Bed Bugs – When and Why Chemical Treatments Fail

Since the mid-nineties, bed bugs have increased in the most pernicious way. This grueling pest challenges even the most experienced professional and we are understanding more about why chemical treatments fail.

With the most significant challenges coming from frequent layering of chemical treatments.

Whether you’re getting a professional treatment, or you’re attempting do-it-yourself; there are things that are necessary, no, mandatory, in order to eliminate them completely. Bed bug control requires a comprehensive treatment program and a lot of “out of the box thinking”.


Having been an “occasional” bug for many decades, few professionals understood them and education was extremely limited. They either learned about them from old timers or obtained information that trickled down through pest magazines, product manufacturers or seminars.

The reality for the general public wasn’t more than an old saying “Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite” from many years back. The IBBRA provides this education together with a Bed Bug Hotline to help.

The Challenge

Bed bugs are a unique day-to-day challenge because they are so unlike other common pests. You can’t set traps, like with rats. The only lure they’re attracted to is blood. Monitors and baits don’t work; and they’ve developed serious resistance issues to the most commonly used chemicals.

Cost of Treatments

Chemicals are the most popular treatment because of the cost. Demographics show, the median household income ranged from $40,037 to $75,675. And our call log shows the majority of those with an income of 60K or lower normally choose chemical (and DIY) because of its affordability. That’s close to 68% of the nation’s consumers.

Problems with Chemicals

Chemicals don’t kill bed bug eggs. You have to “wait” until they hatch. In the right conditions (temperature and humidity) this can take anywhere from 7 to 10 days or longer. This is why chemical treatments are normally scheduled around 12 to 15 days apart. Meanwhile, you need to remain the victim for all the newly hatched until the next treatment.

What happens in-between that time can make a significant difference. The bed bugs can be transferred to other parts of the dwelling. You can bring more in from work or travel, or can spread through the wall in environments like apartments or condominiums.

Growing Resistance Issues

The constant re-application of the same chemicals has caused growing concerns in resistance, so protocols need adjusting. Depending on who’s using what and how much, the scope of resistance varies from community to community.

This is not only a problem for technicians to figure out, but when left in the hands of a non-professional that has no training in the application of chemicals, proves completely futile.


Ranking high on the problem list is, improper inspections. Here’s some examples:

  • Not spending enough time doing a proper inspection.
  • Not identifying the insect properly.
  • Not doing follow-up inspections


This process is extremely detailed in fact, you need to understand the client’s and family’s lifestyles. Things like, where they work, where they go, do they travel regularly, how many people in the home, do they have guests often, dwelling conditions and so much more. Proper inspections take time and a whole lot of effort, not fifteen minutes.


Puzzle Pieces that Don’t Fit

Finding hidden bed bugs, especially in early introduction, is like finding a needle in a hay stack. Someone might be being bitten, or breaking out with some sort of rash, yet no signs of the suspected bed bugs can be found. I often hear stories that pest control decided to “spray anyway” as a means to a prophylactic treatment.



How do you know your client might not have hives or an allergy if you can’t find evidence of any bug? It’s pretty much against the rules (for professionals) to be using any chemical without knowing the pest you’re treating for.


Inadequate Preparation for Treatment

Ranking very high on the list and of the biggest reasons so many bed bug treatments fail, is lack of, or inadequate preparation. Most people are handed a list of prep instructions that may or may not be applicable to the length of time bed bugs have been present, lifestyle or conditions of the dwelling.

Bed bugs represent something different for everyone. Knowing the “conditions” of the dwelling helps design a proper protocol.

When people have excess amounts of items, time restraints becomes an issue. We get calls from people all the time full of anxiety because they can’t possibly get everything done in time for their scheduled treatment appointment.


Excessive Personal Items or Clutter


Treating for bed bugs is a focused and targeted process. Clutter or an exceptionally large number of personal items present an even greater challenge. With stacks of boxes, piles of personal items or excessive “knick-knack” items in the way or exposed, can resolve in a total waste of time, materials and effort.


Disassembling Beds, Moving Mattresses

Bed bugs hate to be disturbed. If left up to the client to disassemble and move or stack their mattresses, scattering of bed bugs becomes a problem. Movement of anything more than sheets and soft bedding should be avoided until pest control is there to remediate the situation.



Some people are told to “bag” up whole closets, empty drawers, and linen closets. Without running them in a hot dryer or sealing them with a pest strip in a tote, can also cause a failure problem. If bed bugs were on any of those items, after treatment when bags are opened, the chance of “re-infestation” may happen. In actuality, it isn’t always a re-infestation, but possibly bed bugs on articles hidden in bags. Everything needs to be checked thoroughly, and possibly treated before placing in bags.

Thorough Education

This talks loud. The lack of experience for some pest control and education for the client is of utmost importance. Depending upon the extent of the infestation, how long they’ve been present, clutter, possible shared walls in multi-unit properties, the game always changes.


Follow-up Inspections

Chemical treatment for bedbugs doesn’t stop after a couple of sprays. You can achieve a good knock down (if you don’t have resistant strains), but if any eggs are left behind to hatch after the last spraying, you now have the potential of starting all over again.


Not Inspecting Adjoining Units in Multi-unit Structures


We see and hear of this as one of the all-time high problems. Naïve, ignorant or cheap property owners respond to a tenant complaint and want only the complaining tenant’s unit treated.


Chemical treatments can drive the bed bugs further into the wall voids and move them to surrounding units. Moreover, the cause of a tenant’s problem may be coming from a surrounding unit.


Unless proper inspections are performed in surrounding units, one never knows if the incident is an isolated one.


Quick review of key reasons of failure rates using chemicals for bed bug treatments:

  • Chemicals Don’t Kill Egg Stage (causing repeated treatments)
  • Growing Resistance Issues (causing repeated treatments)
  • Proper Inspections Required (finding all hiding spots)
  • Inadequate Preparation (causing rescheduling costs or missed spots)
  • Excessive Personal Items or Clutter (causing excessive treatments)
  • Disassembling Beds, Moving Mattresses by Client (causing spreading)
  • Re-infestations (Opening bags before bed bugs die)
  • Thorough Education
  • Follow-up Inspections
  • Not Inspecting Adjoining Units in Multiunit Structures


This whole chemical process is a laborious task for the bed bug victim. In many cases, is literally impossible for elderly, handicap or the mentally unstable to complete what is needed to prepare for treatment. Likewise, this whole process often overwhelms them to the point of creating added anxiety for both pest control and themselves.


Changing Up Perspectives


As time passes, more resistance builds, and chemical treatments fail, we’ll will have no choice but to forget the chemical way of treating and begin a more 21st century approach like CimeXa and heat. We’ll talk more about the benefits of heat and why it may be the most innovative solution for bed bugs in our next blog.


We’re always here to help! 888-966-2332