What Scent Keeps Bed Bugs Away?

There must be a scent that keeps away bed bugs, right? Right. Bed bugs have a keen sense of smell. They rely on smell and touch more than other senses. Bed bug pheromones can often repel male bed bugs. However, these new pheromone products are not 100% reliable. There are substances that can work as effective bed bug repellents, especially for travelers staying in dodgy hotels trying not to bring bed bugs home as unwanted souvenirs.

Pheromones put out by nymph (baby) bed bugs show promise in repelling male bed bugs. Unfortunately, they do not work for female bed bugs. The scent alone will not keep bed bugs away, but there are repellents that can help. No smell alone will get rid of a bed bug infestation.

bed bug
Credit: jareynolds, Deposit Photos

Research on What Scent Keeps Bed Bugs Away

Way back in 2010, Swedish scientists discovered that the nymph or immature bed bug emits a certain smell when they are harassed by horny male bed bugs. Male bed bugs have just one thing on their minds and will try to mate with any bed bug within reach f males, females, or even nymphs. The scent is so powerful to male bedbugs that they quickly leave the poor nymphs alone.

This pheromone has since been sold in many kinds of products, but it only repels male bed bugs. So far there is no effective female bed bug repellent. There is also another bad side to repelling all male bed bugs – this makes females lay up to 25 percent more eggs, according to ABC News. Using a bed bug pheromone is better than doing nothing but is no substitution for cleaning the home, using bed bug mattress encasements, doing extensive laundry, and calling an exterminator.

Research on Bed Bug Repellents

Research in the last few years has shown that there are effective bed bug repellents available. They are chemicals usually made for the fragrance industry, so they may have a nice scent. They often smell nicer than DEET (see on Amazon), one of the most commonly used insect repellents. These repellents are best used for:

  • Avoiding more bites in infested homes
  • Avoiding picking up bed bugs hitchhikers when traveling
    Unfortunately for those folks already living in infested homes, repellents are not a cheap alternative to hiring a professional exterminator. That magical repellent that when placed in a home causes all the bugs to flee in a sudden black wave of creepiness has yet to be invented.
  • The most promising study of bed bug repellents was done by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and a fragrance and flavor company called Bedoukian Research, Inc. in 2017. These included some tried and true favorites like DEET as well as smells used in anything that needs perfumes. Each repellent was placed on cloth towels inside and underneath soft-sided luggage – a favorite taxi for bed bugs. These cloths kept bed bugs away for time periods varying from 176 days to six months.

Don't go online yet looking for a bottle. It's not commercially available as of this writing (January 2019) but DEET and (no, I'm not making up this name) para-menthane,-3,8-diol are.

essential bed bug oils
Image credit: entomologytoday.org

What About Essential Oils for Killing Bed Bugs?

Everyone wants to go green these days even when killing bed bugs. There has been much contradictory and downright confusing information about what scent keeps bed bugs away. Unfortunately, studies have shown that most essential oils do absolutely nothing to bed bugs. One of the most extensive studies was done as a joint effort by Rutgers University and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The study sprayed an essential oil or natural substance on bed bugs and then watched to see if they dropped. The bugs did not seem to be bothered by the smell, but by being in contact with the particular substance. The most effective were:

Keep in mind that the oil needs to be in contact with a bed bug for a long time in order to kill it. Since bed bugs are hard to find it is hard to drench each and every one of the little buggers. This can lead to serious problems with using a lot of essential oil. Most are poisonous if accidentally swallowed by people or pets. Many are also flammable.

What Scents Are Bed Bugs Attracted To?

If you can't get a hold of an effective repellent smell, you can at least avoid some of the smells that attract bed bugs. Since bed bugs are basically blind, they navigate the world through touch and smell. This is how they find prey (you) and other bed bugs. Bed bugs are attracted to the smells of body odor and carbon dioxide (the stuff we exhale.)

This means that not leaving piles of dirty laundry around can annoy a bed bug. Bed bugs like to hide in laundry or piles of any kind of mess that have little nooks and crannies to wedge themselves into, snug as a bug (literally.) The extreme heat of washing machines, driers, dry-cleaning procedures, and even steamers, kill bed bugs.

So, by doing the laundry, you not only help to kill any bed bugs you have but also help to prevent new ones from taking their place. After doing the laundry, cleaned items should be placed in resealable plastic bags to prevent them from getting infested again. It's best to do this right before the exterminator comes, but doing any laundry is better than doing none.

Are There Natural Ways to Fight Bed Bugs?

Even though there are no natural there are many ways the homeowner can fight bed bugs naturally:

  • Doing the laundry
  • Vacuuming regularly and emptying the bag or contents immediately into the outside garbage
  • Using heat treatments
  • Using an extreme cold, at minimum 0 degrees F, for at least four days. This only works for very small items (no electronics or things damaged by water) that can be placed in a plastic bag and then in the freezer.
  • Using mattress casements to seal up all bugs in your bed and prevent them from getting to you
  • Using traps, often called bed bug monitors (see on Amazon), made of dry ice. Why dry ice? It emits carbon dioxide, which attracts bed bugs. Avoid trying to make your own trap since dry ice can be very dangerous.
  • Using Diatomaceous Earth Powder or silica gel (see products on Amazon) around the bottoms of furniture and beds.

Keep in mind that no one solution is going to solve your bed bug problem. No solution – natural or synthetic will work overnight. It takes time and effort to get rid of all the bed bugs in your home or car.

In Conclusion: Don't Rely on Repellents

Although there are bed bug pheromone products that repel male bed bugs, they do nothing to female bed bugs. There are some natural repellents in the works, but for now, the most reliable repellents are DEET and para-menthane,-3,8-diol. There are many natural ways to fight bed bugs or to keep from getting them in the first place. These can be used in conjunction with the services of a professional exterminator to eliminate bed bugs from your life.

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