Attempted bed bug treatment with alcohol destroys Kentucky building, leaves 30 homeless

by cilecto on July 1, 2012 · 5 comments

in bed bugs, fire, kentucky

Another “do-it-yourself” attempt at bed bug eradication has ended in disaster. Two historic buildings in the village of Carlisle, Kentucky (population 1900) were destroyed by fire on Friday, June 29. Fifteen to thirty people (depending on source) have lost their home and all possessions. Based on news reports, some of the residents are elderly and/or bedridden. Unlike other episodes like this, fortunately, there were no reported deaths or injuries.

The fire began when a resident doused her couch with alcohol in an attempt to rid it of bed bugs, but dropped her lit cigarette on it.

People will take desperate steps to fight bed bugs as long as they perceive that if they ask for help they will be shamed for it or evicted. That they will be subjected to onerous preparation protocols, involving days of work and loss of property, methods that many experts believe are not necessary. That the treatments won’t work anyway.

Alcohol will kill bed bugs on contact, if you can spray them directly. It is ineffective against eggs and it has no lasting effect: Bugs that come out of hiding and walk over the surface you treated will be unharmed. Many household cleaners will do the same work as alcohol, with less damage to surfaces and a reduced fire hazard. “Contact killers”, such as alcohol, detergents and many “green”, “designer” products sold for bed bug control will “kill” bed bugs, but due to their limitations, will not eradicate them and are not a long-term tool.

Whatever tools and techniques you use to control bed bugs, always follow directions and don’t forget safety. Never smoke while working with volatile chemicals.

There is too much bad information on bed bugs and how to fight them and not enough good. View the comment section of any bed bug article or YouTube on the Internet and you will find a host of advice, mostly misguided, ineffective and sometimes dangerous. (For “good” information, consult this site’s FAQ, or a comprehensive guide like this one (pdf) produced by the State of Michigan.)

People who run apartment buildings and congregate facilities need to be “up front” about how they will handle their bed bug problems. Bed bug policies need to be designed to insure that those who need help get it and do not need to resort to clandestine eradication attempts. There have been some great examples of proactive behavior, like Vancouver’s “bed bug sauna”. This is a rude awakening for landlords, but it needs to get done. Coordinated effort by government is likely in order: It can be reasonably argued that preventing tragedies like the one in Carlisle falls under “insure domestic tranquility”, “provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare”.

And remember, never smoke while handling alcohol.

Thank you to forum participant “Canuck”, who alerted us to the story.


1 nobugsonme July 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Thanks, Cilecto, for an excellent post, and Canuck for mentioning the story!

These stories are all-to-common and for various reasons, seem to be especially a problem in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, and Cleveland also.

Another big reason for self-treatment, of course, is cost of treatment, or fear one will have to pay and can’t afford it. (Of course, burning one’s building down cause much more financial loss; the tenant in this situation may even be legally liable to the landlord for the damages.)

I do not know the laws applicable in Carlisle, KY regarding whether landlords pay for treatment in rental units, or not. The local information I found was quite cryptic, for example this PDF brochure from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Dept., and this fact sheet from Kentucky’s Envorinomental Management Department, which both say that the tenant should tell their landlord and one of them should call a PCO.

I wish online resources provided by local agencies were all really explicit about the laws pertaining to bed bugs in rental units.

I do know that there have been a number of fires in Cincinnati, where landlords don’t have to pay for bed bug treatment, but also in Hamilton County, where they usually do (see our Local Page on Cincinnati/Hamilton County/Northern Kentucky).

So it does seem true that who is responsible for treatment is only one factor among the others you mention.

2 Winston O. Buggy July 5, 2012 at 8:33 am

This is also a reason why many Health Departments or help groups no longer advocate the use of alcohol as a treatment. Sometimes the cure can be worse when not cautiously administered.

3 nobugsonme July 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm

That seems wise to me.

4 Can'tBeatThemEatThem August 25, 2012 at 1:25 am

I’ve been treating our bed bug problem with alcohol for two weeks. What a beer gut!

5 nobugsonme August 27, 2012 at 1:45 am


Yes, you’ve identified the main problem with the other type of “alcohol treatment.”

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