Bed bugs are a stubborn pest. Bed bugs and their larvae are resistant to many pesticides, making elimination more difficult than other pests such as cockroaches and ants. Bed bugs also love to hide, so environments with clutter provide numerous spots for bed bugs to avoid traditional pesticides. There are a number of alternatives to chemicals, including Bayzi's new MightySteam™ tool, capable of killing bed bugs and their eggs with less than 1 second of residence time. The MightySteam® is safe, leaving behind no harsh chemical residues, and eliminates bed bugs with ease. Bayzi products are not tested against other methods and use should often be thought of as being complimentary.
A common concern among consumers relates to the toxicity of pesticides and their impact on sensitive groups such as children, the elderly and pets. With the MightySteam® it is possible to control or eliminate bed bug infestations without using dangerous chemicals. Available alternative options include specialized heat treatments, superfreezing CO2 treatments, using all natural powders like diatamoceous earth and the use of superheated steam. Each application has certain strengths and weaknesses, with the main factors being cost, intrusiveness and efficacy.
Before applying any treatments for bed bugs, it is important to eliminate any potential hiding places, because bed bugs love to burrow into hidden spaces. Removing any necessary boxes, clothes and general clutter will make locating and eliminating bed bugs an easier process.
Vacuuming removes molted bed bug skins, fecal matter and even living bed bugs, but not their eggs, which are cemented in place. Vacuuming also removes bed bug related debris, allowing for an easier inspection and a more accurate representation of the magnitude of the infestation. After vacuuming, always remember to remove and dispose of the vacuum cleaner's bag immediately. Any bugs inside of the bag may escape and re-establish themselves on the property.
Some pest management companies are testing the application of super-cold CO2. Technologies such as Cryonite™ feature a pressurized cylinder that blows a super cold -108°F mist throughout the property. The pressurized CO2 freezes bed bug shells, causing instant death. CO2 isn't particularly dangerous when applied correctly, but the property must be vacated for a period of time while the process takes place. Treatments will eliminate a majority of bed bugs and their eggs, but in many cases, the temperatures aren't cold enough to permeate throughout furniture and mattresses, leaving some bed bugs behind. Because of this reason, pressurized CO2 treatments are typically applied in conjunction with another treatment.
Diatomaceous earth is a super fine powder made of ground up microorganisms called diatoms. It works by piercing the bed bug's exoskeleton and causing them to dry out and die after several days. As long as food grade diatomaceous earth is used, it poses no immediate danger to inhabitants, so it may be left in affected areas without fear of poisoning humans or pets. Diatomaceous earth kills bed bugs, but only if they walk through it. Several unscientific studies have shown bed bugs will walk around diatomaceous earth if given the option, potentially reducing the efficacy of this solution. Diatomaceous earth also does not instantaneously kill bed bugs, it takes a number of days after their initial exposure for the bed bug to die. In addition, diatomaceous earth does not eliminate bed bug eggs, so it must be used in conjunction with another treatment option, such as heat, super-cold or steam to fully eliminate a property's bed bug infestation.
Bed bugs have a thermal death point of 115°F and their eggs die at 122°F. Companies have recently started using an assortment of electric, propane and diesel fueled heaters to raise an infested property's temperature to 135°F to kill bed bugs. This is done through a collection of ducts run throughout the premesis and constant monitoring of the property with temperature probes. A typical treatment requires vacating the property for at least 8 hours because of the high temperatures required to eliminate bed bugs. 135°F is hot enough to damage or destroy some electronic devices, so a walkthrough must be done prior to treatment to ensure susceptible devices are removed from the property before treatment begins. Also to be considered is the type of heaters being used. Most heaters require use of propane fuel or noisy external generators for their high power consumption. Consult with your landlord or homeowners association to ensure that the heaters being used are within noise regulations. Safety is a moderate issue any time a combustible gas is used, so care should be taken. Residences have caught fire from improper operation of devices. Heat treating is possibly the most effective method of eliminating bed bugs, but cost and time are large factors. Of all methods, heat is the most expensive, with the initial capital costs for heaters typically in the $15,000 range, with top of the line systems approaching $100,000. Also to consider is the time it takes to apply a treatment, with setup, teardown and treatment times approaching 8 hours. These costs lead to a higher per treatment cost, typically around $1000 for most properties.
The thermal energy held in steam has long been believed to be capable of killing bed bugs, but most steamers with high moisture contents leave behind large quantites of excess moisture. As technology has improved, superheated steam with a low moisture content has become a viable option for eliminating bed bugs. MightySteam™ reaches temperatures of over 572°F without leaving behind pools of water (regardless any condensed water should be mopped quickly while following all safety instructions). With such superheated steam, the thermal energy is enough to instantly kill bed bugs and their eggs. With superheated steam, the residence time to reach bed bugs' thermal death point is minimized, allowing for quicker treatments and more thorough applications. Superheated steam is incredibly effective at killing bed bugs and their eggs that are exposed to the steam, but it won't kill the bed bugs that you do not see. For this reason, it is important to be thorough in treatments, and possibly have second or third check up visits to ensure that all bed bugs are eliminated. The cost benefits of superheated steam are the main draw. There are moderate initial capital costs for a device such as the MightySteam™, and operation costs essentially equal to the cost of labor make superheated steam a cost effective manner of control. Quiet operations requiring just water and a standard electric outlet make this one of the least intrusive and appealing options for most users.
Most treatments don't offer great residual protection against bed bugs. The property owner or resident should be proactive and avoid reintroducing bed bugs from an external source. Safety is paramount, so no matter which organic method you choose, make sure to read all MSDS, wear the appropriate PPE and contact a trained professional when in doubt.
Non-Chemical Bed Bug Management - Dini M. Miller, Ph.D., Department of Entomology, VA Tech