Does Lavender Really Repel Bed Bugs?

Natural solutions like lavender oil have recently been touted for the solutions to many modern problems. Unfortunately, there are no reliable natural solutions to getting rid of a bed bug infestation other than hiring a professional exterminator, using steam, heat treatments, or trying a natural spray like Bed Bug Patrol (check price on Amazon).

The only reliable way to kill bed bugs with lavender oil is by dropping them into a container of oil. They will drown since they cannot swim. However, there is no way you could pick up every single bed bug in your home and drown them. The only good way to stop bed bugs is by hiring an exterminator.

Why Lavender Oil Does Not Work for Bed Bugs

As I mentioned before, the only sure-fire 100 percent way to kill a bed bug with lavender oil is to pick the little critter up and drop it into a bowl of oil. The bug will die by drowning. So, you really do not need to use lavender oil specifically. You could any oil or even just water.

lavender and lavender oil
Image credit: Couleur, Pixabay

This is not a practical way to get rid of a bed bug infestation. There could be millions of bugs in your home. It only takes one pregnant female to keep the infestation train chugging along. If you miss her, all your previous efforts will be wasted.

According to the Entomological Society of America (that is, American scientists who study bugs), the only natural oils that are effective in any way against a bed bug are:

  • Paraffin oil
  • Silicone oil
  • Blood orange oil

Lavender oil and lavender oil sprays or other essential oils were so ineffective that it was like not using anything at all.

Oils that did kill these confounding critters came into direct contact with the insect. This also is a major problem if you decide to use lavender oil sprays to eradicate your pest problem. Can you get the lavender oil on ALL the bugs at once? Are you sure?

Where Do Bed Bugs Hide?

A modern bed bug evolved with humans. First, they went into the caves with us and have never looked back. Over the millennia they have become champions at staying out of sight. When you find out all the places these tiny critters can hide you will seriously wonder why they haven't taken over the planet.

bed bugs hiding

A bed bug is very small (about 3/16th of an inch when fully grown) but, more importantly, very flat. This means it can wedge itself into just about any crack and crevice in a home to stay out of sight and out of the way of any lavender oil, a human may care to spray in its general direction.

According to the University of Kentucky's Entomology Department, a bed bug can hide not only in mattresses, box springs, and headboards but also:

  • In picture frames
  • In mirrors
  • In any piece of furniture
  • Edges of wall-to-wall carpeting
  • In cracks in wallpaper, especially if it is loose
  • Floorboards and baseboards
  • The indentation in the head of a screw
  • Electrical outlets
  • Any electrical device that has a wedge, crack,s or screw in it, including televisions, clocks, computers, remote controls, radios, and phones.

And those are just the hiding spots for adults and larvae. The eggs are a different matter entirely since they are amazingly tiny and so sticky that they seem to be glued to their hiding spots. They can be found:

  • On the undersides of furniture
  • In baseboards
  • In the seams of suitcases
  • On stuffed animals

Well, just about anywhere, really, is a potential home for a waiting bed bug egg.

Related: Does Lysol kill bed bugs?

Can Anything Be Used to Repel Bed Bugs?

It is a common misconception that a bed bug is like a moth in that it can be repelled or scared away by a certain scent, like how moths are repelled by mothballs. A bed bug does have a highly developed sense of smell so it can sniff out potential prey but there is no known way to use scent alone in order to scare away a single bed bug, let alone an infestation.

There is some anecdotal evidence that a bed bug is repelled by certain scents, like that of lavender oil, lavender-scented candles, or lavender oil sprays. However, this has never been proved in clinical trials.

The problem is this – if a bed bug does not like a smell, it can merely hide in a crack or crawl into a different room, wait a while and then crawl right back again. There may be (emphasis on MAYBE) a temporary reprieve in bed bug bites when lavender oil or another essential oil is used but over time the bugs will return.

Related: Is tea tree oil effective for bed bugs

Are There Potential Problems With Using Lavender Oil?

One argument some people make for using essential oils to kill bugs is that it is a more natural way than by using conventional pesticides. Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe. Lavender oil and lavender oil sprays can potentially sicken not only you but your kids and your pets.

Since no one knows how much lavender oil is needed to kill a bed bug (by means other than drowning) people who use it tend to use too much. Not only can the smell be choking or cause migraines, but any residue can get on the skin and be accidentally swallowed. Signs of lavender oil poisoning include:

  • Red burns on the skin
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Aspiration pneumonia is caused by the oils getting into the lungs
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Brain swelling
  • Liver failure

Sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease or bug infestation. Essential oils like lavender oil or cedarwood oil are not substances to play around with.

Of course, ANY substance touted to kill bugs, including over-the-counter pesticides or essential oils, are not substances to play around with. Get a professional who knows what he or she is doing.

Pest control specialist in hazmat suit
Image credit: ParStud, Deposit Photos

Related Question: How Do I Get Ready For A Bed Bug Exterminator?

In order for an exterminator to kill bed bugs, he or she needs to get the pesticide in contact with the bugs. In order to do THAT, he or she needs to get to all of the places bed bugs can hide.

And that is why you are going to have to do a major clean-up of your home before the exterminator arrives. It's not that bed bugs are attracted to mess, it's just that a mess gives bed bugs more places to hide.

A good exterminator will give you a long list of instructions to follow before he or she can start treatment. These steps will include:

  • Vacuuming all floors
  • Taking down and cleaning all curtains or drapes and placing the clean ones in resealable plastic bags (the bags are so the bed bugs can't get into the clean stuff)
  • Cleaning all your clothes, bedding, pillows, and stuffed animals and placing THEM in resealable plastic bags
  • Pulling all furniture a foot away from the walls so the exterminator can walk around them
  • Taking down everything from the walls
  • Throw out all trash
  • Remove everything from the cupboards
  • Clean the cupboards
  • Place all medications and food otherwise in the cupboards in resealable plastic bags so they do not become contaminated by pesticides
  • Clean areas under furniture and even sinks

Yes, it is a lot of work. You cannot skimp or cut corners here, since it just takes one pregnant bed bug to start the infestation all over again. That one-bed bug can hide in the place or places you decide not to clean, then come out once the exterminating is done, lay her eggs and it's bed bug party time again.

By the way, you will have to clean up all over again about a month after the first treatment. That's right FIRST treatment. It takes at least two treatments to kill all the bed bugs in your home including the ones that hatched after the first treatment is over.

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