In this article, you’ll learn if alcohol can be effectively used to kill or repel bed bugs in your home, how to use it, and what to be cautious of.
The very idea of bed bugs is enough to make even the least squeamish among us give a shudder. Most of us are fairly choosy about whom we share our beds with – insects would be last on anyone’s list.
If you’re here, you either have bed bugs or think you have bed bugs, and you want to get rid of them ASAP. An exterminator can be expensive, so why not try a DIY solution?
One of the most popular do-it-yourself bed bug treatments is applying alcohol. And why not? It’s cheap, you probably have some at home already, and it says it’s dangerous right on the label.
How do you apply it? And, most importantly, does it work? We’ll get to the bottom of these questions and let you know if it’s worth your time trying to kill bed bugs with alcohol.
Let’s start with another critical question:
What You'll Learn
- 1 What is Isopropyl Alcohol?
- 2 Will Isopropyl Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs? How?
- 3 Can I Use Green Alcohol to Get Rid of Bed Bugs?
- 4 How to Use Alcohol to Kill Bed Bugs
- 5 Does Rubbing Alcohol Repel Bed Bugs?
- 6 Is it Safe to Use Rubbing Alcohol to Kill Bed Bugs?
- 7 But, is Alcohol Effective Against Bed Bugs?
- 8 Do We Recommend Using Alcohol to Kill Bed Bugs?
- 9 Finishing Thoughts
What is Isopropyl Alcohol?
First off, it’s important to know that the alcohol we’re discussing is isopropyl alcohol, often called “rubbing alcohol.” It’s synthetic alcohol made with the chemical compound propene and either water or sulphuric acid.
Isopropyl alcohol is frequently used as a solvent, or disinfectant, though, interestingly, no one knows why it disinfects.
Don’t confuse it with the alcohol in your liquor cabinet. Isopropyl alcohol is far stronger; it’s typically sold in either 70% or 91% strengths. Even your strongest booze is likely to be under 50% unless you buy the overproof stuff.
You might be able to drown a bed bug with whiskey, but you won’t kill it simply by spraying. Save it for a glass, and drink a toast when the unwelcome houseguests are gone.
Will Isopropyl Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs? How?
Yes, isopropyl, or rubbing alcohol, applied directly to bed bugs is proven to have lethal effects.
As explained in the previous section, isopropyl alcohol is an effective solvent. It’s strong enough that it can eat right through the exoskeleton of an adult bed bug. Alcohol also functions as a desiccant – it dries things out. So, after eating through the exoskeleton, it works to dry up the bed bug’s innards.
Together, the two functions can take a bite out of your bed bug problem.
Does Alcohol Work on Bed Bug Eggs and Larvae?
Because they’re still developing, eggs and larvae are particularly susceptible to death by dissolving. Of course, destroying eggs and babies is great because it interrupts the life-cycle.
Be aware that eggs are small and hard to see. You’ll have to search carefully to find them.
Can I Use Green Alcohol to Get Rid of Bed Bugs?
You may have seen isopropyl alcohol colored green on the shelf next to the clear stuff. What’s different about it?
It contains a wintergreen additive – and green dye to let you know it’s “minty.” Functionally, it’s exactly the same as it’s transparent cousin; it just smells nice.
Many green alcohols are only 50% and won’t kill any bugs. You can get it in higher strengths, but you’ll end up making your home smell strongly of mint. Leave it on the shelf.
How to Use Alcohol to Kill Bed Bugs
Since the alcohol has to come in contact to kill the bed bugs, you need to spray it where they live. That could be anywhere, unfortunately. But your mattress is where they typically nest because that’s where the food is – the food being your blood.
The easiest way to apply alcohol for bed bug control is to pour it into a spray bottle and then spritz it directly onto the mattress. Be sure to spray it liberally and get into all the folds and creases. You’ll want to really soak the mattress for maximum contact.
As I said, though, bed bugs may take up residence anywhere people are found. You’ll want to take a long, hard look at other potential hot spots, including box springs, inside drawers, rugs and carpets, sofas, and folded towels and linens.
Be warned that rubbing alcohol has the potential to stain fabrics. That may not matter much on a mattress or box spring. However, you might care more about your sofa, carpet, and curtains. Try a small spritz on an inconspicuous patch before giving any fabric you’re concerned about a full dousing.
You’re probably aware that isopropyl alcohol has a fairly strong odor. Before splashing it all over your home, try to figure out where you do need it and where you don’t. Why subject yourself to the smell, even temporarily, if you don’t have to?
Does Rubbing Alcohol Repel Bed Bugs?
There are people out there who swear by alcohol as a bed bug deterrent. They say the scent is enough to drive them away, never to return. Apparently, all you need to do is to spray or rub isopropyl alcohol anywhere bed bugs are likely to hang out. Sounds simple!
Unfortunately, it simply does not work. Bed bugs aren’t put off much by the mere presence of alcohol, certainly not enough to make a difference to a serious problem. Those who are discouraged will merely move away from the offending substance, make their home, and lay eggs elsewhere.
In case you have it in mind that the disinfectant properties of rubbing alcohol will help, you can forget about that, too. Bed bugs aren’t drawn to dirty places; they’re drawn to the carbon dioxide you exhale. That’s their first clue there is a living creature around, full of tasty blood.
It may be too much of a stretch to say they “smell” CO2, or much of anything, for that matter, including rubbing alcohol. For more on that, check out our article on What Scents Keep Bedbugs Away.
Removing clutter makes it more difficult for them to find places to hide, and washing yourself regularly helps, too. But, merely cleaning up isn’t enough to get rid of bed bugs.
Is it Safe to Use Rubbing Alcohol to Kill Bed Bugs?
Used carefully, isopropyl alcohol is safe for use against bed bugs. But, it cannot be stressed enough that this is a highly flammable substance. The fluid and the vapors are easy to ignite with an open flame, spark, or intense heat source, such as a space heater.
If you plan to spray alcohol, do so only in a well-ventilated room and keep anything that might ignite it far, far away. Do not smoke anywhere near where you’re spraying! Many fires are started accidentally each year with rubbing alcohol.
A rubbing alcohol fire can be hard to see at first. It burns so clean, it’s almost invisible. Check out this video to see how easy it is to ignite alcohol and how difficult it is to see.
Fortunately, alcohol evaporates very quickly, usually within a couple of minutes. Once dry, it no longer poses a fire risk.
Additionally, isopropyl alcohol is highly toxic to humans and pets. Absolutely do not ingest it! Also, wear gloves when applying – it will dry out your skin and can cause irritation.
But, is Alcohol Effective Against Bed Bugs?
We’ve said alcohol is proven to kill bed bugs. Naturally, you don’t want to kill some of the bed bugs; you want to snuff them all out! How effective is rubbing alcohol?
About 50%, it turns out. A highly unenviable group at Rutgers University tested many ways of exterminating bed bugs. (I can imagine no one from that study slept well for a long time.) They discovered that even applied directly, no matter how potent the alcohol, the kill rate was never higher than 50%. Another study gave a range of 40-60% using 99% alcohol, which averages out to 50%, yet again.
And remember, that’s 50% of bed bugs that had alcohol applied directly to them. In a lab. That means they were probably sitting there in plain sight in a jar, or something. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
The problem with bed bug infestations is, you can never see them all. There is zero chance you’ll spray every single bed bug. Now your 50% rate really starts to drop.
So, if you want to increase your odds of dramatically reducing a bed bug infestation with alcohol, you’ll have to persevere. Many bed bugs will escape death and seek out safer quarters. You’ll have to track them down and spray them anywhere they go. Multiple applications will be necessary for even a chance at success.
Do We Recommend Using Alcohol to Kill Bed Bugs?
As a stand-alone measure to rid a home of a bed bug infestation, using alcohol is only a moderately effective strategy. It will not kill all the bugs at once, and some of those that don’t die will likely stay in your home and lay eggs somewhere else.
Since this is not a job you want to leave half-finished, we do not recommend using only rubbing alcohol to get rid of bed bugs.
You might, however, employ it as part of a DIY effort to take care of the problem without the expense of an exterminator or using toxic chemicals, but only if the situation isn’t totally out of hand.
I don’t doubt for a second that you’ve already seen a bunch of sites that tell you isopropyl alcohol is great for ridding your home of bed bugs. The truth is, while it will kill some of the bugs, you don’t want all your eggs in this basket. Take a multi-pronged approach using complementary methods, or stick with commercially available pesticides.
This may not have been the answer you were hoping for, but the truth is always the best. Now that you know what to expect from alcohol as a bed bug killer, you can make an informed decision on how to deal with your situation.
Thanks for coming to us with this serious problem. Please explore the site for more info and advice you can actually use. And if you don’t see what you need, just ask! Drop us a line, and we’ll do our best to help.
Good luck, don’t panic, don’t give up.