Bed bugs are some of the most hated, terrifying household pests. They are difficult to find and identify, and have painful, irritating bites.
Because they spread so quickly and often live in sensitive areas, chemical pesticides probably aren’t the answer.
What is the best steamer for bed bugs? For eliminating bed bugs, select a steamer with a high-temperature output, a large water tank, and various attachments for cleaning different areas and materials. Consider factors such as the size of the infestation, personal budget, and storage space requirements.
Steamers are sold for many purposes and goals, so you’ll want to make sure you’re buying one that will actually help with your bed bug problem.
Read on to find out what fits your needs!
Best Practices for Preventing an Infestation
Before investing in a steamer to get rid of bed bugs, you’ll want to make sure that bed bugs are actually the problem.
Oftentimes confused with ticks, cockroaches, or other household beetles, bed bugs must be treated uniquely.
The Bed Bug
Bed bugs are insects that are brown in color with flat, oval-shaped bodies. Adult bed bugs do not have wings and are about the size of an apple seed, or 5 to 7 millimeters long.
An infant bed bug, or nymph, is small, about the size of a pin. They are white or translucent until their first feeding, at which point they obtain the brown or red color of adults.
Shaped like a balloon or teardrop, bed bugs are “true bugs,” meaning they have a beak with three segments, four-part antennas, and short, golden-colored hairs.
The common bed bug is found worldwide, with a second, less common bed bug found in tropical regions. They adapt well, but typically live in temperate climates.
Bed Bug Bites
As parasites, bed bugs survive by finding a host (often a human for bed bugs) and feeding on the blood.
Sometimes, bed bugs will use pets or other animals as their host. This is another way that bed bugs can enter homes and be transferred between households.
(Bed bug bites can appear similar to bites from fleas. Learn how to tell the difference here.)
After a bed bug eats, they turn more red than brown. When they feed on blood, they leaving itchy, irritating bites.
They do not necessarily transmit disease, but are considered to be a public health nuisance.
Particularly insidious infestations can cause some hosts to have a fever or feel excessively tired. If severe, the infected skin can turn from red and irritated to blistered.
If you wake up with these bites, begin to search for bed bugs, especially if you recently stayed away from home or began using a secondhand bed.
Though they usually eat every five to 10 days, bed bugs can actually survive for several months or a year without feeding.
After feeding, bed bugs will retreat to safe areas, called harborage areas. When they retreat, they leave chemical trails to remind themselves how to return the next time.
A prominent misconception is that bed bugs are a sign of lack of hygiene.
It is more true to say, however, that bed bugs appear most often in high-density areas and those with lots of traveling.
This is why outbreaks in hotels and apartment buildings are fairly common.
Find out how to prevent them from entering your apartment and what to do if they already have by clicking here.
They are resilient enough to travel long distances on bedding, clothes, cardboard boxes, luggage, and furniture.
Rates of infestations are common and have been growing since the 1990s.
Experts believe this is due to an increase in human travel, human population, and bed bugs’ growing resistance to pesticides.
Finding Bed Bugs
As with most pest infestations, it is best to find bed bugs early before they spread and grow in population.
One female bug can produce 300 adults and 1,000 new eggs in just three months, and a few bed bugs can produce over 13,000 new bugs in six months.
Unfortunately, nipping the problem in the bud is tough because it is much more difficult to find a small infestation.
Where You’ll Find Them
Bed bugs typically congregate on beds because it provides easy access to their primary food (blood), as well as warmth and darkness.
Because they are small and nearly flat, they prefer small gaps near beds.
Bed bugs can be found around the piping, seams, and tags of mattresses or box springs. They might also be hiding in gaps on the headboard or frame.
If the infestation has expanded away from the bed, you might find the bugs on furniture, drapes, or carpet.
They can fit behind outlet covers, inside drawers, under wallpaper, and any other cracks or crevices.
What to Look for
If you are staying in a bed away from home or think your own bed has bed bugs, look for rusty or reddish stains on sheets or mattresses before lying down.
These stains are the result of bed bugs being crushed and are often the first indicator that they’ve been in the area.
You might also see dark spots the size of a period that come from bed bug excrement and leave a mark like a marker would.
Occasionally, you might be able to smell a disturbing, musty odor (sometimes compared to raspberries) from the bugs’ scent glands.
Basic Prevention Guidelines
Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you want to avoid letting bed bugs into your home altogether.
Be sure to read our article, “How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs” for important prevention tips, removal information, and recommended products, but for now:
- Carefully check any secondhand furniture for the indicators listed above (bloody stains, excrement marks, etc.) before bringing it into your home.
- Investigate hotel rooms or any other room in which you are a guest before sleeping there.
- Avoid shared laundry facilities when possible.
- When necessary, transport items in plastic bags, do not lay clean clothes on any fabric surface, and move machine-dried clothes directly into new plastic bags to take home.
- If you live in an apartment complex or other multi-family home, diligently seal cracks and crevices around electrical outlets, light fixtures, or baseboards.
- Use proper weather stripping or door sweeps under any exterior door to keep dirt and pests from entering.
- Reduce clutter in your home to minimize the locations that bed bugs could hide, especially around the bed.
- Purchase a mattress and box springs protective cover – some covers are pretreated with a gentle pesticide against bed bugs.
- Vacuum bedrooms and living rooms frequently, especially before and after hosting guests.
What to Look for in a Steamer
One of the best solutions for getting rid of bed bugs once they have invaded is to kill them using extreme heat. Bed bugs can only survive heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
This can be done by throwing all the infested material into the washing machine, but that is inefficient in terms of time and resources.
Plus, you can’t put carpet, chairs, or mattresses in the washing machine.
Instead, consider investing in a steamer. Steamers are devices that heat water to extreme temperatures, then expel it as steam.
A good steamer will allow you to clean almost any surface: fabric, metal, stone, and drywall.
In the fight against bed bugs, you’ll want to make sure every infested inch of your home is bug free.
Types of Steamers
Be aware that steamers are not necessarily designed or marketed specifically to get rid of bed bugs.
Rather, you should look for household steamers that are made for home cleaning and are designed to sanitize sinks, stoves, shower curtains, clothes, grills, mattresses, linens, and other fabrics.
The extreme temperatures that come from the steam are enough to kill germs and sanitize surfaces, providing a chemical-free solution to cleaning.
The force of steam is helpful in busting up tough stains, grime, grease, and dirt that rubbing or scraping cannot solve.
You’ll also want to consider what accessories are included with the steamer.
Most models come with several, so review your options based upon what other uses, in addition to killing bed bugs, you have in mind for the product.
Handheld vs. Standard
Steamers come in many shapes and sizes. A standard household cleaning steamer will come with a tank that rests on the ground, usually with wheels and a handle to remove the tank.
Some steamers are made specifically to quickly get wrinkles out of garments that are too delicate to use a press iron.
These are more portable and have the water tank built into a handheld device.
While these ultra-portable devices might be useful for garment steaming and small cleaning projects, they do not have the water capacity or power to take care of a bed bug problem.
For dealing with bed bugs, a standard-size steamer is the better choice.
Most steamers come with some number of accessories and attachments.
Because steamers are most useful when they are versatile and able to access hard-to-reach places, manufacturers will provide options when selling devices.
When buying a steamer to get rid of bed bugs, keep in mind that you’ll want to use it for more purposes later on!
One of the most important things to look for in a steamer when trying to get rid of a bed bug problem is an effective heat output.
The best way to guarantee that the bed bugs die is to heat to a surface temperature (of the mattress, bedsheet, comforter, etc.) of 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
This requires an output temperature of at least 200 degrees.
Since some heat will be lost between the output from the device and the surface temperature of what you’re treating, the output temperature must be higher than the desired surface temperature.
Another important factor to look for is the water capacity of the tank.
Some steamers are designed for getting wrinkles out of clothing quickly, heating up rapidly, and only needing to handle one garment at a time.
When fighting bed bugs, you will want plenty of water in the tank to extend the amount of time between refills.
A larger tank means you can steam continuously for longer periods of time.
Safe for Use Around People and Pets
Steamers are generally considered very safe for humans and animals. They contain no chemicals or harsh elements, using only water to kill germs and bed bugs.
There is a rare danger of burns if the device gets too hot.
Heat protective gloves are recommended whenever using the device, and you should never point the steam in the direction of the eyes, ears, or sensitive skin.
Ease of Use
Steamers are relatively easy to use, as there is no mixing of chemicals or complicated preparation.
Most steamers come with a funnel to make pouring the water into the tank easier.
It is easy to find steamers that can be filled with normal tap water, though some specifically require pure, distilled water.
The process of steaming the material will be described in the instructions for your device, but is similar to vacuuming slowly.
Simply pull the steam trigger, put the head apparatus on the surface, and drag it slowly.
Best Steamers for Bed Bugs
There are a lot of steamer options available – some better than others and some better suited for treating large areas such as beds.
The following are our top steamer choices for eliminating bed bugs.
The most high-end product on this list, the Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner comes with plenty of punch and enough features that make it worth the high price.
The large-capacity tank provides 50 minutes of cleaning time and includes a built-in funnel to make pouring easier.
For convenience, this steamer has a 16-foot-long power cord and an extra long, 6 1/2-foot steam hose with an extension tube that provides an additional 3 feet of reach.
The 18-piece accessory kit, including fabric mop heads, allows you to clean and sanitize a variety of surfaces, making it incredibly versatile.
There’s no need for any additional additives, as this model works with ordinary tap water.
The short, seven-minute heat-up time means that you can get to work on eliminating bed bugs almost right away.
The Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner comes with a two-year warranty and a lifetime warranty on the steam cleaner boiler.
The only downsides are that some parts may become hot to the touch after excessive use and the mop head attachment does not swivel, so cleaning hard-to-reach areas may be difficult.
- Large-capacity tank with built-in funnel.
- Heats up within seven minutes.
- Extra long, 6 1/2-foot steam hose.
- Additional 3-foot extension tube.
- Long power cord (16 feet).
- Includes 18 accessories.
- Standard two-year warranty.
- Higher price tag.
- The base, container, and steaming handle can get hot.
- Mop head attachment does not swivel.
This versatile steam cleaner has features that make it space friendly and easy to store.
If you have a medium infestation of bed bugs and don’t want to have to store a huge device, this model is a terrific option.
The Costway Multipurpose Steam Cleaner features a 1 1/2-liter tank, which gives you up to 40 minutes of continual steam.
While steaming, the lock button features allows for constant steam, so there’s no holding down a button with your finger as is the case with other models.
A removable storage tray is included to stow away the 18 accessories and extensions when not in use.
This machine is suitable for use on a wide variety of surfaces and can be used for many other purposes in addition to eliminating bed bugs.
- Up to 40 minutes of continual steam.
- Lock button feature – no need to hold down a button.
- Removable storage tray stows accessories.
- Long, 16-foot power cord.
- Includes 18 accessories and extension.
- Large tank needs 8 to 9 minutes to heat up.
- May struggle to heat up to advertised temperature.
Designed for a wide variety of cleaning tasks, this product comes with enough attachments to clean most surfaces in your home without chemicals.
Big enough, powerful enough, and flexible enough to take care of almost any bed bug problem, this steamer is a great mid-range product.
With high pressure and a temperature of 290°F, you’ll have plenty of power to wipe out even large infestations of bed bugs.
The 40 ounce tank allows for a cleaning time of 35 – 45 minutes without having to refill the water, and 17 accessories (brushes, nozzles, and attachments) allow for plenty of versatility.
This model has two potential drawbacks. While some steam cleaners are made to be used with normal tap water, the Wagner Spraytech must be used with distilled water.
In some cases, this model has overheated and overpressurized, leading to extremely hot water leaking and spraying. Directions should be followed precisely to avoid leaking.
- High pressure and high temperature (290°F).
- Forty-ounce tank provides a cleaning time of 35 to 45 minutes.
- Comes with 17 accessories.
- Must use distilled water.
- May overheat and overpressurize.
This handheld steaming machine comes with a nine-piece accessory set. It is chemical free and all natural.
With a smaller tank (400 millileters) and convenient handle, this product prides itself on being portable and easy to carry.
Unlike the larger versions, this heats up and pressurizes in three minutes or less; however, there is no option for temperature adjustment, so all steam produced is extremely hot.
The nine-piece accessory set includes a fabric steamer tool perfect for mattresses, bedsheets, and pillows. For handheld model, the cord is impressively long at just under 10 feet.
- Fast heat-up and pressurizing time.
- Long cord for convenience.
- Includes a fabric steamer tool and eight other accessories.
- No adjustable temperature options.
- Small tank only lasts for 15 – 20 minutes before needing refilling.
If your bed bug infestation is small or you don’t have the storage space for a large machine, the Rowenta DR6131 Handheld Steamer is perfect.
Small enough to not take up space and flexible enough to be convenient, this is a recommended product for those who need to take care of a little problem before it becomes big.
This little machine heats up in only 40 seconds (the fastest on this list) and has two steaming intensities to select from – delicate and turbo – to allow for customization depending on the material.
The 6.76-ounce water tank is removable, so you don’t have to wait for the machine to cool down before refilling.
With a 9 1/2-foot power cord, four accessories, and easy storage, this option is hard to beat in terms of portability and convenience.
- Very fast heat-up time.
- Two steaming intensities – delicate and turbo.
- Long power cord for its size.
- Comes with four accessories and easy storage.
- Removable water tank.
- Small tank (6.76 ounces) only allows for 10 minutes of use.
- Insufficient power for medium to large bed bug infestations.
Bed bug infestations are best and most safely fought by using extreme heat, usually from a steaming device.
Depending on the size of your infestation and what kind of steamer you’re looking for, it is probably best to purchase a powerful device with a large water tank.
Remember to always follow the instructions that come with the product.
If your best efforts cannot contain the bed bug problem, contact a professional exterminator for more options.
If you’re not quite ready to take that step, we have other helpful elimination techniques for you to try, including insecticides that can be used indoors safely.