As the winter grows colder across the country, we have been getting more and more customers and callers asking if they could leave their infested items (like clothing and furniture) out in the cold weather to kill bed bugs hiding in them. The theory behind this idea is that bed bugs won’t be able to survive a certain temperature level and will die off, without the need to use sprays or a heat treatment.
While this may be an attractive idea due to the cold months that are upon us this time of year, we do not recommend or endorse this method of treatment. There are a couple of reasons why we don’t think that freezing bed bugs is the right way to go:
According to findings by the Entomological Society of America, bed bugs are less susceptible to death by freezing than was previously believed. A recently published study revealed that bed bugs need to be exposed to temperatures at or below 0° Fahrenheit (-18° Celsius) for at least 80 hours (~3.5 days). The study also found that bed bugs can survive short-term temperatures as low as -13° F (-25° C).
These figures make a tall order out of our outdoor freezing attempts due to the natural fluctuation of outdoor temperatures. Most of the United States doesn’t regularly drop to 0° F, even during winter nights. Even if you live in a region that hits 0°, the temperature is going to rise during the day. 80 straight hours of sub-zero has very rarely happened anywhere in the country (and never happens in most of the inhabited world, for that matter).
To make matters worse, the bed bugs hiding in your stuff may not even reach that lethal sub-zero temperature themselves. Just because the air outside is below 0° doesn’t necessarily mean that your belongings will get that cold. Natural insulation is provided by most construction materials, like wood, plastic, and upholstery.
When threatened with dropping temperatures, bed bugs will instinctively hide in the warmest spot available to them; in this case, that’s probably the deepest part of your infested item that they can reach. They’ll then enter a hibernative state, making it very likely that they’ll survive even the harshest winter nights.
So while killing bed bugs with outdoor temperatures is pretty much out of the question, is it possible to kill them with a home freezer instead? Theoretically, yes; many residential freezers are capable of temperatures below 0° F. However, killing bed bugs this way might be a bit impractical. Since freezer temperatures fluctuate throughout the day due to alternating defrost cycles, it’s possible that the bed bugs could survive even after 80 hours. Even if you did manage to kill them in a couple of days, you would be sacrificing a lot of freezer space in the process; I don’t know about you, but most family freezers I’ve seen are pretty full without taking on bed bugs on the side.
If freezing bed bugs is such a lame idea, what are we recommending you do instead? That’s definitely an easier question to answer: use a portable bed bug heater. A ZappBug Heater, ZappBug Oven, or PackTite Portable can safely kill bed bugs hiding in your shoes, clothes, furniture, and more by heating them up to 120° F over the course of just a few hours. Instead of spending days hoping that you kill the bugs, you could know that they’re dead in less than one day. Plus, a bed bug heater is effective all year long, no matter where you live. That makes much more sense to me.