Although heat treatments can be effective for bed bugs, this is not a treatment method you can do yourself.
A Lexington, Kentucky woman recently set her home on fire while trying to treat her home with heat to kill bed bugs.
Carol says they’ve called exterminators in before to no avail. So frustrated, Carol says her mother took action, but it sparked an unexpected problem that required firefighters to the rescue.
“We found the fire in the bedroom, and then upon investigation we found that the occupant was trying to get rid of bed bugs by heating the room up to 95 degrees,” says Lexington Fire Department Major Shaun Brown.
Fire officials says a camping grill was used to heat the room, essentially trying to create a sauna like feel.
An idea Carol says came from advice on the internet, but one that clearly backfired.
Unfortunately, Carol’s mother was trying to use a camping grill to heat the home — and as delorac pointed out when she drew our attention to this story in the forums:
…using an outdoor grill inside in an enclosed space poses a real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. So she could have died in two different ways had she been unlucky.
Although Carol and her mother had received some professional treatments for bed bugs, eliminating bed bugs requires knowledge, skill, and usually multiple treatments. People with bed bugs are desperate to eliminate them. Nothing underscores that fact more than when the news reports stories of people who take their lives in their hands while trying to get rid of bed bugs.
Others have also caused house fires while trying to use alcohol and bug spray to treat bed bugs (such as this case in Cincinnati). And in 2008, a New Jersey man blew up his apartment and started a fire after using bug spray. Tragically, in 2007, two children died and a third was hospitalized when a man in Saudi Arabia used a product intended for agricultural use to kill bed bugs in his home. There’s also this Canadian story, where two women became ill and one died after pesticides were used on a bed, outside of labeling instructions.
As for attempting DIY heat treatment, I am not an expert on heat treatment but my understanding is that besides the risk of fire which comes with various heating elements (as in the above case), and the risk of fumes from carbon monoxide or fumes from heating chemicals in the structure itself, there’s also the very real risk that bed bugs will be driven more deeply into the structure as they attempt to flee the heat.
And this would mean that your bed bug problem persists and is even harder to get rid of than before the failed heat treatment. We have heard of failed DIY heat treatments done with heating elements such as kerosene and electric heaters, where bed bugs survived.
Heat (or thermal) bed bug treatment should never be attempted as a do-it-yourself project. It takes knowledge, experience, and skill, and the right tools.
Knowledgeable and experienced professionals utilizing heat to kill bed bugs will heat the entire structure at its core to temperatures well over 120 very quickly, in order to avoid bed bugs trying to escape the heat. They will carefully monitor temperatures throughout the structure, to make sure every item and part of the structure reaches killing temperatures at its core. And they will know how to do this (and have the equipment to do it) without harming people or the building, and while minimizing harm to possessions.
Do not attempt DIY heat treatment of your home for bed bugs. It is dangerous, it will probably not work, and may make bed bug problems worse even if it does not burn your house down.
If you’re looking for a knowledgeable, experienced professional to conduct heat or thermal treatment of your home, there are some resources for finding a TempAir or ThermaPure service provider in this forum thread. Note: I do not personally have experience using those providers.
Outside of heat treatment, we also do not recommend DIY bed bug treatment, for reasons noted here.
However, if you must do your own bed bug treatment, please do your research carefully. Remember:
- Steam and diatomaceous earth can be used in safe and effective ways to kill bed bugs (and we have FAQs on using steam to kill bed bugs, and about diatomaceous earth). (Note: they both can also be used unsafely and ineffectively.) Note: these methods are labor-intensive; steam must be applied correctly, slowly, and repeatedly. DE is slow and does not always work (see the FAQ for more on that.)
- Pesticides should be used with caution and always according to labeling instructions.
- Be wary of products making grandiose claims about their effectiveness, and be aware that even products touted as “natural” or “non-toxic” can be harmful.
- A number of publications listed under Comprehensive Guides in our Resources page provide advice and methods for various types of treatment, including pesticides.