Does Steam Cleaning Kill Bed Bugs? (READ THIS FIRST)

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If you wake up with red, itchy spots you didn't have when you went to sleep, you may have a bed bug problem. These annoying little blood-suckers are known to cause serious discomfort. Because of this, many people are looking for effective methods to exterminate them. One method in particular, is steam cleaning. 

Does steam cleaning kill bed bugs? Steam cleaning does kill bed bugs in all stages of development, including their eggs, but only if it’s applied correctly. To effectively kill bed bugs by steam cleaning, you will need to maintain a temperature between 160-180°F for at least a few seconds.

With that said, there are more factors to consider when looking to rid them from your home once and for all. Often, the best way to solve this issue is to prevent it in the first place. In this post, we will answer the question: does steam cleaning kill bed bugs and how to kill them with a steamer. Let’s get started.

About Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are small oval-shaped insects that live on the blood of animals or humans. Because of their flat bodies, they can fit into tiny spaces and may enter your house undetected through clothing, luggage, and used furniture. Bed bugs do not have nests, but they live in groups and often hide in beds and mattresses.

If left untreated over time, bed bugs may scatter through the bedroom, moving into any cracks or crevices, where they can have easy access to bite you at night. Bed bugs are mainly active at night and usually bite while you are sleeping. They feed from three to ten minutes and will then crawl away, usually unnoticed.

Having bed bugs, however, is not a sign of dirtiness as they live solely on blood. They can be found in clean homes as well as filthy ones. Their bites are painless at first, but later turn to itchy spots. Some people may blame their itches to mosquito bites, because you must identify the bed bugs to confirm their bites.

Now that you know the characteristics of bed bugs, let's look at how steam may help take care of your bed bug problem.

Does Steam Kill Bed Bugs and Their Eggs?

Steam can kill both bed bugs and their eggs. Bed bugs and their eggs will die on contact when exposed to surface temperatures above 180 °F, and a steamer can reach well above 230 °F. In fact, bed bugs exposed to temperatures greater than 122 °F for more than 2 minutes achieved 100% mortality rate.

How to Kill Bed Bugs with a Steamer

Steam cleaners are an outstanding and chemical-free way to kill bed bugs and their eggs. However, to thoroughly clean an infested area, there are a few guidelines to follow to ensure that all bed bugs are exterminated in the safest way possible. Here’s how to kill bed bugs with a steam cleaner or steamer:

1. Use the Right Steam Cleaner

First and foremost, make sure to use the right steam cleaner for the job.

Look for a commercial steam cleaner with at least a 1 US gal (3.8 L) tank. However, because they can be very expensive, you can rent a steamer from a local hardware store or buy a used one instead. Do not use clothing and carpet steaming devices as these do not reach the high temperatures needed to kill bed bugs.

Once you have the right device, it’s important to prepare it correctly.

A steamer with a triangular nozzle and a hose works best against bed bugs.

For the best results, use a triangular nozzle which is often found on most steam cleaners to steam fabric and upholstery. Avoid using the carpet attachment as the bristles may hinder the nozzle from getting in tight spaces. Alternatively, do not use a narrow nozzle because it may blow the bed bugs around the room.

2. Apply Steam on Cracks and Crevices

Next, fill your steamer with water and turn it on. Start steaming from the highest to the lowest point of all the upholstered and hard surfaces in the room. Doing so will make sure that any bed bugs are pushed down, instead of up and around the room. Bed bugs do not fly, but can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings.

Remember to not only steam upholstered items, but in cracks and crevices as well. Bed bugs often reside in soft-surfaced items like mattresses and box springs, as well as in cracks and crevices of furniture, baseboards, and thick carpets. Be careful to not expose wires and outlets to steam in the process.

3. Steam Slowly and Thoroughly

Bed bugs and their eggs will die on contact when exposed to temperatures above 180 °F. And because the average temperature of the steam emitted by a steamer hovers around 180-200 °F, it is enough to kill them. However, it needs to be applied for a few seconds to be effective, so moving the steamer slowly is key.

Move the wand slowly over every surface of items to get good coverage. As a general rule of thumb, aim for a speed of about 12 inches every 30 seconds. This will help to ensure that each area gets exposed to enough steam to kill the bed bugs and their eggs. The more the steam, the higher the mortality rate.

PRO TIP: Aim for a surface temperature between 160 to 180 °F. According to the University of Minnesota, this is the ideal temperature for killing bed bugs without damaging the items you are steaming. To check the temperature, you can use an infrared thermometer to check the surface temperature of the items you steam

4. Allow Proper Air Circulation

Once you are done, allow proper air circulation to take place because steam cleaning is a process that involves moisture. Open windows and turn on the fan to let everything dry properly. Make sure to aim the fan towards the items you steamed. The drying process is crucial to prevent mold and mildew from forming. 

How Long Does it Take Steam to Kill Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs and their eggs will die on contact when exposed to surface temperatures above 180 °F. Steam can easily reach this level of temperature. However, if this level of temperature is not achieved, then exposure time becomes very important. The less the temperature, the more time you need to kill the bed bugs.

According to the University of Minnesota, it takes a minimum of 100 minutes at 106 °F, 10 minutes at 113 °F, or 1 minute at 120 °F of steam to kill bed bugs. However, bed bug eggs are much more resistant to high temperatures than the adults and need 118 °F for at least 71.5 minutes for complete lethality.

Important Precautions

While steam cleaning can get the job done, it may be dangerous because they are very hot and can cause burns. Before anything else, be sure to read and understand the manual before operating the device. Additionally, take these important precautions when operating a steam cleaner to kill bed bugs:

  1. Be careful when refilling the machine. The steam is hot and is under pressure, so be careful when using the steam wand and refilling the water tank.

  2. Always test the steamer on an unseen area before using. Some fabrics may be damaged by the steam. Before applying full steam treatment, always test it first.

  3. Make sure that the surface feels damp, but not wet. The surface of the items should feel damp and not wet. Adjust the settings on your steamer if the item feels wet.

  4. Use a low-pressure nozzle for killing bed bugs. Do not use a pinpoint steam nozzle as they can blow the bed bugs away, helping them escape and survive.

PRO TIP: Although steam can kill bed bugs, you may not be as thorough as professional experts to kill all of the bed bugs and their eggs. If you want the best results, hire a professional. In addition to steam cleaning, they are well-equipped with other effective tools, such as insecticide, to ensure maximum coverage.

Final Words

And there you have it, the complete article to answer the question: does steam cleaning kill bed bugs? The above guide should help solve your bed bug problem. If applied correctly, steam cleaning can kill bed bugs in all stages of development, including their eggs. Have a good night and don't let the bedbugs bite. 🙂

See also: Steam Cleaners