Bed bugs are tiny, flat, wingless insects that range in color from nearly white to deep brown/reddish. The parasitic pests get their name from their hiding spot of choice – they prefer burrowing into bed frames and mattresses during the day, then become active at night when they feed on people and pets. Bed bugs are resilient pests that can hitch a ride on luggage, furniture, storage boxes, backpacks and clothing (but rarely humans), very quickly causing an infestation.
While alcohol can kill bed bugs on contact, it’s not going to kill nearly enough of bed bugs to be considered effective. In lab studies, even 99 percent concentrations of alcohol only killed between 40% to 60% of the adults that were sprayed. On top of that, alcohol has no long-lasting residual effect, and doesn’t affect bed bug eggs. 60% sounds good, but a contact killer should be able to kill a lot closer to 100% of the bed bugs you see. Otherwise, a shoe or a blowtorch would be the more reliable tool for the job. (Editor’s note: please don’t use a blowtorch.)
Some bed bug species are parasites of bats or birds, and may bite people if the wild hosts are no longer available. Although similar in overall appearance, the species of bed bugs that normally feed on bats, swallows, chimney swifts, pigeons or other wild hosts can be differentiated from those that prefer humans. Entomologists and knowledgeable pest managers can make this determination. If bat bugs or bird bugs are present, roosting and nesting sites should be the primary focus, and the animals should be removed and excluded from the building.