Easy Sustainability Answers

What are bedbugs? Is there a good way to kill them without using harsh chemicals?

Adriene Hill Aug 19, 2010

Easy Answer: Bedbugs are vampires of the insect world. They feed on human blood. And there are ways to kill them without pesticides–but it might be tough to eliminate the infestation. You might also want to call in the professionals.

Bedbugs seem to be everywhere these days. A movie theater in Times Square New York City had bedbugs. Bedbugs have also been found in some stores in the city. Even the well-coiffed women of Elle magazine have been sent home because of bed bugs. Aggh. Gross. The bedbug problem is bad enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Environmental Protection Agency released a statement on bedbug control.

For more, listen to Friday’s story on bedbugs here.

For some creepy-crawly bedbug facts (that will probably make you squirm) check out this National Geographic video.

The EPA recommends these non-chemical methods of killing bedbugs:

  • Wash and dry bedding and clothing at high temperatures to kill bed bugs.

  • Heat infested articles and/or areas through to at least 113 ºF (45 ºC) for 1 hour. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time needed to kill bed bugs at all life stages.

  • Cold treatments (below 0 ºF (-19 ºC) for at least 4 days) can eliminate some infestations. Again, the cooler the temperature, the less time needed to kill bed bugs.

  • Use mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements to trap bed bugs and help detect infestations.

But, the agency also says it’s probably not something you want to tackle on your own: “getting a pest management professional involved as soon as possible rather than taking time to try to treat the problem yourself is very effective at preventing further infestations.”

New York City also recommends talking with any pest treatment service you hire about choosing the least toxic pesticide and using it only in limited locations. You shouldn’t, for example, spray pesticide on the top of mattresses or sofas.

Other pesticide warnings from the EPA:

  • Never use a pesticide indoors that is intended for outdoor use. It is very dangerous and won’t solve your bed bug problem.

  • Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bed bugs can make you sick, may not solve the problem, and could even make it worse by causing the bed bugs to hide where the pesticide won’t reach them.

  • Check if the product is effective against bedbugs — if a pest isn’t listed on the product label, the pesticide has not been tested on that pest and it may not be effective. Don’t use a product or allow a pest control operator to treat your home unless bed bugs are named on the product label.

  • Before using any pesticide product, READ THE LABEL FIRST, then follow the directions for use.

  • Keep in mind that any pesticide product without an EPA registration number has not been reviewed by EPA, so we haven’t determined how well the product works.

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