What Kills Bed Bugs: Finding the Right Weapon for an Infestation

Individuals facing bed bugs may find themselves wondering what kills these pests. While bed bugs can die due to starvation, chemical applications, and extremes in temperature, only some of the these methods are reliable for treating an actual infestation, and all of them should be done by a professional exterminator.


One of the more natural methods of killing bed bugs is to remove their food source and allow them to starve. Most bed bugs will die of dehydration after about 70 days without access to blood. Unfortunately, while starving bed bugs seems easy, it is not a workable treatment option. In addition to the length of time a bed bug can survive under starvation conditions, these pests are also capable of finding non-human blood sources within the home. In fact, a single hardy survivor can begin the infestation again.

Chemical Treatment

There are four types of chemicals that professional pest management operators use in the fight against bed bug infestations: natural pyrethrins, synthetic pyrethrins, inorganic materials, and insect growth regulators. Natural pyrethrins are oil based and derived from chrysanthemums. These insecticides are the first line of defense but will not stop an entire infestation. Synthetic pyrethrins are water based and safer for furniture. However, some bed bug populations are developing resistance to them. Inorganic materials, such as diatomaceous earth, silica, and boric acid, get under the exoskeleton and puncture the bug’s body to cause death. Insect growth regulators prevent bed bugs from laying viable eggs, thus limiting the bed bug life cycle. In practical terms, a pest management professional will use a combination of chemicals sprayed in cracks and crevices and to released in aerosol form in a living area over a period of several hours combined with applications of dust inside walls. This process is expensive and will be repeated several times over 6-8 weeks.

Cold Treatment

Freezing temperatures can also kill bed bugs, although they may survive for a few hours. Bed bug eggs, however, are quite hardy, and may survive 30 to 60 days of freezing temperatures. Cold treatment is less than ideal in many situations because, while the ambient temperature may reach freezing levels, the temperature of the interiors of the walls and furniture where bed bugs congregate may be higher. Some pest management professionals do offer spot freezing to kill individual bed bugs or groups of bed bugs, but this service offers no residual protection against bed bugs that are not obviously visible. Like starvation, cold treatment can certainly kill bed bugs, but it is not a reasonable treatment option for an infestation.

Heat Treatment

Bed bugs will succumb to extreme heat. In fact, heating a home to between 140 and 160 degrees is an effective way to end an infestation. As with cold treatment, it is important that the core temperature reach this high level of heat. Individuals seeking to treat an infestation with heat will use standard clothes dryers, hair dryers, steamers, portable heat chambers, and the services of a heat treatment professional, who can raise the temperature of the dwelling to within the optimal range and maintain it there for about four hours.

When evaluating what kills bed bugs, it is important to consider not only the possible methods of killing these opportunistic pests but also how reasonable and effective each method is for treating a specific infestation. It is always a good idea to consult a pest management professional to decide the best treatment choice for the situation.

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