Photo credit: Jrim (Flickr)
Bug bombs, also known as foggers, have been a common way to wipe out large bug infestations for a long time. These are used, both by homeowners and pest control professionals, to fill an area with a powerful insecticide, killing off ants and roaches in a single sweep.
However, these bombs have been found to be largely ineffective against bed bugs. Ohio State University’s Department of Entomology tested the effectiveness of major bug bomb brands, and found that the bombs had little to no effect on all strands of bed bugs they tested on. But why didn’t they work?
When bed bugs were nearly eradicated in the US in the 40s and 50s, the main pesticide used to do the job at the time was called DDT. After DDT was banned by the EPA in 1972, newly developed synthetic pyrethroids took over as the bed bug killer of choice. However, bed bugs quickly grew resistant to the pyrethroids; by 2010, nearly every common strand of bed bug was resistant. Only some professional-strength pyrethroid compounds still have a meaningful effect on bed bugs.
Nearly every major bug bomb on the market today relies on a synthetic pyrethroid as their active ingredient. Since bed bugs have grown resistant to most of these synthetic compounds, foggers that use them won’t work well. Even if the gas kills some of the bed bugs, it won’t matter – the population will likely recover in a matter of days or weeks.
Bug bombs work by filling an open space with its insecticide gas, killing insects that inhale it. This is very effective for bugs that are mostly roaming open terrain that the gas can reach.
However, bed bugs are much less often found in open space. They prefer to hide in cracks and crevices in your mattress, walls, floorboards, and furniture. A gas that isn’t directly injected into these areas is unlikely to penetrate effectively, meaning your bed bugs might be out of the chemicals’ range. Even if they aren’t resistant to the poison, they might not even be exposed to it until long after it dissipates.
What Will Work?
I’m not one to leave you with nothing but bad news. While bug bombs probably won’t rid you of your bed bug woes, there are effective alternatives for you to consider. Heat treatments work very well on bed bugs, so try running your clothes and bedding through the dryer on high heat, and vacuuming and steaming over spaces that they might be hiding. You should also encase your mattress and box spring with certified bed bug-proof covers, elevate your bed with bed bug traps, and use contact and residual sprays and powders that are labeled for use on bed bugs.