What Do Bed Bugs Hate? (4 Things That Repel Them)

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Updated on March 28, 2023

Nearly 100 years ago, bed bugs were nearly wiped out in the US, thanks to the many new pesticides that were created. However, the survivors developed an immunity to these treatments and eventually came back with a vengeance.

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Today, the appearance of bed bugs can close down businesses and schools, their mere name invoking dread.

But when you may have been exposed to bed bugs, don’t panic. Instead, take a moment to inspect your room for signs of bed bugs.

Getting a mysterious bite may not mean bed bugs, and there are many other pests that can be mistaken for a bed bug. However, once you’ve determined you really do have an infestation, there are a couple ways to get rid of them.

Obviously, you can call an exterminator, but that can be quite expensive. Alternatively, you can exterminate them yourself. But these methods take time, and meanwhile, you and your loved ones are still getting bitten.

The good news is that there are ways to fend off the little monsters while waiting for the kill techniques to work (or for when you’re at a hotel).

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Things That Bed Bugs Hate

#1 – Light and Temperature

bright sunshine in bedroom

If there’s one thing bed bugs absolutely despise, it’s light. Light means exposure to natural predators and thus poses a clear and present danger. This makes it perhaps the best way to repel bed bugs every time.

Leave your curtains open during the day and use lamps or nightlights at night, especially if you can sleep without any covers for a night or two. Even a small penlight is enough to send them scurrying.

On a related note, heat can both attract and frighten off bed bugs. They’re drawn to body heat, which tends to range between 96 and 100 degrees for a healthy adult. But if it gets much hotter, that heat can be dangerous to bed bugs. In fact, a temperature of 117 to 120 degrees is enough to cook a bed bug to death in minutes. This is why the hot water from a steam vac kills bed bugs so well.

You can use this to your advantage as well by steam cleaning your mattress. It won’t kill all of the bed bugs on its own, but it can kill some of them and send the rest scurrying for cover.

Cold can also affect bed bugs, although your home will likely never get cold enough to kill them. But dropping the temperature in a room does have its benefits as it can slow a bed bug’s metabolism, which means longer periods between feedings.

It will also make them more sluggish and easy to catch. They’ll lay fewer eggs, take longer to hatch, and grow at a slower pace. While it won’t necessarily chase them away, cold rooms can buy you some valuable time to get that bug bomb or exterminator.

See Also: What Does Bed Bug Poop Look Like?

#2 – Clothes

asleep in pajamas

They say that clothes make the man, but they also make a pretty good defense against bed bugs.

The reason bed bug bites happen in a straight line is that the bugs are unable to get a good grip on your skin or hair, and even slight movements can dislodge them. While they have climbing ability, it has its limits. This inability to hold onto things is the main reason why clothing works as a natural bed bug repellent.

When the bugs come out at night, they’ll look for exposed flesh. The more coverage your clothes provide, the harder it will be for the bugs to find a feeding spot.

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Full pajamas can thus limit the bite zones to your face, neck, hands, and feet (unless you have socks on). Such limited spaces make it easier to use other remedies, especially scent-based ones.

#3 – Colors

white bed sheets

Bed bugs, much like a lot of other insects, actually have a color preference. For example, you might have noticed that certain butterflies gravitate to flowers with a specific color.

This attraction is believed to be due to either an insect’s visible color spectrum (butterflies can see colors we can’t) or an association with food or safety.

In the case of bed bugs, they prefer red and black over other colors. The red resembles food, while black gives the appearance of shelter.

As a result, you’re much more likely to be bitten by wearing dark colors than light ones. Use this knowledge to your advantage and wear light clothing to bed and use white or brightly colored sheets and blankets.

#4 – Smells

peppermint oil

This is the big one, and most repellent methods involve some type of scent. This is because strong smells can mask the smell of blood, leaving the bed bugs confused or even encouraging them to avoid the source of the smell.

Here are a few different scent-based repellents and how they work.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are some of the most popular repellents out there, and for good reason. Not only can a spray with some essential oils repel bed bugs and other critters, but they also smell nice and sometimes even kill on contact.

Try mixing a few of these into a spray and treating your bed, one to two times per day:

  • Citronella
  • Oregano or other oils containing carvacrol
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Tea tree oil
  • Thyme

Note that killing bed bugs with these oils requires direct contact during application, and there are other remedies such as rubbing alcohol that have similar functionality if you want to go for kills and not smells.


Not only can plenty of garlic in your diet repel relatives and even loved ones, but it can also repel bed bugs. It’s a curious fact that bed bugs sometimes develop a taste for specific blood types, which they can smell. But what happens when all they smell is garlic?

When you eat garlic, some of the oils come out in your sweat. You can also make a bedtime spray for your hands, neck, and feet if you don’t mind chasing your spouse out of the room for the night. This can help prevent attacks while you sleep, and it will even work against some other common bedroom bugs.

Coconut Oil

There is some evidence that coconut oil may repel bed bugs. The essential fatty acids in coconut oil are irritating to bed bugs that eat a liquid-based diet, and the oil has anti-pesticide properties. However, there are better methods for controlling bed bugs.

Scented Candles and Incense

This isn’t the most effective method out there, but candles with a strong scent can help repel bed bugs to some degree. Obviously, the most effective is a citronella candle, but some types of incense and candle smells can also do the same job as essential oils.

The upside is that they aren’t likely to get in your eyes while you sleep, but the downside is that you’ll have to burn them pretty close to the bed to be effective, which can be a fire hazard if you don’t have the proper containers.

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The Decoy Smell

Okay, so this isn’t actually a repellent. Quite the opposite, in fact. There are traps on the market that can attract bed bugs with their scent. However, the bed bug finds poison or a quick death instead of finding food.

Such traps aren’t very common on the market, and the jury’s still out on how well they work. However, when the best defense is a good offense, using one of these traps in conjunction with some of the repellent methods we’ve talked about can trick the bed bugs into scurrying away from the food and towards their doom.


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