Does The Cold Kill Bed Bugs?

Over the many years we have shared our homes with bed bugs, and people have come up with all sorts of potions, tokens and charms to kill them. Not many, if any, ever worked. But out of so many supposedly genius ways to kill a bedbug, one method that stands out as an effective form of execution is freezing them. 

While the cold does indeed kill them, as you might expect with this super survivor, it’s not that simple.

Killing Bed Bugs at Low Temperatures

Ideally, to kill bed bugs, you need to freeze them to a temperature of minus 30F. In theory, you can freeze them in your home freezer or by leaving them outside if the temperature is low enough.

What Does Science Say about Freezing Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs don’t do well in harsh temperatures.  They’re not extreme survivors and find it harder to thrive if the temperature is either too high or too low. Some studies have shown that although bed bugs are surprisingly cold tolerant, they cannot stand extremes for any length of time.

Bed bugs resort to a process called ‘supercooling’ to deal with temperature drops, but are not not as freeze tolerant as some other bugs, like cockroaches. Bed bugs don’t form internal ice crystals and then thaw out. Instead they are freeze avoiders, and produce their own antifreeze. 

 Even so, if you maintain a temperature of 32 degrees F for several days, you can kill them. The formula is, the lower the temperature, the shorter the killing time.

To complicate things, different studies on how bed bugs do in the cold have produced different results which makes it tricky to know exactly what to do. For instance, there’s one study suggesting it is possible to kill bed bugs at just 4 degrees and in about 60 minutes rather than several days. 

What led to these two wildly different conclusions is not clear, but both these studies still suggest bed bugs can manage to survive at low temperatures if not for how long or how cold. Either way, they do well enough even in a cold bedroom.

Even so, keeping your room cold will still help. Bed bugs take longer to digest blood in the cold and therefore, feed less frequently which means fewer bites. Another advantage is that they grow more slowly and take much longer to reach breeding maturity and so you’ll have fewer bugs overall to deal with.

While a difference of a few degrees will help contain the infestation, it won’t eliminate it. It’ll just slow down until the conditions change. Even so, using your freezer is a useful way to disinfect smaller items. It’s simple.

Put the infested items into a plastic bag, including things like jewelry, purses and shoes. Seal the bag very well before popping it into the freezer at less than zero. Leave the bag there, unopened, for at least four days. The most difficult part of this killing method is keeping the freezer at the correct temperature and not letting the bugs find an escape to contaminate your food. 

Is Freezing a Great Way to Kill Bed Bugs?

Not really. Especially not if you want a long term bed bug solution or prefer to keep insects and food separate. While the idea works fine, it is unlikely you can maintain the low temperatures needed to kill them all.

And then, there’s the possibility of further contamination as you’re carrying infected items around the house. That’s exactly how bed bugs get around. In any case, bedbug eggs die off at different temperatures so there is just no real certainty of killing them all if you rely on home freezing.

The Bottom Line

Killing bed bugs with cold is possible but tricky. To be truly effective at clearing an infestation you need to tackle the whole room, if not the entire house. That takes specialized equipment, used to generate particles of snow from carbon dioxide. 

Such things are best left to the professionals who know how to eliminate a bedbug infestation without leaving harmful residues. So, you can certainly try freezing bed bugs to death, but don’t always expect amazing results.

Andrew Cunningham
Andrew Cunningham
Hello, Andrew is the co-founder and lead editor for DailyPest.

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