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Does Bed Bug Heat Treatment Work?

From pesticides to mattress covers, tea tree oil to chemical foggers, diatomaceous earth to frequent vacuuming, you can find thousands of sources touting as many remedies for bed bugs.  One frequently-mentioned extermination method is heat treatment, where pest control companies (or sometimes, negligent landlords) claim to kill bed bugs by raising the temperature of the affected area.  Heat treatments are simple, but are they really effective? Our apartment bed bug attorneys explain the pros and cons of killing bed bugs with heat.

How Do Heat Treatments Work Against Infestations?

The theory behind heat treatment is simple: the affected home or apartment is transformed into a temporary oven, effectively baking the bed bugs to death.

Specific procedures and equipment used will vary from one company to the next. Generally speaking, the company applying the treatment will fill the apartment or home with portable heating units as needed for the size of the space, gradually raising the internal temperature until it falls within the range of 113 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (about 45 to 57 degrees Celsius), depending who whose guidelines are being followed.

Some companies say they will rotate furniture and appliances throughout various rooms to ensure that each and every possession receives an equal and adequate dose of exposure to heat.  Others supplement their heat treatments with the application of insecticides into cracks and crevices.  All promise thorough and effective eradication.

Once the bed bugs are dead, the heat is turned down, and the owners and their pets can safely and comfortably return to a clean, sanitized, bug-free home.

Or at least, that’s the idea.  While heat treatments have the potential to be effective when rendered appropriately, there are some important caveats and specifications which renters and homeowners should be aware of.  Not all pest control contractors deliver promised results.

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Can High Temperatures Kill Bed Bugs?

It’s basic fact that extreme temperatures can cause organ damage or even death.  Humans begin to enter a state of hyperthermia once their core body temperature reaches about 101 degrees, while internal temperatures exceeding 104 degrees — just a few notches higher — can be fatal.  Cats and dogs can perish after spending just minutes inside a hot car on a sunny day, and even cold-blooded creatures like reptiles and amphibians must eventually retreat from the sunlight into shade to avoid dangerous overheating.

Bed bugs, like any other living being, are also susceptible to extremes of heat — provided both the temperature itself and the duration and consistency of exposure are sufficient. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) reports bed bugs will die after 90 minutes of “constant exposure” to temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit, or after just 20 minutes of exposure to temperatures of 118 degrees. The eggs, however, can withstand even 118 degree temperatures for up to 90 minutes, which means at least 90 minutes of exposure is necessary in order for a heat treatment to be fully effective against an infestation at all stages of the bed bug life cycle.

VDACS also states that heat treatments are generally “very successful,” adding that “heat is known to be a very effective bed bug killer.”  This conclusion is supported by the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, which states that “infestations can often be eliminated [by heat treatments] in one day.” A 2009 study conducted by University of Florida researchers, titled “Lethal Effects of Heat and Use of Localized Heat Treatment for Control of Bed Bug Infestations,” found the following:

In room treatment tests, heat treatment times varied from 2 to 7 h with complete mortality of exposed bed bugs within the treatment envelope created by surrounding the treated furniture with polystyrene sheathing boards.

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Pros and Cons: Factors to Consider When Choosing a Pest Control Company

While potentially effective, even heat treatments are not without shortcomings.  As noted above, up to seven hours of heat exposure was required to achieve 100% mortality.  The same study also found that the “exposure of bed bug adults to 39 degrees Celsius [102 degrees Fahrenheit] for 240 minutes [four hours] caused no mortality,” which confirms the necessity, noted by VDACS, of raising temperatures to at least 113 degrees. Since most pest control companies raise temperatures to at least 120 degrees, the issue of non-lethal under-heating is unlikely to arise.

However, both VDACS and the University of Kentucky cited one other problem with heat treatments: their total inability to prevent against future infestations.  As noted by the University of Kentucky, “Heat treatment alone has no lasting (residual) effect should bed bugs be reintroduced into the dwelling.”  A nearly identical concern was echoed by VDACS, which stated that heat treatment “has no residual (long lasting) activity.”  VDACS further cautions that “the lack of residual activity means that bed bugs can re-infest again the day after treatment.”

In short, while bed bugs are not impervious to extreme temperatures, heat treatments must fall within specific duration and temperature parameters in order to be effective. Moreover, even effective heat treatments do not eliminate the possibility of new infestations in the immediate future.  Reinfestation from neighboring infested apartments or townhouses is a common problem that can only be addressed by the adjacent units being treated in conjunction with the target space.

Renters and homeowners are strongly advised to confirm the exact procedures and standards which are used by the pest control company providing the service in order to minimize the chance of receiving inadequate treatment.  Additionally, renters should remember that most, if not all, landlords are not licensed and certified to use specialized, industrial heating equipment, and possess neither the legal licenses nor the professional knowledge to safely and effectively exterminate bed bugs with high temperatures.

If you suffered injuries or property damage because of an apartment or hotel bed bug infestation, or the pest control company that treated your home was negligent, the experienced bed bug litigation attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help you recover compensation.  To set up a free and confidential case evaluation, call our law offices today at (410) 583-8000.

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