“Goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
The thought of sharing our beds with resilient critters that live off our skin and blood is enough to make your flesh crawl.
So, does Steam Kill Bed Bugs? The short answer is, Yes, using steam is a great way to kill bed bugs and allow us all to sleep a little easier in our beds.
Does Steam Kill Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are small insects that look a little like the seeds from an apple. They are usually brown but can look red when they have had a full feed of blood.
Bed bugs live off the blood of animals and humans and don’t only live in our beds, although it’s easy to see why a thick warm mattress can make a great home and hiding place with a regular, easy food supply.
Bed bugs don’t have wings but travel quickly across floors and can climb walls. Infestations are not always easy to spot until their numbers have grown and they can be difficult to get rid of.
Bed bugs usually enter your house through clothing, luggage or bedding materials, and their tiny eggs are no bigger than a speck of dust which makes them very difficult to spot.
Bed bugs can cause skin irritations, although they do not usually carry other infections so are generally not harmful to people. That said, bed bug bites can be extremely irritating and these parasites are definitely not our friends.
How to Kill Bed Bugs Using Steam
Fortunately, bed bugs do not tolerate very high temperatures and the heat generated by steam is very effective at killing both the bugs themselves and their eggs.
The ideal temperature for bed bug extermination is over 160 degrees; ideally, your steamer should have a temperature control dial to help you ensure efficiency.
You will need to be very careful, however, as the steam itself will need to be even hotter in order to create this temperature on a surface and could be as much as 220 degrees.
The best way to use vacuums or steamers to kill bed bugs is to apply the steam using a brush or tool attachment. The broader the attachment the better in order to distribute the heat to a wider area at a time.
The good thing is that bed bugs do not need to be exposed to this degree of heat for a long time before they succumb so you will not need to concentrate the steamer on the same area for long.
Taking slow strokes, concentrating the steam on each area for a few seconds, and making sure you do not leave out any spaces in between should be enough to eliminate all the bed bugs and eggs in the upper surfaces of your mattress.
Turning your mattress over and applying the same heat to the other side is a good way to help you access more of the mattress area.
The steam will only be able to penetrate the upper layers of the mattress, meaning that any bed bugs nesting in the middle of a thick mattress will escape.
For this reason, it is best to repeat the process every two or three weeks until you are satisfied that you have eradicated the entire colony.
2. Other Bedding – Pillow, Duvets, Carpet
You can also use a steam attachment or wand to apply heat to bedding like duvets and pillows. Don’t forget the carpet beneath and beside the bed and any rugs that bugs might have run towards.
If you have a wand attachment, it is also a good idea to focus on the crevice between the carpet and skirting board.
- Vacuum thoroughly before beginning
- Remove sheets and bedding material (wash on a boil wash, or steam first if possible)
- Work on small areas, about an inch at a time
- Work methodically in rows
- Overlap your rows
- Keep the nozzle or attachment about half an inch from the surface of the mattress or bedding
- Hold the nozzle over each area for about 10 seconds
- Pay close attention to the seams of the mattress
- Empty your vacuum and wash the dust container if possible, or dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed bin bag to avoid bugs escaping
- Allow everything to dry before remaking the bed
What to Look for in a Steamer
There are some key features that you should look out for in a steamer including:
- High temperature levels
- Broad attachment tools
- Dry steam vapor
- Temperature dial
- Large tank
As already mentioned, you need a steamer capable of creating steam of over 200 degrees with a number of attachments including a broad brush or triangular tool.
If the nozzle is too small, you will need to go over the same area too many times and there is a risk of missing tiny spots that could be enough to allow some bed bugs to escape.
You will also need to choose a model that emits a fairly dry steam vapor as you won’t want to get your mattress wet in the process.
A damp mattress is not only uncomfortable but it can cause mold; breathing in these spores as you sleep can cause serious health problems.
A large boiler is important to allow the steam cleaner to reach the intense temperatures required.
For one thing, you won’t want to stop the process while you refill the tank and wait for it to reach the right temperature again. Secondly, a small tank means the water might have completely evaporated before the steam has reached 200 degrees.
Risks of Using Steam to Kill Bed Bugs
High temperatures focused on small areas in your mattress might melt some of the contents and could release some fumes. To avoid this, only keep the nozzle in one spot for 10 seconds and keep the room well ventilated as you work.
Allow plenty of time for the room and mattress to air before you remake the bed. Ideally, you should leave the room air for a day before sleeping in it again. If this is not possible, aim to steam the mattress as early as you can in the morning.
Other Approaches To Kill Bed Bugs
While a steamer is a great way to eliminate bed bugs, there are other methods you can use in combination to maximize the effect.
1. Chemical treatments
You may want to avoid using harsh chemicals if you have allergies or concerns, in which case you will simply need to repeat the steaming method several times.
Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and keep the room well ventilated. Make sure any sprays have fully dried before using your bedding.
2. Mattress Bed Bug Covers
Even after treating your mattress with steam or chemicals, some resilient bed bugs may still survive.
You can trap these effectively by purchasing a purpose-made mattress cover that bed bugs are unable to pass through. This way, any remaining bed bugs will be unable to bite you and will be unable to survive without a food supply.