The Risks and Benefits of Bed Bug Pesticides

Bry'Ana Arvie
Written by Bry'Ana Arvie
Updated December 15, 2021
Bed with white duvet and white pillows
Photo: Vera / Adobe Stock

Find out if pesticides are the treatment plan you need to expose these undercover bugs

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Bed bugs are the worst. Not only do they make a home in the place you go to unwind at the end of the day—your bed—but they also can reside in furniture and clothing throughout your home. So, when it’s time to get them out, you’ve probably considered bed bug pesticides as a solution. 

But before you move forward with this bed bug treatment option, this guide will dive into the pros and cons of bed bug pesticides, their risks, and how they work. Just a note before we start that a local bed bug extermination pro will always know best, so be sure to discuss your specific treatment options and concerns with them.

Benefits of Using Bed Bug Pesticides

Before committing to using bed bug pesticides, let’s look over some of the pros of this treatment plan:

Cost-Effective

Chemical bed bug treatments are an affordable way to get rid of bed bugs. This bed bug treatment option costs $100 to $500 per room using a pesticide combination of liquids, powders, and foggers to complete the job. That’s much less than steam treatment which costs $250 to $1,000 per room, or heat treatment that averages $2,000 to $4,000 per project

Effective in Early Stages

When you catch your infestation early on, this treatment option is very effective in helping you eliminate the problem. It can work overtime to protect your home from bed bugs throughout their life stages. 

Safe When Used by an Experienced Pro

A pro who knows what they’re doing will be able to apply these pesticides in a way that is effective, but will also be safe for you and everyone in your household. They’ll also be able to give advice about what you should and shouldn’t do before, during, and after application. Again, seeking out a well-vetted pro and talking over your options can make all the difference here.

Risk and Drawbacks of Using Bed Bug Pesticides

There are also certain risks and downsides to be aware of when choosing bed bug pesticides.

Varying Effectiveness

Whether a bed bug pesticide is effective depends on a few different factors, according to the EPA

  • The severity of the infestation

  • How thorough the area was prepared for treatment

  • The quality of the pesticide and how much ground it covered

  • The bed bugs’ life stages 

  • Whether the bed bugs had previously developed a resistance to the pesticide used during treatment 

These factors could determine whether the chemical treatment will work. If it doesn’t, you’ll potentially endure a longer process before trying a different plan. 

Luckily when you call a pro, they should consider your home’s needs as well as the level of infestation before creating a plan for you to stay safe and for the bed bugs to stay gone. This prep work will help your treatment to be as effective as possible.

Potentially Won’t Completely Eliminate the Colony

On a similar note, bed bugs are good at hiding when they don’t want to be found. And since they want to stay hidden, it can be difficult for a bed bug exterminator to see all the areas where these sneaky insects are located. Because of this, they run the risk of not eliminating the entire colony, which typically happens in infestations that have gotten out of hand.  

Of course, you run into this risk no matter which method you choose, but some are more effective overall—e.g., heat treatments.  

Takes Time to Work

For bed bug pesticides to work correctly, they’ll need time. For one, pesticides don’t work on bed bug eggs, so you’ll need multiple rounds of treatments—at least two—to remove the entire colony from your home. And these treatments can take days or weeks to finish, depending on the severity of the infestation. 

On the other hand, heat treatment can take six to eight hours of at least 118 degrees Fahrenheit of continuous heat to help you get rid of bed bugs.

Requires Preparation

For chemical treatment plans to be effective, you’ll need to prepare your home so that the pesticides can get into all the nooks and crannies. But moving your furniture, emptying your clothing drawers, and practically decluttering your home isn’t very convenient. Treatment plans can last from days to weeks, so consider this when discussing a plan. 

May Come With Health Hazards

Woman is making the bed with stylish linens
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

When used correctly, bed bug pesticides should have little effect on the home and its occupants. However, it is still possible for these chemicals to affect your health, especially if used incorrectly. 

If you have pets or children, even if your exterminator applies the treatment in the recommended locations, there’s still a strong possibility that they could come into contact with it. To help keep your family members—both your two and four-legged ones—safe, keep them away from the treated area until the pesticides have had a chance to dry and the site has been thoroughly ventilated. Ask your exterminator what they suggest for specific advice on how to care for your family after getting your home treated for bed bugs. 

Common Bed Bug Pesticides and Their Pros and Cons

Now that you know more about this treatment as a whole, let’s look at some of the common bed bug pesticides, their benefits and drawbacks, and how they work below:

Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids

What they are: Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are the most commonly used pesticides against bed bugs. Pyrethrins come from a natural material called chrysanthemum flowers. Pyrethroids are their synthetic chemical counterpart. This bed bug pesticide works by attacking the insect’s nervous system that comes into contact with or eats it. 

Pros: It gets to work quickly by paralyzing its target and eventually killing them, usually within 24 hours. 

Cons: It can not work at all on bed bugs that are resistant to it and only causes them to move to another hiding spot.  

Desiccants

What it is: Desiccant pesticides destroy the bed bugs’ protective outer coating and then dehydrate them until they die. The desiccants used as bed bug pesticides are diatomaceous earth (DE) and boric acid. 

Pros: It can be used in cracks and crevices where bed bugs hide. It’s also believed to be impossible for bed bugs to build an immunity to this.

Cons: Since it’s a slow-acting pesticide, it can take at least one week to kill bed bugs. An incorrect application can cause health problems in those that inhale it. 

Neonicotinoids

What it is: The synthetic form of nicotine, neonicotinoids, is absorbed through the skin. It causes the nicotinic receptors of a bed bug’s central nervous system to overstimulate the nerves, leading to paralysis then death. Neonicotinoids can take a few days to a little over a week on average to work. 

Pros: Can be a great one to try if bed bugs are resistant to other methods.

Cons: Unfortunately, some bed bug colonies might also be resistant to this pesticide. 

Biochemicals

What it is: The most common form of biochemicals used in the fight against bed bugs, and the only one registered with the EPA, is cold-pressed neem oil. It comes in spray form and is more of a bed bug repellent than an insecticide. However, it can kill them too. If you want to exterminate bed bugs with this treatment, continually spray them with it over a few weeks, and that may do the trick.

Pros: It’s non-toxic to humans, so if a pro recommends this treatment, it can be a good gentler option.

Cons: The bed bugs will find another spot to camp in until the neem oil wears off if used incorrectly. 

Pyrroles

What it is: The only pyrrole pesticide registered by the EPA to fight bed bugs is Chlorfenapyr. It attacks bed bugs through their cells and affects their ability to transfer energy, thus killing them. Pros: Its treatment can last a few days, up to 72 hours, making it a moderately quick way to kick bed bugs out. 

Cons: The EPA classified it as a possible carcinogen—a cancer-causing substance. 

Insect Growth Regulators

What it is: Insect growth regulators (IGR) are insecticides that imitate the juvenile growth hormone in bed bugs. 

Pros: It prevents them from reproducing and alters (or stops) how they grow, eventually killing them. 

Cons: While it can be effective, it works best with other pesticides.

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