How to kill bed bugs using steam (FAQs)
Want to kill bed bugs on your own, or supplement your pest control firm’s work?
Steam works well.
This FAQ explains how a steamer can be a useful and cost-effective tool in helping you get rid of bed bugs in your home.
Steam can be used to kill bed bugs on contact. Many professionals use it, often before applying residual pesticides and dusts, and sometimes in lieu of pesticides (where necessary). You can also use a steamer yourself, but we recommend doing your research. This FAQ provides information, links to further information, and examples of steamers and other tools.
- If you plan to steam but are being treated by a pest control professional (which we recommend), you must clear this with them before using steam, and about when and where it is safe and useful for you to steam. If you use a steamer without clearing it with your PCO, you may clean away or render useless pesticide and dust treatments that have already been applied!
- Besides, obviously, being hot enough to burn you, steaming has potential dangers related to the vaporization of chemicals; it can also cause mold growth. Read the overview below and the recommended resources and take precautions in order to avoid harming yourself and your family.
Essential information on technique for killing bed bugs with steam can be found in the following articles:
- When it comes to eliminating bed bugs with steam, the article “Killing Them Softly” provides essential tips. (Most important: use the larger head on the steamer nozzle; Dr. Potter et. al. note that the smaller heads can simply spread live bed bugs around–very bad news.)
- More technical tips on how to use steam to kill bed bugs from Stephen Doggett’s Bed Bug Code of Practice, 3rd Ed. The relevant section is on pages 34-36.
- Forum discussions tagged as “steam” and “steamers” may also be useful for fellow Bedbuggers’ experiences with steam.
Overview of advice culled from professional articles and forum discussions on killing bed bugs with a steamer:
- Several of our members feel that steam is useful in the fight against bed bugs.
- Do your research first (see links above).
- Steam is a contact killer that can kill both bed bugs and eggs.
- Dry vapor steam is of the utmost importance: all steam methods increases the likelihood of mold growing in the home, but steamers labeled as producers of “dry steam” significantly reduce the mold potential.
- You can steam most furniture, floors, baseboards, walls, ceiling, etc.
- Do not try to steam electrical outlets. Steam and electricity are not a good mix.
- Many PCOs offer steam services, or you can do this yourself yourself as a complement to what your PCO is doing—but you should coordinate with the PCO about it.
- Heat may break down the chemicals the PCO is using, thus undermining their residual effect. (Some PCOs use steam only and no pesticides. This would likely take a lot longer and require more repeat treatments.)
- You should wear a respirator as noted in this article (click for PDF). Truthfully, we should be wearing respirators any time we paint a wall or handle any chemicals like pesticides, herbicides or bleach. But steam, specifically, is going to vaporize any chemicals on surfaces, be they pesticide or household cleaning products, etc. PLEASE NOTE: the respirator is not the same as a basic dust mask. It is specifically labeled for “paint and pesticide vapors.” I was able to purchase one at my local hardware store for 30 bucks.
- Temperature is important. Steam at 120 F must hit bed bugs directly. (Editor’s note: Does 120F provide an instant kill?) If you are purchasing a steamer, the manufacturer should list a temperature at the tip of being over 200F. It may also be possible to purchase an infrared thermometer (aka infrared laser thermometer) to check your steamer temperature at tip. Stephen Doggett’s Revised Bed Bug Code of Practice (see above) says:
As with all equipment, the steamer must be properly maintained and the operating temperatures should be regularly checked with the aid of an infrared thermometer. Immediately after steam treatment the surface should be recording at least a temperature of 70 to 80 degrees C (=158 to 176 degrees F)
- Steam is dangerously hot. Don’t forget to stay focused and safe.
- This should be used as one piece of the integrated pest management puzzle. Professional pest control assistance and coordination with your landlords and neighbors (if applicable) is still essential in order to get rid of bed bugs in your building.
Key things to look for in a steamer:
- Dry (or “dry vapor”) Steam
- Heat at the tip is >200F degrees per manufacturer
- Large water chamber to cut down on starts and stops in process
- A decent length of cord (or purchase an extension cord)
- A good warranty on the boiler
The most economical dry vapor steam cleaner we know of is in the $300 price range: Vapamore MR-100 Dry Vapor Steamer from USBedbugs. A number of Forums users have reported positively on the Vapamore MR-100, and the specifications look good. As a bonus, US Bed Bugs sells it for under $300 with free shipping.
You can also get the Vapamore MR-100 Steamer at Amazon.com
if you prefer.
If you’re able to go up to the next price range, KillerQueen recommends the Vapor Clean TR5 for consumers and uses a TR6 himself (see this post). The main difference between the two is that the TR6 (designed for heavy duty use) offers continuous fill. The TR5, selling for under $500 as of February 2011, is about $400 less than the TR6, and will steam continuously for 1.5-2 hours. You can get the TR5 and TR6 from US Bed Bugs.
S mentioned using the WhiteWing Steamer in this thread; needtosleep also uses it. The WhiteWing is no longer easily available.
The high end of dry vapor steam cleaners is the Ladybug series:
Some Bedbuggers have used these with good success.
This is the Reliable T730a that reader pleasehelp had seen recommended by a PCO.
This is the Reliable T630 Enviromate Steam Cleaner (which appears to be similar in many ways, and which Bedbuggers including bugbasher have also recommended).
Note: since this FAQ was first written, the Reliable T630′s price has gone up.
Other steamers recommended by forum participants included:
Amerivap (specifically the Amerivap Steamax line which runs about $400-500)
Readers often ask about dry vapor steamer rentals. It looks like the firm Simplex in Québec rents the Polti VAP 2000, which looks to be a dry vapor steamer, for $46 CAN per weekend. wchicago reports that Clark-Devon Hardware in Chicago rents out the White Wing Steamer.
We’d welcome tips on other sources of professional dry vapor steamer rentals worldwide.
Mangycur used an AO R95 paint / pesticide respirator mask from her hardware store. This appears to be the same model.
Collette, a reader, shared her success story about using steam to kill bed bugs in her home. You can read it here.
Many thanks to Mangycur who wrote most of this FAQ, providing the helpful and succinct overview, suggestions about shopping for a steamer, and information about respirator use above.
Thanks also to everyone else who contributed information to this FAQ, including hopelessnomo, needtosleep, bugbasher, pleasehelp, Winston O. Buggy, Lieutenantdan, and S.
Please add additional links, suggestions, corrections in the comments below.
Here’s a video from Bed Bug Central’s Jeff White on using steam to kill bed bugs:
And here’s a second video from Jeff White, about how to determine if your steamer is effective in killing bed bugs: