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How to Treat Your Car for Bed Bugs


The interior of a car, viewed from the driver's side door, looking rearward

If you have bed bugs in your home and you own an automobile, then you may have bed bugs in your car, as well. Bed bugs don't actually live on people's bodies, but they do hitchhike on us and our clothing and belongings. Many bed bug treatments fail because people overlook the car when planning their treatment approach.

Unfortunately, in some ways, cars are even more difficult to treat for bed bugs than houses are. They have all kinds of nooks and crannies into which bed bugs can escape. They also contain electronic equipment in which bed bugs can hide, but which can't be easily treated (if at all), as well as trim in which bed bugs can hide, but that can't easily be removed.

In short, treating a car for bed bugs can be a real challenge. You may want to ask local exterminators how much they charge to do it. Some of them have heat-treatment chambers into which they can drive the whole car. It's worth calling around to find out.

If you want to try the do-it-yourself approach, however, this page discusses a few of the products and methods that can be used to try to treat your own car for bed bugs. As with treating your home, thoroughness and attention to detail will maximize your chances of success. You must methodically treat every place that bed bugs can hide in the entire interior of the car, including the trunk if the car has one.

Non-Chemical Methods for Bed Bug Control in Cars

Sustained Bright Sunlight

If you live in an extremely hot place, you may be able to eradicate your car's bed bug infestation simply by leaving it parked in the sun with all the windows closed for a long enough time. In order for this to be effective, you have to be able to get the inside temperature of the entire car up to at least 135° F ( 57° C ) for at least three hours. That's not unrealistic in extremely hot climates if your car's windows aren't heavily tinted. Otherwise, trying this approach is probably a waste of time. (On the other hand, it's free; so maybe it's worth a shot.)

Whatever you do, do not try using a heater to heat up the car's interior. You're more likely to set your car on fire or otherwise damage its interior than you are to kill the bed bugs.

Extreme Cold

If you live in the arctic or somewhere else where it gets really, really cold, then you may be able to freeze your car's bed bugs to death. You'll need to get its entire temperature down below 0° F ( -18° C ) for at least five days. If its temperature rises above that level at any time during the treatment, you have to start all over again.

Steam Treatment

Some people have had success treating their cars using a bed bug steamer. My feeling about this is that your chances of success depend on whether or not the bed bugs have made their way into the electronics and the plastic trim around the interior. The electronics shouldn't be treated with steam, and the steam won't penetrate behind the trim; so if there are bed bugs in either of those areas, then steam treatment is unlikely to be effective.

Another thing I'd be concerned about would be whether the steam might damage plastic parts of the car. It can be pretty hot.

If you want to use steam, you should also consider having a professional steam-clean your car. Most auto detailers either do this work or know someone who does. You can also ask any used car dealership for a recommendation. They often have cars that are in good shape other than needing a thorough cleaning. They're very likely to be able to recommend someone to professionally steam-clean your car.

Vacuuming and Shampooing

If I had bed bugs in my car, thorough vacuuming followed by shampooing the entire interior is the first thing I'd try. I also suggest it as the first step in any bed bug treatment in a car, even if you plan to follow it up with a chemical treatment.

Begin by emptying out the car's interior and trunk, and then vacuuming it with the upholstery attachments of a powerful, bag-type vacuum cleaner. Pay special attention to the crevices in the upholstery and the areas under the seats. Also pull back any carpeting that's not attached permanently and vacuum behind it. Be really thorough.

By the way, don't waste your time using one of those 12-volt "car vacs." Most of them couldn't pull a drunk out of bed. You need a powerful vacuum cleaner with a fresh bag. You want to pull out not any any bed bugs that you can, but also any sand, dirt, or grit that is too large for the next step, which will be shampooing the interior.

Once you're done vacuuming, shampoo the entire interior of the car and trunk with the upholstery attachments of a carpet shampooer. Use hot water and a good shampoo labeled for car upholstery. Be as thorough with the shampooer as you were with the vacuum, but be careful not to spray the water on or into any electrical components.

Once you're done, let the car sit in the hot sun until the interior has thoroughly dried.

Change the Cabin Air Filter

Like vacuuming and shampooing, changing the cabin air filter should be part of any treatment for bed bugs in a car that's equipped with one, no matter which bed bug treatment method you choose. This is one of those areas that bed bugs seem to love hiding in.

Changing the cabin air filter may be an easy job or a hard job depending on your car. You may want to have your mechanic do it.

Using Insecticides to Treat Your Car for Bed Bugs

There are many types of insecticides that are labeled for use in cars, but I only recommend two: liquid sprays and aerosol sprays. The reason is that I've found powder and dust insecticides to be almost impossible to completely remove from a car's carpets and upholstery. But if you want to try them, go right ahead. Follow the label instructions to the letter, and try to remove them as best you can using a strong vacuum cleaner when you're done.

When choosing an insecticide, make sure that it's labeled both for bed bugs and for use in cars, and follow the label instructions to the letter, including any instructions for drying or airing-out time. You don't want to seal yourself into a car that's oozing insecticide fumes.

Another thing to be aware of when using any liquid insecticide in a car is that there are many electrical parts that aren't obvious. For example, most of the seats in cars that have "smart" air bags will have sensors under them to detect when a person is sitting on the seat. So don't over-wet the surfaces. You want to just barely wet them, not saturate them.

I recommend that you use EcoRaider Bed Bug Killer and a compressed air insecticide sprayer with a wand and an adjustable nozzle to treat your car for bed bugs. A trigger-type sprayer won't cut it in a car because of all the weird angles, nooks, and crannies that you'll need to treat (for example, under the seats). Test the product on inconspicuous areas of the upholstery and seats to make sure that it doesn't stain them.

To treat the car, start by using low pressure to apply the insecticide to the seats and upholstery. Just barely wet the surfaces of the seats, but do so thoroughly. (In other words, make sure it's wet everywhere, but just barely wet.) With a gloved hand, open up the gaps between the back and bottom of the seats, and spray in there, as well. Also pay special attention to any tufts or seams in the upholstery.

Next, spray the exposed carpeting. You can spray these until they're a bit wetter than the seats were because you want to cover the pile. But they still shouldn't be saturated. Where the carpeting can be pulled back, pull it back a few inches and spray underneath it, as well. If your car has floor mats, take them out and treat them separately.

Finally, take a look under the seats. If there is no wiring, then spray the carpeting under there, as well. If you can take out the rear seat, spray the under-side of the seat, assuming that it has no wiring. (If it does, you can still spray it, but avoid the wires and other electrical components.)

When you're done, park the car out of the sun. Heat will accelerate the breakdown of the insecticide, which you don't want to happen just yet. If the spray hasn't dried by the next day, you can park it in the sun to finish drying the seats before you drive the car.