Bed bugs are probably the last thing you want in or near your home. These nocturnal bloodsuckers keep themselves hidden in nooks and crannies in your home, then emerge at night like six-legged vampires to feed on human blood.
Their bites are itchy, red, welts that can easily become infected if you scratch them too much. Plus, a bed bug infestation can feel like a major invasion of privacy – it’s frightening to imagine insects living in your home and attacking you at night.
Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to control. Pesticides can’t always get into every little crevice they hide in. Worse still, they are constantly laying more eggs, so any bed bugs you kill will be replaced in no time if you don’t kill every last one. There is one way to kill bed bugs that works every time (if done properly) and doesn’t use any chemicals or pesticides: heat treatment.
There are a few different options for heat treatment depending on what your needs are, so we’re here to walk you through these options and help you make the best choice for any bed bug situation.
1. Whole House Heat Treatment for Bed Bugs
As you can probably tell by the name, this is when you treat the entire house for bed bugs. If you’re lucky enough to catch an infestation in the very early phases, this can be avoided.
That being said, bed bug infestations spread very fast. There’s a chance that by the time you notice a bed bug problem, they’ve already established a serious population.
How Does Bed Bug Heat Treatment Work?
Your pest control professionals will have mobile heating units that they bring with them to heat your home. These may run off electricity or propane tanks. They will move fans and blowers around the house to make sure the heat is being distributed uniformly.
The principles of whole house heat treatment are pretty straightforward. During the process, your home is heated to about 140 °F, well above the lethal temperature for bed bugs (125 °F). This temperature needs to be sustained for three to six hours.
While it’s possible to rent equipment and do whole-house heat treatment as a DIY project, this isn’t recommended. There is a lot that can go wrong. Professionals have the expertise and equipment to make sure that every part of the house is heated to the lethal temperature. If you do it yourself, you run the risk of missing pockets of the house. Even one cold area in the house can render the whole heat treatment useless in the long run.
In some cases, some pesticide use may be recommended by your exterminator along with heat treatment. But for the most part, heat treatments are successful on their own.
Benefits of Whole House Heat Treatment
It’s Extremely Effective
If done correctly, a whole house heat treatment is guaranteed to kill every bed bug and every egg in your home. Heat is that powerful. This is a major benefit since a lot of people get trapped in a vicious cycle of pesticides and reinfestation with bed bugs.
You Can Keep All Items in Your Home
A lot of pesticide-heavy treatments require you to remove certain items from your home like food, kitchenware, and toys. Since there are no pesticides in heat treatment, you can treat these items along with everything else.
Even electronics are fair game to be heated! Your pest control specialist may recommend you wash and dry certain items ahead of time and put them in plastic bags, or rearrange items that are densely packed to let heat flow better, but that’s certainly less hassle than having to remove them from your home.
Safe and Nontoxic
There is no risk whatsoever of pesticide residue if using heat treatment alone. This is especially comforting if you have very young children or pets in your home since they tend to put their mouths on random things they find.
Drawbacks of Whole House Heat Treatment
It is Very Expensive
A whole-house heat treatment takes a lot of time and power, and that all costs money. It can cost thousands of dollars to treat a home, depending on size and the level of infestation. Some estimates go as high as $1000 per room.
It Requires Near Perfect Execution
Heat treatment only really works if all parts of the home are treated at once. So for really large homes, this gets much more difficult and expensive. For especially large spaces (like hotels), it may not be possible at all.
If the heat treatment professionals miss an area of the home, then it may all have been for nothing. They only have one chance to kill the bed bugs and that’s during the heat treatment.
When spraying pesticides, you don’t have to be perfect because bed bugs move around and odds are you can easily cover enough of their territory so that they will come into the pesticide and eventually die.
2. Heat Treatment Hot Boxes for Bed Bugs
- Effective against bed bugs in all life stages, including eggs, nymphs, and adults.
- Heat-only bed bug solution.
- Easy to use: One person set-up, load with items, and press on. Tent folds flat for storage.
Hot Boxes work the same way as home heat treatment – by heating the interior of the box up to and above the lethal temperature for bed bugs. The difference is the size of the area being treated. Hot boxes are best for items like luggage, bedding, and clothing.
If bed bugs have spread to your entire home, a hot box will not do you much good. Any bed bugs left in the house will continue to multiply. However, hot boxes are a great supplemental treatment and are also good for preventing bed bugs, like using it on your luggage every time you travel.
3. Spot Treating with Steamers to Kill Bed Bugs
Steamers provide an option somewhere in between using a hot box and doing a whole home treatment. Steamers have nozzles that can be directed at different surfaces in your home, applying very hot, high-pressure steam. Unlike a hot box, a steamer can be used for home surfaces as well as objects. It isn’t nearly as expensive as a whole house treatment and it can be targeted to areas where bed bugs are likely to live like around your bed frame, mattress, and floorboards.
When picking a steamer, it’s important to get one with high heat and high steam pressure. Only bed bugs exposed to the hot steam will die. A low-pressure steamer will not be able to penetrate the deep crevices where they hide and lay eggs.
Steam treatment is easy to do yourself – just heat the steamer up and direct it at mattresses, carpet, clothing, furniture, and any other cracks and crevices you find. Protective clothing and eyewear is a good idea to prevent injury from the very hot steam. It’s also important to clean your home ahead of time to eliminate as many hiding places as possible.
Steaming is an effective and economical way to get rid of a mild bed bug infestations, and it can also be used to treat your car. That said, it’s not as effective as whole-house treatment, so severe infestations will still require the help of a pest control specialist.
One cheap way to monitor your bed bug infestation to make sure it’s not a bigger issue than you think is to install bed bug traps around your bed frame.
These traps can stop bed bugs from climbing your bed to bite you, and it gives you an idea if you still have bed bugs roaming around the room.
Bed Bug Heat Treatment FAQ’s
Are bed bugs dangerous? Do I have to treat them?
Luckily, bed bugs are not especially dangerous. They don’t spread diseases, and they can’t suck enough blood to harm you in the long term. However, you absolutely have to treat a bed bug infestation. In addition to being a nuisance, bed bugs spread rapidly, so not treating for bed bugs will make you very unpopular among your friends, family, and coworkers.
Will heat treatment kill other insects like cockroaches?
Yes. Most insects will die at the temperatures used to treat for bed bugs. It’s not a complete guarantee, and your pest control specialist is unlikely to promise you that every insect in the home will die. It’s a pretty safe bet that a lot of them will.
Will heat treatment damage objects in my home like electronics and books?
No. The only things that need to be removed from the home before a whole house heat treatment are people and pets. Everything else can stay safely. Whole house heat treatments use a dry heat that doesn’t pose any risk to your possessions. Though you will get instructions on how to arrange and organize objects in your home to make the treatment as effective as possible.
Just be careful with steamers. Steamers should not be used on electronics because this is a wet heat, and the moisture will damage electronics even if the heat does not.
Should I remove items from my home when heat treating?
In most cases, no. You actually want to leave as much in your house as possible if you are getting a whole house heat treatment, because anything that isn’t getting heat treated could lead to another infestation later. Leave as much as possible behind, and discuss what you need to take with you with your exterminator to be sure it’s free from bed bugs ahead of time.
Can I heat just one room to save money?
In some lucky cases, this may work. However, it’s a bad idea in general. Bed bugs are adaptable. If they feel heat in one part of the house, they’ll just go to another area or deeper into your walls. If the infestation is small and you make sure to seal off the room (including windows and gaps around doors), it might do the trick but is not recommended.
Can I use heat treatment for bed bugs during the winter?
Yes. Professional whole-house heat treatment includes insulation methods to keep the heat in the house, so it can be done in the winter. However, it can take a bit more work. You may have to preheat your home with the thermostat, and the treatment may take longer and take more energy. This could make it more expensive as well.