NBC4 Investigates: Do Bedbug Sprays Really Work? - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

NBC4 Investigates: Do Bedbug Sprays Really Work?

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They are the public health pest causing people to dive under their covers with flashlights, armed with over-the-counter pesticides. 

Bedbugs are a big problem, creating big business in Central Ohio.

Regulations for over-the-counter pesticides cover safety concerns, not effectiveness.

NBC4's Candice Lee puts popular pesticides to the test.

The following is an exact transcript of the report as shown on NBC4 at 6 p.m. on May 14, 2013.

Lee: Store shelves are stacked with over-the-counter pesticides, claiming to kill bedbugs.

But Dr. Susan Jones, associated professor of entomology at The Ohio State University and a leading bedbug researcher, tells me while many may kill a few bedbugs, all fail to provide homeowners long-term relief.

To prove it, I went to her campus lab, where we tested three over-the-counter products.

In the early morning hours of March 20, Charles Adams discovered bedbugs on a pull-out in a back bedroom of his Fornoff Road home.

He used an alcohol-based bug spray, thinking it would kill the pests. But when his wife entered the room, she lit a lighter, not knowing Adams had sprayed.

It sparked a fire, which quickly spread through the home, sending the family running for safety.

Adams: "We was half asleep, just woke up. I mean, I panicked, trying to hurry up and get that couch out of there, 'cause we've been fighting bedbugs off and on."

It is incidents like this that worry members of the Central Ohio Bedbug Task Force like Jones.

Here at the Rothenbuhler Lab on the Ohio State campus, Dr. Jones and her assistants are looking for ways to eradicate the pests.

They test dozens of over-the-counter pesticides. But Jones tells me pesticide makers promise more than they deliver.

Jones: "If a product worked as well as the label indicated or the website indicated, we would've solved all of our bedbug problems. But that's not what you see."

NBC4 put three products to the test: Hot Shot Bedbug and Flea Spray, a natural pesticide called Stop Bugging Me, and 90-percent rubbing alcohol.

First up, Hot Shot, which claims to kill bedbugs on contact.

Jones: "The spray has to directly contact the bedbug if it's going to have any effect whatsoever."

Next up was Stop Bugging Me, a natural insecticide, which claims to kill 100 percent of bedbugs in 15 minutes.

Finally, we hit the rubbing alcohol, which is highly flammable, but used by many people nonetheless.

Jones: "If you spray enough on the bedbugs, some of them will potentially die. But as Josh is showing you right here, he is spraying the 90-percent, and a lot of the bugs aren't reacting."

In order for bedbug treatments to be successful, the pesticides must be strong enough to remain effective over long periods of time. Pest control companies recommend repeated professional treatments over several months. Dr. Jones says over-the-counter products dry quickly, making it impossible to kill the bugs completely.

Three days later, we returned to Dr. Jones' lab to check on our specimens.

Of the 10 bedbugs sprayed with the Hot Shot product, 50 percent died the first day.

Only 45 percent of the bedbugs treated with Stop Bugging Me died.

The rubbing alcohol killed 20 percent of the bedbugs.

Jones: "The bedbugs that are reproducing behind the walls or in the electrical outlet, or in the bed frames, they've already replaced any bedbugs that you've potentially killed."

I reached out to the makers of Hot Shot and Stop Bugging Me and informed them of our results.

In an emailed statement, the makers of Hot Shot told me, "The Hot Shot Bedbug & Flea Killer Aerosol is a cost-effective option for do-it-yourself, spot-treatment control of bedbug infestations. The aerosol, which is EPA-registered for use against bedbugs, is designed to kill bedbugs where they hide."

I also heard from the makers of the Stop Bugging Me! spray. They refute the study we conducted with Ohio State, citing their own study, "Stop Bugging Me! was effective against the bedbug, providing complete mortality by 24 hours post treatment."

The only way to address a bed bug infestation is to hire a professional pest control company. They have access to commercial grade pesticides that overtime and repeated treatments can kill the pests.

Laboratory Methods (Ohio State/NBC4 Testing)

The contact toxicity of various products was assessed by directly spraying groups of bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) confined to petri dishes lined with filter paper discs. Treatments included five over-the-counter products (JT Eaton™ Kills Bed Bugs, JT Eaton™ Kills Bed Bugs II, Stop Bugging Me!™, HotShot® Bedbug and Flea Killer, and Bonide® Bedbug Killer) and three home remedies (50, 70, and 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol). For each treatment and a distilled water control, 3 replicates consisting of 10 adult bed bugs (males and females) from one bed bug population (Republic, collected during 2012 from Columbus, OH) were established.

Residual efficacy of each product was assessed by exposing bed bugs (3 replicates, 10 mixed-sex adult bed bugs) to filter paper discs that had been sprayed to saturation with each product then air dried for approximately 3 hours.

For contact toxicity and residual efficacy tests, the condition of bed bugs was assessed at 3 and 8 d. Each bug's condition was assessed based on its behavioral response when probed:

  • Healthy – the bed bug moves quickly and in a coordinated manner to avoid stimulus.
  • Sluggish – reacts slowly, but makes coordinated movements to avoid stimulus.
  • Ataxic – unable to coordinate movements to avoid the stimulus. Ataxic bugs can right themselves after falling.
  • Moribund – incapable of locomotion and exhibiting movement only of appendages or other body parts.
  • Dead – no movement whatsoever.

Ohio State/NBC4 Test Results

Report From Stop Bugging Me!

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