Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs?

  • Written By Dan Edwards on December 18, 2017
    Last Updated: December 17, 2020

Bed bugs aren’t dangerous, but they can rob you of a good night’s sleep. Not only do they multiply quickly, but they’re hard to get rid of, if you let the infestation get too bad.

It’s tempting to go out and buy a big can of pesticide and spray your whole house. However, not only is that dangerous for the people and pets living in your home, but pesticide isn’t lethal to many strains of bed bug anymore due to increased resistance. This is why bed bugs have recently resurfaced as a major problem in urban settings.

If you’re looking for a safe and effective way to kill bed bugs, alcohol is a good option.

Will Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs When Applied Directly?

Alcohol works best when it’s applied directly to bed bug-infested areas.

Bed bugs have sensitive skin and a low threshold for irritants and poisons like alcohol, especially if you’re spraying with a high concentration. In fact, bed bugs dislike alcohol so much that they’ll avoid biting humans with a high blood alcohol content.

The effect alcohol has on their internal organs ultimately causes organ failure and death because it destabilizes the bugs’ pH balance, which disrupts important processes in their bodies.

Getting rid of bed bugs also means getting rid of their eggs. Luckily, alcohol also kills the eggs, preventing new generations of bugs from haunting you.

Alcohol can be applied directly to bed bugs in one of several ways.

The easiest way is to transform it into a spray by diluting a highly concentrated alcohol with water and spraying it onto affected areas. These areas include your mattress but also cupboards, dressers, skirting boards, and anywhere else you suspect the bugs may be hiding.

You also need to spray the sides and frame of your bed. All nooks, crannies, crevices, and joints also need to be sprayed because bed bugs are more likely to lay their eggs there at a later date, especially if the infestation grows.

What Kind of Alcohol Works Best?

Isopropyl alcohol is the best kind of alcohol to use when getting rid of bed bugs. For best results, you’ll want a 91% rubbing alcohol or a 70% Isopropyl based spray if you want the method to be effective.

Lower concentrations will be ineffective or will take far more time to kill the bed bugs, allowing them to continue breeding and feeding in your home.

If you’re unsure about how to handle alcohol with a high concentration, ask a professional for help. Using alcohol inappropriately can result in burns and other injuries.

Also, be sure to store alcohol and the spray properly. Ingesting the alcohol spray can result in life-threatening injuries. If you do ingest the alcohol, call poison control or go to the hospital immediately.

How Long Will It Take For Alcohol To Kill Bed Bugs?

Alcohol is a DIY, non-toxic way of killing bed bugs. The amount of time it takes to stop your infestation depends on three factors:

  • Strength of the alcohol spray
  • Size of the infestation
  • Other environmental factors

The alcohol spray will kill a good number of bed bugs upon contact, but you won’t be able to destroy all of the bed bugs at once. You’ll need to keep applying the alcohol directly for up to three-to-four weeks to disrupt or wipe out an infestation.

Not maintaining your alcohol campaign will result in missed bed bugs surviving and resurging. You’ll then need to start over with new generations of bed bugs and eggs. It’s therefore best to keep up with your alcohol spraying for as long as possible – ideally a month.

Bed Bug Eggs
CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

The size of the infestation also matters because larger, more resilient groups will be harder to get rid of. If you have a significant infestation, it’s worth calling a professional to help remove them faster. Otherwise, you could be fighting an uphill battle.

Finally, there are environmental factors. You can spray alcohol all over the room, but you won’t kill them all if you aren’t keeping the room clean. Additionally, if you’re inadvertently spreading them through your house by moving piles of clothes around, you’re going to find it much harder to get rid of them.

For best results, you should vacuum regularly. This will help to kill and remove tiny eggs and nymphs from hard to reach areas.

When it comes to choosing a vacuum in your fight against an infestation, you need a product that can be reliable, and one that is powerful enough to create secure suction deep within fabric and carpet fibers. And remember; it’s imperative you choose a vacuum that’s installed with a HEPA filter to ensure it’s impossible for insects to escape once captured.

My personal favorite for this sort of job is the medium-priced Shark Navigator Upright Vacuum, which easily ticks all of the boxes I’ve just mentioned, as well as being lightweight and easily maneuverable.

Sheets and blankets should also be washed and dried often – and you should clean your laundry area often to prevent the escape and spread of rogue bed bugs.

Will Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs When Applied Indirectly?

Alcohol won’t effectively kill bed bugs when it is applied indirectly, but it can act as a deterrent to stop them from crawling into your bed and biting you at night.

Your best bet is to apply it directly, if possible. If it’s not possible to use alcohol in this way, you may want to seek professional help to get rid of your bed bugs before they spread.

Can Alcohol Be Used to Deter & Repel Bed Bugs?

Alcohol can be used to deter and repel bed bugs. By spraying structures like bed frames and cupboards, as well as your mattress and curtains, you’re deterring them from moving around to bite you when you sleep.

However, alcohol alone won’t necessarily prevent bed bugs.

As previously mentioned, good hygiene, including regular vacuuming, is a good way to stop infestations before they start growing out of control. Wash your sheets regularly and avoiding spreading bed bugs across your house by moving items from an infested area into previously uninfested rooms.

Additionally, whenever you get rid of anything that bed bugs may have contaminated, put them in a sealable garbage bag and put the bag in the outside dumpster or garbage bin to prevent them from sneaking back into the house.

What Are the Best Ways to Use Alcohol Against Bed Bugs?

There are two ways you might use alcohol against bed bugs.

Diluted Spray

All you need to do is combine the alcohol with some water in a spray bottle and spray it on the relevant areas. Be sure you wear the appropriate safety gear, including gloves and an apron, when you do so.

Once sprayed, ensure the room is well ventilated and that you won’t need to use the room for at least several hours after spraying.

Apply with a Rag

The second option is to apply the alcohol directly to the surface of the furniture with a cloth, pad, or cotton. This is not generally recommended because alcohol is a solvent and it may well damage your furniture irreparably when applied this way.

Ultimately, the best way to use alcohol against bed bugs is in combination with other techniques, including regularly washing your bedding and other linens, keeping the room tidy, and vacuuming on a regular basis.

There are also other options to use in conjunction with the alcohol spray. There are removable mattress covers available, which are designed to keep the bed bugs from crawling out of your mattress and biting you at night. The mattress effectively starves them, which prevents nymphs from growing into adults and prevents adults from feeding.

My recommended mattress protector is the SureGuard Mattress Encasement. It’s thick, strong, comes in many different sizes, and is certain to help stop bed bugs of all sizes from getting to, or from, your mattress.

To make sure you’re covered from all angles, the SureGuard Box Spring Encasement and Pillow Protectors, along with the mattress protector, will go a long way in helping to combat the infestation, and should help to ensure you sleep a bit better at night, too.

Bed bugs aren’t only confined to living around your mattress. CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Risks & Precautions

Alcohol is flammable, and the concentrations required for killing bed bugs are even more so. Because of this, you need to be incredibly careful not to create any kind of spark or flame near the treatment to avoid fires occurring and damage to the material.

In addition to being flammable, alcohol is also abrasive. Using it on some surfaces and fabrics will damage or even destroy them. You should never use alcohol on furniture or items that are invaluable or irreplaceable.

Finally, isopropyl alcohol is safe to use in living spaces. Just remember, the room should be well-ventilated and the spray should be dry before you go to sleep in the room.

Alternative Home Treatments For Killing Bed Bugs

If you’d rather not use flammable alcohol in your home, diatomaceous earth is a great alternative. While it won’t kill bed bugs instantly as alcohol does, it dries out their exoskeleton over time by cutting into it and drawing out all of the moisture, eventually destroying the bed bug via dehydration.

When looking for Diatomaceous Earth to use, don’t worry about buying anything too special or expensive, as most forms are more or less similar to each other. However, choosing a food-grade DE is probably your best choice as it can be less hazardous than other forms. A bag like this DiatomaceousEarth Food Grade 10lb should work absolutely fine.

DE can be a little tricky to use, so be sure to check out our diatomaceous earth for bed bugs article to learn how to use it as effectively and safely as possible.