Almost 10 years ago, and shortly after The Common Bed Bug starting making its comeback in the U.S., our industry researchers quickly began new studies on this creature. What they found is that heat is The Enemy of the bed bug, and some numbers they offered from their lab studies were these. 104 degrees for 24 hours kills all bugs and eggs, 113 degrees for 1 hour, or 175 degrees (a clothes dryer) takes only 5 minutes to kill all bugs and their eggs. For that clothes dryer, though, they suggested running things that can stand it for at least 30 minutes and if washing is to be done it is effective on a hot water cycle of 120 degrees.
Conversely, COLD will also kill bed bugs and this is why we have a freezing technique available using a portable unit. The key, though, is to make that temperature change suddenly so that the bugs do not have the opportunity to move away to cooler (or warmer) locations. Obviously, in a dryer they are a captive audience and are doomed, but in a room where they may be inside a dresser, mattress, or the wall voids they may be able quickly to move to a place that is more comfortable. We are advised that placing things in black plastic bags and leaving them out in the sun may not be completely successful, because the bugs can move down to the bottom under everything where they find cooler temperatures.
So, yes, heating alone "can" be completely successful if you can ensure that the lethal temperature is established for the required length of time in ALL places where the bugs may hide. This is difficult. At a recent NPMA conference a major company that does whole-room heat treatments, with a high degree of success, stated that they do not rely on just the heat. They also thoroughly vacuum the room, use steam, use localized heat treatments of items, and dust into voids with residual contact insecticides. They recognize what a powerful adversary this bed bug is.
Steam is ideal for some uses, such as along crevices on mattresses where you may prefer not to apply insecticides. Steam also instantly kills eggs, and since eggs are glued onto the surface and cannot move away they are perfect candidates for this treatment. There now are a number of portable chambers available where large items can be moved and the chamber heated for several hours to ensure the time/temperature factor is reached. There are even smaller heat chambers that can be used for smaller items, and the Univ. of Florida has instructions for building a "Heat Box" that can be assembled right in a home or apartment, filled with furniture and then heated with the appropriate portable devices.
So, yes, heat is an excellent tool for killing bed bugs if its limitations are kept in mind. For heating entire structures it may be difficult to achieve the proper heat in many locations and maintain it, and monitoring devices should be placed in those locations to ensure you are not leaving live bugs or eggs behind.
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Please note, Mr. Pest Control is answering questions supplied by PMP customers across North America. His answers are generated from industry and manufacturer-provided information. The answer may not be specific to the laws and regulations for your State, Province, Territory or Country. In addition, products mentioned may not be registered and or available in all areas. Always check with your local Univar office for specific information to your area. Always read and follow label directions.