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15 DDT and Bed Bugs Facts


Reading Time: 13 minutes

Bed bugs are horrific creatures that have tormented homeowners for hundreds of years. They are resilient, intelligent and difficult to kill. However, the human race has not taken the terror unleashed by these bloodsuckers lying down. People have time and time again put up a ferocious fight against bed bugs.

At times, the human effort in combating these pesky parasites has been tremendously rewarded. For decades, it seemed like man had finally won the fight against bed bugs. Sadly, common bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L) have found their way back into our homes, hotels, and schools. Not even public venues are immune to these creatures.

A long time ago, bed bugs had little or no chance of survival in households all over the world. This was made possible by a chemical that gained a lot of popularity during World War II known as DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane).

DDT is not a naturally occurring chemical. It was first synthesized by a famous Austrian chemist, Othmar Zeidler in 1874. Its insecticidal potency was later discovered by Paul Herman Muller, who was a Swiss chemist in 1939. This insecticide would go down history as one of the most active pest control weapons. Bed bugs and other pests could not contend with it.

For many years, if any homeowner experienced a bed bug infestation, DDT was the answer. It threatened to wipe out these species. And for 50 years, Americans did not have to deal with bed bugs.

In 2009, over 10000-bed bug-related complaints were reported in New York. In the last 15 years, complaints have been growing, especially in North America where the bed bug menace is recorded to have hit hard. Experts say the resurgence is bound to get worse.

If at all DDT was this effective against bed bugs, then why aren’t we using it against them today? In this article, we are going to list 15 DDT and bed bug facts, and at the end of it, all your questions should have been answered.

1. DDT is now a banned substance

Even with the recent bed bug resurgence, DDT is no longer used to quell infestations. This magic chemical was outlawed. Why was it banned? In 1960 DDT came under heavy criticism. This would continue in 1962, when “Silent Spring,” an environmental science book written by Rachel Carson, a biologist who was suffering from cancer, was published. And it would go on to change the course of history.

The book was about the negative and dangerous effects brought about by DDT and other synthetic pesticides. The author would later sit before a senate committee and testify against DDT and other harmful pesticides.

Environmentalist argued that this chemical caused more harm than good. Soon after, an agricultural ban on this chemical would follow in 1972. That was just the beginning.

Many claims led to the DDTs ban. Some of these included its carcinogenicity characteristics. It was also claimed to be hazardous to wildlife. The ban was, therefore, inevitable.

In 2001, DDT was eventually outlawed all over the world in the Stockholm Convention. It was not only seen as an environmental hazard but also a public health issue.

DDT would no longer be used to combat bed bugs. There have been campaigns to bring DDT back, but the noise has fallen on deaf ears.

2. DDT was colorless and odorless, yet potent

DDT was a colorless, tasteless, odorless, crystalline molecule. But make no mistake; it was still a strong insecticide. Bed bugs couldn’t see it coming.

DDT was somewhat subtle and easy to make. The process of making it included heating of the reactants, yet its potency as a pesticide was remarkable.

3. DDT nearly wiped out bed bugs

DDT was a synthetic insecticide that helped to keep bed bugs out of the American households for a whopping 60 years. This began after World War II. It went on until the recent resurgence. Part of the reason why this was possible is that DDT proved to be an effective synthetic insecticide. It was stronger than all the other previously used elemental and natural botanicals.

Its poisonous properties were lethal to bed bugs and other insects. Given that it was a new phenomenon, it took bed bugs by surprise, unlike most other insecticides that had been used on them.

4. DDT leaves a long-lasting residue

Unlike other insecticides, DDT is known to leave a long-lasting residue on the surface that it’s applied to. This explains why it almost eliminated bed bugs. It could last on these surfaces for months or even a year. This meant that after application, the chances of a bed bug re-infestation were limited.

If any bed bugs were left on the premises, they would come out and face the same fate as their long-gone counterparts.

Bed bugs can’t be controlled by a single spray of any insecticide. And given that these bloodsuckers hide extremely well, those that are left in their hideouts have to wait for their time to feed. Moreover, the chemical may not penetrate some of their harborages (these are cracks and crevices). When they came out, DDT residue would land yet another fatal blow to these creatures, killing them in a few hours.

5. The ban on DDT did not cause the current bed bug resurgence

It’s often alluded that the ban on DDT is responsible for the current bed bug resurgence. But is this true? Well, that’s far from the truth. DDT was a proven bed bug killer. It is therefore easy to assume that bed bugs are crawling back into our households because we can’t use it anymore. The truth is that bed bugs were already adapting and changing. Before DDT was banned, these little vampires had already shown various signs of resistance.

DDT and similar insecticides work distinctly. The objective is to destroy the bed bugs nervous system. They ruin the insect’s nervous system by opening up a particular ion channel. When this is done, the nervous system breaks down, killing bed bugs.

Unfortunately, the new breeds of resistant bed bugs have made amends by shutting down the once vulnerable channel. This means that DDT and similar insecticides would no longer kill these bloodsuckers.

The channel doesn’t open when the insect comes into contact with this chemical. As part of their insecticide resistance development, bed bugs also developed a thick cuticle. For this reason, DDT and other insecticides can’t penetrate their bodies as easy as before.

6. DDT was an economical bed bug control treatment

It is no secret that controlling bed bug infestations have not only become harder but more expensive. This was not the case before DDT was banned. DDT was the most potent insecticide against bed bugs, and it came at a pocket-friendly price.

The methods used to control bed bugs today are expensive and not as effective as DDT. Let’s take the case of heat treatment, for instance. This method can cost up to thousands of dollars depending on the units involved. During the days of DDT, you probably would have needed a relatively affordable can of DDT. Almost every household could afford it.

7. It was much easier to control bed bugs with DDT

One of the attributes of DDT was its effectiveness. If a neighborhood was infested with bed bugs, what they all needed was DDT. They could all pay for it. This made sure that the bed bugs had no chance. Once they were flushed out from one home, they wouldn’t end up in the next one. If at all they did, these blood-sucking filthy creatures would meet the same fate.

Today it is much difficult for landlords, tenants and pest control experts to exterminate bed bugs. Although it is possible, one homeowner may be able to pay a thousand dollars for heat treatment. If your neighbor can pay for the same, your home is susceptible to a re-infestation. This makes it much harder to control bed bugs than when DDT was still widely used.

8. Since DDT was outlawed bed bugs have increased

DDT was banned in 1972. Back then, scientists could hardly find enough bed bug samples to conduct research. That has since changed. The bed bug population is now on the rise. American households remain on high alert of possible infestation. Entomologists are back on the drawing board trying to find a better treatment for bed bugs.

International travel has done little to help. With these little vampires having excellent hitchhiking abilities, the bed bugs population is spreading out in different parts of the world. What’s more frightening is that the bed bug of today can no longer be only associated with poor living conditions. It can be found in 5-star hotels and it is as tenacious as ever. Regular pesticides just aren’t killing it.

9. Today’s bed bugs are resistance to DDT

When people hear about how effective DDT was, they can’t help but think that we need to bring it back. That kind of talk has been going on for a long time.

Though there haven’t been many efforts to bring back this silver bullet, you should know that it would not kill bed bugs as before. And why is that? These creatures have evolved. Bed bugs now have a mechanism that works against DDT and other pesticides. This didn’t begin now. Back in the day, there were still those few bed bugs that DDT could not kill. Nonetheless, the new bed bug breed is terrifying. And reversing DDTs ban is not a viable solution.

10. DDT could prevent a bed bug re-infestation for up to a year

Re-infestation of bed bugs was and is still a concern today. If the treatment method used by pest control experts in your home is not thorough, the remaining female bed bugs will reproduce. Before you know it, you’ll be back to the drawing board.

It wasn’t always like that with DDT. Experts say that DDT was strong enough to maintain its potency for months. Its insecticidal properties wouldn’t just fade away in weeks. You were guaranteed that if the next batch of bed bugs came out of their harborages, they would meet their death. This was caused by the lethal DDT residue.

Given that this would go on for months after spraying DDT, a re-infestation within a year was highly unlikely.

Some contact sprays can flush out bed bugs. These intelligent pesky creatures then migrate and camp in the next house or room. This isn’t how DDT worked. Once the insects came into direct contact with DDT, they didn’t result in hiding. Instead, they were seen crawling out of their hideouts even in broad daylight. At that point, the affected bed bugs were not normal. And it was just a matter of time before they died.

11. DDT did not kill bed bugs through ingestion

If you don’t know much about DDT, you may assume that bed bugs had to ingest it, and then death would follow. However, that’s not how this silver bullet killed the stubborn bloodsuckers. Bed bugs absorbed this chemical residual as they crawled on a treated surface. This insecticide would then be absorbed through their cuticles.

As much as DDT could kill bed bugs instantly, it would sometimes take hours.

When the insect came in contact with the chemical in liquid form, then it would die in minutes. Nonetheless, with the dry residue, it could take a couple of hours.

12. DDT worked best when sprayed on surfaces

To get the best results out of DDT, experts directed that it was not to be sprayed haphazardly rather strategically. The air was not supposed to be saturated with the DDT solution. Instead, one had to spray it on the surfaces of the affected areas.

It could be sprayed on the bed without having to dismantle it. Spraying the edges as well as the surfaces was deemed to be the most effective method of application.

13. Bed bugs were susceptible to numerous forms of DDT

The form in which DDT was used for bed bug control was not limited. Depending on the circumstances, one could choose to either use it in liquid or powder form. While you could use an ordinary hand spray at home for the liquid solution, a brush came in handy for the powder application.

14. DDT is still being manufactured in some countries

Although DDT was banned, it is still being manufactured in some countries. It is legal to make DDT in the United States, but only for export purposes. North Korea, China, and India are some of the other countries that continue to manufacture DDT on their own. And since it has a wide range of uses, these countries don’t make it for killing pests only.

15. DDT can still be used in some emergencies

DDT can still be legally used in the US. There are circumstances in which its use is allowed in the US. This includes public health emergencies. For instance, if there was an outbreak of a dangerous disease that DDT could help contain, then it can be used as part of the control program.

Make no mistake that if you are caught using it for a bed bug infestation in your household, legal action may be taken against you.

Questions and Answers

1. What scent keeps bed bugs away?

As much as bloodthirsty bed bugs like to stay near you, particular scents may keep them away. Here are some of the popular scents that keep bed bugs at bay;

Lavender oil

Lavender oil has a strong fragrance. It is a sweet scent that most people love. Nonetheless, bed bugs don’t like lavender scent or taste. If you want to control bed bugs, spraying some lavender oil in your house may help.

Tea tree oil

Bed bugs are perturbed by tea tree oil. When you mix it with lukewarm water and spray on potential bed bug harborages, the aroma will flush them out. The strong scent emanating from tea tree oils makes their hideouts feel somewhat hostile, forcing them to find refuge elsewhere.

Diatomaceous earth

If you have noticed signs of a bed bug infestation in your household, you want to ensure that you don’t make it a haven for these little vampires. Diatomaceous earth can come in handy as far as driving bed bugs out of your home are concerned.

This is a powder that you spread in your bedroom, kitchen or living room. If you spread it evenly, it can help contain bed bugs.

Pepper powder

Bed bugs can’t stand the aroma of pepper powder. Sprinkling this powder in your house can help curb a bed bug infestation.

2. What pesticides kill bed bugs?

There are over 300-bed bug control pesticides registered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Some of these pesticides can only be used by qualified pest control professionals, while others are safe to be used directly by consumers.

These pesticides fall under 7 categories that include pyrethroids, pyrethrins, desiccants, pyrroles, insect growth regulators, neonicotinoids and biochemicals.

Each of these chemicals kills bed bugs in a particular mode of action. However, you shouldn’t use them repeatedly as bed bugs can develop resistance.

So, if you are looking for a pesticide that could help you eliminate bed bugs, you should go for one that falls within these chemical classes.

3. Does Lysol kill bed bugs?

Lysol is a disinfectant. It is meant to kill germs and other microorganisms that thrive in homes. It is also used in restrooms. This chemical is ideal for the surfaces that require frequent disinfection. But could it kill bed bugs? Well, the chemical composition in different brands of Lysol may differ. However, they all have one thing in common, that is benzalkonium chloride. In Lysol power and free the active agent is hydrogen peroxide. Lysol is strong enough to kill bed bugs. But it has to be applied directly.

Although bed bugs are on a rampage and have developed resistance for most pesticides, Lysol active agent is too powerful for them. It is extremely difficult for bed bugs to get used to Lysol.

Lysol potency can’t be underestimated. Its fumes can reach bed bugs even in their harborages. It doesn’t matter how far or how well they hide; its fumes easily diffuse in the air and penetrate bed bugs hideouts. Though it’s more lethal where direct contact with these stubborn creatures is involved, it still can kill them from afar.

Moreover, when it comes in to contact with bed bug eggs, it can sterilize them. For the best results, you should target all possible bed bugs breeding grounds, especially the furniture.

4. How can I kill bed bugs fast and permanently?

Bed bugs are hardy and intelligent creatures. It is not easy to get rid of these parasites. But also it is not impossible. To do so, you have to kill the adult bed bugs and destroy or sterilize their eggs. One of bed bug control methods that can help you accomplish this is heat treatment.

To kill bed bugs fast and permanently, you need a combination of various tools. You can use heat treatment and follow up with sprays to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

The benefit of combining various methods is that one will succeed if the other fails. For instance, heat treatment can help kill bed bugs and their eggs. This treatment method kills them in 90 minutes. If an insecticide doesn’t do it, then the heat treatment will.

5. What animal eat bed bugs?

Bed bugs are our enemies. But do they have any predators that hunt them down? The answer is YES. Pharaoh ants are one of the natural predators that terrorize bed bugs. Others include spiders, argentine ants, tropical fire ants, winds scorpions, pseudoscorpions and pyemotes mites.

The spiders that kill bed bugs are the philodromid crab spider and cobweb spider.

Cockroaches relish eating bed bugs. They can quell a bed bug infestation before it goes out of control. As much as these natural predators exist, you can’t rely on them to exterminate bed bugs for you. Sooner or later, you’ll need to get rid of the predators too. Besides that, you don’t want roaches hovering all over your house in the name of killing bed bugs.

6. Can I get rid of bed bugs on my own?

Getting rid of bed bugs is tricky. It can take a day or even weeks depending on the pest control method you decide to use. That is why it’s advisable to call in professional pest exterminators.

The experts can accurately gauge the level of infestation, identify the bed bug species wreaking havoc on you and your loved ones and get rid of them efficiently. They have the right set of equipment to control and eliminate the infestation quickly.

7. How do I keep from getting bed bugs?

The current rampant bed bug resurgence has been partly associated with traveling. Given that these bloodsucking creatures are excellent hitchhikers, you could unknowingly carry them in your clothes or luggage from one place to another.

Fortunately, there are several measures you could take to keep from getting bed bugs. For example, when traveling, always inspect your hotel room before sleeping.

To carry out a thorough inspection, pull back the bedsheets and check for any signs of bed bugs on the mattress edges. Black or red spots on the beddings as well as casings should raise a red flag as these are signs of a bed bug infestation.

If you confirm that indeed there are bed bugs in the hotel, contact the management and report. You should then ask for another room, preferably in a separate block to avoid coming into contact with these bloodsuckers.

Another precaution you could take while traveling is placing your suitcase on a rack in the hotel room. If you want to be extra careful, wrap your suitcase with a trash bag when you get to the hotel. This will prevent bed bugs from hiding in your belongings and ending up at your house.

When you return home from vacation or business trip, vacuum your suitcase and clean all your clothes in a washing machine. This safeguards your household from a possible bed bug infestation.

You can also invest in bug-proof encasements.

Be informed that this will not prevent the critters from coming into your house. Nonetheless, it will make it much easier to get rid of them if an infestation happens.

Bed bugs interceptors are also an exceptional technique to keep bed bugs out. These are mainly placed under each foot of the bed. The main objective of using them is to keep bed bugs from climbing onto your bed.

Second-hand furniture may be riddled with bed bugs. If you have to buy some piece of second-hand furniture, clean it thoroughly and inspect it before taking it into your home.

Finally, de-clutter your living space. A cluttered home may support a bed bug infestation as it presents the bed bugs with a myriad of hiding spots.

8. Can vinegar kill bed bugs?

Vinegar can be used to control a bed bug infestation but with other types of treatments. If you want to use vinegar only, then you’d better use it as a contact treatment.

Vinegar is acidic. It is an irritant when sprayed directly on bed bugs. So, it is an ideal killer for bed bugs that you can see. Sadly, it’s hard to see these pesky parasites. This makes it an ineffective treatment to eliminate a bed bug infestation. It is best to seek an alternative, and more potent insecticide or treatment.

9. How long does it take bed bugs to die after extermination?

The answer to this question is not clear-cut as it depends on numerous factors. It is said that a bed bug infestation ends in three weeks after professional treatment. If it’s been 21 days without a single bed bug bite, chances are that the infestation has been successfully put under control.

The type of treatment also matters. For instance, a bed bug infestation could be quelled in just a few hours with heat treatment. When heat treatment is applied in all rooms of your home, the infestation can be stopped in a few hours.

How long do bed bugs live?

Bed bugs can live for 10 months or up to one year. The average lifespan of a bed bug is between 4 to 6months.

Bed bugs have evolved ever since the days of DDT. DDT had its share of victory as the most potent bed bug killer. It is unfortunate that despite DDT being banned, some bed bug species had already developed resistance against it.

As we deal with the current bed bugs resurgence, all is not lost. There are still effective treatment methods that can be used to control bed bugs infestation; you just need to identify the right treatment to eliminate them from your premises. If you want to get it right at the first attempt, we suggest that you seek professional pest control services.