Bed Bug Heat Treatment: What to expect
[updated for 2023]
When we talk about heat treatment for bed bugs we generally are talking about:
- A low-pressure steamer for home use
- Bed Bug Oven
- Using your dryer/dishwasher for appropriate items
- Professional room/house heat treatment
Items 1-3 are steps we can take to help speed up overall treatment and get ahead of their reproductive cycle. That means you are killing them faster than they can reproduce. However all of those have their limitations as they cannot reach every possible hiding place. Steam can come close but to be even close to effective you would have to steam everywhere almost every day for weeks. It’s not really humanly possible, I mean it is, but you don’t want to be that person because that person is NOT SLEEPING.
Steam is great for bedding, around baseboards, bed frames, chairs, car seats. I’ve got a lot more about steaming and its benefits here.
If you cannot treat everything at the same time or prior to having heat treatment, get it in a heavy duty trash bag with a couple of twist ties and then another bag and then get it out of your house. Put it in a garage, or backyard, or storage unit, until you can properly treat it or leave it for 18 months.
**If you do not treat all your possessions with the recommended protocols prior to heat treatment you could re-infest your home with your own infested stuff.**
The company providing your heat treatment will provide you with instructions about how to treat your stuff. Follow those instructions to the letter and you might wake up the next day with no bed bugs. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?!?
How hot does it need to be to kill bed bugs
I have seen charts varying from 115° to 120° but why not be absolutely certain, so 120°.
|Bed Bug Heat Chart||Lethal Temperature||Time duration|
|Bed Bug Adults & Nymphs||120° F / 48° C||60 Minutes|
|Bed Bug Eggs||125° F / 51° C||60 Minutes (Or 120° for 90 minutes)|
|Bed Bug All Stages||120° F / 48° C||90 Minutes|
This is a good video that will take you through the thermal remediation process. You’ll see what happens in your home during heat treatment. I’m not endorsing this ThermaPure over another brand or company for heat treatment, only endorsing heat treatment in general as long as it’s performed according to best practices.
If all precautions have been followed, heat treatment is very effective and quick. Check your local directories for pest companies that offer heat treatment. Call several to compare prices, warranty, and follow-up inspections. Unplug everything electronic, and remove items that can melt such as candles and aerosol cans which can explode if pressure builds up due to heat. You could leave a small tea candle in each room to see if it does melt during treatment, maybe in a drawer, which might reassure you the thermal treatment was done correctly. This is a very good description of what you can expect with thermal remediation.
Killing Bed Bugs with Steam
Vapor steamers are another tool to kill bed bugs with heat. The deadly hot steam leaves less water behind reducing the possibility of dangerous mold. It is strongly suggested you wear a paint and pesticide respirator when using steam cleaners in your home. Steamers are useful for treating molding, baseboards, furniture (test first), bed frames, mattresses, rugs, and cars. Vapor Steam Cleaners can reach temperatures of 240-360 degrees or higher, and can cause dangerous burns, so use caution.
After pesticides have been applied, you don’t want to steam in those locations because it will remove the pesticides, and possibly vaporize them into the air.
Things you can steam in your home include sofas, door jams, carpets, baseboards, drawers and furniture, windows, your car. It has turned out to be a pretty handy thing to have around, post bed bugs. You should always test your steamer on a small area to see if the heat will damage the surface, paint or veneer.
IMPORTANT: Do not use steam on areas that have been treated with pesticides as it will vaporize and remove the pesticides, and you risk inhaling the vaporized chemicals. Always test on a discreet location first as heat can melt paint, strip finish, melt glue damage prints and wood, and cause real damage to possessions or you, be careful, you may be sleep deprived.
The most effective steam cleaner will be a canister high pressure steam cleaner with attachments and a hose. A long cord makes the job easier.
- Let the steamer cool down before refilling if the water runs out because the tank is really hot and pressurized. You can get severe burns from misusing your steamer.
- Lo-Vapor steam (leaves less water and moisture on surfaces)
- Hoses and various attachments
- Adjustable pressure. The steam should be at the lowest setting in most cases to avoid blowing bed bugs deeper in to cracks or just blasting them to another spot
- A long electric cord is nice
Start with the mattress making sure to treat the seams, labels, and any other attachments. Next, move to the chairs and sofas taking care with cushions, seams and buttons. Sofa cushions and fancy pillows can be put in a bed bug oven if you have one and can take up to six hours to gently heat treat. Pull out beds should be treated just like any mattress or bed frame, with detail, steaming every inch.
Move slowly when steam treating resting for a count of 5 or for 5-10 seconds along every surface. Be sure the steamer is set to the lowest pressure setting so as not to blow bed bugs away where the heat won’t reach them.
** Do not steam electrical outlets. This is a fire and electrocution danger. Do not allow the steam head to make contact with wires.
It is common for heat treatment to also be accompanied by residual pesticides around the baseboards. Ask your PCO if they will use residuals, what they will use and how long it will last.
You can get a head start on treatment before pesticides have been applied by going around your furniture, mattress, and baseboards, door and window jams, floors, rugs, and walls with a “low vapor steamer.”
As you can probably already tell, I am a BIG FAN of steam. It’s non-toxic, it can penetrate a few inches so it can kill beyond what it’s touching (with limitations). The further from the “target” the steam quickly cools to a non-lethal temperature. Heat can go a long way in your treatment, possibly reducing the number of pesticides you might have to use.
Low vapor steamers produce burning hot and highly pressurized steam typically 240 degrees or hotter. They leave less water after use which reduces opportunities for mold and mildew. The steam will kill what it can reach including eggs, however the further the steam does reach the less hot it becomes.
Bed bug eggs are sticky and very durable, but the heat from a steamer will melt them instantly and without poison. Low Vapor Steam Cleaners are very useful in the fight against bed bugs and many pest companies now use steamers regularly as a non-toxic and effective tool against bed bugs and part of their IPM, or Integrated Pest Management strategy. Watch this excellent video to see exactly how to use your steam cleaner to kill bed bugs with heat and no pesticides. I think some pesticides or bio-pesticides are still necessary combined with an isolated bed to win the bed bug war.
High heat temperature, low vapor steamers can penetrate the fabric on furniture and mattresses, box-springs, joints and seams in furniture, reaching further than just the point of contact.
Garment steamers designed for getting wrinkles out of clothes do not get hot enough or have the variety of settings you need.
Do not steam in any area where pesticides are because it will vaporize the chemicals effectively erasing them and possibly creating toxic fumes.
Steamers get very hot and can cause serious burns, and permanent damage to some furniture, books, records, shoes, items with glue or soft plastic. Always be aware of where the steamer is and where your body is. Wear shoes when steaming. Always test on a small area of furniture first.
People who have been successful with the D.I Y. techniques used their steamers daily or every other day to re-treat areas that have not had pesticides applied.
It is strongly suggested you wear a paint and pesticide respirator mask as a general precaution when using steam cleaners in your home. Vapor Steam Cleaners can reach temperatures of 240-360 degrees or higher and can cause dangerous burns, so use caution. Wear a respirator mask when steaming baseboards, door jams, window frames, and furniture. Paint and chemicals may vaporize when steaming at high temperatures and you don’t want to inhale that toxic steam.
Always test on a discreet location first as heat can melt paint, strip paint finish, melt glue damage prints and wood, and cause real damage to possessions or you, be careful, you may be sleep-deprived. I still use my steamer to dissolve dirt on my floors, baseboards, and windowsills. It’s a great non-chemical cleaning and bed bug killing tool.
Low Vapor Steam Cleaners are very useful in the fight against bed bugs and many pest companies now use steamers as a non-toxic and effective tool against bed bugs. Using steam cleaners in your home pre-pesticide on your baseboards, cracks, and crevices, floors and furniture is an excellent pre-pesticides head start for killing bed bugs in your home.
Things you can steam in your home include sofas, door jams, carpets, baseboards, drawers and furniture, windows, your car.
Start with the mattress making sure to treat the seams, labels, and any other attachments. Next, move to the chairs and sofas taking care with cushions, seams, and buttons. Sofa cushions can be put in a bed bug heater if you have one and can take up to six hours to treat.
Sofa or pull-out beds should be treated just like any mattress or bed frame, with detail. Move slowly when steam treating resting for a count of 5 or for 1-3 seconds per inch along every surface.
You can get severe burns from misusing your steamer. Wear long sleeves and shoes while steaming.
The steamer should have adjustable pressure. The steam should be at the lowest setting in most cases to avoid blowing bed bugs deeper into cracks or just blasting them to another spot.
Place a nylon stocking over tightly over the end of the steamer attachment to diffuse the pressure and further prevent a blast of air/steam that might push or spread bed bugs away or into other areas without killing them.
If the water runs out, let the steamer cool down before refilling because the tank is really hot and pressurized. Don’t open the tank while it is pressurized. You can get severe burns from opening your hot steamer while it is pressurized.
Futons should be treated just like any mattress or bed frame, with detail. Move very slowly when steaming, resting for a count of 5 or for 5-10 seconds along every surface. If there are any holes, no matter how small, the mattress needs a bed bug proof mattress encasement.