in ,

Does Bleach Kill Bed Bugs?

You just found a bed bug crawling across your mattress. You shrugged off the initial feeling of revulsion and managed to capture the tiny bug. Now what? You’re probably searching whatever household items you have and you’re wondering does bleach kill bed bugs?

Yes, trapping a bed bug in bleach will kill a bed bug. However, bleach is not the perfect solution and not something you want to use repeatedly if you have a bed bug infestation.

bed bug

If you have found a single bed bug, chances are your house is crawling with them! Let’s talk about how bleach kills bed bugs and what better options there are for you to use. 

Does Bleach Kill Bed Bugs?

Technically speaking, yes – bleach can kill a single bed bug. Bleach is an extremely caustic chemical that can eat away at the insect’s shell and cause them to essentially suffocate. If you put a single bed bug in a small container and pour some bleach on it, it will certainly die. But, in order for bleach to be an effective bed bug remedy, you would have to catch bed bugs individually and dip them into your bleach solution.

Theoretically, you could also soak all of your furniture, carpet, and linens in bleach… This is not recommended.

Bleach will discolor everything it touches, and it will emit a harsh chemical odor as it evaporates. Plus, if you miss even a single area, the bed bugs can retreat to that area until the bleach has evaporated.

Bleach vapors can harm your lungs and respiratory tract, so it is definitely not advised to use bleach as an effective bed bug remedy. 

About the only effective use of bleach on bed bugs is using it regularly on white clothes and sheets while washing them in a very hot wash cycle. That being said, hot water or steam alone will kill bed bugs without the need for additional chemicals.

Does Bleach Repel Bed Bugs?

There are no scientific studies on this topic, only some anecdotal evidence that it may work. However, these individual stories should be taken with a grain of salt because without a rigorous testing framework many different things could be responsible for the disappearance of bed bugs.

Bed bugs have an extremely sensitive sense of smell, as they can locate your sleeping quarters based on the smells they encounter. Bleach may mask this smell slightly, but the effect will be short-lived and the bugs will be back in no time. 

Bed bugs can live for weeks and months between feeding, so some temporary repellency isn’t very helpful.

Reasons to Not Use Bleach

Though bleach can technically kill bed bugs, there are many reasons NOT to use bleach as a solution to bed bugs:

  • Bleach is caustic – it can cause damage to your lungs if you breathe in large amounts of it (which you would need to kill an entire infestation).
  • Bleach discolors most dyed fabrics, essentially ruining everything from your favorite couch to your bedsheets.
  • Mattresses, couches, and other spongy furniture will essentially be destroyed if you soak them in bleach.

There are safer and smarter alternatives to using bleach to kill bed bugs that we can get into now.

Alternatives to Bleach for Killing Bed Bugs

Killing a single bed bug is not rocket science. In fact, there are many other common items in your house that will do the job just fine.

Stuff You Already Have

First, let’s check out some low tech options for irradicating bed bugs. You likely have these tools in your house already, and they will definitely work.

  • Plastic Bags – if you find an individual bed bug, simply throw it in a plastic bag. You can put this bag in a freezer for ~2-3 days to kill them, or simply zip it shut and throw it away. The bugs cannot eat through the plastic, so they will die of dehydration on their way to the dump.
  • Boil them – bed bugs are essentially tiny, land-dwelling crabs. Though they are far too small to eat, they can easily be boiled to death. Carpet steamers work well on the carpet, and can actually be retrofitted to treat your mattress. In fact, one of the best ways to treat an infested mattress is to wrap it in plastic and steam it to a temperature of over 118° F for about an hour.
  • Vacuum – bed bugs are very light and not that strong, meaning you can suck them up with a regular vacuum quite easily. Be sure to seal the contents you vacuum up into a plastic bag before disposal. The vacuum likely won’t kill the bed bugs, only trap them. So, make sure they are sealed in plastic and disposed of in the trash. A vacuum with a HEPA filter is best for bed bugs as it won’t throw allergens into the air and should safely catch all the bed bugs and eggs into a disposable bag.
  • Wash Your Fabrics – bed bugs cannot stand up to soap and hot water. Wash everything you can fit into your wash machine. Hit it with hot water, a long cycle, and plenty of soap. Surprisingly, this is one of the most important steps in eliminating an infestation.

Insecticide Options

Though vacuums and steamers work in many cases, when you’re dealing with a major infestation you’re going to need to use some pesticides to fully eradicate it. In that case, it is time to bring in the heavy artillery!

  • Insecticide Dust Options – Insecticide dust products like Diatomaceous Earth (DE) are made from tiny silica particles. These particles are rough and very sharp, piercing right through the exoskeleton of most insects. Over the course of a few days, this will dry the insects out and they will die. Simply buy some dust and a “duster” tool and spread the dust around your carpet and under the sheets on your mattress according to the directions. Vacuum before to capture a majority of the bed bugs, then vacuum again in a week or so to suck up all the dead bed bugs. Problem solved!
  • Pesticide Sprays – If all of the above methods have failed you, pesticide sprays for bed bugs are your next step. Pesticide sprays contain chemicals like permethrin, bifenthrin, or indoxacarb, all of which are powerful synthetic insecticides. These chemicals work by attacking the nervous system of insects and causing death in a matter of hours. Most of them are so potent that a single spray application will kill any insect that comes into contact with the area for weeks. The only problem you may have is that some bed bug populations are resistant to specific insecticides. If the first product you tried did not work, simply pick one with a different active ingredient and give it another go!

Do Not Use These Methods to Kill Bed Bugs

If you follow the above guidelines, clean thoroughly, wash all of your bedding and clothes, and are diligent in your application of dusts or insecticides, that should be more than enough to eliminate an infestation. However, you should definitely NOT use any of the following methods:

  • Flushing Bed Bugs – water does not kill bed bugs. You may think you have washed a bed bug away down a drain, but the bugs can hold their breath for hours and climb back out of a toilet or sink.
  • Placing Bugs Outdoors – while we appreciate your desire to live in harmony with nature, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. In other words, bed bugs will most certainly find their way back indoors because they have spent millions of years learning how to track you down. Their natural environment is your bedroom. So, this is a case where you either live with them biting you constantly or eliminate them completely – it’s your choice!
  • Vacuum Bag Only – the vacuum only works if you dispose of the waste properly. If you leave your vacuum sit after you are done, they are just going to crawl right back out of the machine and find their way back to your mattress. Be sure to seal your vacuumed waste into a plastic bag to ensure the bed bugs are trapped.
  • Wear a Hazmat Suit the Rest of Your Life – while this is technically possible if you reach this point you are essentially letting the bed bugs win. Take a break, then come up with a methodological and strict regimen for treating your house from top to bottom. Remember – they’re just insects and they are just irritating, not deadly. 

Written by Gabe Buckley

Gabe Buckley is a professional science writer with a Bachelor's of Science in Zoology and a Master's of Professional Natural Sciences from Colorado State University.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *