A couple of weeks ago, we discussed how salt can be used to kill bed bugs. The conclusion we ended up with was pretty simple: it can’t. Despite being recommended fairly often as a natural alternative to conventional bed bug treatments, there is no scientific evidence that salt can kill bed bugs.
Salt is just one of many household items that are suggested online as a cheap and easy way to treat bed bugs. We get calls all the time from people asking about essential oils, borax, vinegar, and other items that they suspect might be useful in a bed bug treatment. One of the items that comes up fairly often is baking soda. With that in mind, let’s explore the idea: can baking soda kill bed bugs?
There are a couple of reasons that people suggest baking soda as a way to kill bed bugs. Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda or baking powder, is a fine white powder that is commonly used throughout the home. Baking soda is used in cooking, disinfecting, cleaning, personal hygiene, and even some practical medicine.
Probably the most common argument for baking soda as a bed bug killer is its natural absorbing ability, which is what allows baking soda to suck up musty smells from refrigerators and old books. Since bed bugs rely on the waxy layer of their shell to stay hydrated, the theory is that baking soda can absorb those surface fluids and cause the bugs to dehydrate. This is similar to how diatomaceous earth is used against bed bugs.
Another theory is that baking soda is simply so abrasive that it can cut open bed bug shells, primarily on their relatively softer underbellies. Once open wounds are created, any bed bug would be highly susceptible to internal bleeding, infection, or dehydration.
Finally, some believe that baking soda will work on bed bugs in a similar way to how it is believed to work on roaches. There is a lot of discussion online that when cockroaches consume baking powder, a chemical reaction causes rapid gas buildup, causing their internal organs to burst.
(Since I mentioned three distinct theories, I’ll have to address each one separately.)
The first theory we discussed was that baking soda would absorb the fluid from a bed bug’s waxy shell when it comes in contact with the bug. The problem with this idea is that baking soda doesn’t absorb fluids much, if at all. Baking soda actually breaks down in bodies of water very easily, so its ability to absorb thick, viscous fluids like the wax on a bed bug’s shell is questionable. The absorption properties of baking soda are limited to odors and certain acidic chemicals.
The second theory mentioned above is that baking soda will cut into bed bug shells and cause damage beneath the skin, like piercing or slicing them with a blade. Comparisons are often made with diatomaceous earth, which is similarly abrasive and is capable of cutting into a bed bug’s shell as well. The discussion of abrasive powder cutting into a bed bug is a bit exaggerated – diatomaceous earth cuts into a bed bug’s shell, yes, but not by very much. It mostly just sticks itself in far enough to stay on the bed bug while it moves around. No fine powder will pierce a bed bug enough to cause it any real injury.
The final theory we’ll discuss, and possibly the most absurd, is that bed bugs would ingest baking soda and suffer organ failure the same way that roaches are supposed to. However, there are two big issues with this theory. First, bed bugs don’t eat dry items in their environment like roaches do. They don’t even have mouths capable of opening enough to ingest solid crystals like baking soda. Second, I can’t seem to find any scientific studies or other evidence that baking soda causes a chemical reaction in roaches to begin with. This may just be a myth compounded from one inaccurate target to the next.
The cold hard truth
The outcome for this hypothesis is looking pretty grim. There are no professional tests or other scientific evidence to indicate that baking soda can kill bed bugs. None of the theories we discussed pan out in any positive way. It’s pretty safe to assume that you shouldn’t be using baking soda in your bed bug treatments.
We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: there is no silver bullet for bed bugs. Even if baking soda had some effect on bed bugs, it still wouldn’t be an effective treatment solution all by itself. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to treat — they can hide almost anywhere in your room, they reproduce quickly, and it’s tough to tell where they came from or how many of them are nearby. This makes it necessary to use a combination of products and treatment methods in a holistic process, like our proven 4-step solution.
This whole desire to use household items to treat bed bugs is a pain point for us at Bed Bug Supply. It’s not that we don’t want you to save money by using low-cost items, or by using stuff you already have around the house. The problem is that we never hear about these treatments working. People spend valuable time and money trying to cut corners, and they end up calling us with their tails between their legs. If they had skipped the baking soda or eucalyptus oil treatment, they could have called us weeks earlier and started a proper treatment that much sooner.
When you have bed bugs, time is a huge factor in dealing with the problem. The longer you wait to start an effective treatment process, the more time the bugs have to feed, reproduce, spread, and drive you crazy. A small infestation can turn into a big one in just a couple of weeks. This means that wasting time with inefficient treatments like baking soda, salt, or whatever else is recommended without proof is a lot more harmful than you might think. If you want to get rid of bed bugs, do yourself a favor: leave the baking soda in the cupboard and give us a call instead.