Bed bugs are becoming a global problem. The pests have made news headlines frequently, especially in the US where infestations are reported on a regular basis. The most vulnerable areas are large city centres with many people in a small area.
It is reported that the city housing authority spent half a million dollars to get rid of bed bugs, but was unsuccessful due to the pest’s tolerance to pyrethroid, an insecticide found in most household products registered to kill bed bugs.
Because the pests continue to develop resistance to pesticides a range of treatments must be used to treat an infestation. Heat is one treatment. Heat treatment is mostly used in severe infestation.
The pests are easy to control in low infestation, but difficult to control in severe infestation. Eggs, which seem to be the greatest challenge, are scattered all over the place. There are only few treatments that can kill bed bug eggs. Heat treatment is one of them.
It is unwise for the amateur to treat an established infestation. It is best to hire a pest management firm to do the job. Pest management professionals (PMPs) use a range of treatments to kill them. Heat treatment is often used because it kills bed bugs at all stages in the life cycle.
Treating a whole room
PMPs use professional heating systems to treat a whole room. Electricity or propane generates heat through powerful heaters while fans evenly distribute the heat inside the room.
The heaters are powered by electricity from inside or outside the building. Or, they are provided by generators transported to the site. Thermometers are placed throughout the building to monitor the heat. This type of treatment is very expensive, but it is one of the best solutions for severe infestation.
Heat in the form of steam can also be used to kill bed bugs in carpets, behind baseboards and on upholstered furniture. Hot dryers coupled with portable heat chambers can also be used to get rid of bed bugs in various household items.
Treating infested items
It is not appropriate to apply insecticides to all surfaces. Household items such as the mattress, bedding, toys, shoes, upholstered furniture and clothes infested with the pests cannot be treated with insecticide. A clothes dryer is an excellent tool to kill bed bugs on these household items.
The dryer set at the thermal death point temperature (60°C) can kill bed bugs in 30 minutes. However, if the temperature is lowered to 113°F it takes at least 90 minutes before the insects die.
Portable heating device
Currently, the PackTite portable bed bug heater is available in the commercial market. The device was originally developed to treat suitcases, but it was found extremely useful in treating other items including backpacks, books, sleeping bags, CDs, shoes, purses, pillows and other personal items.
The PackTite unit is a simple solar heating system (a collapsible duffle bag) with support racks on which you place infested items. The device has a heater inside and a monitor outside that allows you to see the temperature inside. Heat rises up to 120°F and kills the pests at all life stages.
It takes much longer (several hours) than the clothes dryer to treat infested items. The advantage is that it is portable and it can treat items the clothes dryer cannot treat.
Do-it-yourself heat chamber
Drs. Philip Koehler and Roberto Pereira, at the University of Florida, invented a heat chamber made of Polystyrene foam to treat large household items and furniture.
Heat-proof items can be placed inside the chamber where they are treated while insecticides are applied to baseboards, cracks and crevices and the perimeter of the room.
The heat chamber is economical, easy to assemble and transport and it can be used in different locations. PMPs are using the heat chamber to treat infestation in hotel rooms.
The heat chamber by itself cannot solve the pest problem. It must be used with insecticides and other treatments. Success depends on the length of the treatment time (several hours) and the temperature in the chamber (120°F).
Heat is one of few treatments that kills bed bugs at all stages in the life cycle. The hot dryer is suitable to treat household items that pesticides cannot treat while the PackTite device treats items that the dryer cannot treat.
The DIY heat chamber is used to treat furniture and large household items while professional heating systems are used to treat a whole room. No single treatment can get rid of bed bugs. You need an integrated range of treatments to kill them.