They can live in beds, sofas and even the carpet. But can bed bugs live in your car?
Here in my car, Gary Numan famously sang, I feel safest of all. Easy for him to say. Bed bugs were almost unheard of during Gary’s 1979 heyday.
Following the second world war, bed bug populations went into a massive decline in developed nations, with the result that an entire generation grew up largely without ever encountering these vile beasts.
But just like measles and ostentatious facial hair, bed bugs are back.
So if you have a sweet ride and are worried about getting bed bugs in it or even worse – have already discovered a bed bug or two in your car, this is the article for you.
But as so often when it comes to bed bugs, there’s no quick and easy answer.
To get to the bottom of the question as to whether bed bugs can live in your car or not, we’re going to have to look a little closer at these not particularly photogenic insects.
Hold your nose, because here goes.
Can Bed Bugs Live in Your Car?
Yes, is the short and sweet answer. Bed bugs don’t need a lot in order to live a happy life; they’re kind of free-spirited that way.
They need warm, dark places to hide in, and rough surfaces such as fabric or wood to lay their eggs on.
They also need, or at least prefer, to be around other bed bugs. But if the bed bug in question is an adult female, she’ll soon produce lots more to keep her company.
Bed bugs also need a food source, and that means blood. Probably your blood.
Bed bugs are by and large strictly human pests. Sure, they’ll dine on a cat or dog or any other mammal that comes their way if it’s a question of survival. But it’s human blood that they most crave.
So yes, a car can provide everything a bed bug needs.
With that said, anyone who’s tried to live in a car will tell you it’s not an ideal situation. The same is true for bed bugs.
For one thing, cars tend to go through more extreme temperature fluctuations then you would find in the average house.
Bed bugs can tolerate a similar range of temperatures to humans, but very high temperatures start to kill them off. Very low temperatures will do the same, so cars that sit outdoors through a freezing winter pose a challenge to them.
Another thing about cars that makes them far from ideal bed bug habitat is the fact that most of us don’t sleep in our cars. We tend to be awake when behind the wheel.
Of course, bed bugs will happily bite someone who’s awake, but the risk of detection is far higher. So as a rule, if you have bed bugs in your car, you will find out about it quicker than you would if they were in your home.
How Do Bed Bugs Get in Cars?
Have you ever ridden a pig? Me neither. Nor a sheep, for that matter. And while there are plenty out there who will ride a bull, it’s still a minority of the population.
The point I’m trying to make is that for whatever reason, a lot of human societies have a kind of unspoken taboo against eating animals that they ride, and riding animals that they eat.
As in so many other things, in this respect, bed bugs are a little bit like us.
Sure, they rely on humans for the delicious blood that sustains them. But bed bugs don’t like to travel on people. That’s not to say it can’t happen, or has never happened, because it does and it has.
But humans themselves make a poor carrier for a bed bug that’s hankering to see the world.
When bed bugs do get into cars, it’s far more common that they’ve come in on a piece of luggage or furniture. These movable items make great homes for bed bugs. They’re sometimes even found in the corrugations of a cardboard box.
So if you’ve been to a place that you think might have bed bugs recently – a hospital, a nursing home, a friend’s house, a movie theater – it’s definitely possible that you’ve brought some hitchhikers into your vehicle.
And if you brought a load of clothes or some used furniture, chances are even higher.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs in Cars
Once you’ve established that you have bed bugs in your car, the next logical step is to wipe them out, of course.
The bad news here is that cars are a very challenging environment to perform a bed bug treatment.
This is because bed bugs love to hide in cracks and crevices, and cars, in general, are essentially giant collections of cracks and crevices on wheels.
There are so many places inside a vehicle that a bed bug could hide, and you would have a tough time reaching them. Add to that that there isn’t a ton of room to work inside a car, and you can see why it’s tough to get bed bugs out of the car.
But tough is not the same as impossible. There are some steps you can take to free your car of the bed bug menace. Try this…
Park Your Car
I mean, come on.
Clean and Vacuum Your Car
Remove all of those junk food wrappers and crumpled receipts. This is not the time for shortcuts. Chances are, you’ve been meaning to clean your car for a while anyway, so take this opportunity to do a thorough job.
Once you’ve removed everything that doesn’t need to be in there, take a powerful vacuum and start cleaning out the seats, the floor and every other part of the car that you can reach.
Inspect Your Car
Now that your car is nice and clean, it’s time to go bed bug hunting. The interior of most cars tends to be dark, so it’s a good idea to get yourself a powerful flashlight and even a magnifying glass.
Check everywhere, but focus especially on fabric surfaces, including the seams of the upholstered seats.
Check also any crevice where plastic is joined to fabric, since bed bugs love to wriggle their way into these tight spots. If you’re having trouble seeing, take some tape and press it down on the carpet, seats or anywhere else you’re trying to inspect, then lift it up.
Any bed bugs, eggs, shed skins or droppings will stick to the tape and allow you to see them when you peel it up again.
Steam Your Car
Successful bed bug treatment requires that you kill every single bug and every single egg. Miss one, and the whole cycle can begin again.
Pesticides designed to kill bed bugs are often of limited use in a car, since it is challenging to get them everywhere that a bug could be hiding.
Plus, then you have a car full of toxic chemicals to worry about. A better solution is to get your hands on a steam cleaner. Buy, rent, or borrow, but get the best quality steamer that you can.
Why? It’s because heat is one of the most effective – and non toxic – ways to get rid of bed bugs. Temperatures over 120°F will kill both bed bugs and their eggs on contact.
A good steamer will output far higher temperatures than this, and that’s a good thing. The higher the heat, the more penetration it will give you into the foam and fabric upholstery of your car, reaching adult bugs and eggs that you may not be able to see.
Our recommendation? Go for the McCulloch Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner.
This beast of a steamer heats water to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than enough to kill generations of bed bugs and comes with 18 accessories – one of which is a 9-foot steam hose perfect for hard to reach places – as well as an extra-long 15.7-foot power cord.
Take your time while steaming your vehicle. It can be tedious but take heart in the fact that you’re wiping out generations of freeloading bed bugs and go slow.
You can do a bed bug treatment quickly, and you can do a bed bug treatment well, but you can’t do both.
Get Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs
Once you’ve done all of the above, consider getting some diatomaceous earth and spreading it liberally throughout your car.
This naturally occurring dust is not harmful to humans, but it will kill any bed bug that tries to crawl across it. And if you don’t sleep in your car, the bed bugs are going to have to crawl towards you whenever you’re driving if they want to eat.
Think of it as springing a trap with yourself as the bait. Actually, don’t think of it like that. That’s terrifying.
Will a Bed Bug Spray for Cars Work?
Do the above steps for getting rid of bed bugs in cars seem too long? Want to opt for an easy shortcut and wondering if a simple bed bug spray can work?
Well, it depends on which one you get and how you use it.
Bed bugs are extremely good at playing hide and seek, and it’s very difficult to get chemicals to penetrate every crack and crevice in the car. So if you decide to spray, you must make sure to be very, very thorough.
Miss just one bug, and you may find yourself having to do the entire treatment again in a couple of weeks. That’s how good bed bugs are at reproducing.
So stop the chaos while you can and be thorough.
As for the kind of bed bug spray to use, you’ll want to go for one that kills both bed bugs and their eggs. Bonus points if it also provides residual protection – which simply means that it continues killing bed bugs and their spawn long after the initial application.
Can I Just Leave My Car in the Hot Sun?
Heat kills bed bugs. And we all know how hot the interior of a car can get on a sunny day. So if you think you can just leave your car under a hot sun and let nature take its course, you wouldn’t be the first.
It’s a logical idea. Unfortunately, it has flaws.
The thing is, while bed bugs aren’t exactly smart, they’re not stupid either. A car parked in the sun will gradually get hotter and hotter, and bed bugs will try to avoid the rising heat.
In short, they will head towards cooler areas of the car.
So to get an effective kill, you would need to raise the car’s internal temperature well over the 120°F kill temperature. That’s the temperature you would need the coldest part of the car to be, so the hottest parts would be EXTREMELY hot.
As an aside, getting a car this hot can sometimes release volatile chemicals from the plastic and glue in the car’s interior, which can cause more problems.
It’s not impossible that parking your car in the sun could get rid of your bed bug problem. But it’s not a good idea to rely on it.
What About Freezing My Car?
A similar thing applies to coldness. 0°F kills bed bugs, but it can take days to do so.
While there are plenty of places that get that cold or even colder, it’s hard to keep the temperature that low consistently for a minimum of four days.
Especially since your car will develop its own microclimate.
Bed bugs tucked in to some upholstery can stay warm with their own body heat, and even if it’s cold outside, if the sun shines in through the windows it will help to warm the car up above the point of bed bug death.
Even in the depths of winter, the weather is generally too unreliable to be that great an ally in the war against bed bugs.
What About a Fogger or Car Fumigation?
Slow down there, partner. You’re talking about two different things.
A lot of products marketed as bed bug foggers or bed bug bombs are still contact insecticides. While they give the impression that they will poison the air the bed bugs breathe and reach them that way, that’s often not the case.
The fog they release still needs to reach the bed bugs in order to kill them. And if the bugs are hidden deep in the upholstery of your car, that may not be possible.
Fumigation is different. Fumigation uses actual airborne pesticides to kill anything that breathes.
In that case, a fumigation done properly has a very good chance of killing bed bugs in your car.
But fumigation is not something for an amateur to undertake by themselves. Most fumigants are extremely dangerous to all life, including humans.
Fumigating your car is something that should only be conducted by a trained and qualified professional. Ideally one with a ton of insurance.
What Else Can I Do to Kill Bed Bugs in Cars?
Look, I get it. Bed bugs have a fantastic ability to wreak havoc on even the most stable person’s mental health.
If you have bed bugs in your car, and you’ve tried the vacuum, steam and diatomaceous earth method without success, you may be looking for more dramatic solutions.
Okay, let’s explore a couple…
An experienced professional has probably forgotten more about bed bugs than you would ever want to know.
There’s a very good chance that a pro can clear your car of bed bugs when you can’t by yourself. But not all professionals are equal.
When hiring a company, check online reviews and ask for the recommendations of family and friends to ensure that you hire someone who knows what they’re doing.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of any company you choose to hire. Have they treated cars before? What’s the success rate? What kind of guarantee do they offer that they can solve your problem? Any reputable company will have no problem setting your mind at ease.
But be warned: professional pest control treatment can be costly.
Get a New Car
But maybe money is no object you. Maybe you’re the type of insane billionaire who buys a new house because he doesn’t like the paint on the walls of his bedroom.
Abandoning a car because it has bed bugs is insane to most of us, but maybe you’re not most of us. In that case, getting a new car could solve the problem.
But make sure you don’t bring anything, and I mean ANYTHING, from your old car, since it could carry bugs with it. That includes the clothes you wear to drive.
After all, if you’re the type of person who buys a new car to get rid of bed bugs, you can probably afford a new outfit too.
Abandon Your Car for Two Years
Like any animal, bed bugs need to feed. They have an amazing ability to survive without food, but it has its limits.
Most studies have found that bed bugs can survive for up to a year without a meal, although one study managed to keep a single bed bug alive for 18 months without eating.
So if you’re ready to park your car and leave it alone for two years to be on the safe side, you’ll probably free yourself of your bed bug problem.
But if you can leave your car without using it for two years, you probably don’t need a car in the first place.
Last Note on Bed Bugs and Cars…
As you will no doubt have gathered if you’ve read this far, having bed bugs in your car is a nightmare.
So how do you avoid having to deal with this situation? As with any pest control, prevention is key.
Be very wary of secondhand furniture, and never take any items from a place you know to have a bed bug problem.
If you do find evidence of bed bugs in your car, steam and diatomaceous earth are your best friends to get rid of them. But failing that, you may need to call a professional. Not feeling so safe now, are you, Gary Numan?