To get rid of bed bugs in a car, first stop more from coming in. Then combine several methods to kill the bed bugs until you see no signs of them for at least 6 weeks. Some methods include heat treatments, steam, and starvation.
There are many ways to kill bed bugs in a car, depending on how many bed bugs there are and if you know where they’re hiding. It’s best to try a combination of the methods outlined below to see what results you get.
If you’ve got bed bugs hiding in your car, here are 7 ways to get rid of them.
Stop bed bugs from coming into the car
Sometimes we bring bed bugs into the car without knowing it.
Bed bugs get into cars on items that are infested with bed bugs, or on people that have bed bugs hiding in their clothes. Sometimes bed bugs are already in the car when you buy it from a dealer or private seller.
Think carefully about the things you pack into and transport in your car, or what you’ve traveled with lately.
Bed bugs could be hiding in clothing, luggage, a wheelchair, blankets, toys, papers, or on any other items you carry around with you.
If you know where the bed bugs came from and there are more, stop bed bugs from coming into the car:
- 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 do so. Kill bed bugs that might be hiding in any of these items before taking them into the house or throwing them away. Use the guidelines in this article to kill bed bugs.
- Don’t put items in the car that might have bed bugs on them
If you can’t find bed bugs, try to lure them out of hiding. Here are some ways to get bed bugs out of their hiding places.
Kill bed bugs with heat
Even though bed bugs like warmth, they won’t live long in a car under extreme heat.
The temperature inside the car often decides if bed bugs will thrive or die in there. Click here to find out what affects a bed bug’s survival rate in a car.
Heat is an excellent bed bug killer that destroys the entire bed bug life cycle:
Bed bugs survive in a car if the temperature never reaches highs of 115°F (46°C) or more. Once it gets that hot inside for about 8 hours, you can be pretty sure that all the bed bugs, eggs, and larvae are dead.
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 for the best results.
UV light is another great bed bug killer, so you get double points for this tactic.
If you live in a cold climate, go to an automotive repair place that offers car painting services. These companies often have hot rooms where they bake paint onto cars. Ask them to bake your car for you to kill the bed bugs inside.
Sprinkle diatomaceous earth or cimexa
Bed bugs die after walking over a rough powder, like cimexa or diatomaceous earth (DE), because the powder cuts their protective exoskeleton and dries them out. Bed bugs have to come into direct contact with the powder for it to kill them.
- DE is an inexpensive, chemical-free, natural product that’s easy to get (here’s a food-grade DE on Amazon).
- Cimexa is a fine, odorless insecticide dust made from silica gel. Studies have shown that cimexa is better at killing bed bugs than DE, though many people still prefer DE because it’s more common.
Whichever you choose, the application is the same:
Sprinkle the powder over the car seats, dashboard, center console, floor, and trunk. Leave the powder there for as long as possible, to give the bed bugs time to come out and walk over it. A week or more is best because bed bugs only come out once a week or so to find food.
Though low in toxicity, don’t breathe these powders in or sprinkle them anywhere that others, kids, or animals can breathe them in.
Simply vacuum up the powder and any dead bed bugs when you’re ready.
Vacuum and steam clean the interior
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.
If you want to steam clean the seats yourself, you’ll find full instructions in this blog post, where I talk about how to kill bed bugs.
Don’t let bed bugs suck blood
Bed bugs need to drink blood to live, so they must come into contact with people or animals to feed, otherwise they starve to death.
But death by starvation is slow.
Bed bugs can survive for 20 to 400 days without feeding. Young bed bugs only live about 20 days, while older bed bugs and adults last as long as 400 days without food.
To starve bed bugs to death, first inspect the car to find them. Here are clear, step-by-step instructions on how to find hiding bed bugs.
If you find them and it’s possible, seal them in so they can’t come out to eat. The seals need to stay in place for at least 14 months to kill all trapped bed bugs.
Whether you can seal them in or not, try to stop the bed bugs from biting people:
- Bed bugs bite exposed skin. Anyone who climbs into the car should cover as much of themselves as possible, to prevent bites.
- Insect spray that contains DEET, like this one, can be sprayed onto clothing to repel bed bugs. But these sprays are strong and should be used sparingly, and only when necessary.
Different people have different reactions to bed bug bites (which is one of the reasons why bed bugs seem to bite one person and not another).
Here’s what bed bug bites usually look like when a person has a reaction to them:
Insecticide sprays can get rid of bed bugs in a car if you know where they’re hiding. These sprays work on contact – if bed bugs don’t touch the spray, they live.
A spray stays on a surface for up to 4 weeks, depending on the brand. The spray kills bed bugs that walk over it during that time, then it becomes inactive and you need to spray the area again.
There’s one important thing to know about bed bug sprays: bed bugs can become immune to them.
Bed bugs reproduce quickly, and there might be many generations in the car at the same time. Over a few generations, offspring hatch with genes that make them immune to sprays used on previous generations.
If one bed bug spray doesn’t work or stops working, try another. Or alternate between sprays so the bed bugs don’t build immunity to one.
Here are three bed bug sprays from Amazon to try:
- Raid foam spray: lasts 4 weeks; expands to fill hard-to-reach places; kills bed bugs and eggs
- EcoVenger: plant-extract based and USDA bio-certified
- Ortho Home Defense: kills bed bugs that are immune to pyrethroid sprays
Rent an ozone machine
Some people swear they’ve had the best results getting rid of bugs in their car with an ozone machine.
You can rent or buy your own. These machines are sold as air purifiers and odor removers, but they also kill bacteria, mold, viruses, and bugs.
If you try an ozone generator, follow the instructions carefully. You’ll need to leave the machine on inside the car for at least an hour (though some report it takes eight to 10 hours), then air the car for a good hour or so before breathing the air in there.