Does Washing Clothes Kill Bed Bugs: Effective Laundry Strategies to Eradicate Pests

Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by Kimberly Crawford

When faced with a bed bug infestation, one of the first things you might wonder is whether washing your clothes can play a role in getting rid of these persistent pests.

Bed bugs are known for their ability to hitchhike on various items, including clothing, which can lead to their spread throughout your home. However, the good news is that washing your clothes can indeed be an effective method for killing bed bugs, but it’s important to do it correctly.

The key to eradicating bed bugs through laundry lies in the combination of water temperature and mechanical action. Heat is a well-known enemy of bed bugs, and washing infested clothing in hot water, followed by a cycle in the dryer at a high-temperature setting, can prove lethal to these insects.

It’s crucial to sort and seal infested laundry to prevent spreading bed bugs to other areas during transport. While washing is effective, it is part of a broader strategy that should include cleaning and possibly professional pest control measures for thorough eradication.

washing clothes kill bed bugs

Key Takeaways

  • Washing in hot water and drying at high temperatures can kill bed bugs on clothing.
  • Properly sorting and sealing laundry before washing is crucial to prevent spreading.
  • Combining laundry methods with overall cleaning and professional control is recommended for complete bed bug eradication.

Understanding Bed Bugs

bed bug washing machine

Have you ever woken up with itchy, red welts and immediately suspected the dreaded bed bug? Bed bugs are small, elusive pests that thrive within proximity to their food source—you!

They’re not picky about where they live, as long as they have access to regular meals. So let’s get to know these tiny nuisances a bit better.

A bed bug infestation can start with just one pregnant female. She lays eggs—up to five a day and hundreds over her lifetime. From these eggs hatch nymphs, juvenile bed bugs, that must feed on blood to grow. They pass through five growth stages before reaching adulthood, molting after a feast each time.

Bed bugs are masters of hide-and-seek. Their favorite hiding places include the piping of your mattress, seams of furniture, and folds of bedding. But their flat bodies can fit into the smallest crevices and cracks, waiting to emerge under the cover of darkness to feed.

Life StageDetails
EggsWhite, size of a pinhead
NymphGrow with blood, molt 5 times
AdultReddish-brown, size of an apple seed

Eliminating bed bugs requires more than a spin in the washer. Yes, heat can kill them, but let’s focus on identifying and understanding these crawlers first. Remember, don’t let the bed bugs bite—stay informed, and you’ll sleep tight!

Washing Infested Clothing

When dealing with a bed bug infestation, washing your infested clothing is a critical step. Not only is it an effective way to kill bed bugs, but using the right methods ensures these pests don’t spread further.

The Role of Water Temperature

Hot water is your ally in the battle against bed bugs. To eradicate bed bugs, your wash cycle should involve water that’s at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Bed bugs are unable to survive at this temperature, so be sure to check your machine’s settings or use a standalone thermometer to confirm.

Choosing the Correct Laundry Detergent

While the temperature is the main killer of bed bugs, choosing a suitable laundry detergent can also help. Opt for a detergent with additional cleaning properties or one that specifies its efficacy against pests, even though no particular brand has been proven to exterminate bed bugs on its own.

Washing Machine Settings

Your washing machine should be set to the hottest setting fabrics can tolerate to maximize the chances of killing bed bugs. After washing, move your clothes directly to the dryer and set it to the highest temperature the materials can handle for at least 30 minutes. This one-two punch of washing and drying is a proven method to ensure you’re bed bug-free.

Drying Clothes to Kill Bed Bugs

When it comes to eradicating bed bugs from your clothing, the dryer is your best friend. Utilizing high heat in a drying cycle is key, as it effectively kills bed bugs at all life stages.

High Heat Drying

To successfully eliminate bed bugs with your dryer, set it to the highest heat setting that your clothes can safely tolerate. Research indicates that sustaining a temperature of at least 120°F (49°C) for a minimum of 30 minutes is necessary to exterminate both bed bugs and their eggs.

For example, a study referenced by Terminix notes that clothes should be exposed to temperatures surpassing 120 degrees for effective results.

  • Check clothing labels to ensure the fabric can handle high heat.
  • Dry longer than 30 minutes if your dryer doesn’t reach the minimum temperature immediately.

By adhering to these temperature guidelines, you can turn an ordinary laundry task into an effective pest control measure.

Drying Without a Dryer

If a dryer isn’t an option, there are still ways to use heat to combat bed bugs in your clothing:

  • Seal clothes in black plastic bags and place in the sun: The interior temperatures can become hot enough to kill bed bugs.
  • Use a portable heating unit: These are specifically designed to heat-treat items that cannot go in the dryer.

Remember, consistent and thorough heating is crucial for this method to succeed—it’s the extended exposure to lethal temperatures that does the trick, not the dryer per se.

Treatment Options for Non-Washable Items

When tackling bed bug infestations, not everything can be tossed into the washing machine. Non-washable items require special attention to ensure that bed bugs are effectively eliminated.

Dry Cleaning

For items like dry-clean-only garments and delicate fabrics, consider professional dry cleaning. Although bed bugs are susceptible to the high temperatures involved in dry cleaning processes, it’s essential to inform the cleaners of the infestation so they can take appropriate precautions to prevent cross-contamination.

  • Remember: Before transport, seal items in airtight bags and label them clearly.

Freezing Infested Items

Freezing can be an effective method for items that can’t withstand heat. Place items like stuffed animals, books, or shoes into a freezer, ensuring that it’s set at 0°F (-18°C).

  • Duration: Keep items frozen for at least four days to ensure that any bed bugs are killed.

Using a Clothes Steamer

A clothes steamer offers a safe and efficient way to treat items such as luggage, curtains, or upholstered furniture. Heat treatment with a steamer must reach at least 120°F (49°C) directly applied to the infested areas.

  • Technique: Slowly move the steamer over the surface to penetrate all layers of the fabric.

By utilizing these methods, you can effectively manage a bed bug situation involving non-washable items, safeguarding your other belongings from infestation during your travel and daily life.

Precautions with Bed Bug-Infested Laundry

When handling bed bug-infested laundry, careful steps must be taken to prevent spreading the pests. Utilize specific containment tools for transport and storage to ensure that these pests can’t infest new areas.

Sealing Contaminated Clothing

Begin by placing your contaminated clothing into sealed plastic bags or trash bags. This step is crucial to mitigate the risk of bed bugs escaping and infesting other areas of your home. Before sealing, compress the items to remove excess air, which makes for easier transport and storage.

Transport and Storage

Transporting contaminated laundry must be done with care. Ensure that the sealed bags are placed in a secondary container, like a plastic container, which provides an additional layer of security. Once transported, store these containers away from clean items to eliminate the possibility of cross-contamination.

Avoiding Cross-Contamination

To avoid cross-contamination, transfer clothing directly from the sealed bags to the washing machine. Be vigilant: inspect the washing area for any stray bugs to prevent them from spreading. After washing, examine the clean laundry and the washing machine itself to ensure all bed bugs have been eradicated.

Cleaning and Disinfecting the Household

In tackling a bed bug infestation, effective cleaning and disinfecting is critical. This means more than just doing laundry; it involves deep-cleaning techniques that target bed bugs in all corners of your home.

Vacuuming and Steam Cleaning

Vacuuming plays a pivotal role in removing bed bugs and their eggs from mattresses, rugs, and furniture. When vacuuming, pay careful attention to seams, edges, and crevices where these pests love to hide.

  • Use a powerful vacuum with a HEPA filter to ensure that even the smallest particles are captured.

Steam cleaning is another powerful ally, as high temperatures can kill bed bugs on contact.

  • Focus on your mattresses, rugs, and upholstered furniture with a good quality steamer that can reach at least 120°F, which is lethal to bed bugs.

Disposal and Treatment of Infested Furniture

Sometimes, the infestation level might lead you to consider disposal of certain items. If furniture or mattresses are heavily infested, it might be time to part ways. However, simply throwing these items out can spread the infestation, so:

  • Mark them as infested or destroy them to prevent reuse.

When possible, instead of disposing, you could opt for professional heat treatment which involves raising the temperature of your belongings to levels that eliminate bed bugs.

Routine Home Cleaning Practices

Keep on top of routine cleaning with a keen eye for early signs of bed bugs. Change and wash your sheets and pillowcases weekly, and give your rugs a good shake and air out regularly.

  • Encase your mattresses and pillows in protective covers to make inspection and cleaning easier.
  • Regularly wash and dry your bed linens and clothing at high temperatures when possible, as this can kill bed bugs.

By maintaining these practices, you reduce the chance of an unnoticed bed bug population taking hold in your home. Remember, diligence in cleaning is a significant step towards ensuring your home remains bed bug-free.

Professional Pest Control

professional pet control bed bug

When dealing with bed bug infestations, sometimes the situation calls for expertise beyond DIY measures. This section will guide you on when to contact professional exterminators and what bed bug treatment methods they might employ.

When to Hire Professionals

There are scenarios where your bed bug problem is beyond a simple wash-and-dry strategy. If you’ve conducted a thorough inspection and found that your efforts to wash and heat-treat your clothes haven’t stemmed the tide of bed bugs, it’s time for professional intervention.

Professionals, or pest management experts, have the training to handle extensive infestations efficiently. They perform an in-depth inspection and determine the severity of the situation before proposing a course of action.

Bed Bug Treatment Methods

Professionals utilize an array of bed bug treatment methods. They may start with a chemical approach, using various insecticides designed to target bed bugs at different life stages.

Non-chemical methods include extreme heat treatments or steam applications, which are highly effective at eliminating bed bugs without leaving residual chemicals. Some professionals also use bed bug spray repellents as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to deter future infestations.

Remember, while laundering can kill bed bugs on clothes and bedding, professional treatment is oftentimes necessary for full eradication within your home.

Preventive Measures for Future Infestations

Staying vigilant with preventive strategies is key to keeping bed bugs at bay. Let’s explore practical steps you can take, particularly when traveling and in your daily life, to minimize the risk of bed bug infestations.

Travel Precautions

When traveling, you’re at a higher risk of encountering bed bugs. They can hitch a ride on your luggage and make themselves at home in your residence. To prevent this, be proactive:

  • Inspect Your Hotel Room: Before settling in, do a quick scan of the bed, headboard, and any upholstered furniture for signs of bed bugs.
  • Protect Your Luggage: Use hard-shell suitcases and luggage encasements to deter bed bugs. Elevate your luggage on racks away from walls and beds.

Applying a bed bug spray repellent to your luggage can add a layer of protection. On return, thoroughly clean all your travel items, and consider a hot water wash for all your clothes, even those unworn, as a precaution.

Maintaining a Clean Living Space

Hygiene plays a pivotal role in bed bug prevention in your living space. Follow these cleanliness tips:

  • Regular Vacuuming: Focus on mattresses, cushions, and furniture crevices to remove any bed bug introductions early on.
  • Declutter: A cluttered home provides more hiding spots for bed bugs. Keep your space tidy to reduce infestation risk.

Additionally, consider using protective covers on your mattresses and pillows designed to keep bed bugs out. With these tips, you’re not just cleaning; you’re actively preventing bed bug issues from taking root in your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

laundry bed bug faqs

When tackling the challenge of bed bugs, knowing the right laundry practices is key. Let’s address some common inquiries to help you effectively handle these pesky insects.

Can heat from a dryer exterminate bed bugs in garments?

Absolutely. The high temperatures provided by your dryer are lethal to bed bugs. Aim for at least 30 minutes of drying time on the highest setting your garments can handle to ensure all life stages of the bed bugs are eradicated.

What temperature should water be to ensure bed bugs are killed during washing?

The magic number for your wash cycle is 120°F (49°C) or higher. Washing your clothes at this temperature kills bed bugs and is typically considered safe for most fabrics.

Are there specific laundry detergents that are effective against bed bugs?

While standard laundry detergents clean well, there are no detergents that claim to have an increased effectiveness specifically against bed bugs. However, it is the high water temperature during washing and the intense heat during drying that does the trick.

How can you detect the presence of bed bugs in your clothing?

Look for tiny, reddish-brown insects, eggs, or small blood spots. If your clothes have a sweet, musty odor, this could also be a sign of an infestation.

What immediate steps should you take if you find bed bugs in your clothes?

Don’t panic. Immediately bag up the infested clothes in a sealed plastic bag to contain the infestation. Then, wash and dry them at high temperatures, and consider professional assistance for your home.

How should clothes be handled and treated when traveling to prevent bed bug infestation?

Keep your clothes in sealed bags while traveling and inspect any hotel room you stay in. On return, wash all your garments in hot water and dry them on high heat to prevent bed bugs from taking residence in your home.