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Is Steam Cleaning for Bed Bugs Effective?

Steam cleaning is a good way to clean the surface of your mattress of any bed bugs, eggs or eggshells. However, the method cannot kill or prevent any future bed bugs that are living within the lining of the mattress, box spring or bed frame, according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

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Steam Cleaning Pros

If you hire a commercial steam cleaner or rent or purchase a steam cleaner yourself, any bed bugs exposed to the steam treatment will be killed on contact. Bed bugs cannot withstand temperatures higher than 45 degrees Celsius, so even washing your bedding in a hot cycle of a washing machine or dryer will kill them.

Steam Cleaning Cons

The downside of steam cleaning for bed bug extermination is that if the insects are missed in the a steam cleaning process, the infestation will continue, as hidden bugs will not be affected by the steam. This is true even with professional-strength cleaners, so other treatments should be considered. A secondary problem concerning steam cleaning is the moisture it leaves behind. Steam-treated mattresses are at a higher risk for mould, mildew, house dust mites and other moisture-related contagions.

Steam vs. Heat Treatment

If you cannot kill all bed bugs via steam cleaning the surface of your mattress, a secondary treatment method is to apply heat to the entire bedroom or living area. This type of heat treatment must be applied by a professional, who will raise the temperature of your sealed area to 48.9 degrees Celsius for a few hours, which will eliminate any bed bugs in all hiding areas. Alternatively, have your room cooled to below zero degrees Fahrenheit for four days, which will also eliminate infestation.

Alternative Treatments

If steam cleaning or heat treatment does not work for you, consider using an Environmental Protection Agency-approved pesticide. For a more serious infestation, contact a pest management professional to apply both chemical or non-chemical fumigation and vacuuming techniques. If your mattress has never been exposed to bed bugs but you want to prevent an attack, consider a high-quality, light-coloured mattress and box spring cover, which will trap and kill any bed bugs within the zippered encasement. For a list of all EPA-approved pesticides, see Resources.

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About the Author

Leah Waldron is the head of Traveler Services at First Abroad, a gap year travel company based in Boston and London. As a travel, research and LGBT news writer, Waldron has publication credit on magazines and newspapers including "Curve Magazine," "USA Today," "The Sun Sentinel" and the "The Houston Chronicle." Waldron has a bachelor's and master's degree in creative writing from Florida State University.

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