Freezing bed bugs will kill them.
Freezing has long been suggested as a solution to kill bed bugs, but new scientific evidence has found that the temperatures needed to kill all stages of the lifecycle as well as how long they are exposed to those temperatures may be much lower than originally suggested.
How Bugs Survive the Cold
Like many insects, bed bugs have the ability to survive freezing temperatures by lowering the temperature of their body fluids. Insects also produce a protein that acts as antifreeze affecting the organization of water molecules. They can survive extended periods in a supercooled state, but will die when they freeze.
At What Temperatures Will Bed Bugs Die?
It takes more than a little bout with the cold to kill these tenacious bugs. In a study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, researchers discovered that a minimum exposure time of 80 hours at -16°C (3.2°F) is required to achieve 100% mortality of all life stages. The authors broke down the data as follows: Temperatures lower than -15°C (5°F) will kill all life stages of bed bugs following 3.5 days of exposure. If the temperature is lowered to -20°C (-4°F), 100% mortality will be achieved in 48 hours.
The key is in the length of the exposure. Many will survive freezing temperatures in short term exposure. In fact, the authors of the study observed that bed bug eggs can survive short-term in temperatures as low as -25°C (-13°F).
Why Freezing Is not the Optimal Solution to Bed Bug Infestations
A quick search on “how to get rid of bed bugs” results in a myriad of suggestions with more than a few suggesting freezing them. The reality is that logistically, this method is either suboptimal or even more likely, won’t work.
The first suggestion is to place your items in the freezer in a freezer bag. If your problem is small and contained, such as a few items in a suitcase, this may work. The first problem with this method is that the bed bugs may not have been introduced to your home yet. You are better off leaving your luggage and your bed bugs out of the home and dealing with the issue in another manner. For example, in the summer you could place all of your belongings in a black trash bag and allow it to bake in the sun. The second problem with this solution is that you would have to know the temperature of your freezer to know how long to expose the bed bugs to the cold. The FDA suggests that home freezer temperatures should be set at -18C (0°F) for food safety, which would mean that you would need to keep the bed bugs in the freezer for 48 hours. But unless you monitor your temperature, you can’t be sure. In the United States alone, there are more than 60 million refrigerators in use that are more than 10 years old and are not running at peak efficiency.
Another suggestion for killing bed bugs is to bring your mattress and other furniture items outside in the winter. This is a tricky proposition because as you can see by the temperatures and exposure time to kill bed bugs, you would need to perform this task during a three-and-a-half day period, during which the temperatures remain below -15°C (5°F). This may be viable in Alaska, the average winter temperature of which is -16.3°C (2.6°F), but the seasonal average for the rest of the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) is just above freezing 0.7°C (33.2°F). According to the recent research, these temperatures are simply not cold enough to eradicate an infestation.
Entomological Society of America
Bed Bugs Can Survive Frost Cold Can Still Kill Them
Average Monthly Temperature for Each State in Winter (NOAA National Climatic Data Center)
Environmental Protection Agency
Bed Bug Facts
US Food and Drug Administration
Are You Storing Food Safely?
Meister, K; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Long-range protein–water dynamics in hyperactive insect antifreeze proteins
2012; Volume: 110 No: 5; pp: 1617-1622