Can Bedbugs Survive in a Car?

Bedbugs. Nasty little bugs that infect our sheets, blankets, and luggage and then make us itch. While outbreaks and infestations had been going down until the 1990’s, many areas report a resurgence in these blood-sucking parasites.

While it’s safe to say we are accustomed to dealing with them in our homes and hotel rooms, what happens if we find out we have bedbugs in our vehicle? Can bedbugs survive in a car and if so, then how exactly do we get rid of them?

You’ll learn all that plus we’ll talk about what they eat, how they transport themselves, whether or not they carry disease, what temperature kills them and of course, how to kill them…including the car.

What are other names for bedbugs?

Bedbugs is the common term for the blood-feeding parasite regionally known as redcoats, chinches, chinch bugs, or mahogany flats.

Common Bedbug

Do Bedbugs walk or fly into our cars? Consuming mostly animal and human blood, their legs are not much use for crawling around, so their most common mode of transportation is to “hitchhike” on clothing, luggage, bedding and furniture.

They simply grab onto items and go for ride, after ride, after ride…until they end up halfway accross the world (or in your car).

bedbug picture attribution: source 

Do bedbugs carry diseases?

No, and it’s been studied. Researchers have not found a definitive connection between bedbug infestations and any particular disease outbreaks. And while your skin may look diseased during a bedbug infestation, it’s not.

Chemicals in the bedbug’s bite creates the itching and red spots you experience when you have been in contact with infected clothing or sheets.

What are the signs of a bedbug infestation?

You may be dealing with a bedbug infestation if you find:

  • exoskeletons left behind after bedbugs molt
  • bedbugs in the folds of mattresses or sheets
  • rust or blood-colored spots on cushions
  • musty, sweet smell

Most infestations occur in bedrooms and other places people sleep. However, the bugs can cling to fabric and be carried to other areas of the home. They can live in stored luggage then end up in your car during that all-important trip to the airport. You can carry home bedbugs from camping or a stay at a hotel, too.

How to kill bedbugs

Despite not being disease carriers, bedbugs are unarguably a nuisance pest . The bites are painful and young children and pets can be allergic. So how do you kill bedbugs?

Will Heat kill bedbugs?

It is something of a myth that heat kills bedbugs. People will advise you to just use a steam-cleaner or wash infested clothes in hot water and dry in a hot dryer. While research does show mature bedbugs will die in temperatures above 113 F degrees (45 C degrees), not all of them do, and none of the eggs do. So heat alone will not end a bedbug infestation.

So what’s another option? Whip out the nearest pesticide spray, right? Not so fast.

Bedbugs have unfortunately become resistant to many pesticides, including DDT. However, some newer mixes of pesticides containing the active ingredients deltamethrin (for cloth, linen) or synergized pyrethrins (for surfaces) can be used. Check the canister labels and follow directions.

The most reliable process to get rid of bedbugs involves both heat-treatment and pesticide, and repeat the process again in 1-2 weeks.

What temperature do bed bugs die?

As stated previously, mature bedbugs will die in temperatures above 113 F degrees (45 C degrees). If this was a reliable method to kill bedbugs, a hot car would never be infested with them. On a hot summer day in Florida the inside of a car can quickly reach 125 F (52 C) and stay at that temperature, even in shady parking garages.

The real problematic part of killing bedbugs is the eggs. Bedbug eggs survive heat-related treatments. This means that a re-infestation will occur within 1 to 2 weeks after you think you’ve gotten rid of them.

How do you kill bedbugs in a car?

When it comes to our bedding, linens, and mattresses can all be removed and washed or steam-cleaned from a bedroom, and there aren’t that many creases for them to hide so you can get good spray penetration with pesticides. This makes removing bedbugs from most homes and clothing relatively easy as long as one remains persistent.

However, a car has fewer removable parts and a lot more crevices. So insecticides and removing the eggs with vacuuming will be more important to the process. Here are the steps for killing bedbugs in a car:

  1. Remove anything that can be taken out: car seat covers, steering wheel covers, blankets, cushions. Wash everything thoroughly with hot water and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter or steam cleaner.
  2. Inside the car, use a HEPA filter vacuum, shop vac, etc., to remove exoskeletons, eggs, and mature bugs from what crevices you can reach.
  3. Spray the rest of the car with an aerosol insecticide. Most useful is one with the active ingredient synergized pyrethrins. Pay particular attention to the seat crevices and cushions.

WARNING: Use aerosol sprays only in a well-ventilated situation. Roll the windows down while you are working, wear a dust mask, and spray away from your face.

  • Do put the spray inside engine vents and parts of the car outside the passenger compartment. Otherwise they’ll just move out to these areas and come back when it’s clear.
  • Let the surfaces dry, then vacuum cushions to remove the dead insect carcasses.

There is just no getting around it. You will have to repeat the process again in 1-2 weeks to kill newly hatched bedbugs that escaped the first treatment.

Alternative Treatment

Some diatomaceous earth (powder) insecticides can be applied to car cushions (into the crevices) to help with stubborn infestations when you cannot wait hours to use the vehicle. But vacuum often to remove insect carcasses and reapply the powder.

Can bedbugs live in a car in winter?

Absolutely yes. Bedbug infestations can occur in any season. These resilient insects have been known to live for years in abandoned buildings with nothing more than a few rats to upon.

Preventing bedbugs

Bedbugs can be found everywhere in nature, so laying powder in tents, or in luggage and backpacks will minimize infestation. Hot showers, washing all clothes in hot water as soon as you return, and regularly cleaning bedding and clothes, are all important to keep bedbugs out of your home and off yourselves and your family.

Spray your luggage before you travel and after, and consider a travel size bed bug spray for your hotel mattress and other hot spots.


University of Florida, “Featured Creatures: common name: bed bug”

University of Florida EDIS/IFAS, “Bed Bugs and Blood-Sucking Conenose”

Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Federal Government “Bed Bugs FAQ”

Green Pest Solutions, “How to Treat Bed Bugs in Your Car” 

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