Does Permethrin Kill Bed Bugs? (2021 Update)

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Are you looking to learn about permethrin and whether or not it kills bed bugs?

Well then, you’re in the right place!

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • What Is Permethrin?
  • How Does Permethrin Affect A Bed Bug Infestation?
  • What Are The Alternatives to Permethrin?
  • Should I Try to Kill Bed Bugs Myself?

Permethrin is a well-known pesticide. Even people who aren’t in the pest control industry have heard of it and know it’s a pesticide for killing insects. But while the overall awareness of permethrin is nearly universal, knowledge about the details of what it is and how it works is significantly less widespread. In fact, there is quite a bit of misunderstanding about it.

We’re going to cover the history of permethrin, where it came from, its mode of operation, safety parameters, and long-term effects on people, pets, and the environment. After that, we’ll look at its effect on bed bugs and some alternatives to permethrin. Finally, we briefly discuss whether or not you should try to get rid of bed bugs on your own or call a professional.

There’s a lot of information to cover, so let’s get started!

Reviewed By:
Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!

Table of Contents

    What is Permethrin?


    Permethrin is a synthetic chemical, a pyrethroid, designed to mimic the action of natural extracts taken from chrysanthemum flowers. Chrysanthemums originally came from China. They were first mentioned by Confucius sometime around 500 BC. They were brought to Japan in the 4th Century AD for their medicinal properties and first introduced to Europe in 1688. The insecticidal properties of chrysanthemums have been known for over 150 years.

    How It Works

    Permethrin attacks the central nervous system of insects. It creates muscle spasms leading to paralysis and death. It is far more toxic to insects than to mammals, including people. Insects can’t break it down as quickly as mammals can, therefore it remains in their system longer in its original form where it does more damage.

    Permethrin can be used in liquid form, powders, dusts, aerosols, and sprays. It is used in flea collars, cattle ear tags, and spot treatments on dogs. There are over 1400 products containing permethrin that are registered by either the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Read Also: Which Bed Cover Should You Buy For Bed Bugs?

    Adult and Child Safety

    According to human studies published in the National Academies Press, permethrin is one of the least toxic insecticides to human beings that there is. It is far safer than organochlorine, organophosphorus (organophosphates), and methylcarbamate and less toxic than other pyrethroids such as cypermethrin and fenvalerate, also known as esfenvalerate.

    Although it is unquestionably one of the safest pesticides on the market today, there is no such thing as a 100% safe pesticide. Children, because of their smaller body mass, are more susceptible than adults but the risk is very low.

    Pets, Fish, Birds & Wildlife Safety

    Permethrin has been tested on some birds, animals, and fish. It is extremely toxic to fish and amphibians, whether freshwater or saltwater. It is also extremely toxic to beneficial insects such as bees. Birds are not generally susceptible to permethrin except in aerosol form.

    Dogs may display some aberrant behaviors as a result of permethrin exposure (at high doses) and cats, also at high doses, could possibly die. Most wildlife has not been clinically tested for permethrin toxicity and their reaction(s) to it are unknown.

    Read Also: Can You Trap Bed Bugs?

    Environmental Concerns

    Permethrin’s effects on the environment are slim. It binds itself very strongly to the soil and does not dissolve well in water. Once in the soil, it breaks down in a matter of weeks. When used properly it is not dangerous to plants and may be sprayed directly on them to protect them from being damaged by insects.

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    How Does Permethrin Affect Bed Bugs?

    Up until now, you might be excused for thinking permethrin is the cat’s meow. It’s safe, it’s been around a long time, it’s a known quantity, etc., etc. And you’d be right. But then we run into a problem known as insecticide or pesticide resistance.

    Insecticide resistance develops in the general population of a species of insect when a pesticide is overused or used improperly, leading to the emergence of insects who have a natural resistance or immunity to that insecticide.

    It’s called the founder effect and it works like this: a pesticide is sprayed in an area where one or two individual bugs have a natural, genetic resistance to that pesticide. All the others die off and those resistant bugs are the only ones remaining.

    They then are the ones who reproduce, passing their genetic resistance on to their offspring. Eventually, as more bugs in that species die from being sprayed, the resistant population grows until they become the dominant strain.

    At that point, pest control technicians begin noticing that when they spray an area with a trusted pesticide that has always worked, suddenly it doesn’t work. 

    Customer complaints pour in and technicians begin bombarding the manufacturer with requests for “something better.” Pesticide resistance has taken hold in the general population and the pesticide companies have to start researching new pesticides to replace the ones that no longer work.

    Bed bugs are highly resistant to permethrin and it no longer has any lasting effect on their population when it is used alone. Using it in combination with other pesticides improves its effectiveness but only to a point. For the most part, you should assume it is pointless to use permethrin against bed bugs.

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    What Are the Alternatives to Permethrin?

    There are a number of alternatives to permethrin. Some of them are used in numerous different insecticides.  Below is a partial list.

    If you decide to buy pesticides for killing bed bugs, be sure to check the label and look for the active ingredients. If it is one of the ingredients listed above then you’ll know that pesticide will be able to kill bed bugs.

    Read Also: What spray should you buy to kill bed bugs?

    Should I Try to Kill Bed Bugs Myself?

    We’re agnostic on this question. There are good, solid reasons for paying a professional pest control company to do it for you. There are equally good reasons to do it yourself.  The main difference is the cost.

    A professional pest control company will charge you several hundred dollars per room to do a bed bug job. The reason is that it is a labor-intensive effort. It takes a lot of time and several visits over a period of six to eight weeks to completely eradicate the bed bugs from your home. In spite of paying the company to come in and treat with pesticides, there will be many things you’ll have to do to prepare the house before they arrive each time.

    If you decide to save money by spraying and treating the house yourself, you’ll still have to do all those things each time before you spray, so regardless of who does the actual spraying, you’re going to be doing a lot of prep work.

    That prep work has to be done by the way, or there is a good chance the treatment won’t succeed in eradicating the bed bugs and you’ll have wasted a lot of money.

    If you decide to do the treatment yourself, you’ll still have to spend a lot of money getting all the equipment and chemicals necessary for spraying, including some safety gear. It will be cheaper than paying the pest control company, but not as much as you would think. If you want to see what you’re letting yourself in for, take a look at our do-it-yourself guide to killing bed bugs then you can make up your mind if it is worth it.

    Final Thoughts On Permethin For Bed Bugs

    Permethrin used to kill bed bugs but overuse has gradually produced strains of bed bugs with pesticide resistance who are essentially immune to it. New types of pyrethroids will kill them better than permethrin but they are still pyrethroids just like permethrin and we’re not sure how long they’ll continue to be effective.

    The newer neonicotinoids, in combination with the IGRs, will produce the best results. The neonicotinoids will kill the bugs, and the IGRs will prevent them from reproducing. That one-two punch is a powerful way to stop bed bugs in their tracks.

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