Pretty much no one will be surprised to hear that bed bugs are a complete nightmare. Luckily, there are lots of ways to kill them.
Pesticide applications. Diatomaceous earth. Isopropyl alcohol. Let’s be honest; whacking a bed bug with a shoe will kill it.
What makes bed bugs so hard to get rid of is not the difficulty of killing one individual bug, but of killing all the bed bugs faster than they can breed. And that requires an approach that goes far beyond targeting each bed bug at a time.
Luckily, like many animals, bed bugs are vulnerable to extremes of temperature. Both very high and very low temperatures will kill both adult bed bugs and those pesky eggs.
So how can you use temperature to kill bed bugs? Well, let’s see.
What Temperature Kills Bed Bugs When It’s Cold?
Like most humans, bed bugs like it warm. However, they lack the ability to book a Caribbean vacation once the temperature gets too low. You can use this to your advantage by freezing bed bugs to death.
It’s possible to flash freeze bed bugs at a temperature so low that it kills them and their eggs instantly, but you’re probably not going to be able to do it at home.
You would need to apply temperatures in the region of -60°F, which is well below the reach of any freezer you might have at home. That doesn’t mean that you can’t kill bed bugs in your home freezer though. You just need to take your time.
At 0°F, the temperature most home freezers are kept at, bed bugs will die in around four days. So if you have small items that you want to treat and you can’t think of any other way to do it, putting them in the freezer can rid them of bed bugs. You just need to be patient.
And make sure you wrap anything you put into the freezer in a plastic bag. This will keep bed bugs from trying to escape and will prevent any frost in the freezer from damaging your items.
If it’s cold outside, you might be tempted to put your possessions out and let nature do the work for you. But this is only an option in very cold areas, and even then, it’s not completely reliable.
The air temperature doesn’t necessarily reflect the temperature in the warmest crevice a bed bug can hide in. And that’s exactly what the bugs will do when exposed to cold; they’ll run and hide in the warmest spot they can find.
Once a sufficient number of bed bugs do this, the body heat they generate might be enough to keep them alive until the weather changes. And since outdoor weather is so changeable, it’s not the best way to treat for bed bugs.
What Temperature Do Bed Bugs Die When It’s Hot?
Just as they do at cold temperatures, bed bugs die on the other end of the scale, too. 120°F is enough to kill bed bugs and their eggs, but not instantly. At these temperatures, it could take up to 90 minutes, and most bed bugs are not going to stay still when subjected to that kind of heat.
Faced with this knowledge, you have two options. Either increase the heat or increase the exposure time.
Here’s a few ways you can heat bed bugs to their deaths.
Steamers for bed bugs
One way to increase the heat without burning your house down is by using steam. Temperatures of 160°F will kill bed bugs instantly, and any of one of the best steamers for bed bugs should be putting out temperatures higher than that.
Steam is a very effective way to kill both bed bugs and their eggs, and it doesn’t require any chemicals. What it does require is patience. You will need to slowly and methodically steam anywhere that bed bugs might be hiding, which is a lot of places in the average home.
Don’t rush through it; if you miss only one adult female bed bug, she could restart the entire infestation by herself.
Bed bug heaters
If steam sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But another way to use heat to treat bed bugs is with more prolonged exposure to lower temperatures. One way to do this is through the use of bed bug heaters.
These bed bug heaters come in a variety of sizes, from suitcase-sized to large enough to hold sofas and mattresses. You load the heat chamber up with the items you want to treat and turn on the heater.
The heat chamber seals, making sure that the bed bugs can’t escape. Then the heat slowly roasts them over a matter of hours, making sure that all bugs and eggs are killed. It may not be fast, but it is effective.
Professional heat treatment
Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world, where everything has its flaws. Bed bug heaters work great at ridding clothes and furniture of bed bugs, but those aren’t the only places that bed bugs can hide.
They can also hide in baseboards, underneath carpet, around door frames, behind electrical outlets and almost anywhere else there’s a small crevice for them to wiggle their way into.
A heat chamber won’t solve this problem. Instead, many people hire professional pest control companies to bring in heaters and fans and raise the temperature of the entire house above 120°F.
Because bed bugs are mobile and will flee the rising temperatures, every part of the house needs to hit this temperature in order to ensure that all the bed bugs are killed.
Is it effective? Of course, if done properly. Is it affordable? Not exactly. Full-scale bed bug heat treatments by professionals can cost thousands of dollars.
The best approach to treating bed bug infestation is with a combination of different methods. Heat chambers can effectively treat your furniture, while clothes can be run through the dryer. Steam can be used on baseboards and other areas that the heat chamber can’t reach.
And small items that you can’t place in the dryer or steam without damaging them can be frozen.
A bed bug’s susceptibility to extremes of temperature is one of their major weaknesses. Used correctly, both heat and cold can be highly effective weapons at ridding the house of bed bugs.