Sour Solutions: Does Vinegar Kill Bed Bugs?

Vinegar has a lot of uses in the home, and it's often touted as a way to repel or even kill insects. But does vinegar kill bed bugs? The acetic acid in vinegar can kill bed bugs if it comes into direct contact, but it isn't a viable way to address an infestation.

By Pest Advisor Editors (Updated on Jul 12, 2023)

Fact Checked by Jason Chapman

Sour Solutions: Does Vinegar Kill Bed Bugs? photo

Bed bugs are one of those things nobody wants to deal with, in part because the treatment is known to be pretty intensive. As an alternative, you might be considering using vinegar. Does vinegar kill bed bugs, though? Here are some considerations to think about:

  • Vinegar has certain properties that could make them an effective bed bug-killer.
  • Other properties of vinegar make it difficult to use as a comprehensive extermination strategy.
  • Learning about bed bug nesting and feeding behaviors will help you understand why vinegar isn’t a recommended solution.
  • There are some DIY home solutions that could help control an infestation.
  • For complete treatment, professional help will most likely be needed.

Why Might Vinegar Kill Bed Bugs?

If you think back to when you were in middle school, you learned that there are acids and bases. Vinegar is an acid, specifically acetic acid. People use it as a cleaning and rinsing agent, a food preservative, and in a wide range of natural remedies. One benefit is that vinegar is safe to use on household surfaces and around food. In fact, it’s edible! So you don’t have to worry about harmful fumes or contamination of surfaces.

The acid in vinegar can dry out bed bugs and kill them if you spray them and make direct contact. So, if you were to come upon some of the insects on your bed or elsewhere in your bedroom, you could spray them with undiluted vinegar to kill them, then remove them with a paper towel. The smell would dissipate quickly, and you’d be able to sleep without concern for your safety from having vinegar on your mattress.

That’s the good news.

Why Are Bed Bugs Able to Avoid Vinegar?

The bad news, though, is that bed bugs love to hide. They hide in places you might not even see, so you wouldn’t be able to reliably get vinegar into those spaces. They might be under your carpets or between the carpet and the baseboard. They could squeeze into a tiny crack between the baseboard and the wall. They may be along the edges of your bed frame or inside of your mattress or box spring.

Aside from being in and around your bed, these critters can also reliably hide in any type of furniture or clutter you have in the room. They might be underneath the drawer of your night table, for example, or on an upholstered chair where you leave your clean laundry before putting it away. And don’t forget: Bed bugs aren’t limited to the bedrooms: They can live and lay their eggs anywhere in the home.

Since you aren’t going to be able to saturate every nook, cranny, and crevice of your home with vinegar, it’s unlikely this will be a good solution to an infestation.

Can Vinegar Help You Repel Bed Bugs From Your Home?

Vinegar has another quality that makes it unattractive to bugs, and that’s its strong smell. If you’ve ever cleaned with vinegar or made a German potato salad, you know the smell. It’s very pungent… for a short time.

Yes, spraying vinegar in an area could persuade bed bugs to scurry because they hate the smell. If you’ve used it to clean a window or a bathroom, though, you know that the smell fades pretty quickly. So, while it can be used as a bug repellent, those effects won’t last, unfortunately. Within several minutes, the smell will fade, and within an hour, there will be no traces of vinegar left where you sprayed it.

DIY Methods to Reduce the Number of Bed Bugs

Vinegar does have its place in bed bug control. Cleaning up any clutter and dusting well can minimize potential hiding places for these tiny insects. Vinegar is great for wiping down surfaces, since it doesn’t streak, evaporates quickly, and leaves no scent behind.

Other DIY methods can include:

  • Washing all of your bedding in hot water and drying it on the high heat cycle. This can kill bugs and eggs that are in your bedding.
  • Vacuuming your mattress well, then putting it in a bug-proof encasement. You should do the same with your box spring, if you have one. This will trap any bugs or eggs that are left inside of the mattress and won’t let them come out and bite/feed, leading to their eventual death.
  • You could try chemical options such as Lysol or Raid to kill bugs on contact. Do be aware, however, that this is a temporary measure and won’t treat a full infestation.
  • It’s best to avoid DIY measures like baking soda, bleach, or rubbing alcohol. These won’t really work and will just take up time that you could be using to get in touch with a professional.

Professional Help to Treat an Infestation

If you’re noticing the signs of a bed bug infestation, it’s time to call in the pros. Yes, you can try self-help measures, and they can buy you some time, but time is really of the essence. Remember that a bed bug infestation can take hold quickly and spiral out of control, particularly if you have a home with several people sleeping in different bedrooms. If you live in multi-family housing, getting the problem under control is even more vital, as it will spread to other units quickly.

If you’re not sure, the signs of a bed bug infestation include:

  • Bites that are itchy and usually form in lines or clusters.
  • Tiny rust-colored dots on your sheets.
  • Small pieces of the bugs’ exoskeletons, which are thin, translucent, and brittle.
  • Seeing live bugs (check mattress seams, between the mattress and box spring, and other small hiding spots).

Professional exterminators will use methods like heat and chemicals to kill the bed bugs. Treatment isn’t a one-and-done visit; you’ll have several visits to make sure the problem is completely taken care of. This can be inconvenient, but it’s much less convenient to have a spreading infestation, so it’s best to get this addressed as soon as possible once you notice any bed bug signs.

Final Thoughts: Does Vinegar Kill Bed Bugs?

While vinegar can kill bed bugs on contact and is safe for household use, it’s not a good solution to a budding or complete infestation. It can act as a stop-gap measure if you’re waiting on the professional exterminator to arrive, but we wouldn’t recommend this to be used in the long term at all, as it’s not going to be effective.

Citations and Credits

Featured image by Mike Mozart / Flickr

Article image by Mike Mozart / Flickr

Article image by Jessica Spengler / Flickr

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