A bed bug infestation can turn your home from a comfortable sanctuary into a place of misery. Worse yet, bed bugs are becoming increasingly resistant to common pesticides. This makes homemade DIY treatments, such as rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), all the more tempting.
Your best bet for maintaining a bed bug free home is prevention or, failing that, early intervention. While rubbing alcohol can help repel bed bugs and prevent or control infestations, it provides only temporary relief. If you have an infestation, it’s time to call an exterminator.
How Rubbing Alcohol Helps Beat Bed Bugs
Rubbing alcohol is a solvent and can kill insects by dissolving their cells. Rubbing alcohol is also a desiccant, or drying agent, so it can destroy bed bug eggs by drying them out.
In addition, rubbing alcohol repels the bugs, discouraging them from crawling or laying eggs on a surface treated with the substance. Because of this, spraying bedding and furniture with rubbing alcohol has gained a reputation as an effective tactic in the battle against bed bugs.
The reality, however, isn’t so promising. In 2013, a Rutgers University research team lead by Changlu Wang tested several substances against bed bugs. They discovered that half the bed bugs sprayed with rubbing alcohol where still alive after four days, making this substance one of the least effective weapons against these insects. Nonetheless, Wang recommends non-insecticidal treatments like these for controlling infestations.
Using Rubbing Alcohol as a Bed Bug Repellent
When dealing with bed bugs, a 91 percent solution isopropyl alcohol will give you the best results. If you can’t find this, a weaker solution is an acceptable alternative. To kill or repel bed bugs, you’ll need to spray infested surfaces directly.
Rubbing alcohol may leave marks or stains on your mattress, bedding, and furniture that’s been lacquered, varnished or painted. To avoid damaging your furniture, fill a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol and test spray a small, inconspicuous area of the surface you want to treat.
If only one bed is infested, take steps to keep the bed bugs there. Apply a strip of double-sided tape (carpet tape) or a coating of petroleum jelly to the legs of the bed or place the legs in glass or smooth metal containers. Sticky and slick surfaces like these are difficult for bed bugs to cross, which prevents them from escaping to other parts of your home.
To kill bed bugs already present or discourage them from coming, start by spraying the braiding of the mattress where the bugs gather during the day. Then spray the box springs and the headboard.
If you’re being bitten while you sleep, spray the top of your mattress with rubbing alcohol and allow it to dry before you go to bed. This repels the bugs from the bed’s surface, giving you some space to sleep in. Bed bugs move slowly, so putting on fresh sheets every night will help keep the bugs away from you. Spraying down your body with rubbing alcohol before bedtime also reduces the risk of bedbugs bites. When possible, though, avoid sleeping in the bed to not only protect your health, but also to deprive the bed bugs of a food source.
Keep in mind that, like other alcohol products, rubbing alcohol is highly flammable, so avoid smoking around treated areas and keep open flames away from them.
Because rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, you’ll need multiple treatments to have any real chance of controlling an infestation. Bed bug eggs take up to 14 days to hatch, so spray infested surfaces every two to three days for two weeks to kill newly hatched insects.
Have a Long-Term Plan
Rubbing alcohol alone isn’t enough to completely rid your furniture and home of your blood-sucking guests. In fact, getting too enthusiastic with rubbing alcohol or any other highly repellent substance will drive the bugs off on the infested piece of furniture, spreading the infestation around the room or into other parts of the house. This makes it harder for an exterminator to pinpoint and eliminate the infestation.
What’s more, a large amount of rubbing alcohol on the mattress could react with insecticide applied by an exterminator and make it less effective at killing the bugs.
Rubbing alcohol repels bed bugs effectively enough to keep them away from you while you sleep or reduce the risk of an infestation spreading. It’s also handy for preventing the bugs from multiplying. Even so, rubbing alcohol’s helpfulness is limited. To reclaim your home from bed bugs in the shortest possible time, your best option is to call an exterminator.