Tea Tree Oil and Bed Bugs

Is Tea Tree Oil an Effective Treatment for Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are small critters that cause big problems. Hiring a professional exterminator can be expensive. No wonder that bed-bugged homeowners are desperate for any low-cost magic solution, like tea tree oil bed bug repellent. Sprays and mosquito repellents made with tea tree oil are somewhat effective, depending upon which study you read. Some people jumped to the conclusion that if it could repel mosquitoes and flies, then tea tree oil must repel bed bugs, too.

Does tea tree oil get rid of bed bugs? Although tea tree oil has been known to repel some kinds of insects like flies and mosquitoes, it is not a reliable repellent for bed bugs. If you have an infestation, tea tree oil spray for bed bugs is not going to cause a mass bed bug migration out of your home. Tea tree oil does help with bed bug bites.

What Is Tea Tree Oil?

Tea tree oil, also called melaleuca oil, is a relatively inexpensive oil made from an Australian plant discovered by Captain James Cook who brewed tea using the leaves of the Melaleuca Alternifolia tree. It's been used for many things including treating athlete's feet to banishing evil spirits. Studies completed on tea tree oil's insect repelling properties focused mainly on mosquitoes and flies. Reputable studies done on tea tree oil bed bugs repel or otherwise have not been promising.

melaleuca alternifolia tea tree
The Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree)

Bed bug tea tree oil is supposed to be made from a particular plant species, Melaleuca alternifolia. However, not all essential oils labeled “tea tree oil” are made with the oil of this species. Some are made with closely related species like Melaleuca dissitilora. The marketing and selling of essential oils and products made with essential oils are not regulated or inspected like they are for medicines or pesticides.

Though not for repelling bed bugs, tea tree oil does have many good properties, according to Medical News Today, such as:

  • Killing certain strains of yeast that can cause infections
  • Killing fungus
  • Killing viruses
  • Killing bacteria
  • Helps reduce inflammation
  • Helps clear up acne for some people
  • Helps get rid of head lice
  • Helps treat the skin condition contact dermatitis.

Does Tea Tree Oil Kill Bed Bugs Instantly?

Full-strength undiluted tea tree oil has been shown to kill bed bug adults and larvae. However, they do not kill instantly. Not unless you drop the bed bug directly into a bottle and it drowns since bed bugs cannot swim. Otherwise, the tea tree oil needs to be in contact with the bed bug for hours or even days.

Even then, studies have not shown just when a bed bug dies from tea tree oil. In a study mentioned below published in 2017, bed bugs were in contact with many kinds of essential oils for two weeks and many still had not died. Blood orange oil was more effective at killing bed bugs than tea tree oil, lemongrass, and 15 other kinds of essential oils touted for killing bed bugs.

Hotel housekeeping maid
Image credit: IgorVetushko, Deposit Photos

Just how tea tree oil kills bed bugs is not entirely known. It is known that the oil damages a bed bug's all-important exoskeleton. One theory is that the bed bug then cannot keep in its bodily fluids and dies from dehydration. Another theory is that the oil damages the bug's ability to breathe. They certainly do not die from the smell. Keep in mind that no essential oil is known to kill bed bug eggs.

Does Tea Tree Oil Repel Bed Bugs?

Studies done on tea tree oil, as well as many other essential oils touted for bed bug repelling properties, shows that bed bugs are not bothered by them. One such study was done by Rutgers University and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service which appeared in a 2017 issue of The Journal of Economic Entomology. It summarized that there were natural means to fight bed bugs, but using essential oils like tea tree oil was not one of them. Natural oils like paraffin were recommended instead.

The oils did kill bed bugs but only when the oil got in direct contact with each individual bug. Since infestations can be thousands of individual bugs, getting to spray all of them is not a very realistic option. The oils killed bed bug adults and larvae but did not kill eggs. That means if even you were to spray every single adult and larvae in your home, in a week or so the eggs will hatch and you'll have to deal with the infestation all over again.

This information is been available for years but has not seemed to deter people from using tea tree oil for bed bugs. Just look on Amazon for tea tree oil for bed bugs and you'll get a whopping 73 results!

Using Tea Tree Oil for Bed Bug Bites

Tea tree oil can help ease the itch and sting from bed bug bites. It helps for many kinds of insect bites. Tea tree oil is sold two ways diluted or undiluted. Undiluted means all that there is in the bottle is tea tree oil. Diluted means the tea tree oil has been cut with other skin-friendly oils like jojoba oil or vegetable oil. Use diluted tea tree oil only.

tea tree oil for bed bug bites
Tea tree oil is good for soothing bed bug bites.

First, do a test patch to make sure you are not allergic to tea tree oil. Place a tiny amount of diluted tea tree oil on a small area of your skin, like the back of your wrist. Wait for 24 hours. If that patch does not develop any strange symptoms like redness, swelling, or uncontrollable itchiness, then congratulations you are not allergic. You can try diluted tea tree oil on any bug bite.

Some warnings to keep in mind:

  • Never drink tea tree oil
  • Never use if pregnant or nursing
  • Do not place on broken skin
  • Tea tree oil does have a strong medicinal smell. If you have migraines triggered by prolonged exposure to strong smells, do not use them.

Other Natural Ways to Kill Bed Bugs

There are many things a homeowner can do to cut down the bed bug population naturally. None of these ways are quick or easy. All require elbow grease and plenty of patience. These ways include:

  • Vacuuming: The heat of the vacuum kills bed bug adults and larvae, but not the eggs.
  • Steam cleaning
  • A trip through the clothes washer and dryer: Be sure to set them to the hottest temperatures you can.
  • Placing items in a portable bed bug heater. Some professional exterminator companies offer a heat treatment service instead of using pesticides.
  • Freezing: Place items you cannot put in a washer or have vacuumed in a plastic bag and then place them in a freezer for a few days. The freezer needs to be at least 0 degrees F.
  • Powders or sprays made with paraffin oils, silicone oils, or diatomaceous earth (or DE.)
  • Placing mattresses inside of thick encasements that keep any bed bugs inside and away from you. Eventually, the bed bugs die of starvation, but this can take months. At least it cuts down on bed bug bites.

Whenever anything is cleaned, it needs to be placed in a sealable plastic bag or the bed bugs that managed to hide from your attacks will just mosey on over from their hiding place to your nice, clean stuff.

You should also give your home and car a thorough cleaning and tidying. Although bed bugs are not attracted to messy homes or cars, the mess does give them more hiding places to hide. Not only will a thorough straightening and cleaning help reduce bed bug populations but also is effective at deterring other pests like roaches, mice, and snakes.

In Conclusion

Does tea tree oil get rid of bed bugs? No. There are many natural or more eco-friendly ways of battling bed bugs than a tea tree oil spray for bed bugs. Although tea tree oil can kill adult and baby bed bugs, they can only do so when they touch the bugs. Since bed bugs hide in the most remarkable places like cell phones, stuffed animals, and book bindings, getting the tea tree oil on the bed bugs is nearly impossible. Tea tree oil can also damage some objects like electronics or antiques.

Natural bed bug fighting options include extreme cold, heat, vacuuming, sticking whatever you can in the clothes washer and drier, silica gel, paraffin oils, and diatomaceous earth. Although some insects are repelled by tea tree oil bed bugs are not among them. Bed bugs are thought to have a well-developed sense of smell, but any tea tree oil bed bug repellent leaves them, for the most part, unmoved.

The scent of tea tree oil has been known to soothe the frayed nerves of some people. The best use of tea tree oil is in an oil diffuser to help you calm down while fighting a bed bug infestation!

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