Thursday, January 2, 2014

Rubbing alcohol not a good option for bed bug control, says researcher

Improper application of an insecticide dust to a
mattress and pillows by a non-professional. Dusts are
designed for light application to crevices and
voids, out of reach of  people.
The quest for home remedies for bed bugs appears to be never-ending. However, according to the latest reports, it seems that very few over-the-counter insecticides, or home remedies, are worth the time or trouble when battling bed bugs.

A recent article in Science News gloomily summarized some of the most current information about DIY bed bug control, based on papers presented last month at the annual conference of the Entomological Society of America in Austin, TX.

It will come of little surprise to most PMPs that rubbing alcohol, bug bombs and other products just don't work that well. And some products, like ultrasonic repellers, are completely ineffective. Science News reported that rubbing alcohol killed only about half of the bed bugs that were sprayed directly, in work conducted by Changlu Wang, of Rutger's University. Bed bugs confined in a plastic bag for seven days with mothballs (a much higher exposure than you would expect in a clothes closet or storage chest) had about the same survival rate.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Global Bed Bug Summit in Denver, CO.  One of the debates at that meeting was over the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth (both a professional and DIY product). Despite the fact that PMPs have reported success with d.e. over the years as part of an IPM program for bed bugs, some researchers question its effectiveness in the field.

Despite the fact that no resistance to d.e. among bed bugs has ever been documented, it is never been hailed as a miracle product. Appropriate application sites for d.e. are limited. It is not really designed for broadcast use, and few applicators, especially non-professionals, know how to apply dusts correctly (see image). To liven the debate, one recent field study  by Michael Potter's lab in Kentucky found that professional applications of d.e. provided inconsistent, or only marginal, bed bug control when used by itself, without sprays or other supplemental treatments. Field studies like these are much more difficult to conduct, but usually provide a better estimate of how a product is likely to perform in real life, compared to laboratory tests in a Petri dish (Potter, by the way, contends that silica aerogel, found in professional products Drione® and TriDie®, is a more effective desiccant than diatomaceous earth).

Why the conflicting results? No one knows for sure. But d.e. is an abrasive that scrapes away some of the protective waxes that keep bed bugs from drying out (desiccating) in the dry indoor environments of homes. The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of d.e. may have something to do with the source or form of the diatomaceous earth (the various d.e. products are mined from different geological deposits and thus may vary in abrasiveness), or it may have to do with the ambient humidity or availability of food. Many insects compensate for water leakage cause by desiccant dusts by taking in more water from feeding. Perhaps bed bugs in the field are able to compensate for moisture loss by taking in more moisture through more blood feeding. Not a pleasant thought if you're the one being fed on.

All of this, of course, supports the idea that professional pest control is the best option for bed bug eradication. As a professional, your training and expertise can provide a lifeline for the public in desperate search of a bed bug solution. The professional products at your disposal are superior to most over the counter products, and your ability to problem-solve gives you a big edge over weekend bug-killing warriors.

There will always be do-it-yourselfers. But there is also a great need for trained professionals to get the job done safely and effectively. Let's get out there and show them how it's done.


bugger said...

Mike, several "professional Use Only" products could be sold to the DIY market. Aerosols & dusts, such as Bedlam, Zenprox, Alpine dust, are safe enough for home use. Until that happens, bed bugs will continue to spread among residents who do not have the resources to hire a commercial PCO. So who is at fault here? The industry.

Mike Merchant, PhD said...

Yes, internet sales of professional products is an option for homeowners, but one that I prefer to not talk about a lot in open forums. Even a "safe" product in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to use it can be hazardous. Also, non-professionals have more of a mindset that if they only they can get the "good stuff", then they'll certainly control the problem. Professionals know that none of the products you list (or any insecticides for that matter) will, alone, solve a bed bug problem--especially without knowledge of how to apply. I don't fault the professional product manufacturers, but I do wish the consumer pesticide industry would provide some reasonably effective formulations, with good instructions, for consumers who have bed bug problems. And stop marketing bug bombs for bed bugs.

Unknown said...

Mike, I've always enjoyed your posts and I must say that this is one of the best for bed bug info. Most of the calls on the hotline I receive are "what can I do to rid my personal belongings from bed bugs?"
Unfortunately, many people decide to take bed bugs on themselves and in certain cases when the discovery is right after they got them, they can be successful in elimination. But it most of the cases they have already had them for many months, have used bombs and dispersed them deeper into the walls, have sprayed the day lights out of their premises, dusted every crack and corner with piles of DE and are at their wits end.
Education coupled with sensible methodologies and following instructions can and will take care of the problem but it takes a lot of work and a proper elimination strategy on the part of the homeowner.
Good job!