Does cold kill bed bugs? You may already know that extreme heat certainly does. And now you want to know – does extreme cold have the same effect on bed bugs?
We humans have our flaws. But one thing we are indisputably good at is killing.
Okay, so that may not sound like a positive trait. But when was the last time you had to worry about letting the kids outside for fear of sabertooth tigers or cave bears?
That’s what I thought. Sometimes, we can use our destructive powers for good.
It’s in our natures to kill the creatures that bother us. And bed bugs are high on that list. Unfortunately, unlike the predators previously mentioned, bed bugs are still very much with us. And it’s not like we haven’t been trying to wipe them out.
Applying an insecticide is the obvious way to kill bugs, including bed bugs. But you don’t want to be like everyone else, do you? Besides, pesticides can have negative impacts both on human health and on the environment.
And perhaps worst of all, the more frequently we use insecticide against bed bugs, the higher the chances that they will become resistant to it. There has to be another way.
Does Cold Kill Bed Bugs?
It’s well-known that bed bugs are susceptible to extreme temperatures. High heat kills bed bugs and their eggs quickly and effectively.
But what about the cold? After all, bed bugs are essentially tropical bugs that prefer temperatures in the same ranges that humans like, if not a little warmer.
Cold does kill bed bugs. But nothing about these pesky insects is ever easy. Bed bugs can resist cold temperatures to a point, and they are even able to lower the freezing point of their bodily fluids to stay alive when they need to.
A study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology found that bed bugs can survive temperatures as low as -12°C, or 10°F, for over one week.
And just as with heat, the higher the temperature, the longer the exposure required to kill bed bugs. For example, bed bugs freeze at -16 Celsius, or 3.2°F, after 80 hours of exposure. That’s a long time.
Does Winter Kill Bed Bugs?
We’ve established that freezing isn’t fast. But it does have certain advantages in terms of killing bed bugs.
For instance, it doesn’t require the use of chemicals. And while heat is also a great way to kill bed bugs, not everything in your home will survive a heat treatment. So freezing may have its place, depending on your circumstances.
If you live in a cold part of the world, it’s tempting to let mother nature do the work for you.
If you happen to have a bed bug infestation during the winter, you may have noticed that the mercury often dips below the temperatures needed to kill bed bugs outside. So couldn’t you just place your belongings outside and let the bugs freeze?
Maybe. But remember that bed bugs, while not exactly smart, aren’t completely stupid either.
As the temperature drops, bed bugs will slow down, but they will try to escape the cold anyway they can. And it’s impossible to get accurate readings of outdoor temperature.
Even if it’s, say, -20 Fahrenheit outside – Alaskans, I see you – that doesn’t mean the bed bugs won’t be able to find somewhere just that little bit warmer.
These bugs have an impressive ability to find the warmest spot to hide in and then go dormant while they wait for the temperature to pick up. And as we all know, weather can change at the drop of a hat.
The odds of bed bugs surviving outdoors in the depths of the far northern winter are pretty remote. But you’re still taking a lot of chances if you’re relying on this to kill them.
The Art of Freezing Bed Bugs
What about the rest of us, who don’t live close to the Arctic Circle? Or those who do, but have to deal with bed bugs during the summer? Well, the good news is that most home freezers are capable of killing bed bugs. It just takes a little time.
A standard home freezer maintains its temperature around 0°F, or -17 Celsius. You’ll notice that that’s very close to the temperature quoted in the study mentioned above.
Definitely cold enough to kill bed bugs, but definitely not cold enough to do it instantly. Anything put in your freezer to kill bed bugs will need to stay there for a minimum of 80 hours, which is more than three full days.
Still, the freezer can be a good treatment option for shoes, stuffed toys, and items of clothing that you’re not comfortable running through a dryer on a hot cycle for a quicker kill.
If you have the freezer space, wrap anything that you want to freeze in plastic. This will not only keep the bed bugs from trying to run away from the cold, but will also prevent frost damage to the items that you’re treating.
Leave the items in the freezer for as long as you can, and try to disturb them as little as possible. Every time you open that freezer door, you’re causing temperature fluctuations that make the interior warmer.
Leave them in there for four days to be on the safe side, and trust the cold to do its job.
There is no practical way to freeze an entire house to kill bed bugs inside. But freezing has its place alongside other treatment methods.
It’s an excellent way to treat those items that can’t be heated, and anything that helps to kill bed bugs can’t be bad. Just make sure you take your time and do it right.