Bed Bug Heat Treatments (Everything You Need To Know)

If you’re here, you’ve probably tried and failed to get rid of bed bugs with chemicals.

Bed bug bombs, sprays and Diatomaceous Earth often turn out to be ineffective and fail at killing off the pesky bugs.

That’s how resilient they are!

bed bug heat treatments

There’s a saying that cockroaches will outlive us all but we think that it suits bed bugs better.

Here’s why: Bed bugs are really hard to kill.

Over the years, some have developed ways to resist insecticides. This resistance, in turn, transfers to newborn baby bugs making their population unkillable.

With chemicals, that is. Using heat is one of the ways to bypass that newly-formed chemical resistance and target another weak spot in the bed bug’s biology. In this guide, you will learn:

  • What is heat treatment and how does it work
  • How is heat treatment different than chemical control
  • How can you use heat against bed bugs
  • What can you treat with heat
  • DIY vs. professional heat treatments
  • How to prepare for a heat treatment
  • What tools and equipment are used in heat treatments
  • How much does bed bug heat treatment cost

Click here to check our detailed guide on the Best Bed Bug Heaters on the market for 2018.

What is Heat Treatment for Bed Bugs?

In a nutshell, the heat treatment is a relatively new way of destroying bed bugs. It is the latest weapon in the arsenal of professional exterminators and a highly effective one at that.

It’s a non-chemical process of eliminating entire insect populations in all life stages and at once and it can be used in several ways — to either treat entire rooms in your house or to decontaminate household objects.

How Does Bed Bug Heat Treatment Works and Why Is It So Effective?

So how exactly does heat destroys the bed bugs?

As mentioned above, modern bed bugs become immune to insecticides quickly. In fact, as of recently, there isn’t a chemical compound left to which bed bugs haven’t adapted.

So heat targets a certain weakness that all living organisms have — if you apply the right amount of heat for the right amount of time, bed bugs and their eggs will simply die.

The term used for the cross-section of time and temperature that kill living organisms is thermal death point. To reach the thermal death point of bed bugs, you need to expose the insects to at least 113°F (45°C) for 90 minutes or more.

There’s a tricky part to this. The heat needs to be evenly distributed during the entire procedure and the bugs need to be directly exposed to these temperatures.

This means that in practice, the heat treatment takes longer than 90 minutes. But we’ll explore the specifics later on.

Here’s a quick video showing heat treatments in action with bed bugs dying at about 45 degree Celsius.

What are the pros of heat treatment?

  • You can use it alongside other means of bed bug control;
  • Heat kills bed bugs in all of their life stages, including eggs, in a single treatment;
  • Stand-alone heat treatments leave no chemical residue, which is a huge plus if you’re allergic or want to deal with the bugs the eco-friendly way;
  • Properly applied heat can reach areas and spots in the room that other means of bed bug control may not reach;
  • Heat will succeed to kill even insecticide-resistant bed bugs;
  • Heat can be applied to an entire room or single items which makes it diverse, convenient and efficient solution;
  • The bed bug heat treatment kills insects in hours, not weeks like when you use insecticides;
  • When the heating procedure is completed, you don’t need to wait to re-enter your home.

What are the cons of heat treatment?

  • Heat as an independent solution doesn’t have a residual protection against future problems with bed bugs;
  • Treatments can become very expensive and time-consuming because you need the proper knowledge, equipment and skills;
  • If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can seriously damage your belongings and even cause a fire in your home;
  • Effective heat treatment has to fall within specific temperature and duration limits or else you risk failing to kill all bed bugs.

Curious to see how bed bugs react to a live heat treatment? Check out this video. It’s not the best quality but gives you an idea of how much they HATE heat.

 

Heat treatment for bed bugs vs. chemical treatment for bed bugs

Don’t get things wrong. Chemical control is still a very effective and convenient way of dealing with bed bugs if used correctly. In fact, let’s break down the two options and see how they compare for different criteria.

  • How long does a bed bug treatment take?

Heat: A single bed bug heat treatment will kill all adult bugs, nymphs and eggs in hours, not weeks.Insecticides: using insecticides usually requires retreatments and follow-up applications in order to destroy the entire insect colony.

  • Is there residual protection with heat being used for bed bugs?

Heat: No. You can’t be sure that bed bugs won’t re-infest your home if you only use heat.Insecticides: If you use a residual insecticide, it will protect your home for many months to come.

  • Which one is more expensive?

Heat: Treating with heat is definitely more expensive, no matter who does it — you or a professional exterminator. Insecticides: It’s a cheaper way of eradicating bed bugs but there’s a small chance it will not succeed.

  • When is it safe to enter the room after a heat treatment?

Heat: Right after. Even if you treat an entire room, you’ll just need to air out the space.Insecticides: You need to wait a couple of hours for the chemicals to settle in if you want them to take full effect on the bed bug population. At the end of the day, going for the heat procedure is a personal preference but it makes the most sense in case:

  • You have a really bad bed bug problem and you think insecticides won’t rid you of it;
  • You’ve tried insecticides or other ways of extermination but the bugs survived;
  • You want to get rid of the bed bugs really fast, for example, if you’re managing a hotel and a room was reported to be infested;
  • You want to exterminate the bugs without the use of chemicals.

Here’s the best part of treating bed bugs with heat:You can apply a residual pesticide after the heat procedure. In fact, professional exterminators often use them in conjunction in order to get the best of both ways – the instant extermination with heat and the remaining protection of chemicals.

Types of Heating Methods

Hot Boxes

Portable, easy to use, cheap. These are just some of the characteristics of the hot box.

This bed bug killing system is used to eradicate bugs on clothes, shoes, books, blankets, luggage and other household objects — you just load the box and plug it into a socket to heat the items. Most models are foldable, which makes them convenient for storing.

The hot box is the perfect solutions if you travel a lot and want to avoid bringing bed bugs at home. Check our editor’s pick for the best hot box for 2018 >

Pros

  • The perfect solution to decontaminate luggage and other household items;
  • Very convenient if you travel often;
  • It’s a compact and relatively cheap way of controlling bed bugs.

Cons

  • Heat-sensitive objects cannot be treated;
  • You can’t treat bulky items and furniture;
  • If the infestation has spread, you will still need to do a home treatment.

Steam

Yet another way of using heat to kill bed bugs, steam works by penetrating the surface of an item effectively killing the bed bugs inside.

Professional steamers are able to reach up to ¾ of an inch into mattresses and upholstered furniture and are perfect to exterminate some of the sneakier bed bugs that are hiding inside the seams and folds of your furniture.

A few downsides include the actual steaming process which can be a bit tedious — you need to move the steamer slowly in order to reach the needed temperatures for killing bed bugs. It’s important to constantly measure the temperature of a treated surface.Another problem is that steamers are water-based, thus not all surfaces will be treatable with it.

Pros

  • Great to clear bed bugs off of mattresses and upholstered furniture;
  • Eradicates the bugs in all life stages;
  • Water-based and non-toxic.

Cons

  • Will not be able to get rid of bed bugs on all types of surfaces;
  • Takes time, effort and research on how to best use the steamer.

Read More: What are the best steamers for bed bugs?

Dryers

The number one advice you’ll get when you discover bed bugs for the first time is this:Wash all your clothes and textiles on high degrees.

But since some items can’t be washed, you can also use the clothes dryer to kill the buggers. It’s recommended to run your delicates and dry-clean-only items for at least 20 minutes at the highest temperature possible.

Pros

  • You probably already have a dryer and it’s not a rocket science to use it against bed bugs;
  • A cheap addition to all the other methods of bed bug control.

Cons

  • You can use it only on textile belongings;
  • It’s possible that it won’t kill all the bed bugs and their eggs.

Room Treatment With Heaters

The jewel in the crown of heating methods, the room heat treatment, is the process with the most impact on a bed bug colony. In fact, it’s so good at killing the little critters that no bugs will manage to survive.

The single caveat is that you have to do it properly.That’s why it’s usually done by exterminators with proper equipment and professional-grade heaters by raising the room temperature up to 117°F (47°C).

The air then gets moved throughout the room with special air fans. This ensures that the thermal death point of bed bugs will be reached even inside tiny gaps and crevices in the room.

As we said above, the room heat treatment will not prevent further problems with bed bugs but if you use it with a residual pesticide, bed bugs will surely remain in the history.

Pros

  • You can combine the bed bug heat treatment with other means of control;
  • It has a 100% success rate against the entire population;
  • Just a single procedure is enough to solve your bed bug problem;
  • Toxic-free because no chemicals are involved (but you can still use products with residual qualities to protect your home).

Cons

  • It can become very expensive, especially if you choose to do it yourself — you’ll need additional equipment;
  • A safe and effective treatment requires proper knowledge and skills, and that takes time.

Heat treating a room vs. treating items

Heat is an effective and versatile bed bug killer, it can be used in many forms. Steam will kill bed bugs on carpets, upholstery and mattresses.

Dryers and portable heat boxes kill bed bugs on a variety of household objects and even larger heat chambers can be used to treat furniture. At the same time, room heat treatments tackle entire spaces in your home. But if you consider to only treat the infested items and not the property, you need to know that:

  1. You will still need to treat the room that harbours the bed bugs, otherwise, your efforts are pointless because the insects will just reinfest the area;
  2. Effective bed bug control in hot boxes, with dryers, and steamers, doesn’t depend on how long you treat the items. It’s more important that all infested objects reach the thermal killing point for bed bugs. So you should constantly track the temperature and thus prepare to spend a couple of hours if you want to kill off all insects.

DIY vs. professional heat treatment for bed bugs

The dangers of exposing a room to high temperatures are real. If you don’t have a pretty good idea what you’re doing, it’s really easy to start a fire.

And many people attempting a DIY bed bug control with heat have done so.Unless you have experience with heat treatments, it’s best to leave the task in the hands of professionals who know how to raise and maintain the room’s temperature at the required levels while ensuring yours and your home’s safety.

How to prepare for a heat treatment

Treating items in a heat box is pretty straightforward. Heating up rooms, however, has some tricky bits. As we mentioned above, not all items will prevail the high degrees to which the room will be exposed. That’s why you’ll need to:

  1. Relocate non-treatable items because the temperature of the room will be increased to up to 120°F (49℃) – 150°F (65℃)
  • Perfumes, hairspray, inhalers, cleaning detergents, spray paint and other aerosols;
  • Food and drinks, medicine and other exposed products unless they are in a fridge;
  • Items made from wax, cosmetics and paintings;
  • Tapes and records, photo negatives and printer consumables;
  • Lighters, lamp fuel, ammunition and other flammable objects;
  • Plants, decorations, musical instruments and other items that could get damaged by the high degrees of the treatment.

However, not all heat-sensitive items can be removed from a room. Laminates, wallpaper and linoleum tiles can get damaged and there’s nothing you can do to prevent that.

  1. Declutter
  • Make sure to move things around carefully when clearing up clutter, or else you risk spreading the bugs;
  • Your first instinct will probably be to move items that don’t seem infested to another room. Don’t do that. Bed bugs’ eggs are miniature and there’s no guarantee that the item isn’t actually infested;
  • If you decide to dispose of infested objects or clothing, make sure to seal them well into a couple of plastic bags and label them as infested;
  • You should launder all clothing to the highest degrees they can be washed on. Alternatively, you can use your clothes dryer for at least 30 minutes to the highest setting. All clean clothes should be carefully sealed in plastic bags and stored in a safe area;
  • Dispose of any cardboard boxes as they have tiny seams in which bed bugs will love to take a hide. If you still need the storage, use plastic boxes with lids instead;
  • Remove everything from under the bed as the heat will need to flow freely around it;
  • The room should be free from pets, even fish and reptiles.

Tools & equipment for heat treatments

Now, the room treatments are usually done with commercial-grade propane or kerosene heaters. Additionally, you’ll need to have air movers to help circulate the hot air around the room. This allows for a quick heating of the area. To avoid fires, use proper equipment and follow the correct procedure.The basic heat treatment kit includes:

  • One or more large heater units;
  • Air movers to help with heating efficiency;
  • A special laser thermometer to help measure the temperature in different areas of the room.

How to heat treat a room against bed bugs

Now that you’ve prepared, here are the steps you need to follow in order to properly heat treat a room:

  • Cover and tape with a heat-resistant tape all the openings from which the hot air may escape. Such openings are HVAC vents, bathroom exhaust fans, air conditioners and bottom of doors. To further minimize the loss of heat, cover windows with blankets.
  • Pull furniture away from the walls to let the air flow freely. If you have bulky furniture such as sofas, make sure to prop them up. Open up drawers and loosen up any stacked items or clothing to allow for an even heating.
  • Make sure to unplug all electronics from the electric sockets.
  • Place the heaters strategically around the room in order to maximise the convective air movement. How exactly? Pointing the heaters in the same direction along the walls of a room should do the trick. Place the fans right next to the heaters.
  • Plug in fans and heaters into electrical sockets. Make sure to turn the air movers on prior to the heaters. When the procedure is complete, turn the heaters off first.
  • Let the heaters and air movers run for as long as it’s required, depending on the models you’ve chosen. Periodically check the temperature around the room to ensure that the right temperature is kept. When checking, don’t forget to do so even on hard to reach places such as under the mattress and in cracks and crevices of the room.
  • Once the required time has passed, turn off the heaters and air movers and let the room cool down naturally if you want to go the extra mile and extend the treatment period even further.

What’s the cost of bed bug heat treatment?

The bed bug heat treatment cost depends on the way you choose to do it.

  1. If you want to do-it-yourself, then it’ll cost you both time and money. You’ll need to carefully research, prepare and purchase all the needed equipment. Seeing it’s not a small task, it will make the most sense to invest in a heat treatment kit if your property is susceptible to infestations e.g. if you run a hostel, AirBnB, you travel a lot or let travellers in your home.
  2. A professional treatment frees you from all responsibility except coming up with the money for it. It’s best if you have a one-time problem. However, it still may cost you a lot because professionals will charge you more. The price of a professional treatment also depends on other factors such as how many rooms should be treated, what’s the commute that the company will have to take to reach you, what type of program have you chosen and more. It never hurts to get several estimates and compare company benefits.

Closing Thoughts

A good alternative to all of the above is to rent a heating unit or invest into one with the goal of renting it out to other people. And don’t forget, you can always purchase a heat box or a steamer to help you out decontaminate household objects — those are the cheaper options.

Check out these helpful guides to learn more about bed bugs!

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