Of all the insects that prey on humans, perhaps none are so pesky as the dreaded bed bug: bane of sleep and nighttime comfort since ancient times, bed bugs have been a fact of life for millennia, and are making a comeback in many areas as they develop resistance to chemical pesticides. Fortunately, it’s possible to use certain essential oils to get rid of bedbugs and prevent future infestations.
Bed bugs are tiny, brown, flattish insects that feed on blood. They got their name from their habit of infesting bedding . Areas where large numbers of people are sleeping, such as hotels, college dorms, and apartment buildings, are especially prone to bed bug infestations . Hiding during the day, bed bugs come out at night to feed, frequently leaving reddish bite marks that can be very itchy and irritating to the skin. A few people have more serious allergic reactions to bed bug bites . Even when symptoms stop at itching, bed bug bites interfere with restful sleep , which can result in health problems such as lethargy, a depressed immune system, weight gain, and anxiety or depression. Scratching the bites to relieve itching can also damage skin integrity and allow microorganisms to enter through the skin, causing infections. However, bed bugs themselves are not known to transmit any infectious agents to humans .
In the mid-20th century, bed bugs were almost eradicated from the developed world by the use of DDT, a pesticide that is now infamous because it devastated bird populations. DDT and many similar pesticides are now banned for their detrimental effects on human health and wildlife. What’s more, many bed bugs now show a resistance to these pesticides . As a result, bed bugs are surging back in the developed world, and the need for natural remedies such as essential oils to get rid of bed bugs is bigger than ever.
How to Detect Bed Bugs: Bed bugs like to hide in dark, warm crevices during the day. If you suspect you may have a bed bug problem, check creases in your sheets, mattress seams, your bed frame and headboard, and the walls and floor of your bedroom. Bedbugs sometimes congregate around the seams between the walls, floor, and ceiling. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for their eggs and feces as well as the adult bugs: bed bug feces will appear on surfaces as small brown spots, while the eggs look like small whitish spots.
How to Use Essential Oils to Get Rid of Bed Bugs: Some common essential oils that may be repellent or even fatal to bed bugs and their eggs include eucalyptus , peppermint, lavender, rosemary, and clove . Other essential oils that may repel—though not necessarily kill—bed bugs include palo santo, cedarwood, thyme, myrtle, and tea tree oil . Whether you suspect you already have bed bugs or want to prevent them from entering your home, you can use these oils in a diluted room or bed spray to repel these pesky critters. Here’s a basic recipe for a bed bug repellent spray with essential oils:
1 cup water
10 drops lavender oil
10 drops rosemary oil
10 drops eucalyptus oil
3 drops clove bud oil (optional)
You can treat your mattress and bed linens with this spray or diffuse it into the air of your bedroom or hotel room. This spray can also be applied to cracks and seams in the walls where bed bugs like to hide and lay their eggs, to kill any bugs hiding there. Make sure to use a sparing amount of these powerful oils, and always dilute them before use: larger amounts may stain bedding or clothing, or cause headaches in sensitive people. If you do plan to use a larger amount of spray to fumigate a room, strip the bed and leave the room overnight, and keep pets and children away.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself: When traveling, never place your suitcase on the ground where bed bugs can crawl inside. Instead, place it on the folding rack provided by some hotels or on the high shelf of a closet, and keep it closed up. You can also make sachets of dried bed bug-repellent herbs (such as lavender, eucalyptus, and rosemary) and place them in your suitcase and any garments before putting them in the hotel room’s closet or drawers . When you arrive home, store your suitcase in the garage or bathtub for a couple days in case any bed bugs have stowed away inside. The insects will be unable to climb the tub sides, and you should be able to quickly spot any against the white enamel.
Bed bugs don’t like heat, so dry your bedding, linens, drapes and clothes at the highest temperature in the dryer to kill any bugs that may be on them. You can also heat treat smaller items like overnight bags by placing them in a sealed black plastic bag in direct sunlight for about 3 hours, or until the internal temperature has reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit . Use a handheld steamer to clean your mattress for the same effect; adding lavender essential oil to the water will make this treatment even more effective .
If You Do Get Bit: For those unfortunate times when taking every precaution against bed bugs isn’t enough, there are also natural remedies that can alleviate the itching and skin irritation caused by bed bug bites. Applying witch hazel, organic apple cider vinegar, or even a slice of raw potato to a cut can reduce itching and swelling, and using chamomile soap on the bitten area will also address irritation while moisturizing the skin . And of course, don’t forget the panoply of essential oils that can soothe inflamed or irritated skin, such as lavender, German chamomile, geranium, and vetiver.
1. “Bed Bug.” Wikipedia. Accessed April 15th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bed_bug.
2. Goddard, PhD, Jerome and Richard de Shazo, MD. April 1st, 2009. “Bed Bugs (Cimex lecticularius) and clinical consequences of their bites.” Journal of the American Medical Association 301 (13): 1358-1366.
3. Romero, Alvaro, Michael F. Potter, Daniel A. Potter, and Kenneth F. Haynes. 2007. “Insecticide Resistance in the Bed Bug: A Factor in the Pest’s Sudden Resurgence?” Journal of Medical Entomology 44 (2): 175-178.
4. “Natural Bed Bug Control.” The Herb Gardener. Accessed April 15th, 2014. http://theherbgardener.blogspot.com/2009/05/get-rid-of-bed-bugs.html.
5. Henderson, Daniel. July 10th, 2013. “Bed Bugs and How to Eliminate Them Naturally”. http://voices.yahoo.com/bedbugs-eliminate-them-naturally-12221952.html?cat=68.