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Study Has Bad News for Most ‘Natural’ Bed Bug Remedies

"Bed bugs hide in cracks, crevices, creases and many other places."

As if having bed bugs weren't a big enough headache, some of the most popular methods to remedy the situation often involving harsh synthetic chemicals, which might not sit so well with some people, leading them to choose more "natural" killing agents.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

But just how effective are these "non-synthetic" options?

With concerns over exposing oneself to some insecticides and a report saying bed bugs are on the rise in 15 U.S. cities, Rutgers University researchers put nine different essential oil-based products and two detergents to the test.

According to a news release about the research, most non-synthetic options include some of the following ingredients, which claim to kill the bugs and/or their eggs: geraniol, rosemary oil, mint oil, cinnamon oil, peppermint oil, eugenol, clove oil, lemongrass oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, 2-Phenethyl propionate, potassium sorbate and sodium chloride.

Here is a list of the products the researchers tested:

  • Bed Bug 911
  • Bed Bug Bully
  • Bed Bug Fix
  • Bed Bug Patrol
  • Ecoexempt IC2
  • EcoRaider
  • Eradicator
  • Essentria
  • Rest Assured
  • Green Rest Easy
  • Stop Bugging Me

The products were sprayed directly onto the insects in their egg and nymph stages. Only two products — EcoRaider and Bed Bug Patrol — killed more than 90 percent of the nymphs. As for the eggs, only EcoRaider was found effective, making sure 87 percent didn't hatch.

Even though these two products had some promising results, the researchers pointed out that in an actual infestation the percentage of success would most likely be lower because the spray would not likely land directly on the bugs.

"Under field conditions, bed bugs hide in cracks, crevices, creases and many other places where insecticide application may not be directly applied onto the hidden insects," the authors wrote in the study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology. "Additional studies under field conditions are warranted to determine the field efficacy of EcoRaider and Bed Bug Patrol and how they can be incorporated into a bed bug management program."

The researchers also pointed out that the active ingredients in EcoRaider and Bed Bug Patrol were shared in other products found far less effective in the lab. This suggests that the inactive ingredients might be playing a role in killing the bugs as well.

"Other factors besides the active ingredients must have accounted for the high efficacy of some essential oil-based pesticides," the authors wrote. "Adjuvants such as wetting agents, spreaders, stabilizers, defoamers, stickers, and solvents may produce synergistic effects to essential oils by improving penetration through insect cuticle and translocation of the active ingredients within insect body."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, other DIY tips for ridding oneself of bed bugs include:

  • Take an assessment of the infestation and keep a record of where and when each life cycle stage of the bug is found.
  • Declutter to help get rid of bed bug hiding places. Seal items in a plastic bag for up to a year to kill all the bugs and eggs.
  • Get rid of furniture that is so infested it cannot be saved.
  • Empty your vacuum after each use.
  • High heat or freezing can be used to kill bugs or eggs on certain items.
  • If necessary, consider treating an area with a safe pesticide. Several treatments might be necessary.

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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