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Does Vinegar Kill Bed Bugs?

You just found a bed bug, and you rummage around your kitchen to find a bottle of vinegar. You may read some websites that promise vinegar is a cure-all to bed bugs.

Does vinegar actually kill bed bugs, though?

A single, well-fed bed bug can survive up to 1 year without biting anyone and can lay hundreds of eggs in that time. A single bite can become a nightmare in a relatively short time, so you better be sure you are killing the bugs you find – and the ones you haven’t found! 

Does Vinegar Kill Bed Bugs?

Trapping a bed bug in a container of vinegar will likely kill a single bed bug, but there are better methods we can get into.

Vinegar has been used for centuries in various non-scientific treatments for bed bugs, head lice, and even leeches. However, there is no scientific evidence that seems to suggest that vinegar is an effective method of killing bed bugs.

Some websites claim that vinegar not only kills individual bed bugs on contact but that spraying your home with vinegar can help repel bed bugs. These claims seem to be entirely from anecdotal evidence, as there are very few studies on the effects of vinegar on bed bugs. 

If you have a single bed bug and you put it into a container with pure vinegar, chances are it will die after a short time. The acid will help dissolve its exoskeleton, and it will quickly become dehydrated in the vinegar solution. However, there are much less messy methods of disposing of bed bugs.

Does Vinegar Repel Bed Bugs?

There are many “home remedy” sites that claim that vinegar is a bed bug repellent. There are two problems with this claim – it is not backed by science and everything you treat will reak of vinegar for weeks. You’re welcome to try it if you love the smell of vinegar.

If you want to get rid of your bed bug problem quickly and efficiently, there are many reasons why vinegar is not a great choice.

Reasons to Not Use Vinegar

Vinegar is claimed as a panacea for insect bites, infestations, and remedies – though these claims are almost never backed up by scientific evidence. Here are some great reasons NOT to use vinegar:

  • Vinegar stinks. Period. 
  • While a lot of vinegar in a concentrated container may be able to kill one bed bug, spraying vinegar on surfaces is not going to be effective at killing the entire infestation.
  • At best, if vinegar is a slight repellent, the bed bugs will simply avoid the area until the vinegar dries up – when they will return to feed on you.
  • Vinegar is an acid, so it can discolor or destroy certain fabrics. 

Alternatives to Vinegar for Killing Bed Bugs

You may not realize it, but your household is full of weapons to battle bed bugs. Below are a few items that you probably already have, and there are always options you can buy that will be delivered in a few short days.

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.

  • Sealable Plastic Bags – bed bugs can bite you, but their mouthparts are not tough enough to chew through a plastic bag. If you have a bag that zips shut, you have a bed bug death chamber. You can simply put any bed bugs you find in the bag and throw them away. If you want to get more serious, you can place the back in the freezer for 2-3 nights to be sure the bugs are dead.
  • Boil them – water boils at around 212° F. Bed bugs can only survive temperatures above 118° F for a few minutes. So, you can throw bed bugs into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes. If you have a steam cleaner, you can also steam your carpet and upholstery to kill them. (And you may be able to steam your entire mattress if you get clever with plastic wrap!). 
  • Vacuum – While this may seem too simple to work, a good bed bug vacuum cleaner makes short work of bed bugs. The trick is vacuuming in every crack and crevice around your house – especially the seams of your mattress. When you are done, seal the vacuum bag inside a larger plastic bag to ensure the bed bugs cannot escape back into your house.
  • Wash Your Fabrics – anything that can fit inside of your wash machine should be washed at a high temperature (if appropriate for the fabric). The combo of hot water and soap boils and drowns the bed bugs quickly, and is ultra-effective.

Insecticide Options

You may have to make a trip to the store for these items, but these items are usually necessary to battle a full-blown bed bug infestation! 

  • Insecticide Dust Options – Products like CimeXa and Diatomaceous Earth (DE) are made out of tiny, abrasive particles that cut through the waxy layer surrounding a bed bug’s exoskeleton. Without this protective layer, insects of all kinds quickly become dehydrated and die. These dusts are usually pretty gentle on humans and pets, so they can be used directly on your mattress (under the sheets) to actively desiccate any bed bugs that are hiding out there. They can also be used to treat carpets, baseboards, and other areas where bed bugs may retreat to.
  • Pesticide Sprays – if all else fails, synthetic insecticides applied correctly will not. Though these products do contain chemicals that have the potential to harm pets and humans, if they are used according to the label they should be safe. The trick with insecticides is finding the right product for your specific population of bed bugs. Some populations may be resistant to some insecticides. So, if you tried a product with permethrin and it failed, try a product with a non-pyrethroid insecticide. If you live in an apartment building that has regular infestations, make sure you rotate the insecticides you use to ensure your population does not build up a resistance. 

Do Not Use These Methods to Kill Bed Bugs

Between a thorough cleaning and the above-mentioned insecticide treatments, any bed bug infestation is manageable. But, there are definitely some methods suggested on the internet that you should NOT use:

  • Flushing Bed Bugs – it doesn’t matter whether you try to flush bed bugs down a toilet or a sink, the result is the same. Bed bugs float. So, it’s almost impossible to get them down the drain. Plus, even if you get them flushed out of sight, they can hold their breath for hours and can easily crawl back out.
  • Placing Bugs Outdoors – there are many insects that deserve a second chance at life outside of your home. Bed bugs are not one of them. Bed bugs have evolved for millions of years to seek the warm bodies of their victims. They can survive up to a year without a blood-meal, so they will eventually just find their way back into your house.
  • Vacuum Without a Bag – the vacuum is a great tool if used appropriately by sealing the contents you vacuum up into a closed bag. If you simply dump the contents unsealed into the trash or simply leave it in your vacuum, the bed bugs will almost certainly escape and reinfest your house.
  • Burn Your Mattress – yes, technically this will kill the bed bugs that are present on your mattress. But, what about the bugs hiding out in your carpet, in your linen closet, or in your pet’s sleeping area?? If you find yourself with a can of gasoline and a match, the bed bugs are winning. Take a deep breath and reassess your strategy. 

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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