How to Kill Bed Bugs in a Car

Like you, bed bugs are always on the move. They tend to gather where many people sleep and travel, including hotels, airports, offices, and schools but few places are safe – even your car. If you see evidence of bed bugs in your car, or your home has already been infested and you want to be on the safe side, there are a few steps you can take to battle the problem.

Want to know how to kill bed bugs in a car? Remove everything you can from the car to wash in very hot water then vacuum thoroughly. Steam clean all surfaces – especially tight crevices – then sprinkle diatomaceous earth in cracks and seams.

Here are the steps you should take to kill bed bugs in your car in greater detail and how they got there in the first place.

4 Steps To Get Rid of Bed Bugs in the Car

As shocking as it can be to discover bed bugs living in your car, the good news is they are much easier to tackle in the car compared to your home. That's because the problem is mostly contained. While they can hide in hundreds of tiny crevices, they can't easily escape the vehicle and move into your home unless you bring contaminated items from the car inside.

To get rid of the bed bugs in your car for good, you will need to take several steps to make your car inhospitable to the bugs. Here are the steps to take in rough order:

Step #1: Remove and Treat Belongings

Before doing anything else, remove everything you can from the vehicle, including car mats, seat covers, car seats, gym bags, and all personal belongings. Isolate everything in a clean, sealed plastic bag to avoid spreading the bed bugs and eggs into your home.

Anything that can be washed should go directly into the washing machine on the highest heat setting and then into the dryer on the highest setting for at least 30 minutes. This will kill adult bed bugs, nymphs, and eggs.

Items that can't be washed can usually still get run through the dryer for 30-60 minutes. Items that can't go in the dryer can be placed in a black plastic bag directly in the sunlight on a very warm day. This technique is called solar bagging and it can increase the temperature inside the bag by up to 40-70 degrees F above the outdoor temperature. Bed bugs and eggs need to be heated to at least 125 degrees F for at least an hour to be on the safe side. As long as the outdoor temperature is higher than 80 degrees, the belongings can be left in direct sunlight for several hours to kill all of the bugs.

use heat and steam to kill bed bugs in cars

Step #2: Treat the Car with Heat and Steam

The most effective way to combat bed bugs is with heat. Steam cleaning is often used to kill bed bugs in upholstery, especially in a car. You can have your car professionally steam cleaned but it's probably best to do it yourself if you can to make sure extra attention is paid to all of the potential hiding places for bed bugs.

Use a heat and steam machine like the Vapamore– capable of producing high-pressure steam and go over every surface slowly and methodically. Aim to cover just 12 inches every 30 seconds with the steamer to heat surfaces to a lethal temperature. Using a cloth cover over the steamer attachment can help you better control the steam application.

If temperatures are high enough, you can also simply park your car in direct sunlight for several hours. It will take sustained 125+ degree F temperatures for more than an hour to be on the safe side, which means outdoor temperatures of 80-90+ degrees.

Step #3: Use Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock that crumbles into a talcum-like powder. It's often used in pest control because it strips lipids from the exoskeletons of insects, causing them to become dehydrated and die. It's also safe for pets and humans.

DE doesn't kill bed bugs instantly. In fact, bed bugs are less susceptible to dehydration than most insects but they can still kill them over a period of days. DE has the best chances of success when bed bugs are isolated and unable to rehydrate with a blood meal. If your car is left sitting for a few days, bed bugs that have been exposed to DE will die.

Sprinkle the diatomaceous earth powder (see the price on Amazon) into cracks, cupholders, and seams, especially in the upholstery and carpet. Don't overlook any tiny area where the bugs may hide, including the center console and door frame. As long as it's kept dry, DE will continue to kill bed bugs for several weeks.

Step #4: Vacuum Thoroughly

DE powder should sit in your car for at least a few days to make sure it kills any remaining bugs before you vacuum. If you want to vacuum after heat treatment, though, you can always sprinkle DE powder into crevices and hiding places when you're done. Vacuuming is a good way to get bed bug adults, nymphs, and eggs, especially on surfaces you can't remove or wash like carpet.

Take your time when vacuuming your car. Use a stiff brush to scrub upholstery and carpet to loosen bed bugs and eggs before you vacuum. Go over every inch slowly and pay attention to seams, edges, stitching, and other tiny hiding places.

After vacuuming, remove the vacuum bag, seal it in a plastic bag, and throw it away. Do not try to reuse the vacuum bag in your home or even allow it to sit on the vacuum because the bed bugs can escape.

car steam wash
Image credit: peeonelove, Pixabay

How Can Bed Bugs Live in Your Car?

So, how did the bed bugs get in your car in the first place? Bed bugs are great at traveling. You may have picked them up at a hotel, friend's house, common areas in an apartment building, airport, or even the gym. You may have even helped someone move or brought home used furniture hosting the bugs. They can hitch a ride home with you on luggage or clothing but some may decide to stay in the car. If you have bed bugs in your vehicle, there's also a good chance you have a bed bug problem in your home and you are unwittingly helping the bugs move from place to place.

While treating the infestation in your car, make sure you don't introduce any contaminated items back into your home and vice versa. Carefully examine your bedroom as well for signs of an infestation including adult bed bugs on the mattress seams and stitching, black smears on the sheets and box springs, and bed bug “dust” on your bed.

Related Bed Bug Questions

How Hot Does a Car Have to Be to Kill Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs can be killed by extreme heat but it takes time. At 125 degrees Fahrenheit, all life stages will be killed in about 30 to 60 minutes. To get this hot, your car must be parked in direct sunlight when the outdoor temperature is at least 90-100+ degrees.

Can Bed Bugs Survive in a Cold Car?

Unless your car will be in sustained extremely cold temperatures for several days, bed bugs will survive a cold car. In fact, they'll love it. Bed bugs have excellent tolerance for the cold and even have the ability to reduce the freezing point of their bodily fluids. It takes below-zero temperatures sustained for several days to kill bed bugs.

Leave a Comment