temperature to get high enough.

Unfortunately, bed bug heat treatment isn’t cheap. That’s because first, it takes a long time, and you’re going to have to pay quite a lot to any expert for their time. Pest control is no exception. Not only that, but the specialist equipment isn’t cheap either. And because it’s the only way to kill every single bed bug—spraying just doesn’t cut it these days, because many bed bugs are immune—that’s another reason for it to be costly.

You also can’t do heat treatment by yourself, and there’s an excellent reason why. Bed bugs require exceptionally high temperatures to kill them, and you can’t achieve temperatures like that with regular heating. You also can’t achieve them by leaving things out in the summer sun, because even that isn’t consistently hot enough.

Bed Bug Sprays

If you want to stay on top of a bed bug infestation, without having to spend much money, we would recommend a spray. You can either buy one of many commercially available sprays, or make one yourself with tea tree oil or something similar. To be clear, by this kind of spray, we mean an insecticide that you spray like a kitchen or bathroom cleaning spray, not a bed bug bomb.

Sprays like these kill bed bugs on contact, and repel them too. However, if you pick a more natural one, there’s no chance of a negative reaction like you can experience with permethrin or other pyrethroids. Here’s how to use them:

  1. Identify the bed bug’s harborage. This is where they live when they’re digesting or mating. Typical places include under mattresses and box springs, or nearby furniture, i.e., bedside tables.
  2. Spray and wipe clean their harborage. This will get rid of any scent they leave behind, which is how they find their harborage after they feed.
  3. Spraying them like this will encourage the bed bugs to scatter. Any that do scatter, spray them directly. If you use a strong solution, this should kill them.

The most crucial part of the whole process, though, is that you spray repeatedly. Once you’re done, flip your mattress back and live your life as normal. Then, a week later, give it another spray. A week afterward, give it another spray. Meanwhile, try and identify if there’s a new harborage. If there is, give that a spray too. It’s this repeated spraying which should mean that you get fewer and fewer bites, until with any luck, you’ll get none at all.

Permethrin-based bed bug bombs are better options out there. However, they can be a highly effective way of both killing and deterring bed bugs. Just make sure only to use it as is suggested on the label.

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