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Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs?

You find a random bed bug and need a way to kill it, fast! You probably only can think of a few household items that might do the trick… Does rubbing alcohol kill bed bugs?

If you are thinking of using rubbing alcohol to kill bed bugs, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common home ingredients that might do the trick. Rubbing alcohol is very much capable of killing an individual bed bug. However, it is definitely not a good tool for eliminating an entire bed bug infestation.

A bed bug in the hand likely means dozens (or even hundreds!) of bed bugs hidden around your house. While rubbing alcohol may kill whatever bed bug you found, you better check out the rest of this article for ways to treat your home.

Walgreens Isopropyl Alcohol 91% | Walgreens

Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs?

Yes! Rubbing alcohol kills all sorts of insects. Alcohols – both isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) and ethanol (drinking alcohol) – have a property that allows them to slip right through the insect exoskeleton, drowning the bug from the inside.

The exoskeleton can easily block water from entering an insect, but it cannot block alcohol. Thus, a bed bug placed in alcohol will quickly drown, while a bed bug placed in water can “hold its breath” and float for many hours. 

That being said, a bed bug infestation is not about eliminating single bugs – it is about killing all the bugs and their eggs for good. Since there is no reasonable way to apply rubbing alcohol to your entire house, it is definitely not a good choice in helping you eliminate an entire infestation.

Does Rubbing Alcohol Repel Bed Bugs?

Rubbing alcohol may have a minor repellent effect, simply because it has a strong odor. Bed bugs are extremely sensitive to smells.

However, the problem is that rubbing alcohol evaporates extremely quickly. So, even if you soaked your mattress in rubbing alcohol, the bed bugs would likely be back in only a few short days.

Plus, using this much rubbing alcohol would be extremely expensive and probably very dangerous – remember that rubbing alcohol is flammable. Using it in large amounts in poorly ventilated areas is a recipe for disaster. Inhaling all of those fumes wouldn’t be great either.

Reasons to Not Use Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is good for lots of things, but not for treating a bed bug infestation. Here are some specific reasons NOT to use rubbing alcohol:

  • Rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly – creating dangerous fumes, bad smells, and wearing off much quicker than it would take to kill a bed bug infestation.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol) can cause blindness if it gets into your eyes. 
  • Rubbing alcohol may be able to kill individual insects, but is useless against many insects hidden across your home
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Alternatives to Rubbing Alcohol for Killing Bed Bugs

If you found yourself trying to think of ways to douse your entire house in rubbing alcohol, you’re thinking about fighting bed bugs all wrong. The trick is population control, not instant death.

You can get a good start with some simple tools in your house, and you can finish off the job with some natural or synthetic insecticides!

Stuff You Already Have

Like rubbing alcohol, you likely have many of these tools in your house. You can use them to drastically reduce the population of bed bugs in your home:

  • Sealed Plastic Bags – Place any individual bed bugs you find into a sealable plastic bag (such as Ziploc, etc). You can seal the bags and throw them away, as bed bugs cannot chew through plastic. If you are worried about them escaping, you can place the bag in your freezer for 2-3 days which will ensure it’s dead, then discard.
  • Boil them – Bed bugs are arthropods, much like crabs, lobster, or crawfish. As such, they are just as sensitive to boiling water and high temperatures. You can boil any bed bugs you find to kill them quickly. If you have a steamer, this can be a great tool to kill bugs in your carpets or even the solo bed bug you find. You can even wrap your mattress in plastic and steam it. Just be sure to get the mattress to a temperature of over 118° F for over an hour and all the bugs will perish.
  • Vacuum – bed bugs are not particularly clever or tough. In most cases, they can be vacuumed out of the carpet and out of the seams of a mattress. Just be sure to seal anything you vacuum up into a secondary plastic bag to ensure they don’t escape. You can also use a special bed bug vacuum that has a HEPA filter and seals bugs in a bag which can be safely thrown out.
  • Wash Your Fabrics – soap and very hot water have an amazing ability to kill both adult bed bugs and the eggs they have laid on your clothes, sheets, and other washable items. Wash all your items with a standard amount of detergent on a high heat setting to eliminate them from these items.

Insecticide Options

Once you have done an initial cleaning of your house, the number of bites you get will be reduced drastically. Then, pick up one of these two options to finish off the remaining insects:

  • Insecticide Dust Options – Insecticide dusts like natural Diatomaceous Earth (DE) or synthetic CimeXa are great options because they are non-toxic to humans and pets. They are simply sharp little crystals that cut through the exoskeleton and slowly dehydrate any insects that get covered in them. In most cases, you can simply apply the dust around your house, in your carpets, and on your mattress. You may need to vacuum again about a week after application to gather up all the dead bed bug carcasses.
  • Pesticide Sprays – While most pesticide sprays are more toxic than insect dusts, they are still around for a good reason: they work. When you have all but given up on eliminating your bed bug problem, don’t forget about pesticide sprays. Some bed bug populations may be resistant to some active ingredients, but there are literally dozens of synthetic insecticides on the market. So, if the first product fails, simply buy another product that has a different active ingredient and give it another go. If you follow the instructions on the label, it is almost impossible that these sprays will fail you!
CimeXa Insecticide Dust
Active Ingredient: Silica Dust

CimeXa is a non-toxic insecticide dust that will kill any crawling insect that comes into contact with it.

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Do Not Use These Methods to Kill Bed Bugs

The above methods will definitely work to cure your bed bug infestation. However, there is a lot of misinformation online about how to kill bed bugs. Do not use these methods, as they do not work!

  • Flushing Bed Bugs – as we’ve mentioned, bed bugs can hold their breath for hours and float on water. Simply flushing them down a sink or toilet is not likely to work. They can grab onto the pipes and climb back out.
  • Placing Bugs Outdoors – bed bugs are not like a squirrel or bird that find their way into your house. They didn’t get there by accident. In fact, they were hunting you. Since they can survive for up to a year without a blood meal, you are simply giving them another shot at sneaking into your home (or the homes of your neighbors) if you place them outside.
  • Vacuum Bag Only – the vacuum method only works if you seal up all the bugs you vacuumed and dispose of them properly. If you leave your vacuum full of bed bugs and forget the final step of sealing them in plastic, they will certainly find their way out of the machine and be back in your bed in no time.
  • Stomping and Screaming – while this does seem like the most effective method at the time it is employed, scientific studies have shown it is almost useless at eliminating an entire infestation. Take a break, shower off, and sleep at a friend’s house if you have to. Develop a top-to-bottom strategy and get back at it in the morning when you have the energy. Don’t worry, your brain is a lot bigger than theirs – you’re bound to win if you put your mind to it!

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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.

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