Bug Bombs for Flea Control = Bad Idea

What are customers thinking when they use total release aerosols in their home? My answer: They’re not, says veteran pest control industry professional Bern Wendell.

May 25, 2016
Bernard F. Wendell Jr.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in July 2012 PCT.

Got bugs? Bomb the place…just set off a bug bomb…buy some bug bombs and put one in each room...the more bug bombs you use the quicker you will solve the bug problem…got bed bugs? Use a bug bomb...got roaches? Use a bug bomb...got fleas?...use a lotta bug bombs.

It is really not as funny as it sounds. This scenario reminds me how much more at risk our environment is from homeowners’ pesticide applications than most professional applications.

“So exactly when should I use a bug bomb?” customers often ask me. The answer is “almost never” and I am being kind by using the word “almost.” These products are most effective on flying insects in an enclosed room yet are often marketed as an all-purpose extermination tool that is easy for a homeowner to use. Regardless of the target pest, bug bombs should always be used with exceptional care.

I am proud to work for a company that never uses total release aerosols (bug bombs for the uninitiated). These products are generally seen as a quick treatment that kills everything it targets. Rudy Hofler, Arrow Exterminating field supervisor extraordinaire, was recently sent to a potential customer’s house. This home had a flea problem and despite multiple control efforts on their own, the house still has fleas. (Apparently NOW it was time to call a professional.)

A Scary Home. When Rudy arrived, he found more than a few empty total release cans in the vacant residence. At least five different types and a minimum of 72 bug bombs were used in the residence. You would probably be more successful blowing up the house than eliminating pests with this amount of aerosols. It was obvious to Rudy that this method of treatment didn’t work.

The house was rented to people that didn’t pay their rent and were eventually evicted by the sheriff. They had one cat and one dog and had fleas for about six months. The landlord hired our company for flea remediation. In many ways it was a normal house, a colonial with nine rooms. We bagged clothes and everything else that was lying on the floor. Our applicator treated with a mix of Transport and Precor and we vacuumed this vacant house every day for 10 days. We returned one week later and no fleas remained.

I know it seems that the fog of pesticide that was released should have penetrated everything in the room and kill all living pests there. However, when the pests sense the fog, they tend to move deeper into the wall or crack or crevice where the chemical does not penetrate. So in fact, the use of total release aerosols may make an infestation even more difficult to control.

The bottom line is that if you concentrate on removing moisture and water sources, sealing cracks and crevices to eliminate harborage, removing all food sources and judiciously using targeted pesticides, you will be more likely to eliminate a pest from a structure than setting off total release aerosols. It will take more knowledge and skill than just setting off a bomb, but it is much less hazardous to both you and your customer. Consider using IPM techniques as a more effective way of managing infestations. And try to talk your customers into doing the same.

The author is and Associate Certified Entomologist and manager of training and education at Arrow Exterminating Co. in Lynbrook, N.Y. He can be reached at bwendell@giemedia.com.