Last updated 7/8/2013
Sulfuryl fluoride fumigation (often provided under Dow’s Vikane brand) is an option for treating an entire structure (free-standing house, entire building, etc.), a vehicle, or even a “pod” full of your furniture and belongings.
Given that bed bugs are so hard to eradicate, and how long it can take to treat using traditional methods, we’re always on the lookout for better options.
Those of us in multi-unit dwellings often daydream about having our whole buildings tented and fumigated with sulfuryl fluoride. It’s one way to get rid of bed bugs in a building (large or small) that’s out of control. You can do it to your house, or your whole building, but you can’t do it in a single apartment (unlike structural heat treatment). It’s not legal everywhere, from what I gather, but is worth looking into. Everyone (humans and pets) must be evacuated before treatment, and the unit is covered in a tent so that the gas does not escape.
Only a trained and licensed professional can or should use Vikane/sulfuryl fluoride. You should never try to replicate this kind of treatment using any kind of substance. It is extremely deadly.
Here’s Dow’s FAQs on Vikane gas fumigation in general, Dow’s Vikane case studies, including a section on bed bugs, and Dow’s prep instructions including a video and Spanish and English fact sheets.
Pest Control magazine clarified in a March 2006 article (the link is to a copy on Univar’s PestWeb, since Pest Control Magazine’s site is now gone) that per the Dow label, three times as much Vikane is used for bed bugs as for termites. And the article also outlines Vikane’s benefits:
“We have recommended fumigation with Vikane on several extensive bed bug infestations where we felt that conventional treatment strategies could not bring a resolution to the problem quickly enough,” said Scott Crowley, technical director at Lloyd Termite Control in California. “When we use other treatment methods, re-treatments are frequently necessary. However, when we use Vikane and take some extra precautions, we can be sure that all of the bed bugs in the structure have been eliminated.”
The extra precautions that Crowley recommends include inspecting all personal belongings which may have been involved in the transference of bed bugs, as well as proper laundering of bedding and clothing which may have been exposed.
(A) Vikane chamber can also be used to treat furniture and possibly vehicles. The technique sounds promising and does not cause significant damage to human health or environment. However, the cost of Vikane gas fumigation is significantly higher, and it is impossible to treat a multi-family dwelling without the co-operation of every unit. The long-term effects of using Vikane gas are also not clear.
Like Frank, I’d like to know more about the possible long-term effects. I have a hunch that gas is nor harmful to us or pets, because we don’t re-enter the home until it has been aired out for a time and the gas has fully dissipated (which is an advantage of a gas over other substances which might be applied). But I’d like more information on that.
I’d also love to have a ballpark figure on the costs of sulfuryl fluoride fumigation of a 3-bedroom house, say, or a 3-family house, or a 35-unit apartment building. If anyone has done it or knows how much it would cost, please tell us (and include the region or rough geographical location, if you will).
You can also arrange for sulfuryl fluoride commodity fumigation of a moving truck (or pod) of bed bug-infested items. This opens up “moving” as a viable option for getting away from bed bugs.
Some firms will also move your belongings out, fumigate them with gas, and return them to a home which has been treated in the interim using other methods (usually traditional spray/dust treatment).
Dow’s FAQs on Vikane for termites note that many real estate transactions now require homes to be treated for termites before the sale goes through. For bed bugs, no other treatments but heat treatment and sulfuryl fluoride fumigation, executed properly, offer 100% success (and I stress that heat treatment and sulfuryl fluoride fumigation have to be done by people who know what they’re doing). Vikane seems like a good option if you’re selling a home or building and have bed bugs. What’s more, if the provider guarantees their work, buyer and seller can have peace of mind on this issue.
This 2008 article from PCT “Fumigation, Steam, Dusting and Labor” is quite helpful. Note in particular the steps to be taken by the people vacating the home, “How to leave bed bugs behind,” suggested by Vikane’s manufacturer, Dow:
How to Leave the Bed Bugs Behind
A packing checklist for residents temporarily leaving their dwelling to be fumigated.
Bring as few items as possible when leaving the residence for the fumigation. Remember, bed bugs hitchhiking in suitcases, back packs, boxes, clothing, bedding and pet cages is a common way for these insects to be introduced into buildings. Bed bugs have been found infesting small electronic devices, such as alarm clocks.
For all fabric items that will be taken out of the residence during the fumigation, wash in hot water and dry in high heat in a dryer (140°F) before returning them to the fumigated residence. This includes clothing, blankets, pillows, stuffed toys and pet bedding.
Do not use boxes, suitcases, back packs, gym bags or any similar items from the infested residence to pack belongings. These items should remain in the residence to be fumigated. Pack belongings needed during the fumigation in light colored or clear plastic bags or plastic containers, such as sweater boxes or new luggage not previously stored in the infested residence.
Do not place washed or packed items on furniture (beds, sofas, dressers, tables, etc.) or flooring (carpets or rugs) that may be infested with bed bugs. Immediately remove packed items from the infested residence or place them on a clean, hard surface (kitchen or bathroom floor, in a bath tub or shower) until they can be removed from the residence.
Mattresses completely enveloped in plastic covers that cannot be removed or opened, such as infant mattresses, cannot be fumigated. These mattresses must be removed prior to fumigation. If there is any evidence that such a mattress is infested with bed bugs or the individual sleeping on the mattress has been bitten by bed bugs, it is advised that a new mattress be purchased.
Pet cages and pet bedding should be fumigated. Pet cages with any small gaps, seams or hollow spaces that could harbor bed bugs should be left in the residence to be fumigated. Food in the cages should be removed prior to the fumigation. The pets should be transferred to new travel cages or housing known not to be infested with bed bugs to remove them from the residence prior to the fumigation. Pet bedding/blankets should not be removed from the residence before the fumigation unless they can be washed, dried and packed as described above.
Source: Dow AgroSciences
Do check out the rest of that article, which is also quite helpful.
This is a site for people concerned about pesticides, which suggests Vikane may be dangerous even when used correctly. The issue is likely to be controversial, but I wanted to share this link so readers are aware of it and can do further research if they’re concerned.
A note about Phosphine
badbugs of Minnesota reports that in that state, phosphine fumigation is available, but not vikane. badbugs had commodity fumigation done with phosphine. Note from badbugs: “phosphine … tarnishes gold, silver, and reacts really badly with copper (which means you can’t gas electronics)”.
Commodity Fumigation, Guarantees, and User Reports
When this article was originally written, the primary use of sulfuryl fluoride gas that we were aware of was the fumigation of homes and cars. The procedure is also being used for commodity fumigation: you fill a truck (or pod) with your stuff, it gets driven to a service provider, and they tent and fumigate it.
This method is often used by people moving from an infested home to an uninfested home. If you intend to use commodity fumigation but will return the items to the same home, you need to be absolutely sure the home is bed bug-free before bringing things back in. You also need to make sure you are not suffering continued exposure to bed bugs (e.g. through a neighbor or workplace).
Finally, with any treatment, get a guarantee in writing. And follow your service provider’s instructions to the letter (as far as how to prep, and what to leave out). One Bedbugger has had to have her home re-treated after it was fumigated with vikane gas and all bed bugs were apparently not killed. On the other hand, many others appear to have had treatments that were successful in one go.
Some firms (as noted above) take items to be fumigated with gas while the home is treated using traditional methods. These can be more effective in an empty home, but may not always be 100% effective — and having paid to fumigate your furniture and belongings, you can’t afford go through all this again.
Make sure you discuss this concern with your service provider, so you are assured that residuals/dusts and/or follow-up treatments will ensure that any stragglers in the home are eliminated.