Bed Bugs 

Selecting and Using Pesticides for Bed Bug Control

What is a pesticide?
Registration with EPA
Exemption from registration with EPA (minimum risk/25b pesticides)
EPA Registration Number
What will the product label tell me?
Does the product label specify bed bug use?
Benefits of selecting EPA-registered products labeled for bed bugs
Pesticide misuse concerns
Products registered with EPA for bed bug control
Products registered in Wisconsin
Using pesticide products in Wisconsin
Understanding pesticide risks

What is a Pesticide?

Pesticides are substances used to control pests. Pests are living organisms that occur where they are not wanted or that cause damage to crops, humans, or other animals. Examples of pests include insects, mice and other animals, weeds, plant diseases, and microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. Pesticides that are intended to control insects are called insecticides.

A pesticide product may contain both active and inert (“other”) ingredients. Active ingredients have an effect against pests (killing, controlling growth, drying out, etc.) while inert/other ingredients help with the application/delivery of the product.

For general information on pesticides visit EPA article: What is a pesticide?

EPA article stating that foggers and bug bombs do not control bed bugs:
Safety precautions for total release foggers

Registration with EPA

Pesticides that are sold and distributed in the United States first must be registered with, or exempt from registration with, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Whether a product must be registered as a pesticide with EPA depends on the make-up of the product and the product claims. Most products that have claims to kill or control bed bugs must be registered with EPA. These products bear an EPA Registration Number on their labels.

Exemption from registration with EPA (minimum risk/25b pesticides)

Some pesticide products are exempt from registration with EPA. These are called minimum risk (“25b”) pesticides and contain certain ingredients that EPA has determined pose minimal risk to people (such as citronella oil, garlic and garlic oil, and mint oil). These products must meet certain requirements in order to qualify for exemption from registration with EPA. Minimum risk pesticides do not bear an EPA Registration Number on their labels. Visit EPA’s web page Minimum risk pesticides to learn more.

Note: all pesticide products, including minimum risk pesticides, sold and distributed in Wisconsin must be registered with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Visit DATCP’s Pesticide manufacturer and labeler license web page for more information.

EPA Registration Number

The EPA Registration Number, often written as EPA Reg. No., is a unique identification number assigned by EPA to each EPA-registered product. The number is listed on the container label for each pesticide product, except for products exempt from registration.

Examples: EPA Reg. No. 123-45 and EPA Reg. No. 678-9-1000.

The number indicates that the manufacturer has met EPA’s regulatory requirements for registration, that EPA has approved the label directions (use sites, directions, precautions, etc.), and that EPA has registered the product for sale and distribution in the United States. It does not mean that EPA endorses the product or makes claims about the product’s effectiveness or safety.

When seeking information about a specific product, always obtain the EPA Reg. No. for that product.

What will the product label tell me?

The label on each container tells you where and how to legally and correctly use the product. When used according to the label directions, restrictions, and precautions, the product is not expected to cause harm to people or the environment. Pesticide Misuse Concerns

The label lists the only locations where you can legally and correctly use the product. For bed bug control indoors, the product label must specify the product can be used indoors, and in the right type of building. For example, a label could state “apartments”, “homes”, “motels”, “hotels”, or “commercial buildings” as opposed to “warehouses” or “agricultural buildings.” If the label does not state that you can apply it in a residential building then you cannot use it in a residential building. Similarly, if the label does not list mattresses as a site of application then the product cannot be used on mattresses.

Labels will also include other information including: the EPA Registration Number (EPA Reg. No.), the brand name of the product, the pests the manufacturer claims the product is effective against, manufacturer contact information, handling and application directions, safety precautions, first aid information, guidance and recommendations, and storage/disposal information.

EPA classifies some pesticide products as “restricted use pesticides.” These products pose greater risks than other pesticide products and can only be sold to and used by certified pesticide applicators. Labels for such products will include a restricted use statement at the very top. Restricted use pesticides are not available to the general public.

Always read the label before using a pesticide product!


Photo courtesy of North Dakota State University. Visit North Dakota State University article Pesticides:
Learning about labels
for more information. Note: this particular product is NOT labeled for indoor use.

National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) article: Reading pesticide labels

Does the product label specify use for bed bugs?

If not, then the product may or may not be effective against bed bugs – the manufacturer isn’t claiming it is effective and may not have tested it for that use. The product could still legally be used, however, as long as it is used according to the directions (including the correct location) and the label doesn’t prohibit the use you intend or limit use to the pests listed.

Remember: a pesticide product can only be used in the locations specified on its label.

Benefits of selecting EPA-registered products labeled for bed bugs

  • It’s easier to identify appropriate products (for example, by using EPA’s bed bug product search tool, described in the PESTICIDE SELECTION AND USE section).
  • EPA has evaluated the product for that use.
  • The directions are specific to bed bugs.
  • The manufacturer is claiming the product is effective against bed bugs when used according to the label.

Pesticide misuse concerns

The EPA recognizes that difficulty in controlling bed bugs may lead to pesticide misuse. Examples of pesticide misuse include:

  • Use site not listed on label (e.g. using indoors a product labeled only for outdoor use)
  • Applying more product than the label allows (overapplication)
  • Not following other label directions/precautions/restrictions

Pesticide misuse is a concern because it:

  • Poses health risks for people applying products, occupants, and pets
  • May be ineffective and worsen the problem
  • Is illegal

In August 2010, EPA issued a consumer alert that advised care when selecting pesticides for bed bug control. EPA issued the alert in response to misuse of pesticides and an increase in unrealistic promises of effectiveness or low cost. Click here to read EPA’s consumer alert article: Bed Bug Pesticide Alert.
The Huffington Post article (August 2010): U.S. grapples with bed bugs, misuse of pesticides

Products registered with EPA for bed bug control

EPA has a searchable database for EPA-Registered Bed Bug Products: http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/bedbug/

Breakdown of product search by use site (as of June 27, 2011)

Matress: 270 products
Whole home: 22 products
While room: 3 products
Crack/Surface Void: 343 products
Total: 638 entries**

** Only about 300 of these entries are unique products; there are many duplicates in the database since some products are labeled for more than one use site. Note that not all products registered with EPA for bed bug control are actively marketed.

Breakdown of product search by type of active ingredient (as of June 27, 2011)

Types of active ingredients in products registered with EPA for bed bug control:

a) Action against nervous system

  • Organophosphates (example: dichlorvos) – few products, not for whole room/home
  • Carbamates (example: propoxur) – few products, not for indoor areas with children
  • Pyrethrins - extracted from chrysanthemum flowers
  • Pyrethroids (examples: esfenvalerate, permethrin, deltamethrin, cyphenothrin, other ingredients ending in “-thrin”) – synthetic version of pyrethrins; majority of EPA-registered products for bed bug control contain pyrethroids
  • Synergists (examples: MGK 264, piperonyl butoxide). Synergists don’t directly control pests but enhance the effects of other pesticides.
  • Neonicotinoids (examples: imidacloprid, dinotefuran, acetamiprid) – newer ingredients
  • Peanut oil extract (2-phenethyl propionate)


b) Other types of action

  • Pyrroles (example: chlorfenapyr) – affect metabolism and energy production
  • Insect growth regulators (examples: s-hydroprene, pyriproxyfen, ethofenprox) – prevent insects from growing (molting) or reproducing
  • Desiccants (examples: diatomaceous earth, boric acid) – cause water loss (boric acid also affects digestion)

For more information about how active ingredients work:
University of Maryland fact sheet (PDF, 8 pp., 348KB): Mode of action of structural pest control chemicals

Products registered in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) regulates pesticides at the state level. ALL pesticides must be annually registered with DATCP for sale/distribution in Wisconsin, including pesticides exempt from EPA registration. Visit the DATCP pesticide certification and licensing web page for more information about registration.

Check the DATCP database to make sure the product you’re considering is registered in Wisconsin: Wisconsin Pesticide Database Searches. Searching by EPA Reg. No. (listed as “EPA Product ID” in the database) is the easiest way to check: Search By Product EPA ID. Note: enter “none” to search for exempt (minimum risk/25b) products since they lack an EPA Reg. No.

Using pesticide products in Wisconsin

Remember:

  • Make sure the product is registered in Wisconsin.
  • Read the label first!
  • Follow all applicable directions, restrictions, and precautions on the label.
  • The label on each product container prescribes where and how to legally and correctly use the product.
  • More is not better!
  • For more information about pesticides, visit or contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC).

Understanding pesticide risks

NPIC topic fact sheet (PDF, 2 pp., 212KB): Pesticides: What’s my risk?