Insecticides, which are pesticides used to kill insects, are the most common way to treat bedbugs. (1) But the same products that are toxic to insects can also be toxic to humans, so you may worry about dousing your bedroom with them.
Exposure to unsafe levels of pesticides can result in headaches, dizziness, trouble breathing, or vomiting. Pesticides can also interfere with your hormones and result in birth defects in children, so women who are pregnant should be especially cautious. (3)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated illnesses that resulted from insecticide used to control bedbugs and found about 80 percent of the cases weren’t severe, though one person did die from this exposure. (4) There definitely are risks associated with do-it-yourself bedbug treatment options.
Here’s what you should know about approaching the bedbug treatment process safely.
Any Pesticide Used in Your Home or Office Should Be Registered With the EPA
There are more than 300 insecticide products registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against bedbugs. (5) That’s the pool you’ll want to choose from when selecting an insecticide, because that EPA registration serves as a safety seal. A product that’s too toxic won’t pass the EPA’s review process. (6)
The important thing to know is that when insecticides are used appropriately and according to the label, they should not pose a health risk to you, other people in your household, or your pets, says Jerry Lazarus, the owner of Braman Termite & Pest Elimination.
The key is to use them correctly to ensure safety.
Insecticides come in the form of dusts, liquids, and aerosols. Insecticides dispersed through foggers can also be effective for treating bedbugs, if used correctly. For example, a fogger should not be placed in the middle of the room, because the fumes likely won’t reach all the bedbug hiding places, say pest experts. Instead, you need to actively move the fogger around the room, directing it to different spots.
When you fog, make sure to lift up your mattress and separate the pleats in the couch, as bedbugs often hide in these spots, according to experts. And it’s critical not to spray more than is directed, which can leave behind a residue that increases your risk of exposure to the toxic chemicals.
Do-it-yourself bug bomb products used in too small a space (or if you use more of them than is directed) also pose the risk of damaging windows, because of the increased interior air pressure the bombs create.
What Should I Ask My Pest Control Expert to Know He or She Plays It Safe?
Since insecticides come with a risk of toxicity, many people leave their use to professionals. But how do you know the professionals are using them correctly? Here are some questions to ask before hiring someone to treat your home or office.
- Do you use IPM techniques? IPM stands for “integrated pest management” and involves identifying the bugs, treating them with a multifaceted approach, and then following up if the bugs are still active. (7) It’s important to use a few different methods to treat bedbugs, both chemical and nonchemical, since there’s no one product that can get rid of them all in one fell swoop. For one thing, you’ll need a follow-up visit because insecticides don’t kill bedbug eggs, which take about two weeks to hatch at room temperature. (8)
- How long have you been in business under this name and address? Armed with this information, you can consult groups such as the Better Business Bureau or the EPA to see if there have been complaints filed against the company for their use of insecticides. (9)
- Do you have a list of references? It’s a good idea to call people who have worked with the company in the past. Ask them about the company’s service and whether or not they were successful in treating the problem, and whether they noticed any side effects post-treatment.
- Are you a certified, licensed pesticide applicator, or a licensed technician? You can check the license by calling your state’s department of agriculture.
- What products and concentration levels will you use? This can be helpful information for you to know in case there are extra safety precautions you need to be aware of. Lazarus suggests checking to make sure the product is registered with the EPA. You should also check the labels themselves to make sure bedbugs are specifically listed. (10)
It’s your right to know what insecticides are being applied in your space. In addition to noting the EPA registration number (EPA Reg. No.) on the product’s label, you’ll want to look up the Material Safety Data Sheets associated with the product.
Another precautionary step you can take is to give your doctor or vet a heads up about the products that will be used. He or she should be able to advise if there’s anything you need to be aware of.
There Are Nonchemical Options to Treat Bedbugs, but Some May Not Work as Well
There are a few options that don’t involve chemicals if the idea of using insecticides — or a professional using them in your home — doesn’t sit well with you. First, you can try to expel the bedbugs through heat. Steve Durham, the president of EnviroCon Termite & Pest in the Tomball and Houston areas of Texas, says many companies now offer an option to attack bedbugs through heat or steam treatments.
“This involves heating the temperature of affected rooms in your home to a point where bedbugs cannot survive and maintaining that for several hours to kill bedbugs wherever they might be hiding,” he says. “This usually only takes one treatment, and your bedbug specialists can work to protect your home and belongings from being damaged.”
You can also try an organic or natural insecticide. One study published the journal Insects, however, found they aren’t nearly as effective as their chemical-based counterparts. (11) The researcher who conducted the study evaluated the effectiveness of six “green” insecticides and three conventional products, finding only two “green” products (BBT-2000 and Cimexa) that were remotely successful in killing the bugs.
Products Available to Consumers Can Be VERY Dangerous if Used Incorrectly
Many insecticides are available only to professionals because of the risks they pose. Some, however, are sold directly to consumers. Many of these aren’t as effective — in particular those made of pyrethroids, which bedbugs have become resistant to.
If you decide to go the do-it-yourself route, be aware of the risks first, advises the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Often, a pesticide applicator license is required to legally apply insecticides, and applying them yourself could make the situation worse. “The problem with do-it-yourself methods is that these products are often over-applied, under-applied, or applied to the wrong areas by desperate individuals,” Lazarus says.
For the best results, be sure to read the label in its entirety. Note if the label states areas where the insecticide should not be applied (such as inside a home, or in a room where you sleep) and follow those rules closely.
Pest experts say to avoid products that are classified as 25(b) exempt, which means that, while they’re believed to pose minimal risk, they haven’t been reviewed or registered with the EPA. (12) You’ll also want to approach products sold online from other countries with caution. These products may contain ingredients that the EPA doesn’t allow in the U.S., and using them may be unsafe and illegal.