Why are foggers and bombs still being sold to treat bed bugs?

by nobugsonme on June 4, 2012 · 13 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bug bombs and foggers, DIY bed bug treatment

Since this website was started in 2006, we’ve been told countless times that bug bombs (total release aerosol foggers) are not effective for dealing with bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) because they don’t penetrate into harborage areas.

We are also told foggers and bombs may spread bed bugs, making problems worse.  It is well known to researchers also that the pyrethroid insecticides commonly used in these products are also ones to which populations of bed bugs are increasingly resistant.

Expert opinions have for many years been fairly clear on the fact that foggers/bombs are not a good method to treat bed bugs.  (Based on this input, we even have a FAQ about foggers and bug bombs, originally dating from 2007.)

Here are some sources (bold type = emphasis added):

  • On page 25 of the July 2006 Bed Bug Code of Practice (PDF), Dr. Stephen Doggett states,

“Aerosols should never be used as space sprays for bed bug elimination; the fine droplets simply will not penetrate into the locations where the insects hide. As most contain pyrethroids, there is an associated excitatory flushing effect and by spraying into a space rather than harbourage areas, the bugs are likely to disperse and can spread an infestation. Like aerosols, the smoke generating insecticides (known as pyrotechnics) or total release insecticides (‘bombs’) are also unlikely to penetrate into harbourage areas.”

  • The New York City Health guide “Preventing and Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Safely” (PDF) from 2009 warns consumers, “Foggers and bug bombs are not effective against [bed bugs]” (page 7) and “Do not use pesticide bombs or foggers to control pests. They can make conditions worse” (back page).
  • Dr. Michael Potter’s article Limitations of Home Insect Foggers (“Bug Bombs”) from 2010 warns of the dangers of repellency, the limited effectiveness of pyrethrins, and potential fire hazards for consumers. Note that Dr. Potter’s comments are not solely relevant to the use of such a product against bed bugs, but more generally.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Safety Precautions for Total Release Foggers,” warned consumers as of November 2011 that, “Foggers and bug bombs do not control bed bugs.” Interestingly, as of May 2012, this language has been changed to “Foggers and bug bombs should not be used as the only method to attempt to control bed bugs.”  (The EPA page’s main focus is not on bed bugs, but on foggers/bombs more generally, and on safety — because these products are potentially dangerous.)
  • University extension services and entomology department fact sheets recommend against the use of foggers for bed bugs.  For example, North Carolina State University notes that “Foggers will not eradicate a bed bug infestation.”
“…bug bombs, also known as total release foggers, are popular but are not effective when treating bed bugs. These products throw insecticide into air of which very little, if any, comes in contact with bed bugs which are hiding in cracks and behind and under objects. Its use will not have any impact on a bed bug infestation. Unfortunately, it is too easy for people to misuse or over use bug bombs which can result in unnecessary pesticide exposure. Bug bombs are also potentially flammable if used incorrectly.”

Many, many more examples abound.

While the information above was freely available for the public if they went looking for it, there hadn’t until now been any formal research studies documenting the ineffectiveness of aerosol foggers against bed bugs.

Now, research from Dr. Susan Jones at Ohio State University entitled “Ineffectiveness of Over-the-Counter Total-Release Foggers Against the Bed Bug (Heteroptera: Cimicidae),”  has demonstrated that total release aerosols are not very effective in killing bed bugs.

Here’s a reference for the upcoming article:

SUSAN C. JONES AND JOSHUA L. BRYANT. Ineffectiveness of Over-the-Counter Total-Release Foggers Against theBed Bug (Heteroptera: Cimicidae). J. Econ. Entomol. 105(3): 957-963 (2012); DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/EC12037

According to a press release,

Jones and research associate Joshua Bryant evaluated three different fogger brands obtained from a nationwide retailer, and experiments were conducted on five different bedbug populations. Following application of the three foggers, Jones and Bryant found little, if any, adverse effects on the bed bugs.

According to CNN, the products tested were

… three commercially available foggers – sold under the Hot Shot, Spectracide, and Eliminator brands, respectively…

CNN also notes that only Hot Shot Bedbug and Flea Fogger specifically lists bed bugs on the label, while the others mention “crawling” and “biting” pests.

Jones and Bryant tested five different field strains of bed bugs plus the protected “Harlan” strain, which exhibits no pesticide resistance.

The press release explains,

Because a majority of bed bugs spend most of the time hiding in protected sites (under sheets and mattresses, in cracks and crevices, deep inside carpets, etc.), Jones said it is very unlikely that they will be exposed to the insecticide mist from foggers. And even if they do come into contact with the mist, she added, many bed bug populations have varying degrees of resistance to the insecticides, so they will most likely survive the application.

“These foggers don’t penetrate in cracks and crevices where most bed bugs are hiding, so most of them will survive,” Jones said. “If you use these products, you will not get the infestation under control, you will waste your money, and you will delay effective treatment of your infestation. Bed bugs are among the most difficult and expensive urban pests to control. It typically takes a professional to do it right. Also, the ineffective use of these products can lead to further resistance in insects.”

CNN, however, spoke with the manufacturer of Hot Shot products:

United Industries Corporation, which makes all three of the products tested in the study, emphasized in a statement that only the Hot Shot brand fogger is designed to be used on bedbugs. The company stood by its line of Hot Shot products, saying they are “proven to be effective against bed bugs.”

The Hot Shot fogger “is particularly effective when used in in conjunction with our bedbug-killing direct sprays,” said John Pailthorp, the company’s division vice president of marketing.

One has to wonder if harborages were provided in United’s testing process, as they were in the current study, since these seem to have been crucial in protecting all of the populations from the insecticide.  And harborages are almost always easily available in the real world setting.

Most consumers do not do extensive research.  They go to a retail store, look in the insecticides department, and see foggers being marketed to treat bed bugs.  They assume these will be an effective option.

Unfortunately, we too often hear from them after they have used such products.

Consumers are often perplexed that, given the fact that total release foggers and bug bombs are frowned upon by experts, they are still being marketed as over-the-counter bed bug remedies.

So are we.


Update (8/23/2012):

Right now, you can download a free PDF of this article, from this page on the Entomology Society of America website.  It is also available as of 11/2012 from the Armed Forces Pest Management Board Literature Retrieval System.)


1 Winston O. Buggy June 5, 2012 at 8:22 am

While too many this may obvious (as in duh!) and redundant, however it should add to the arsenal of those battling not only bed bugs but ill informed landlords supers and neighbors.

2 cilecto June 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Setting off a fogger and leaving the room feels like “you’re doing something”, while avoiding actually hunting for and picking through bugs. The can says that it “kills bed bugs” and “pentrates hiding places” (while not saying that they will not penetrate the important hiding places and solve your problem).

Getting businesses to stop marketing devices and chemicals that don’t work or hurt is a challenge when there’s money to be made (and lobbyists to be hired). It’s tougher when “big names” have staked a portion of their bottom line on those sales (as opposed to, say, small-time-operators).

What also confounds efforts to discourage DIY and stop the sale of bad tools are cases when members of the “professional” pest control industry demonstrate that they cannot always be relied on for ethics or competence.

3 Peteone June 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm

There is a new product I read about on MSN called Bed Defense.
It got mixed and mostly bad reviews on Amazon.
Can someone here find out if this product is being tested???
It seems repelling bugs would be a bad thing.
It also seems that these “attractants” aren’t really attracting anything….

4 Peteone June 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm

This is part 2 of my questioning:
I’m assuming an active or heavy BB infestation would need the aid of professionals alongside this product called Bed Defense, what I’m wondering is…….If Bed Defense does actually work well, is it primarily for use by people without active infestations who only want to PREVENT a possible infestation?? Is it an effective proactive tool for the fight against BBs??

5 nobugsonme June 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Hi Peteone,

I have not heard any feedback on this one, so I think the jury is still out.

There are a million bed bug products out there and many of them don’t provide independent testing data to prove their claims. If they do have such data, it should be linked from their website.

6 blargg June 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm

I remember months ago, you posted about Coby Schal’s findings regarding bedbugs in apartment buildings. Nearly all buildings had infestations with genetic data supporting the fact that the infestation started with a single pregnant female, or possibly a couple from the same immediate “family.”

I’m willing to bet foggers/bombs playe a significant role in this study. Think about it… one person panics, sets off a bomb, spreads the infestation, etc.

7 nobugsonme June 6, 2012 at 8:36 am

Hi blargg,

Good point. While it’s pretty clear bed bugs can spread in a building without the use of these products, I don’t doubt that at least some of the time, bed bugs are helped to spread around buildings by fogging/bombing.

Cilecto — you make some important points about the attraction to consumers these products present– all the more reason we need some body to certify product effectiveness, something the EPA does not currently take on in the case of bed bug products.

Winston is right that the study may help word get out to more parties who currently are not on the receiving end of the consensus around foggers.

8 persona-non-bugga June 9, 2012 at 8:13 am

A couple of years ago, I called Hot Shot’s customer feedback line with a question about their No Pest Strips. Just out of curiosity, while I had them on the line, I asked about their bedbug foggers and how I’d read they were ineffective and might aggravate the situation by causing bedbugs to disperse to new locations.

The telephone rep was polite and cordial and very matter-of-fact that the foggers were intended to treat bedbugs. He didn’t make any claims about how effective the product was. He didn’t accept nor dispute the position that bedbug foggers are ineffective/counterproductive. He wasn’t really responsive to my question. He simply restated the product’s intended purpose with a warm and calm authority.

I tell ya, as far as marketing, it’s a very effective way to deal with the public. Even holding the opinion about bedbug foggers that I do (I would avoid them), I felt “lulled.”

I can see situations where someone fighting bedbugs reads this information about foggers being bad, but uncertain about whom to trust calls the “1-800” questions number on the back of the can. A reassuring human voice and the higher trust level most people have for national-brand products (vs. something they read on the interwebz) might sway them to the bad choice of fogger even after reading something like this.

I just came from a message board (not bedbug-related) where they were discussing bedbugs, and foggers were strongly recommended. It was a little shocking to read, and I wondered if there had been developments in fogger technology. I’m sad to see there haven’t.

I think it’s difficult for people to discern what is good information and what is bad. People wrongly assume that if something is permitted to be sold in a stores with certain claims on the packaging that it must have passed some third-party review process.

I echo what NoBugs said to Cilecto: “[…] we need some body to certify product effectiveness, something the EPA does not currently take on in the case of bed bug products.”

9 nobugsonme June 13, 2012 at 9:15 am

Hey Persona-non-bugga!

Just a belated response to say it’s great to see you commenting, though your experience is a disturbing, though not surprising one, alas. I am glad you shared it with us.

10 Ocdbb July 30, 2012 at 5:25 am


Recent info on foggers being innefective
Monday, July 2, 2012

A new study brings bad news for people fighting bedbug infestations and companies that sell over-the-counter insecticides.

Ohio State University entomologists Susan Jones and Joshua Bryant found that “bug bombs” and “foggers” – cheap, insecticide-spraying aerosols that have been marketed for decades as do-it-yourself alternatives to exterminators – were ineffective against even the most vulnerable of bedbugs.”

11 nobugsonme August 23, 2012 at 12:20 am

Update (8/23/2012):

For those who, like me, aren’t subscribers to the Journal of Economic Entomology, right now, you can download a free PDF of this article, from this page on the Entomology Society of America website.

Get it while it lasts!

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