Bed bugs are rarely found in cars. But sometimes we end up with bed bugs in our car because we travel with luggage that’s infested or we give a lift to someone who has bed bugs in their clothes.
Bed bugs can survive in a car for years when the conditions are right: the temperature inside the car doesn’t reach high or low extremes, there are people to bite, and there are other bed bugs to mate with. If one of these is missing, bed bugs die within hours or months.
Most bed bugs die off quickly simply because these insects aren’t designed to survive in cars. Others make it because of the resources and comfortable environment in the car. Understanding why bed bugs thrive in a car will help you identify how long those bugs are here to stay and how to get them out asap.
In this blog post, we’ll take a deeper look at:
- The 3 things that either help bed bugs survive or kill bed bugs in cars
- How to get rid of bed bugs in a car (quick guide)
3 things that help bed bugs survive in a car
There are three things that either help bed bugs survive in a car or that kill them. These three things are:
Having someone to feed on
Bed bugs don’t eat traditional foods – they live on blood alone. Their favorite is human blood. If there are no people around, bed bugs settle for pet or animal blood until they can find someone to bite.
So bed bugs need to come into contact with people or animals to drink blood, otherwise they starve to death.
Bed bugs can survive in a car for 20 to 400 days without feeding before they die of hunger. Young bed bugs can only survive about 20 days in a car without blood. Older bed bugs and adults can go for as long as 400 days without food.
Bed bugs hide in the car (click here to find out where they hide) and come out to feed about every three days or so. They usually do this at night, but if there’s no one in the car at this time they’ll adapt their schedule and come out to bite you when you are in the car.
If bed bugs find a host in a car whose blood they can suck regularly, they can survive and breed indefinitely – if something else doesn’t kill them off.
The temperature inside the car
Bed bugs can survive in a car if the temperature inside never reaches highs of 115°F (46°C) or more, and if the temperature never falls down to 32°F (0°C) or lower. In general, heat kills more bed bugs more easily than cold.
But it can take up to 8 hours of consistent high heat of 115°F (46°C) or higher to kill all adult bed bugs, larvae, and eggs in a car. And it can take up to 3 days to kill them all with freezing temperatures.
So even if a car gets very hot or very cold inside, it will need to stay this way for many hours or several days to kill the bed bugs in it.
Access to bed bugs for mating
Bed bugs that have access to blood and stay in a car with moderate temperatures inside can live for 10 months to 1 year before dying of old age.
This means that bed bugs that can’t mate or reproduce can still survive in a car for up to a year before dying off. This natural extermination happens when:
- There’s only one bed bug that lives and dies alone
- All the bed bugs in the car are male or all are female, so they cannot breed
- There are males and females but no blood available to stimulate the female reproductive system (see below)
Female bed bugs need two things to produce eggs: They need to drink blood and they need to mate with a male.
For bed bugs to breed in a car, there needs to be a pregnant female or a male and female in the car at the same time (and the female needs access to blood to drink).
If a male and female land in a car, and she drank blood before arriving or drinks blood in the car, the female starts laying one to seven eggs a day. These hatch within two weeks, and the hatched females start reproducing within a few short weeks.
Once bed bugs start breeding in a car, they can survive in there forever and continue to spread unless something disrupts their life cycle.
How to get rid of bed bugs in a car
Below are 5 quick tips to get rid of bed bugs in a car. It’s best to combine these methods or as many as possible for the most effective results.
- Remove all trash, seat covers, car mats, and other items from the car. Bed bugs love hiding in things, so don’t give them places to hide. Kill bed bugs that might be hiding in any of these items before taking them into the house or throwing them in the trash. Follow these guidelines in my article on how to kill bed bugs.
- If you live in a hot climate, park your car in a sunny spot, close the windows, and leave it in direct sunlight untouched for at least 8 hours. The inside temperature needs to reach 115°F (46°C) or higher for 8 hours to be effective. UV light is also a great bed bug killer, so you get double points for this tactic.
- Bed bugs need to drink blood to live. If you know where the bugs are hiding and it’s possible, seal them in so they can’t come out and bite someone. The seals need to stay in place for at least 13 months to be effective.
- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth (DE) or cimexa powder (Amazon links)around the area where bed bugs are active and leave it there for at least a week, so the bugs have a chance to come into contact with it. Studies show that cimexa is more effective than DE, but DE remains a popular choice. Bed bugs die after walking over the rough powder because it cuts their protective exoskeleton and dries them out. Don’t sprinkle these powders anywhere you, others, kids, or animals can breathe it in. Vacuum up the powder once the bed bugs are gone.
- Get the car professionally detailed and steam cleaned. Steam instantly kills bed bugs hiding up to ¾” (19 mm) deep in fabric. It needs to be a very hot commercial steam cleaner that makes the surface temperature of the fabric between 160 and 180°F (71 and 82°C), otherwise bed bugs can and probably will survive.