Study: Bed bug 'bombs' don't work
June 3rd, 2012
11:30 PM ET

Study: Bed bug 'bombs' don't work

Do-it-yourself "bombs" or "foggers" that target bugs by filling entire rooms with aerosol insecticide are billed as an easy, cost-effective alternative to pricey pro exterminators. Although these products are indeed cheap, retailing at hardware stores for around $10, if you use them on bed bugs you're likely to get what you pay for.

In a new study, the first of its kind to be published, entomologists at Ohio State University tested three commercially available foggers - sold under the Hot Shot, Spectracide, and Eliminator brands, respectively - and concluded that all three products were virtually useless at fighting bed bug infestations.

Bed bugs in houses and apartments tend to be resistant to the insecticides used in most foggers, the study found, and even non-resistant bugs are likely to survive a fogging because the mist of chemicals doesn't appear capable of penetrating the cracks in furniture and walls where bed bugs usually hide.

"Based on our findings, bug bombs should not be used for crawling insects such as bed bugs," says lead researcher Susan C. Jones, Ph.D., an associate professor at the university. "These products shouldn't even be labeled for bed bugs."

Health.com: 15 tips for avoiding hotel bedbugs

Only one of the products tested, the Hot Shot Bedbug & Flea Fogger, specifically calls out bed bugs on its label, while the others refer broadly to "crawling" or "biting" insects.

Bed bugs are a major nuisance but generally don't pose a threat to health, as their bites rarely cause more than itching welts or the occasional allergic reaction. Foggers, on the other hand, can be hazardous if used incorrectly.

In a 2008 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that at least 466 fogger-related injuries or illnesses were documented across eight states between 2001 and 2006. The most common ill effects—such as headaches, nausea, and coughing - tended to be minor and short-lived, although hospitalization was required in 21 cases.

Most incidents apparently involved people who didn't leave the room quickly enough after setting off a fogger, or who reentered a room too soon. In addition, Jones says, the insecticides found in foggers (known as pyrethroids and pyrethrins) can contaminate surfaces such as kitchen counters, and the aerosol propellant used to disperse them is flammable.

Health.com: Can you get bed bugs at a movie theater?

The new study, which appears in the Journal of Economic Entomology, suggests that foggers are so ineffective against bed bugs that they probably don't warrant even the small risk of harmful insecticide exposure or other hazards.

Jones and her colleagues began by collecting five different populations of bed bugs from residences in Columbus, Ohio. As a control group, they added a sixth population, known as the Harlan strain, that has been cultivated in alaboratory - and carefully sheltered from pesticides - since 1973.

The researchers then placed the various bed bug populations in petri dishes and exposed them to the foggers in a campus building slated for demolition. After one test, Jones recalls, "the Harlan bugs were keeled over and all of our field populations [were] just scurrying around as if nothing ever happened to them," which suggests the non-laboratory bugs were resistant to the insecticide.

In a second series of tests, the researchers added small shelters made of paper discs or cloth to the petri dishes. These shelters, which allowed the bugs to hide during fogging, were designed to mimic the bugs' natural hideouts, such as the cracks and crevices in floorboards, along mattresses, and behind picture frames.

This time the fragile Harlan strain survived just fine. "The critical issue is that the droplets don't penetrate cracks or crevices," Jones says. "They don't even get to where the bugs are hiding."

Health.com: Health hazards hidden in college dorms

So is there any way to get rid of these elusive critters?

Professional exterminators can wipe out an infestation, but they charge hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, Jones says. Simple measures such as putting sheets in the dryer for 30 minutes, scouring mattresses with paper towels, and using a credit card to crush bugs hidden in floor boards and bed frames also can help reduce a population, she adds.

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. "We advise homeowners to follow up with a repeat, full-scale treatment one to two weeks after the initial fogging to ensure that bedbugs have been eradicated. And, as always, we recommend a professional evaluation if the problem is particularly severe."

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

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Filed under: Allergies • Health.com

soundoff (663 Responses)
  1. nobugs

    I've never seen a single bed bug expert - research entomologist or pest management professional - recommend the use of total release aerosol foggers or bug bombs in treating bed bugs.

    (Sometimes an exception is made for aerosol foggers injected into voids, but this is another thing entirely.)

    It really does consumers a disservice to market foggers labeled for bed bugs, when experts confirm they don't work in practice.

    Since the products passed the manufacturer's tests, I wonder if these included the provision of harborages, which are available to bed bugs in real world applications?

    June 4, 2012 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark Glicker

      Those are miserable looking things.

      June 4, 2012 at 05:07 | Report abuse |
    • stateschool

      And did the bug bomb company test their product on a sheltered strain? Technically, since the Harlan strain was indeed killed by the first test, the marketing V.P.'s assertion that the products he's shilling are "proven to be effective against bed bugs" is true. He doesn't say "...all types of bed bugs."

      June 4, 2012 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
  2. Jason

    Etymologists, as an etymologist would be aware, study word origins. This article meant 'entomologists'.

    June 4, 2012 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jacque Wilson

      Thank you for catching our mistake! The researchers at Ohio State University were indeed entomologists, not etymologists. We've corrected the problem and hope you'll continue reading so carefully in the future.

      June 4, 2012 at 14:14 | Report abuse |
  3. JoJo

    I would take this study more seriously if it had been conducted by entomologists (who study bugs) rather than by etymologists (who study word histories).

    June 4, 2012 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. WhatNow

    Once again, someone with no real science background is allowed to publish in a science field. Good grief! Any student of biology knows that entomologists study bugs.

    June 4, 2012 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • William Davis

      Bed Bug Eradication Jacksonville NC – http://www.jacksonvillencpestcontrol.com

      February 22, 2013 at 12:33 | Report abuse |
  5. floyd schrodinger

    I would take this article a lot more seriously if you bothered to proof read it before publishing. Your data may be good but your writing isn’t.

    June 4, 2012 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. bigot

    Please note that the US EPA approves these types of products. They have EPA registration numbers on them and manufacturers are required by law to have EPA approval. EPA needs to take some responsibility of approving products that don't actually do what they claim to do.

    June 4, 2012 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Leprakawn

    I wonder if a hand grenade would do the trick?

    June 4, 2012 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Leprakawn

    Apparently the CNN copy editors are performing as successful as Mitt Romney's "copy editor."

    indeedcheap » indeed cheap
    etymologists » entymologysts
    commercially available foggers » commercially-available foggers
    sold under the Hot Shot, Spectracide, and Eliminator brands, » Spectracide and Eliminator brands
    othersrefer » others refer
    effects—such as headaches, nausea, and coughing – tended » effects—such as headaches, nausea, and coughing—tended

    June 4, 2012 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DH

      Nice work, but I disagree with "Hot Shot, Spectracide and Eliminator..." The inclusion or exclusion of the final comma is controversial, and I steadfastly support its inclusion. Otherwise, you could never make a list of pairs: "Oranges and lemons, dogs and cats, and Abercrombie and Fitch..." Without the last comma, you get nonsense: "Oranges and lemons, dogs and cats and Abercrombie and Fitch..."

      June 4, 2012 at 13:49 | Report abuse |
    • Leprakawn


      Touché, but when I took my advt courses a few years ago, I learned that "comma-and" is used when the two stanzas can make a legit sentence on their own. Decent example nonetheless.

      June 4, 2012 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
  9. Leprakawn

    *entymologists on my correction

    June 4, 2012 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Roxi

      PHP Fatal error: Call to undefined fuinoctn curl_init() in E:\Websites\migpilot_root\Bomb_Squad_Industries\wp-content\plugins\wordpress-flickr-manager\flickr-operations.php on line 20 and calling the url in the browser says: PHP Notice: Trying to get property of non-object in E:\Websites\migpilot_root\Bomb_Squad_Industries\wp-content\plugins\wordpress-flickr-manager\flickr-manager-plugin.php on line 29 PHP Fatal error: Call to undefined fuinoctn add_action() in E:\Websites\migpilot_root\Bomb_Squad_Industries\wp-content\plugins\wordpress-flickr-manager\flickr-manager-plugin.php on line 33 Could tis be a CURL issue maybe?

      October 13, 2012 at 22:17 | Report abuse |
  10. Fran Drake

    Here in Oregon they use heat to destroy bedbugs...it appears to be the only thing that works.

    June 4, 2012 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Fred

    I got bombed this weekend and didn't see any bugs after that. For those of you who may be experiencing bed bugs, I'd recommend it. For that matter, I'd recommend it to to just about anyone.

    June 4, 2012 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. bencoates57

    Douse them with kerosene and set them on fire!

    June 4, 2012 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Robin

    Learn all you can about these bugs and protect yourself. I have been bitten every day for 2 months and have only ever seen 1. It's like living with microscopic zombies. Yes, my place is being treated. BTW, 30% of people don't react to the bites, which is part of the problem.

    June 4, 2012 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Window

    The foggers do not work!! I rented a room in my home to a man that constantly traveled for work. Upon his departure I found his room INFESTED with bed bugs. I Immediately vacuumed as many of the buggers up and emptied the dust bin into a plastic bag and tied and taped the bag and threw it out as well as the whole bed! I then sprayed and fogged the room with pesticide specifically marked for bedbugs and it DID NOT work. I ended up having to pay an expert to come in and spray as well as purchase bed bug safe covers for all remaining beds and pillows in the house....after a couple months of battle and re-application from pesticide guy, I finally one!!! Spent hundreds! Could have done without spending the initial money on stuff that doesn't work.

    June 4, 2012 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jo

    The best preventive measure, is to dust and then vacuum often. Vacuum behind the bed, and under the bed. Use a canister vacuum, and empty the contents into a plastic bag when you are finished. Tie it up tight and immediately take it to the dumpster outside. Clean your canister filters every one or two months. Mine has about 5 filters. I wash them out in the sink, set them on newspaper and let them dry overnight, and my vacuum works like new the next day. When you return from a trip, wash everything that was in the bag, and then vacuum out your travel bag before putting it away. Never leave piles of clothes lying around, even if they are clean. Twice a year when you flip your mattress, spray it with lysol, and then vacuum it. Dry your mattress pad and sheets and blankets for at least 30 minutes on hot. If you have a 15 minute "cool down", add 30 minutes to the 15, making the total time 45 min.

    June 4, 2012 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Scott McFarlan

    There's a guy on indiegogo who has a design for an electronic trap, it sounds like a pretty good concept, I'm surprised more people haven't got behind it. Nothing else we've tried has worked. http://igg.me/p/106303

    June 4, 2012 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. dt

    I had an infestation over a year ago. They were brought in by a pest control company spraying for other critters. They bombed and sprayed twice. I put on a box spring cover. They put diatomaceous earth at the edges of the room. Some results – not perfect. I noticed that none were anywhere near my lanai where I grew tomatoes and basil. I used Sevin dust on the plants. It is not legal to use inside, but any bug crawling through it vapor locks immediately. I have no bed bugs now.

    June 4, 2012 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Ed

    Look at coloradotriflo.com for information concerning getting rid of bedbug using heat.

    June 4, 2012 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeffrey

      Fertig german for Ready on the fieofrx status bar) but its still the same. Javascript is turned on and works fine with e.g. the lightbox overlay on some websites or other effects.With admin page you mean the post-new.php? What I find there is: Flickr Manager Personal Public -Or which site do you mean?tnx once again!tobi

      October 14, 2012 at 01:12 | Report abuse |
  19. Dahai

    An innovative method can solve bed bug problem in 2 hours by yourself. Chemicals can’t reach inside of mattress; people buy mattress encasement. This is no longer right. It only seals bugs inside of mattress. A bed sized trap seals all of bugs in a bedroom. One trap replaces both mattress and box spring encasements with additional function of no more bites.
    Each wash/vacuum/spray effort may kill 8? % bed bugs; but those behind wall and under carpet can suck blood and lay eggs. You may wash/vacuum/spray daily or weekly to kill bugs faster than the egg laying speed. This is similar to a dummy mosquito method which opens windows and sprays chemicals in a house instead of closing windows.
    The video and attached text in Youtube describe how to build sticky barriers, so that bed bugs can’t get access to top of bed, chairs, tables, clothes, and shoes. This is similar to the closing window method. It immediately stops bed bug bites and your daily effort to keep barriers’ function is almost zero. No more bite and zero daily effort mean that you have solved bed bug problem after 2 hours of initial effort.

    June 5, 2012 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lucineide

      Hey Bill,So I’d like the best of both worlds: find my imegas and those of other flickr members; embed those imegas in a blog post along with attribution and licensing terms where applicable. That would be ideal.Download the beta of 1.3.0 at the bottom of this comment and let me know how it goes, i.e what problems or suggestions etc. I think it should actually do everything you wanted apart from pluggable searches.

      October 14, 2012 at 00:50 | Report abuse |
    • chad

      I read about one bedbug infestation where the guy put his bed in the middle of the room with the bed legs in buckets of water and diaemeticous earth around it and the bedbugs crawled up the wall, across the ceiling, and dropped down on top of him.

      June 28, 2014 at 10:47 | Report abuse |
  20. Richard

    Radical environmentalists are responsible for all this. Their crusade against insecticides and herbicides (many cities have banned them) have caused predatory bug pollutions to explode as well as increased the severity of alleries people now suffer because noxious weeds and other pest plants are no longer killed or cut. The costs are varied, but sickness, loss work, expenditures on control measures (after the fact) are astronomic. The only happy people are the environmentalists and drug companies owners.

    June 6, 2012 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Miriam

    My kid brought these home from college. Putting your mattresses in plastic for a year, putting every fabric thing in the dryer for half and hour and using a steam jet cleaner in every crack and crevice works very well. We've been bedbug free for 2 years now. The $120 I spent for a steam cleaner with a flexible house was worth every penny.

    June 6, 2012 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Kenneth Rawlinson

    Steam cleaners can really kill those molds and bacterias on the clothing. *

    <a href="Most up-to-date article content on our webpage

    November 22, 2012 at 01:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Tom

    D & D Pest Control Co.

    December 3, 2012 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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  25. northeasternexterminating

    Bed bug bombs are the worst thing to use. When you bomb, it acts as a repellant and sends the bugs deeper into the walls which makes the problem much worse. Educate your self before you treat! It will save you more money then you can ever imagine

    July 5, 2013 at 20:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. lauren

    I agree, foggers and bombs do not work 100% of the time. My spare bedroom has bedbugs and I have tried bombing it and it didn't work. I have been reading a lot about getting rid of those pesky bugs and it says to take a steam cleaner and run that over the entire mattress especially the corners. So I went out and bought some bedbug spray that I am going to use and then a few hours later I am going to steam the bed. Hopefully this works, I will let you know how it works out.

    July 15, 2013 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • michelle

      Did it work so far???

      August 15, 2017 at 16:14 | Report abuse |
  27. StuBarnes

    Upon revelations of the study a class action law firm has commenced an investigation into claims made by Bed Bug bombs and fogger manufacturers. The link to the investigation can be found at http://www.bedbuginvestigation.com

    August 13, 2013 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Nick

    The problem with bedbugs is that you have to get the chemical on the bed bug in order to kill it. If they have made it to the insdes of your walls, you are going to have a difficult time exterminating the room. I have a product that surrounds the room and catches the bed bugs as they come out to feed on you, eventually getting all of the bed bugs that are in the walls. this also stops them from traveling and stops them from infesting your unit from another unit. http://www.bedbuggutter.com

    February 27, 2014 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Millie

    I have tried to use the bug bombs on bed bugs and it never works. i always think it does and then a little later they are back in full action. i just read http://toomanyadapters.com/ces-2014-best-rest/ and they suggest using a bed bug heater. anyone try that?

    July 13, 2016 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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  32. Sophia Wilson

    Excellent and well thought out analysis of bed bugs. This is a great article, and something I think needs to be communicated more often. According to my personal experience heatigation for bed bugs is the best treatment and one must go for it: https://framespestcontrol.com/heatigation-for-bed-bugs

    March 1, 2019 at 03:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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