There are over 300 chemical products registered with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for use as bed bug treatments. Bed bug treatments are pesticides and, “All pesticides must be registered by EPA before being sold and used in the United States” These products can be broken down in six distinct categories, based on their chemical class. Each has its own benefits and risks, and vary in their mode of action. It must be noted that handling any of these products must be done safely, with due care, to ensure a reduced risk of exposure while using them in homes. Moreover, some of the chemicals might not be that effective due to the high adaptability of bed bugs to harsh environments.
Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids
The most common class of compounds used to control bed bugs and other outdoor pests. Derived from the chrysanthemum flower, pyrethrins and pyrethroids have widely been used as an insecticide since the 1900’s. Mode of action is by targeting an insect’s nervous system. These chemical compounds are mainly used to control indoor pests such as bed bugs. These botanical chemicals. Pyrethroids are a type of synthetic chemical that mimic Pyrethrins. Both of these chemicals have the ability to kill bed bugs and can easily get rid of them in the harder to get to place. Unfortunately, if they do resist these, they will find a new hiding spot in a different location. You can use a combination of the two if the bed bugs seem to be resistant.
Pros: readily available, cost-effective
Cons: many strains of bed bugs are resistant to pyrethrins and pyrethroids, rendering them ineffective. Inappropriate handling has led to exposure issues in people. Pollinators, especially bees, are sensitive to pyrethrins/pyrethroids; bed bug treatments increase risks to pollinator populations. Not safe for use in areas where pets can be exposed.
Solid compounds that absorb water. Certain desiccants kill bed bugs by destroying the waxy, outer coating on a bed bug; causing them to dehydrate and die slowly. Known dissidents regularly used for bed bug control are diatomaceous earth, silica gel, and boric acid. This chemical will terminate the outer layer of the bed bug. After this coating is removed, the bug will dehydrate and die. Desiccants work more on the physical aspect of the bug. It is recommended that when using a desiccant, it must be registered by the EPA and strictly labeled for bed bug control. Take caution when using these as inhaling it can be harmful and pose a huge risk for people.
Pros: Highly effective on bed bugs, including pyrethrin resistant strains when used as per directed on the label. Excellent results in controlling bed bug populations when used in conjunction with physical treatments. Low toxicity in mammals. Low cost.
Cons: recommended use is for use in cracks, crevices, areas where bed bugs can aggregate. May be ineffective if no other treatment methods are employed, still requires a layered pest management plan.
Examples: CimeXa, Mother Earth D, Lowe’s.
Cold-pressed Neem Oil
The only biochemical registered by the EPA for use as a pesticide. Neem oil is cold-pressed from seeds of the Neem tree, a tropical evergreen found in South-East Asia and Africa. Biochemicals, specifically cold pressed neem oil can be used to treat bed bugs. All the way from Southeast Asia and Africa, the Neem tree provides seeds that can be pressed for the oil. This tropical evergreen tree oil comprises of insecticidal and medicinal properties. You can also find these ingredients in everyday products such as toothpaste, cosmetics, soaps and shampoos.
Pros: Many sources indicate it “may” work but, is more likely to be useful as a deterrent. May be effective in conjunction with other bed bug deterrents when trying to avoid bed bugs, like hotels.
Cons: Unfortunately, no compelling evidence is available to indicate Neem Oil is successful in the eradication of a bed bug infestation. Believed to kill bed bugs only if it comes into direct contact with the bugs. Will just be active for some hours and should be re-applied about three times a day.
Examples: none found in major stores, may be able to locate on Etsy, or local health food stores.
A volatile chemical that kills bed bugs by targeting the mitochondria of cells. Chemicals using chlorfenapyr as an active ingredient for bed bug treatments are only available for commercial use, by pest control specialists. Clorfenapyr is registered for use against bed bugs and is the only Pyrrole that is. This pro-insecticide can disrupt various functions for a bed bug’s cells that causes death.
Pros: Highly effective on bed bugs that have proven to be resistant to pyrethrin based pesticides.
Cons: Only available commercially, require professionals to apply it, therefore is costly. Early studies show that pesticide resistant strains of bed bugs may be becoming resistant to chlorfenapyr as well.
Examples: Available only to pest-control professionals.
Aka “neonics” for short, are a class of insecticides “chemically similar to nicotine.” They attack an insect’s nervous system. Neonicotinoids have been under harsh review, including being banned in several countries for their adverse effect on honey bee populations. A synthetic form of nicotine, these neonicotinoids are receptors of the nervous system. They will cause nerves to continuously fire until they shutdown. If you notice that the bed bugs are becoming resistant to the above-mentioned compounds, it is likely that they will not be as likely to fight off the strength of neonicotinoids.
Pros: Highly effective if exposed to bed bug strains without pesticide resistance.
Cons: Banned for outdoor use in several countries. Many pesticide resistant strains of bed bugs are developing resistance to neonicotinoid based chemicals.
Fumigation (Sulfuryl Fluoride)
Goes by the commercial name Vikane. Suffocates all pests, including bed bugs and their eggs, causing them to die. Has been used for pest control since the 1960s. It is a known greenhouse gas and neuro-toxin.
Pros: 100% effective on bed bugs, including strains with known pesticide resistance. Leaves no chemical residue on belongings, safe for pets and families. Can do an entire complex building at once.
Cons: Expensive and requires all residents to vacate premises for several days. Doesn’t prevent against future infestations.
Examples: Vikane, only available to properly trained pest-management professionals.
Important: Chemical treatment alone will not eradicate a bed bug infestation. But housecleaning, or physical methods, in conjunction with topical/chemical treatments will provide successful results. From Health Canada:
“Whichever treatment is used, it will only be effective if physical control methods and preventative measures are used together.”
Insect Growth Regulators
These chemicals impersonate growth hormones in insects. They will change the production of the chitin that is used to create their hard shell as they grow into adults. The development of the sell will become rapid but it may completely stop its development for some.
Tip: Do not attempt to use any product unless you have knowledge of its dangers and potential risks. Always call a certified pest control professional to discuss the best way of treating bed bugs in your home in the safest way possible. Let the professional inspect your entire home before making a decision on how to exterminate. You may need a customized treatment as bed bugs are one of the most difficult pests to get rid of.