It is impossible to suffocate bed bugs by sealing them in a plastic bag. The only way to kill bed bugs when sealing them in a plastic bag is if you leave them in there long enough for them to starve. Starving a bed bug can take months and even up to a year in ideal conditions.
In lab controlled environments where bed bugs are in a true vacuum with no air in it, bed bugs die quickly. But you would need scientific and industrial equipment to create a true vacuum.
So going by a household scenario, you cannot kill a bed bug by suffocating it in a matter of minutes.
How do plastic covers kill bed bugs?
Plastic bags will kill most living things quickly because the air rapidly runs out, but because of the bed bug’s small size, they do not need as much air as most living things to survive. It is entirely possible for a bed bug to survive inside a casing of any material as long as there is enough air inside it for the bed bug to survive. This can be anywhere between a few days to several months.
Plastic mattress encasements are widely used to either protect the mattress from bed bug infestations or to keep an infestation contained inside the mattress. The way these encasements work is by starving the bed bugs trapped in the encasement by cutting off their access to their food source. Bed bugs survive solely on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded animals. The baby bed bugs need to feed in order to mature into adult bed bugs, while adult bed bugs need to feed in order to produce viable eggs and sperm.
When trapped in an encasement, the bed bugs will not be able to mature nor reproduce which will effectively stop their progress.
Bed bugs have been observed to survive over a year without feeding, so keeping a plastic encasement on your mattress for several years is advisable.
Will putting clothes inside plastic bags kill the bed bugs?
No, bed bugs on your clothes will not be killed by sealing them inside plastic bags. This is impossible especially if you expect the bed bugs to die within a few hours or days. As mentioned above, bed bugs can live up to a year without feeding, so unless you do not plan on wearing any of the clothes you sealed in the bag for the next two years, this method is not practical in any way.
The best way to rid your clothes of bed bugs is to put them in the washing machine and to put them through a hot wash cycle for at least 30 minutes. After washing, place the clothes in the dryer and dry them on the highest temperature possible for 30 minutes. The water, soap, and heat will kill bed bugs and their eggs.
Can bed bugs get out of plastic bags?
This depends on the type of plastic bag. You should also keep in mind that bed bugs are very small and if there is any opening that can accomodate them, they will be able to find it.
Some grocery bags have holes at the bottom that people hardly notice. These holes are there to ensure that if animals or small children play with the bag, they will not be suffocated. These holes may be small enough for people to not mind, but they are basically doors for bed bugs.
Drawstring bags also have a large enough hole at the top that bed bugs will have no problem going in and out of. Keeping bed bugs inside plastic bags will only work if the seal is completely air-tight. You can manage an air-tight seal by closing the mouth of the plastic bag with tape.
As long as the plastic bag is sealed with tape and has no holes, the bed bugs will not be able to escape. They do not have mouth parts that allow them to chew and bite through any kind of sturdy material. The only way bed bugs can get through a sealed bag is if it tears accidentally, or if another animal or insect creates holes in the bag, giving the bed bugs means of escape.
How long can bed bugs live in a ziplock bag?
Despite being smaller than the typical plastic bag, ziplock bags are not any more effective at suffocating bed bugs.
There are some ways you can use ziplock bags to protect your things from bed bugs.
You can keep some clothes inside ziplock bags that you want to protect from bed bugs. For example, placing a complete outfit in a ziplock bag before placing it in your luggage can help protect it from possible bed bugs in hotel rooms.
You can store electronics inside ziplock bags because it is possible for them to be infested by bed bugs.
Can a bed bug chew its way through a plastic bag?
No, bed bugs cannot chew through a plastic bag. Bed bugs do not have the anatomical mouth parts with lips or teeth that will allow them to bite and chew a hole in any material that is any thicker or sturdier than a skin-like membrane.
Bed bugs have a straw-like beak, much like a mosquito, that pierces through the host’s skin. Since blood is all a bed bug needs to survive, they have not evolved past a mouth that just pokes a hole and drinks blood through skin.
If you are in a lab-controlled environment with scientific and industrial equipment that can create a true vacuum for the bed bugs in a plastic bag, then it might take a few minutes to suffocate bed bugs. But this is impossible to replicate in your own home, so you cannot really suffocate them.
You may use a plastic encasement to cover your mattress and box spring, but those are not used to suffocate bed bugs. They are used to protect your mattress from bed bugs, and in an already infested mattress, a plastic encasement will starve the bed bugs and keep them from infesting the rest of your house.
Image: istockphoto.com / smuay