A tenant in Augusta, Georgia was horrified to find that after her building’s maintenance department treated her home for bed bugs, it smelled like kerosene.
She was right to be concerned, since applying kerosene is a dangerous and inappropriate method for treating bed bugs.
“They came in to spray for bed bugs, to exterminate for bed bugs, and this was almost going on two weeks, and the fumes from the machine got all over the apartment,” said [tenant Sonji Brantley].
She said maintenance at Fox Den Apartment off Wrightsboro Road used a chemical that smells like kerosene to treat her carpet for the pests. We arrived to find a pile of carpet sitting outside.
“If you smell it, you can smell the chemicals in it,” said Brantley. Workers were inside putting down new carpet.
(You can also view the video online at WRDW’s website.)
What’s with spraying the carpet?
As an aside, I’m not sure about the amount of attention given to the carpets here, since the pros on our forums don’t seem to talk much about treating carpets. The focus seems to be more on treating cracks and crevices.
Then again, if the maintenance crew were applying kerosene to kill bed bugs, then it’s likely they don’t know a whole lot about this pest or how to get rid of it.
Thinking of using kerosene or gasoline? Don’t do it!
Kerosene is highly flammable and not a suitable method of bed bug treatment. If your landlord uses a method like this, I recommend calling the local health and building departments to file a complaint.
Now, there’s always someone who comments on an article like this saying, “my grandparents used kerosene to kill bed bugs”. Many substances will kill bed bugs on contact, but they may not all be safe as in this case. Many people have burned their homes down using such methods. Don’t do it.
Gasoline treatment for bed bugs is thought to have been behind the infamous 1909 “crib fire” in Chicago, where 50 laborers died. (The laborers were living on a wooden structure — the “crib” — while working on a tunnel under Lake Michigan.)
There are many more effective and safer methods than kerosene and gasoline that you can use to kill bed bugs. And yet this misguided approach is still common enough that the New York Fire Department has issued repeated warnings to city residents (for example in 2009 and 2011) that they shouldn’t use gasoline-based products to treat bed bugs.
Note also that in some places, like New York City, landlords have to hire a pest management professional to treat for bed bugs — they can’t just have a maintenance guy come in and spray (even if they’re using a legitimate pesticide). I’m not sure about the laws regarding this in Augusta, Georgia, where this story takes place.
Isopropyl Alcohol is also flammable
It’s worth reminding readers that 91% isopropyl alcohol use in treating bed bugs appears to be much more prevalent today than kerosene and gasoline, and is not without its dangers. While an effective contact killer for bed bugs, is also extremely flammable and numerous homeowners and tenants have started fires after using it.
For example, in 2012, up to 30 people were made homeless after a fire in Kentucky destroyed neighboring buildings, after a woman treated her sofa with alcohol.
During the period of 2009-2012, a Hamilton Co. Ohio man, a resident of Cincinnati’s Bond Hill, and an Avondale, Ohio woman, a Mount Carmel, Ohio tenant, and a Colerain Township, Ohio family all seem to have set their homes on fire in similar circumstances. And those are just a few examples.
Let’s not overlook the fact that the media coverage suggests these things seem to occur disproportionately in the Cincinnati area, a fact that suggests something about the availability of affordable bed bug treatment for homeowners and renters who have limited funds and live in the area.
It’s also important to note that in most or all of the above cases, a lit cigarette was involved, though it’s possible to start a fire in a flammable environment even without lighting a match or cigarette (electrical items can give off sparks, for example).
Do you need to do it yourself?
The bottom line is if your home needs bed bug treatment, there are more effective and safer methods than spraying alcohol everywhere or applying kerosene or gasoline. DIY methods can be effective, but you should choose those which never put your family, neighbors, or home in danger.
Consider methods like dry vapor steam (we have a FAQ on killing bed bugs with steam), and ask the volunteer experts on the forums about DIY treatment options. Do your research (our resources page is a good place to start, with links to free comprehensive guides to bed bugs and treatment).