Written by A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Professional
There’s no doubt about it, bed bugs are one of the worst pests you can find infesting your home as they are hard to eliminate and can be expensive to treat.
The easy solution is to go to the supermarket and buy one of the many bug bombs or foggers that claim to kill bed bugs. But they are not effective enough to kill an infestation for several reasons, which I detail below.
What Is a Bed Bug Bomb?
Bug bombs and aerosol foggers are the same things and the correct term for these is total release foggers (TRFs). These over-the-counter (OTC) foggers are pressurized cans containing an insecticide (a pesticide formulated to kill insects is an insecticide) and other chemicals. When the can is activated, it releases the contents upwards as a mist or fog to fumigate the entire room and cover all exposed surfaces.
Do Bed Bug Bombs Work?
The contents of the fogger should kill any insects it comes into direct contact with and that are out in the open, which is what you want it to do.
However, this is where the problems begin when using it to kill bed bugs. Bed bugs lead a (mainly) nocturnal and cryptic lifestyle, meaning they stay hidden away in dark, tiny crevices where they are not easily found, such as in walls, under the mattress, in box springs, behind skirting and electrical plates, and in screw heads in the bed frame, for example.
Over 80 percent of bed bugs stay hidden during the day, which means bed bugs are not out in the open so they won’t be killed by the bug bomb as the mist is not in direct contact with them.
The insecticide also doesn’t reach into all the cracks and crevices where they could be hiding – not even the bug bombs claiming to be specifically for bed bugs!
Studies have been carried out on three store-bought total-release-foggers and none of them were effective at controlling bed bugs. The study concluded:
Our study provides strong evidence that Hotshot Bedbug and Flea Fogger, Spectracide Bug Stop Indoor Fogger, and Eliminator Indoor Fogger were ineffective as bed bug control agents. The low concentrations of pyrethrins, pyrethroids, or both, and the brief exposure provided by these total-release foggers had little impact on modern-day bed bugs. Our data also support the position that currently marketed total-release foggers should not be recommended for treating bed bug infestations because these products provide no residual and they allow for minimal, if any, insecticide penetration into typical bed bug harborage sites.Journal of Economic Entomology
And if that’s not enough proof that they don’t work, take a look at the reviews on Amazon and Home Depot for where many have found they’ve still got a bed bug problem after using an over-the-counter fogger.
The bug bomb might kill off a few of these pests but it certainly won’t eliminate a bed bug infestation. In fact, it could worsen the issue by causing them to scatter which could lead to infestations in other areas, which is always something you want to try to avoid.
Why Are Bed Bug Bombs Not Effective?
As well as the insecticide inside the fogger not reaching into the harborage areas, bed bugs are also resistant to pyrethrin and pyrethroid (synthetic versions of pyrethrins) neurotoxic insecticides which are the active ingredients in OTC bug bombs.
As these are ineffective, people have been known to use more bug bombs than they should because the first one hasn’t worked. This is dangerous not only because of the insecticide build-up on exposed surfaces and objects but also because they are pressurized containers and are highly flammable.
Are Bug Bombs Safe?
The CDC published a report on illnesses and injuries related to total release foggers and found that between 2007 and 2015 there were a shocking 3,222 bug bomb-related cases.
The majority of the symptoms of exposure were reported as:
- upper respiratory pain
- shortness of breath
- abdominal pain or cramping
These side effects are likely due to the pyrethrin in the bug bombs. Pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemum flowers and can cause the above symptoms, especially in those with asthma.
The report further found that many users did not fully read or properly follow the instructions on how to use the fogger, so they were exposed to the pesticides because they failed to leave their home completely as they were supposed to, or they reentered not long after they’d activated the fogger.
There is also the pesticide residue to consider that sits on all exposed surfaces for weeks after activating the bug bomb.
A study was conducted on four different OTC foggers, including the popular Hot Shot fogger, to treat cockroaches (roaches hide away in tiny spaces, just like bed bugs). The study found that the foggers were not only ineffective in killing the roaches, but they also deposited high levels of insecticides that were still detected one month later. 
Aside from the health aspects of using a TRF they can also be a fire hazard if not used correctly. The label on the fogger warns that the contents are highly flammable and may cause a fire or an explosion if used incorrectly.
And there have been numerous injuries and house fires due to pilot lights, refrigerators, and thermostats not being turned off when using the bug bomb.
Are Bug Bombs Safe for Children and Pets?
No! The pesticides contained within a bed bug fogger can be harmful to both children and pets because the pesticide residue stays on floors, tables, and all horizontal surfaces for several weeks after. The insecticide mist is also dangerous to children and pets if it’s breathed in.
Alternatives to Foggers
Although a bed bug bomb is easily accessible as you buy one in any supermarket and they are not expensive, they are not effective enough to kill bed bugs and the risks associated with using them are just too great!
So what are your alternatives?
You can do your own pest control if you’ve only just found a bed bug and are in the early stages of an infestation. This will include carrying out a thorough inspection of your bed and the room, clearing all clutter from the room, vacuuming the bed and the rest of the room, heat steaming the mattress, washing, and heat drying all clothes, applying desiccant dust, and installing mattress and box spring encasements and interceptor traps—my guide shows you step-by-step how you can get rid of bed bugs yourself.
The other alternative is to call a reputable pest control company that is experienced in treating bed bugs. They will likely offer two effective treatment methods, one that instantly kills the bugs on contact with heat and the other is using professional-grade pesticides, which is not instant but is not as costly as heat treatment.