Is It Bad for You: Bug Bombs and Bug Sprays in Your Home

Most people have dealt with an insect infestation at some point in their lives. When you see the signs of unwanted pests in your home, you want to find the best way to eliminate the insect presence as quickly as possible. For some, that means turning to bug bombs and insecticide sprays. However, these products may have more potential to hurt you than to help. Below, we take a look at the chemical ingredients in pest control products and their potential health effects on humans and pets.

Are bug bombs and foggers bad for you?

Many people turn to bug bombs, also called total release foggers (TRFs), as a cheaper alternative to professional pest control services. They have a reputation of covering an entire area with pesticides to quickly eradicate any bug problems, but is that actually the case?

Bug bombs contain pesticides that are propelled with aerosols to fumigate an entire room. Most people use bug bombs when faced with an infestation of roaches, bed bugs or other pests that seems too big to be handled with insecticide spray. These foggers contain the insecticide chemicals pyrethrin or pyrethroid. The CDC announced in a 2018 report that exposure to these chemicals was found to cause illnesses associated with bug bomb use. The most common causes of TRF-related illnesses are:

  • Not leaving the treated area during the bug bomb application
  • Reentering the treated area before a safe amount of time has passed
  • Failing to leave the area before the bug bomb is discharged
  • Using more foggers than you need for a particular area
  • Inadequate ventilation of the treated area
  • Accidental discharge of the bug bomb by a child

The most common health effects of exposure to the chemicals in TRFs are:

  • Respiratory symptoms (coughing and upper respiratory pain)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and pain)

Bug bomb safety

To decrease your chance of hazardous exposure to TRF chemicals, the EPA EPA suggests using only as many foggers as is necessary, according to the recommendations on the product’s label. Using too many bug bombs can cause a dangerous buildup of flammable chemicals, as well as increase your exposure to the insecticides in the product. In this same vein, you should also keep foggers away from any ignition sources in your home, such as pilot lights or sparks from electrical appliances that cycle on and off.

The EPA also recommends vacating the treated premises immediately after setting the bug bomb and not returning until the time indicated on the label has passed. When you do return to the fumigated area, you should open the windows and doors, as well as run fans, to help air out any lingering fumes.

Are bug bombs worth the chemical exposure?

A new study from North Carolina State University took a closer look at the benefits and health risks of bug bombs. Researchers found that pesticide residue covered most surfaces in the home that had been fumigated, even after following all of the EPA’s safety recommendations. Moreover, they discovered that foggers had no lasting effect on a home’s cockroach population. This finding may be because the TRF fumes were unable to reach the areas that cockroaches tend to gather: underneath countertops and appliances, in the back corners of cabinets, and under shelves. To sum up the study’s findings, foggers are great at covering an area in harmful insecticides, but not as great at actually killing bugs.

Total release foggers and your home

Because the insecticides from bug bombs can coat every surface in the treated area, the National Pesticide Information Center suggests removing all food, dishes, toys, plants and any other items belonging to children or pets before fumigating. Children, pets and those with asthma or respiratory conditions are more at risk for developing a serious illness from pesticide exposure, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Additionally, pesticide exposure during pregnancy can negatively impact fetal development (Llop, et. al, 2013).

Can insecticide sprays affect your health?

Insecticide sprays are another popular pest control method. These sprays should be used for targeted areas, such as under cabinets and appliances, and not used to treat an entire room, according to the EPA. Pesticide sprays are made up of inert and active ingredients, both of which can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Exposure to VOCs in pesticides can cause:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Kidney and central nervous system damage
  • Increased risk of cancer

In addition to the above health effects, breathing in bug sprays can also cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and muscular weakness.

If you are spraying your home for bugs, the Michigan Department of Community Health recommends thoroughly ventilating the area and taking precautions to keep the pesticide from coming in contact with your skin. Insect sprays should never be used near food or dishes. Specific groups that are vulnerable to the harmful health effects of pesticides include:

  • Children and newborns: Young children absorb more pesticide chemicals relative to their body weight and are more likely to play around areas that have been sprayed. Additionally, their developing organs and immune systems can be negatively impacted by insecticide exposure.
  • The elderly: The immune systems and organs of older adults may be less equipped to cope with exposure to pesticides.
  • Those with asthma, allergies or compromised immune systems: People with pre-existing conditions may experience more severe reactions to insecticide chemicals.

Alternative solutions for pest control

You may not always be able to avoid using insecticides, but you can take action to minimize your pesticide use. Before resorting to bug bombs or pesticide sprays, you can first control your pest population by:

  • Eliminating the insects’ access to food, including trash, dirty dishes and pet food
  • Getting rid of water sources, such as leaky pipes, spilled liquids and excess water in flower pots
  • Sealing any cracks or openings through which insects can enter your home
  • Removing any clutter or other pest hiding places

Other methods for integrated pest management include frequent vacuuming, washing pet beds regularly and storing all food in airtight containers.

Once you have taken the above steps, you can choose pest control products that have the least chance of introducing dangerous chemicals into your home, such as sticky traps and gel bait. In fact, the North Carolina State University study has found that gel bait for pests not only decreases your chance of insecticide exposure, but it is also more effective at killing pests than bug bombs.

The Georgia Department of Public Health suggests using natural alternatives to hazardous chemicals to control a pest population. For example, you can deter ants from entering your home by sealing entry points with caulk and sprinkling chili powder around areas that they frequent. Additionally, you can use a mixture of baking soda and powdered sugar to help eliminate a cockroach infestation.

It is tempting to turn to bug bombs and insecticide sprays when you want to get rid of a pest infestation as quickly as possible. However, on their own, they may not be as effective as you think. When you consider the health risks of insecticide exposure, these pest control methods may not be the best option for getting rid of your bug problem. By using integrated pest control methods, you can decrease your need for insecticides and exposure to harmful chemicals.

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