Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put a few drops of essential oil onto a bed bug-infested bed and repel or kill these pests naturally, without using any synthetic pesticides?
It certainly would, and there are many websites claiming that all you have to do is add the essential oil to some water and spray it on your bedding to become bed bug-free.
But is it really that easy, and can essential oils really get rid of bed bugs? Let’s look at the actual evidence and find out.
What Are Essential Oils?
Simply put, essential oils are the liquid extracts of aromatic plants. These oils are extracted from the roots, stems, seeds, flowers, and bark of the plant or tree in various ways, but the most common method is via steam distillation.
This process uses condensation to collect the oils by extraction and isolation and vaporizes the plant material’s volatile compounds.
As these are natural, people tend to think they are safe to use and are often unaware of how highly concentrated and potent they are. Essential oils can be toxic and dangerous if misused.
Can Essential Oils Kill Bed Bugs?
Not surprisingly, most people are looking toward a “greener” way of living and essential oils are seen as a natural alternative to the unknown chemicals in the products we use.
There seem to be numerous essential oil-based products on the market claiming to kill or repel insects. However, the Journal of Economic Entomology reported on the Rutgers University study that tested 18 essential oils (blood orange, peppermint, cedarwood, and geraniol were some of them), 3 silicone oils, and paraffin oils for their toxicities against bed bugs.
Four experiments were conducted on bed bugs collected from an apartment building in Indiana. It was found that out of all the essential oils, blood orange killed the most bed bugs. However, all the essential oils tested were still less effective than the silicone oils and paraffin oils.
A different study was carried out by Purdue University to identify the essential oil compounds most toxic to bed bugs.
The findings looked promising as all were effective when applied directly to the bed bugs, although the amounts needed to kill them varied somewhat.
The most effective when directly applied were:
- carvacrol (derived from oregano and thyme)
- thymol (thyme)
- citronellic acid (lemongrass)
- eugenol (clove)
However, killing a bed bug by contact took approximately 70,000 times more of the most effective essential oil compound than the synthetic insecticide used as the control in the experiment.
These studies have shown although essential oils can kill bed bugs, they are not effective enough or work quickly enough to be able to treat a bed bug problem. The amounts needed to eliminate them are just too great and impractical when compared to synthetic insecticides.
Can Essential Oils Repel Bed Bugs?
There have not been many studies on how or if essential oils repel bed bugs, but a 2018 study was carried out to “determine the repellency activity of oregano essential oil (O. vulgare) on bed bugs in comparison with DEET against bed bugs (C. lectularius) and found oregano essential oil to be somewhat effective.
The conclusion of the study stated: “Oregano oil 40% exhibited more repellency compared to commercial insect repellent stick containing 33% DEET. Further studies are warranted to confirm the effectiveness of oregano essential oil in personal protecting against bed bug biting.”
As promising as this sounds, as with most studies, this took place in a controlled laboratory setting where bed bugs are not able to feed or hide as they normally would. Maybe the essential oil would not be enough to repel them when in an actual room instead of in a petri dish, or if they have regular access to a host and blood meal. As the study says, further investigation is needed.
Does Lavender Essential Oil Really Repel Or Kill Bed Bugs?
There have been no scientific studies on the effectiveness of lavender oil for bed bugs, so there is only anecdotal evidence to suggest that lavender and other essential oil scents can repel or kill them.
If you search the internet for what scent keeps bed bugs away, then you’ve no doubt come across sites claiming lavender oil is the answer, and all you have to do is add a few drops to a bottle of water and spray it on your bedding or directly on the bed bugs themselves.
Sadly, there is a great deal of misinformation on this and a lot of it is on so-called pest control sites, where they give you a lavender (or other essential oil) bed bug spray recipe.
This is fine as long as the recipe has been tested and is effective, but this is rarely the case as the recipes are just copied from another site and often don’t mention how many drops are needed, or if a solubilizer needs to be added when trying to dilute an essential oil in water.
People often think using essential oils is safe because they are natural and don’t realize they can be dangerous and cause skin rashes and burns.
Although lavender oil and other oils such as peppermint or tea tree oil may be toxic to bed bugs, it’s unknown exactly how much would be needed to kill them, but we do know it’s a lot as confirmed by the study above. The other method would be to drown them but it would be impossible to drown a whole infestation!
Although bed bugs have a sense of smell, it’s mostly used to detect the carbon dioxide we breathe out.
There is no scent from any essential oil proven to repel, and keep away a bed bug, much less an infestation.
Bed bugs can survive a long time without a blood meal, so if they don’t like a certain scent they will hide away until the scent loses strength, or they will find another way around it. Either way, they won’t be repelled for long when they become hungry.
Bed Bugs And Essential Oils
Although the above studies found certain essential oils may kill some bed bugs, none of them were as effective as the synthetic products used in the same study.
There is a reason why pest management professionals do not use essential oils to eliminate bed bugs, because when you have bed bugs, you want them gone as soon as possible before the infestation gets too large, and essential oils are neither 100% effective in repelling nor killing them, despite what some natural health resources say.
So, how do you get rid of bed bugs then? Other ways include: clearing out all clutter, vacuuming thoroughly and often, and using a heat treatment method. Read our complete, step-by-step guide to getting rid of these unwanted pests yourself, or by using a pest control professional.
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