There are some critters we only speak briefly about and you have all the weapons you need. And yet there are some we keep coming back to because they’re so complicated to deal with.
The real challenges in pest control are the tiny ones, which is why we find ourselves coming back to certain ones again and again. Bed bugs being a perfect example.
These critters were pretty scarce until a few decades ago when they began to adapt to certain common pesticides. The resulting superbug population then exploded to turn these critters into a modern epidemic that just won’t seem to go away.
Today, we’re looking at a popular method of getting rid of bugs to determine whether or not it will work against bed bugs and why. So let’s dive right in and ask ourselves…
See Also: How Long Can Bed Bugs Survive in Water?
How Long Can Bed Bugs Live in a Plastic Bag?
It would be great to be able to give you a simple answer to this question. However, if you’ve scrolled down or glanced at the table of contents, you’ll know that’s not the case.
Bed bugs (and especially their eggs) are well adapted to resist all sorts or conditions, such as water and even bombs or foggers. So there is no short answer to this question beyond “a potentially long time”.
The Truth About Bagging Bugs
We’re not ones to sugarcoat control problems (that would just attract sugar ants), so we’ll be blunt here – bagging and tagging bugs of any sort is usually a dumb idea!
The sole exceptions are when you’re pruning an infested plant or vacuuming up bugs using a bag vac. But in both of these cases, the best bags aren’t plastic and you’re usually burning them right after.
Plastic bags pose an entirely different problem, because the bugs won’t die right away. This means you’re transporting them to a landfill where they could escape and begin to multiply while feeding on all the trash. In other words, unless you have a way to destroy the bag and its contents, bagging can actually benefit the target bugs.
Factors Affecting How Long a Bed Bug Will Survive in a Bag
So now that we’ve established that bagging can be a poor tactic, let’s play Schrödinger and put a hypothetical bed bug into an equally hypothetical plastic bag. Here are the variables that can determine whether the bug will be alive or dead when we open the bag.
Access to Air
Most people think of plastic bags as being a way to suffocate critters, which is certainly true of larger ones. But what happens when you have a critter as small as a bed bug?
Compared to us humans, a bed bug requires an extremely tiny amount of air to survive. This means they could potentially survive for years in a grocery bag or garbage bag as long as their other needs are met.
However, you can reduce their potential lifespan by using airtight bags in which you can remove the excess air, such as zipper bags (including some food storage bags), space bags, and vacuum storage bags. Basically, the more air you can remove, the more likely the bed bugs contained within will eventually run out of air.
Read Also: Can Bed Bugs Live in Your Carpet?
Okay, so this is a far more complicated factor than we’d like it to be. The amount and frequency of blood a given bed bug needs will depend on several factors.
For example, the tropical bed bug (Cimex hemipterus) is less-well adapted as their more frequently seen siblings, the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius). They only lay about 1/10 as many eggs and are less resistant to pesticides.
Tropical bed bugs also seem to be more vulnerable to starvation. This is why you’ll see some wildly varied answers on how long a bed bug can survive without feeding. Tropical bed bugs seem to starve after a few months, whereas laboratory experiments have found the common bed bug can go for a year without feeding under the right conditions.
But wait, there’s more! Bed bug nymphs need blood to develop. Thus, as soon as one hatches from their egg, they have to feed. The blood is necessary for them to develop their first exoskeleton, and also needed for them to successfully molt from one instar to the next.
A hatchling will only survive for a very brief period of time (as in a couple days at most) without blood. Successive instar stages can extend this period, but not by much.
Egg or Adult?
Now this third factor is a bit of a kicker. We just spoke about how adults can live for months or even a year without food, but nymphs will die within days. So what about the eggs?
Under optimal conditions, a bed bug egg will hatch within just a few days (again, the species can affect how fast eggs gestate as well). However, they do have a limited viability of 10 to 12 days.
After 10 days, each day greatly reduces the chance of the egg hatching successfully, with the egg losing all viability at 12 days.
Since the hatching nymph needs a blood meal almost immediately, denying a food source or changing other vital factors can delay the hatching process, sometimes causing the timer to run out. In other words, if you deny blood meals, an egg and its contents will die in about 14 days after being laid, even if it manages to hatch at the extreme end of its viability period.
Temperature and Humidity
Okay, these two environmental factors are both potential boons to using a plastic bag. Let’s look at temperature first, as this can also affect humidity.
Bed bugs need a temperature range that shockingly (or not at all shocking) tends to line up with normal household temperatures. 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty much perfect for all stages of bed bug life. However, outside of this range can be a hindrance or even deadly.
For example, at 70 degrees, egg viability is about 90 percent with the eggs taking six to nine days to hatch, while 65 or lower will cause an adult’s metabolism to slow down. At 118 degrees, you can slowly cook bed bugs and their eggs.
The same goes for throwing a plastic bag full of bed bugs in the freezer. Subzero temperatures will kill a bed bug in minutes, while 180 degrees will kill on contact.
In other words, you can expose the plastic bag full of bed bugs to different temperatures to slowly cook or freeze the bed bugs. However, since plastic is insulating, you shouldn’t judge the internal temperature based on the external temperature.
However, messing with the temperature around a plastic bag can also affect the internal humidity. Bed bug eggs are especially susceptible to extreme humidity levels, either drying out or becoming a fungal magnet.
While not as affected, nymphs and adults can also suffer ill effects of major humidity changes. But more importantly, anything you’re trying to salvage in the bag will be facing these same conditions.
See Also: What Things Do Bed Bugs Hate?
Times Where Bagging Bed Bugs Can Be Useful
Of course, the important detail about Schrödinger was that the cat theory (which was actually written to mock him) can still result in a dead cat. Likewise, there will be times when you’ll actually want to bag up those bugs in plastic.
For example, while bed bug covers are actually fabric, they perform many of the same functions as a plastic bag. They’re breathable, meaning the bed bugs won’t suffocate. However, any bugs trapped inside will be unable to escape, causing them to slowly starve.
And this is where plastic bags can truly shine. Don’t use them to throw away infested objects. Instead, bag up those objects and place them somewhere that the bag can remain undisturbed. This will result in the bugs remaining trapped until they eventually die. You can then reclaim the objects from storage.
Another useful time to bag is when you’re using a non-canister vacuum. In this case, you can put the vacuum bag into a sealable plastic bag until you’re ready to burn it.
Just remember that burning plastic releases toxic fumes, so you’ll want to carefully dump the vacuum bag into the fire, then boil or soak the plastic bag in to kill off any bed bugs still inside the bag.
On a Final Note
Plastic bags aren’t a great remedy for bed bugs, but they do have some purpose. If you’re bagging possessions to try and salvage them, you’re going to want to be careful about environmental factors, as these can damage the bag’s contents.
For this reason, we suggest an attic or dry spot in the basement where you can simply starve the critters to death without worrying about the bag being damaged or having any sudden environmental changes.