Most Effective Ingredients in Bed Bug Sprays

Most Effective Ingredients in Bed Bug Sprays

Most of us grew up thinking of bed bugs in the same category as boogey-men, if we thought of them at all. Boogey-men and bed bugs were just things of childhood nightmares, right?

Wrong. While boogey-men have yet to make an appearance, bed bugs have recently crawled out of the old nursery rhyme books and into our beds. Bed bugs have come back to torment humans after being nearly eradicated for generations.

How do you know if you have bed bugs?

Many pest control professionals report having been erroneously called to get rid of other bugs, most notably roaches, only to discover that the customer’s home has been under attack by bed bugs.

True to their name, bed bugs live primarily in beds, but can also be found in cushioned furniture, carpets, curtains, behind baseboards, and even under wallpaper. While bites may be your first clue that something is in bed with you besides your snoring partner, it can sometimes take days for the bites to show up and begin itching. 

You can look for bed bugs in mattress corners, under mattress tags, in corner creases and between mattress and bed frames. Though small, bed bugs are visible to the eye in all stages, with mature adults about the size of a lentil. Also visible are empty shell casings, and dark stains from feces. (Yuck!)

So what do you do when the worst has happened and these little biting creatures have taken up residence in your home and in your bed? While public health agencies generally advise against treating bed bugs without the help of a professional exterminator, there are some things you can do once you familiarize yourself with the wide range of treatments available.

Pyrethroid and Neonicotinoid: Longtime enemies of bed bugs

Both Pyrethroid and neonicotinoid have been in use for years in the fight against bed bugs with moderate success. Bed bugs have an annoying tendency to build up resistance to commonly used pesticides, making today’s bed bug colonies extremely difficult to eradicate from an infested area.

In a study published by Clemson University, only a strain of bed bugs purposely kept for forty years without pesticide exposure were eliminated by using either Pyrethroid or Neonicotinoid, with typical bed bugs being resistant. However, much greater success was achieved when bed bug colonies were sprayed with a combination of both chemicals, indicating that a good tip for getting rid of your bed bug problem is to combine chemicals from two different chemical classes.

What about sprays with natural ingredients rather than toxic chemicals?

Some plant-based spray solutions can also be effective against bed bug infestations. Neem, a natural tree oil, is available in a spray, and is the only EPA-approved biopesticide for indoor use. Neem oil is pressed from the seeds of the Neem tree, found in southeast Asia and Africa.

Unfortunately, while it will kill live bed bugs, Neem does not protect against reinfestation from unhatched eggs. What it can do, however, is help keep your home from developing an infestation if you spray Neem oil around the legs of your beds and along baseboards. If you are aware of bed bugs in your neighborhood, Neem is a good protectant to keep a bed bug colony from taking hold in your home.

Pyrethrins are a botanical chemical derived from chrysanthemum flowers. In fact, Pyrethroid chemical compounds are simply synthetic versions of pyrethrins. Unfortunately, because of the frequent use of the synthetic version, many bed bug colonies will be resistant to natural pyrethrin sprays, and spraying pyrethrin may cause surviving bugs to remerge and/or move to a new location and continue to spread.


Another class of compounds found to be effective against bed bugs are desiccants. Desiccants work by destroying the outer shell of the bug so it dehydrates and dies. Because the effectiveness of desiccants comes from a physical impact, it has an advantage in that bed bugs do not develop a resistance. Some examples of desiccants include diatomaceous earth and boric acid.

Whether you are purchasing bed bugs sprays on your own to rid your home of the tiny, adaptable pests, or you are contacting a professional, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the different ingredients in the available treatments in order to treat your home with the most appropriate chemical or botanical compound to protect your family.

Resources— Pesticide Research Institute, Entomology TodayEPA