The Dangers of DIY: Why You Shouldn’t Treat Bed Bugs Yourself

Bed bug infestations can lead to serious health problems like permanent scarring, infected bites, and even infectious diseases.  But while it’s important to eliminate bed bugs as soon as possible, you should carefully consider attempting to treat an infestation on your own. Do It Yourself, or DIY, methods like bug bombs and diatomaceous earth are almost never effective, and in fact, often make infestations worse.  Our Maryland apartment bed bug lawyers explain why using professional pest control is the better option for lasting and effective eradication.

Why DIY Methods of Killing Bed Bugs Don’t Work

Even if your apartment is still in the very early stages of infestation, it is critically important to notify your property manager and request an inspection and treatment from licensed pest control companies.  Remember, bed bugs have very short breeding cycles and can lay numerous eggs during a lifetime, multiplied by however many female bugs there are in your apartment.  It only takes a few weeks — sometimes even less — for manageable populations to explode into full-blown infestations.

Unfortunately, as bed bug scares have become increasingly prominent in the media, profit-hungry companies have seized the opportunity to corner a DIY bed bug treatment market by advertising questionable eradication methods and propagating dangerous misinformation about bed bugs’ susceptibility to powders and pesticides.  We know from our clients’ experiences that off the shelf pesticides and powders almost never work.

Some of these companies prey on consumers’ well-intentioned hopes of using “green” or eco-friendly methods instead of chemical pesticides, while others take the opposite approach and promise outrageous results from cheap cans of bug spray.  But while green and chemical methods may be at opposite ends of the ecological spectrum, the results for misled consumers are ultimately the same: minimal and/or nonexistent.

Let’s take a closer look at the some of the issues with common DIY treatment products, such as diatomaceous earth (“DE”) and consumer-grade pesticides like aerosol contact sprays.

stop bed bug infestations outbreaks

DE and Consumer-Grade Pesticides Are Often Ineffective Against Apartment Infestations

You have probably read about the purported benefits of using DE, or “diatomaceous earth,” which appears as a whitish or light brown powder.  DE is a highly versatile substance with applications ranging from agriculture and gardening, to filtration and industrial use, and is used as a key ingredient in everyday products like toothpaste, cat litter, and shampoo.  Some DE is touted as food-grade, and safe for human consumption.

While DE has proven invaluable in other practical applications, it simply isn’t an effective method of killing off bed bugs (or, for that matter, fleas or carpet beetles, either).

In theory, DE works by shredding bug and insect bodies.  While DE feels like fine powder or flour to our sense of touch, the “powder” is actually very rough and abrasive on the microscopic level.  These tiny, sharp-edged DE flakes are supposed to lodge in vulnerable areas on insect joints and exoskeletons, simultaneously shredding vulnerable areas while acting as a dehydrating desiccant.

In reality, bed bugs are largely undeterred by DE, even under the barrage of a heavy coating.  Moreover, because DE takes such a long time to kill the affected bugs — a task at which it nearly always fails — it gives the population a chance to keep breeding and expanding in the meantime.  Further, with apartment infestations often spreading through the walls, light fixtures, and nooks and crevices of an apartment, there is simply no way to blanket the apartment with DE in the places where the bed bugs are located.

Despite its less than impressive benefits as a as a bed bug control treatment, DE’s popularity persists due to marketing, cost-efficiency, and widespread availability.

In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recently released a joint statement warning:

Although bed bugs may sometimes be controlled by non-chemical means alone, this approach is often very difficult, potentially less effective, and usually more resource intensive.

In other words, your efforts with DE alone may very well yield minimal results and prolonged infestation and misery.  Remember, the longer you use ineffective treatment methods, the more time you are giving your bed bug population to breed and grow, creating a vicious cycle.

At the same time, chemical-intensive treatments can also fall flat.  While “bombs” or “foggers” are known to be extremely effective against flea infestations, their efficacy when it comes to controlling bed bug populations is highly questionable at best.  The bed bug lawyers at Whitney, LLP have heard countless stories of both tenants and landlords trying to treat apartment infestations as cheaply as possible using bug bombs.  In every story, the bugs simply run to the adjacent room or apartment, spreading the problem without any lasting solution. In fact, any landlord who used bug bombs as a bed bug control method may very well be acting negligently.

There are two primary issues with the consumer-grade pesticides found at pharmacies and grocery stores:

  • Much in the way some diseases have grown increasingly resistant to antibiotics, bed bugs have become increasingly resistant to chemical pesticides.  This issue of diminishing returns has even been noted by the EPA, which states, “Some bed bug populations have become resistant to pyrethrins and pyrethroids,” the most common classes of bed bug pesticides.
  • Just like any human would, bed bugs will instinctively run away from an approaching cloud of chemical fog. While marketing companies sell an image of foggers which immediately engulf and kill bed bugs, in reality, these foggers simply disperse bed bugs, driving them deeper and deeper into hiding.  Now that your bed bugs have fanned out and burrowed deeper into your apartment, they will be far more difficult to locate and control.

bed bug bite infestation

Contact Our Attorneys for Help

All of these problems serve to underscore the necessity of contacting a licensed and certified pest control company, ideally while your bed bug problem is still in its early stages.  Pest control companies utilize advanced eradication methods such as heat treatments and industrial-grade pesticides, which, if applied appropriately by a competent pest professional, are dramatically more effective than the “quick-fix” products marketed to consumers.  Whether green or chemical in nature, the overwhelming majority of currently available consumer treatments amount to little more than costly snake oil.

While it is critical to work with professional exterminators, that doesn’t necessarily mean that pest control expenses should have to come out of your pocket.  Depending on the provisions of your local building code, your landlord may be responsible for covering the costs of bed bug eradication.  Consult your local County code or City code to determine whether the tenant or landlord is responsible for paying for extermination treatments.

If your Maryland apartment has bed bugs and your landlord refuses to help, the bed bug attorneys of Whitney, LLP can help fight for your rights as a tenant.  To schedule a free and completely confidential case evaluation, call our law offices today at (410) 583-8000.