Heat treatment is an effective way of killing bed bugs instantly. Many professional exterminators rely on this method, as bed bugs are becoming resistant to pesticides. The question is whether bed bugs can become immune to heat, and whether heat treatment really works.
Heat treatment works at 122 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. All bed bugs and eggs die at this temperature. However, it’s possible for some bed bugs to survive by hiding in cooler places. DIY heat treatment is possible, but it’s difficult to penetrate all areas of the home. Professional heat treatment is much more effective.
More exterminators are choosing heat treatment as their preferred way to eliminate bed bugs. Heat treatment works best when used in combination with other bed bug removal methods. That’s why many exterminators spray a small amount of pesticide repellent after the job is done.
How Does Heat Treatment Kill Bed Bugs?
Heat treatment works by causing bed bugs’ cells to stop functioning properly. Once temperatures within a cell reach a certain point, the DNA inside starts to break down. The higher the temperature, the quicker and more thoroughly this breakdown occurs.
The temperature at which this begins is about 113 degrees. Bed bug heat treatments aim for higher temperatures than this, in order to kill the bed bugs quicker. To achieve these temperatures, the exterminator will use a portable industrial heater.
They will start by sealing off any entry and exit points in your room or home. They will then turn the heater on, leaving it on for between four and six hours, periodically checking the temperature inside.
Because heat permeates everything, this method of control is far better than using pesticides. The heat penetrates through furniture and mattresses, meaning that bed bugs find it difficult to hide.
What Temperature Kills Bed Bugs?
At 113 degrees, bed bugs begin to suffer. However, treatment is best carried out at higher temperatures, to be on the safe side.
Professional exterminators try to raise the temperature inside your furniture to 122 degrees or higher. This will have the greatest effect on killing bed bugs with heat.
The main problem with heat treatment is penetrating cold spots in the home. Every room has them.
For example, you may have the furnace on, warming your room to 80 degrees. While the air temperature might get that high, there will be cold spots, such as:
- Parts of the room next to a wall that is cooled by outside air
- Areas next to the ceiling, the floor, or a wall that isn’t insulated
- Gaps inside furniture, which are protected from circulating air and contain cooler air
Heating these cold spots requires the ambient air temperature to be much higher. During heat treatment, the ambient air temperature will rise to 140 degrees at least. Your exterminator will aim to maintain this temperature for several hours to fully penetrate every cold spot.
Even so, temperature stress of varying degrees can still harm bed bugs. PLoS One showed that temperatures of just 93 degrees reduced mating and hatching success in bed bugs. The higher the temperature, the greater the effect.
So, while high temperatures kill bed bugs, slightly lower temperatures can still harm them.
Is Heat Treatment for Bed Bugs Effective?
The success rate of heat treatment depends on how well your exterminator heats the cold spots of your room.
It’s unfortunate that cold spots tend to be where bed bugs hide anyway. Places like the underside of your mattress and under furniture avoid the worst of the heat.
But when done properly, heat treatment has a 100% success rate. If the exterminator takes their time, heat treatment kills every single bed bug and their eggs. And as they’re killed instantly, there’s no need to wait weeks for the bed bugs to die.
There are various things that can go wrong during heat treatment. These lower the success rate of the service. They include:
- The room not being sealed up well enough, allowing bed bugs to escape
- The heat treatment not lasting long enough, thereby failing to heat every cold spot
- The belongings you removed from the room having bed bugs or eggs on them
- The temperature not getting high enough to kill every bed bug
Any of these factors could mean that heat treatment isn’t quite as effective.
It’s possible to research the company that you intend to use, to see their online reviews. Other people’s experiences can inform you of their success rate.
How Much Does Heat Treatment for Bed Bugs Cost?
There are two things to consider when it comes to the cost of heat treatment: the inspection fee and the treatment itself.
The inspection fee is what you pay as an initial callout fee. The exterminator takes a look around your home to try to find bed bugs.
The point of the inspection is to ensure that there really are bed bugs in your home. The average inspection costs between $50 and $100.
Then, if they do find bed bugs, you’ll have to pay the treatment fee to get rid of them. Heat treatment costs around $400 on average, which is around the same cost as pesticide treatment.
You may be able to find cheaper pesticide exterminators and more expensive heat treatments. That’s because heat treatment is less common.
Advantages of Bed Bug Heat Treatment
There are both pros and cons to using heat treatment for a bed bug infestation. Let’s begin by discussing its main advantages.
1) Heat Treatment Doesn’t Use Chemicals
The central advantage of heat treatment is that it doesn’t use pesticides.
Pesticides may linger for weeks or even months after use. Anyone who enters your home after treatment, including children and pets, may be at risk of health issues.
Pesticide treatments are applied liberally in the bedroom, where you spend eight hours every day. There is evidence that prolonged or excessive exposure to pesticides can cause health issues. Asthma, headaches, vomiting, skin problems and even cancer have all been linked to pesticide use.
Heat treatment doesn’t use any chemicals. It’s a completely natural way of eradicating an infestation.
2) Bed Bugs Can’t Become Immune to Heat
Bed bugs are rapidly becoming immune to pesticides. This is becoming a growing problem across most of the world.
DDT was first used to kill pests in 1939, and was used for several decades. During this time, bed bugs almost became extinct in the western world. However, the bugs eventually started to come back. It was discovered that they were becoming immune to DDT.
A bulletin issued by the World Health Organization highlighted the issue. Bed bugs began becoming immune in 1958. Certain bugs developed a mutation that allowed them to survive, and they passed this onto their children.
If you use pesticides, there’s a chance some of your bed bugs will survive, too. With heat treatment, there is no risk. Bed bugs can’t become immune to the effects of extreme heat, so it’s always effective.
3) Heat Penetrates Your Whole Home
Most bed bug contact killers, such as pesticides, essential oils, and desiccants, have one major drawback. They fail to penetrate hard-to-reach areas, such as the inside of furniture.
While these treatments may kill every bug they touch, they don’t always reach every bug. Bed bugs are sneaky, and like to hide in the smallest cracks and crevices. Try as you might, you may not always reach every area with contact killers.
Heat treatment, however, does not have this downside. Heat can penetrate even the most hidden areas in your home.
Exterminators heat up your entire home to a fatal temperature. They specifically target potential cold spots, so that nowhere is left untreated. Entire infestations can perish in just one course of treatment.
4) Every Bed Bug Life Stage is Vulnerable to Heat
Many bed bug treatments, while effectively killing adults, have no effect on eggs. For example, cleaning vinegar reliably kills bed bugs on contact, while leaving eggs completely unscathed.
This means that, with most heat treatments, many applications are necessary. You have to apply the treatment regularly and diligently for many weeks. This ensures that when the eggs hatch, the new bugs don’t get a chance to reproduce.
With heat treatment, this is not an issue. If the temperature reaches the required level, it will kill eggs as well as nymphs and adults. This ensures that the infestation is completely eradicated on the day of treatment.
5) Heat Treatment Works Instantly
Not all bed bug treatments are instantaneous. Some work rather slowly. Diatomaceous earth, for example, is a desiccant that works by drying the bed bugs out over 1 to 2 weeks.
This means that infestations can take a very long time to disappear. While the treatment is having its effect, bed bugs can reproduce and lay more eggs. The treatment may work eventually, but you’ll have to wait a long time.
Heat treatment, however, works instantly. As soon as the bed bug is exposed to the fatal temperature, it dies. It’s by far the quickest way of dealing with an infestation.
Disadvantages of Bed Bug Heat Treatment
Although it is usually reliable, bed bug heat treatment isn’t perfect. Here are the main disadvantages of using heat treatment to kill bed bugs.
1) Heat Treatment Can’t Repel Bed Bugs
Some bed bug treatments are long-lasting. They’re able to linger, killing and repelling bed bugs for some time after the treatment is applied. This means that if any bugs are initially missed, they’re soon dealt with.
Unfortunately, heat treatment doesn’t work this way. Once the treatment is over and your house returns to its usual temperature, that’s it. Any bed bugs that you bring into your home afterward are able to live and reproduce.
2) Some Cold Spots Might Be Missed
Heat treatment done properly is almost always effective at killing every bed bug in the home. However, this relies on your exterminator knowing what they’re doing.
While heat does penetrate furniture better than pesticides, it still struggles to hit every cold spot. Inexperienced exterminators may miscalculate, and fail to heat your home for long enough. This means that some bugs hiding deep inside furniture may survive.
3) Not All Exterminators Offer Bed Bug Heat Treatment
You can find exterminators that use pesticides in almost any town in the U.S. Pesticides have been the go-to method of killing bed bugs for decades. They’re favored by small, independent companies and large chains alike.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for heat treatment. Heat treatment is less widely available than pesticides as it was only invented recently. Not all exterminators are offering it, so you may struggle to find a local company to use.
4) Bed Bug Heat Treatment Can Be Expensive
Heat treatment is often very expensive. It’s usually more expensive than pesticide treatment for two main reasons. It’s less widespread than pesticide treatment, and it requires a massive amount of energy to carry out.
If you’re on a limited budget, heat treatment may be out of the question for you. The actual price will vary depending on the company, and the size of your home. It’s always worth asking around to see how different companies compare.
5) DIY Heat Treatment is Difficult
You can buy pesticides and other topical bed bug treatments online. However, heat treatment is far more difficult to perform by yourself.
There are various methods of DIY heat treatment, including steam cleaning and laundering. However, it’s almost impossible to reach every corner of your home on your own. To be sure that the infestation is gone, you need to use an exterminator.
How to Prepare For Bed Bug Heat Treatment
If you plan to use heat treatment, either professional or DIY, prepare your home first.
Never use pesticides before heat treatment. Using pesticides repels the bed bugs and forces them to find unusual shelters, away from their usual harborages. This helps them survive heat treatment.
Try not to remove too much from the room or house you’re treating. You may inadvertently remove something that contains bed bugs, and reintroduce them after the treatment. Seal anything you don’t want to keep inside garbage bags and dispose of outside.
Before you start, clear away any clutter. If you have a pile of clothes on your dresser, put them away in the wardrobe where they belong. The less mess there is, the fewer cold spots there will be.
Move all furniture four inches away from the wall. The hot air will surround the furniture, helping the cold spots to warm up quicker.
Remove anything from the room that will perish, break or melt in the heat. This includes things like houseplants, candles, soap, food and sensitive electronics. Seal everything you can inside plastic bags, or inspect it to make sure it’s not infested.
Your pest control operative will tell you if there’s anything else you need to do. Follow their advice as closely as you can for the highest chance of success.
Do You Need an Exterminator for Heat Treatment?
If you plan on getting a professional to do your heat treatment, use an experienced bed bug exterminator. Exterminators have several weapons in their arsenal to kill bed bugs. Aside from pesticides, heat treatment is the most common.
To find someone to treat your home, check in a local directory or search online. Search specifically for heat treatment, as many exterminators don’t actually offer it as a service. Many still only offer pesticide fumigation.
Once you’ve found an exterminator, give them a call and they’ll talk you through the process. You’ll have to go through an examination, where the exterminator will check whether you have bed bugs. They’ll then heat treat your house if necessary.
It is possible to perform heat treatment yourself. However, DIY methods aren’t as reliable.
Why Does Heat Treatment Take So Long?
Heat treatment takes several hours. That’s because it’s not the air temperature that matters. It’s the temperature in each and every cold spot.
The air temperature in a heat treated home may reach 140 degrees or more very quickly. However, cold spots inside furniture take a very long time to warm up.
There’s also a lot that the exterminator has to do. They don’t just turn up to your house and turn their heating system on. They have to:
- Liaise with you, and help you prepare for your time away from the home
- Seal doors and windows so that no heat escapes
- Flip furniture like bed frames and mattresses to allow the heat to permeate them
- Set up their equipment, which usually needs a generator
It’s important that they don’t skip any of these steps. If they did, then there’s a chance that the heat treatment wouldn’t work.
How to Kill Bed Bugs with Heat Yourself
Given that professional heat treatment is so expensive, you may like to give it a try on your own. Theoretically, it is possible to get the temperature high enough in your home to kill bed bugs. However, it is difficult.
There are different DIY bed bug heat treatment methods:
- Rent a bed bug heater from an online shop
- Leave sealed bags or boxes in your car during a hot day
- Leave infested items in your garage, if it gets hot in there during the summer
- Use a steam cleaner which can reach similar temperatures (or higher) to heat treatment
- Launder and dry your clothes at a high heat
DIY bed bug heat treatment is relatively cheap, but it isn’t always successful. Let’s find out more about these treatment methods, how they work, and whether they’re effective.
Can You Use a Hot Box to Kill Bed Bugs?
The simplest way of killing bed bugs with heat is to keep them in a hot box. However you heat the box, the idea is to warm it enough to kill the bed bugs inside. There are ways of doing so.
The most obvious is to leave the box somewhere that gets hot, e.g. in your car or garage on a hot day. You could also leave the box next to a radiator, furnace, or electric heater. This isn’t likely to get hot enough, however.
Better yet, you should try creating your own hot box using a basic container and some insulating material. Use the following steps:
- Take a plastic or metal bin, and wrap a layer of plastic around it. The bigger it is, the more things you’ll be able to put in there.
- Line the inside of the tub or bin with an insulating material, e.g. foam balls or construction materials.
- Line the lid of the bin or tub with the same material.
- Create a hole in the lid for a tube to run through. This is going to be how the heat gets inside.
- Set up the bin with whatever you want inside. Then place a small fan heater at the end of the tube. Seal up all of the cracks and seals of the bin with tape when in use.
Using a hot box to kill bed bugs has its limitations. You won’t be able to put everything in there. Sensitive electronics, for example, might not survive in the high heat of a hot box. It’s also difficult to ensure the temperature gets high enough.
Can You Use Steam Cleaners to Kill Bed Bugs?
Steam cleaners can reach the temperature required to kill bed bugs.
If you were to take a bed bug, and spray it directly, the steam gets more than hot enough to kill them. Regular steam cleaners reach around 245 degrees at the ‘steam tip’, i.e. where the steam comes out.
According to Pest Management Science, steam cleaners are highly effective. This study found that exposed bed bugs had a 100% mortality rate. Even bed bugs behind fabric covers experienced an 89% mortality rate. Steaming is effective against eggs, too.
However, the steam doesn’t penetrate very far inside furniture and mattresses. If there are bed bugs deep inside, a steam cleaner couldn’t kill them.
The heat that comes from a steam cleaner also doesn’t very long. The area heats up quickly, but also cools down quickly. If the bed bugs scuttle away to somewhere cooler, they’ll easily survive.
Can You Use Dryers to Kill Bed Bugs?
Using a washing machine or dryer to kill bed bugs is simple, cheap and effective.
The temperature in both can reach more than the required 122 degrees at which bed bugs die quickly. Washing machines are particularly effective as they also drown the bed bugs, and lather them in deadly soap.
If you want to kill bed bugs in the washing machine or dryer, prepare correctly first. Bag your clothes or items in a sealed bag. Take that bag to the washing machine, and empty it directly inside. Then wash or dry on a high heat for at least an hour.
The point of the bag is to prevent yourself from spreading bed bugs around your home accidentally. There’s no point successfully laundering your clothes or bedding, only to find that some scuttled away before you dumped the bag in the washer or dryer.
Renting Machines for DIY Bed Bug Heat Treatment
Bed bug heat treatment heaters aren’t complicated machinery. So, can you rent a heater to kill bed bugs? And if you do, would you save any money?
Can You Rent Bed Bug Heaters?
You can rent bed bug heaters. However, they aren’t as easy to find as steam cleaners or industrial strength vacuum cleaners.
If you want to find one, you should try searching online. There are several sites, some nationwide and some specific to certain cities. It will all depend upon the area in which you live.
One upside of renting a bed bug treatment machine is that you can rent them for a week. In fact, on some sites, a week is the minimum amount of time you can rent one for. Doing so would give you the chance to treat multiple rooms, multiple times.
How Much Does Renting a Bed Bug Heater Cost?
Just as different exterminators charge different rates, the price of renting a bed bug heater can vary. From some sites, you can rent a machine from $99 a day, plus shipping and handling fees.
Other sites don’t charge by the day, but by the week. One popular service offers heaters for $250 a week, plus $50 for each additional day. If you know how long you’ll use it for, you could save money either way.
This is cheaper than what most exterminators charge for their services. However, when hiring an exterminator, you also pay for:
- Their experience in using heat treatment to kill bed bugs effectively
- Their knowledge of the likely hiding places of bed bugs, and how best to kill them there
- The time they spend sealing up your home, to stop any bed bugs or heat escaping
- Any advice they can give you, which can prove invaluable
Think of your time as money. If you spend several hours of your weekend preparing for heat treatment, you may not be saving much.
How to Kill Bed Bugs with a Heater
Prepare your room. Follow the guidelines above for preparing your room and home for an exterminator’s bed bug heat treatment. This includes moving furniture away from the walls, bagging and discarding unwanted possessions, and laundering clothes and bedding.
Put any furniture in your room on its side and lean it against the wall. This will allow more air to circulate around it, which makes the heat treatment more likely to work. There will also be fewer places for the bed bugs to hide.
Seal the room that you’ll be heating. You won’t be able to heat the whole house in one go, only room by room. Start by sealing any cracks in the baseboard or wall with a sealant. You’ll also need to seal the crack under the door.
Place temperature monitors around the room. These mobile monitors wirelessly monitor the temperature and send the data to a computer. If you don’t have these, monitor the temperatures manually.
To speed up the process, turn on any ceiling fans in your room. If you don’t have ceiling fans, purchase and use a small fan. This helps circulate warm air around the room, so that it takes less time to heat up.
Allow treatment to continue for several hours. During this time, flip the furniture so that no cold spots are allowed to form underneath
Repeat this process in each room of your house. Treating just one room will allow the bed bugs to escape to other parts of the house.
Does DIY Bed Bug Heat Treatment Work?
Unfortunately, DIY bed bug heat treatment methods have a limited success rate.
Each method does involve temperatures high enough to kill bed bugs. However, heat treatment creates consistent high temperatures, while these methods don’t.
Take steam cleaning for example. Steam cleaners create heat of far more than 122 degrees. In fact, some cleaners can heat up to 200 degrees or more. The issue is that this heat doesn’t penetrate furniture or bedding, while an exterminator’s heat treatment does.
Other methods are more effective. Washing and laundering your clothes at a high heat, for example, creates heat that permeates through your belongings. However, you can’t launder everything that’s infested, like furniture.
Professional heat treatment is much more effective than DIY heat treatment. Though it may be expensive, you get what you pay for. It’s worth it for the peace of mind that it brings. And most companies offer a guarantee, so if the bugs come back, you won’t have to pay again.