Killing Bed Bugs in Pillows (in 7 Easy Steps)

Bed bugs are unpleasant enough if you find them hiding underneath your mattress. But, if you were to notice them in your pillow, it’s difficult to imagine anything worse. Nobody wants parasitic bugs near their face and neck. That’s why you need to find the best way of killing bed bugs in pillows.

Start by putting your pillows in a sealed bag. Place them directly in the washing machine, and wash at high heat with regular detergent. Then, if you can, dry your pillows in the dryer. The water, detergent, and heat should combine to kill 100% of bed bugs and their eggs.

Cleaning pillows and killing the bed bugs inside will be easy if you follow the steps that we’ve provided below. But, do you want to get rid of bed bugs for good? Then you’ll have to treat your mattress and the rest of your room. Otherwise, your pillows will become infested again.

Do Bed Bugs Live in Pillows?

Bed bugs can hide in pillows, although far less frequently than they hide in mattresses. Pillows offer several things that bed bugs consider when they set up a harborage:

  • The pillow is right next to you, so you’re easy to access for feeding
  • The underside of the pillow is dark
  • There are lots of creases in the fabric of the pillow
  • There’s a way to get inside the pillow and find further safety

The only downside is that as you sleep, you might move the pillow around. That’s why pillows usually only get infested when the infestation is severe.

That means there will already be lots of bed bugs under your bed. The bed bugs searching for a new home have to find somewhere else, and pick your pillow.

  • Do bed bugs live in feather pillows? They can, although there’s nothing about feathers that attracts them more than other materials.
  • Do bed bugs live in memory foam pillows? If anything, memory foam is better than regular pillow material. That’s because the weight of your head is distributed evenly, so the bed bugs won’t be crushed by your head.
  • Do bed bugs live in regular pillows? Bed bugs can live in regular pillows too. They will especially choose to live in and around the cover of the pillow, rather than inside the stuffing.

The chances of bed bugs being in your pillow increase if you don’t frequently wash it. The same applies if you don’t move your pillow around, e.g. by fluffing it before you sleep.

Do Bed Bugs Lay Eggs in Pillows?

Bed bugs will lay eggs in your pillow. They will usually only do so if there’s already an infestation elsewhere. That’s because of the way females like to lay their eggs.

When a bed bug female mates, they can lay eggs for six to eight weeks afterward. However, if she were to stay in the place where she mated, other males would repeatedly try to mate with her. This would cause damage to her shell and stop her from laying eggs.

When a female is fertile and able to lay eggs, she will leave. She will head away from her harborage and stop when she gets somewhere safe. This place will then become a new harborage, as she lays her eggs there, one after the other.

Your pillow is close to the underside of your mattress. It’s often the first place a female reaches, stops, and lays her eggs. If she doesn’t like your pillow, she might pick:

  • Nearby furniture, e.g. your nightstand
  • Another part of the mattress, if the mattress isn’t fully occupied
  • The crack between the headboard and the wall
  • The crack between the baseboard and the wall
  • The gap between the carpet and the wall

Really, anywhere that provides a little safety will do.

What Are the Signs of Bed Bugs in Pillows?

Identifying bed bugs in pillows is easy. The first thing you should look for are the bed bugs themselves. They are small brown bugs, about the same size and shape as an apple seed.

They scuttle along quickly if disturbed, e.g. when you lift your pillow. If left alone, they don’t move around as much. Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. Check for the following signs:

  • Fecal staining. Bed bug pillow stains are usually the bed bug’s droppings. They soak into the fabric as they’re mostly fluid, not solid. The stain they leave behind looks like a black ink stain.
  • Old shells. As bed bugs get older, they grow larger. To accommodate their growing size, they have to shed their shells. These shells don’t rot, since they’re dry and tough.
  • Dead bed bugs. Dead bed bugs look like old shells, curled up, but more solid. If you squash a bed bug while they’re digesting, then they’ll leave a crushed mess behind.
  • Blood stains. There may be small blood stains left behind from bite marks, or that the bed bugs dropped. Or if you squash a bed bug, there will be a bigger stain.
  • Bed bug smell. Bed bugs have a distinctive scent, that smells a little sweet like berries, and similar to cilantro. It’s also described as musty like an old house with damp, or rotting wood.

Check your pillow for these signs. If you can’t see them, the bed bugs likely aren’t living there. Check underneath your mattress, too, just by lifting the corner.

If you can’t find any, hire a bed bug sniffer dog. These dogs are trained to be able to spot infestations before they get too serious. Humans can’t hear bed bugs.

Killing Bed Bugs in Pillows

There are two basic ideas that are central to the whole process:

  1. Limit their opportunity to escape. Stop them from infesting other parts of your home.
  2. Use heat, water, and detergent to kill bed bugs in pillows. Other home remedies aren’t as effective.

It’s important to note that this isn’t the only way to kill bed bugs. Laundering is effective, but so is heat treatment, and so are pesticides in their own way. But this step by step guide is something you can follow today, without any special purchases.

bed bugs in pillows only

Bag Your Pillows in Sealable Bags

Bag your pillows in a thick plastic bag, and pick up the pillows quickly to put them in. With the pillows inside, seal the bag shut. Don’t pick bags with premade seals, because these aren’t designed to be completely airtight.

Instead, take a regular bag and twist the top tightly. Then tape it down while twisted. With the top taped down like this, there’s no chance of any bed bugs getting out.

The point of bagging your pillows is to contain the infestation. If you were to carry the pillows down the hall to your washing machine, there’s a chance the bed bugs could escape. Worse still, there’s a chance they could start infestations elsewhere.

You should try to bag the pillows quickly so that no bed bugs get away. If you pick them up and inspect them, this gives the bed bugs a chance to hide elsewhere in your room.

Wash Your Pillows

Take the bag to the washing machine, and empty it directly inside. Wash the pillows on a high heat and for at least an hour. You can use regular laundry detergent.

Laundering kills bed bugs in three ways. The water will drown them if they’re in there for long enough, and get completely soaked. The heat (above 122 degrees) will kill them in just a few minutes. And regular detergent kills them on contact.

Not only that, but eggs die in high heat too. Laundering is one of the best ways to kill bed bugs. The only problem is that you can’t launder all your possessions. So, while this works for bedding and pillows, you obviously can’t launder electronics or bigger items.

When you’ve put the washing into the machine, tie the bag up again. Then take it outside straight away to throw it in the trash. This will prevent any bed bugs that may still be in there from re-infesting your home.

Dry Your Pillows

Once the laundry is done, transfer it to your dryer. Dry your pillows at a medium or high heat to ensure that every bed bug is dead. Make sure that your pillows can be dried before you do.

The idea is to kill both bed bugs and their eggs with high heat. Temperatures above 122 degrees are fatal within minutes, so drying is a good way to kill them. If you can’t launder your pillow, then just drying it is good enough.

This step isn’t 100% necessary. If you laundered the pillows for long enough, then the bed bugs should be dead. However, if by chance just one survived (or an egg), then drying will finish them off.

Check Your Pillows for Bed Bugs

After your pillows are done drying, check them for bed bugs and eggs. If they really were infested, you should see several dead bed bugs inside them. Turn them inside out if possible and shake them to get them out.

You should also check for eggs. Eggs are small white specks, usually as big as a grain of rice, and the same color. They stick to fabric but can come loose in the wash. Check the lining of the inside of your pillow to see if you can find any.

There shouldn’t be any, but if there are, scrape them away with a knife. After laundering they should come away easily. If not, pick at them until they do.

Store Your Bedding and Clothes Securely

When you’re done laundering and drying your pillows, it’s important that you store them securely when not in use. This will prevent any bed bugs from laying their eggs in them, thus keeping the infestation at bay.

To store your pillows securely when not in use, use a sealable plastic tub or bin. Keep securely closed, preferably not in the bedroom, at all times. Bed bugs can’t burrow through plastic, so your pillows will be safe.

Do the same with your other bedding and clothes. Bed bugs like clutter, especially in the bedroom. Anywhere that offers tiny gaps and crevices is a potential harborage for them. This means clothes and bedding are prime targets even if folded and stored neatly.

Treat Your Bed for Bed Bugs

You could use a pesticidal spray, which is what most people do. Pesticidal sprays kill on contact, and linger for weeks, repelling and killing all the while.

Alternatively, you could use diatomaceous earth to kill bed bugs. Diatomaceous earth is a powder that, again, kills on contact. It can also repel, since bed bugs try to avoid walking through it.

Better than anything is to hire an exterminator for heat treatment. Heat treatment raises the temperature of your whole house, hot enough to kill bed bugs. The pesticide exterminators use is fine too, but takes weeks to work.

If you don’t treat the infestation under your bed, then your pillow will become re-infested. It won’t take that long for the bed bugs to find it again.

Wash Your Pillow Again

It’s important to keep going, and doing everything you can to kill your bed bug infestation.

If you treat your bed with pesticides, then it will take several weeks for the infestation to clear for good. Over this time, you should set up traps in order to get rid of them more quickly.

Because the infestation will still be there, dying bit by bit, you should wash your pillows repeatedly. Either do so on a regular schedule, or check each night to see if there are any more bugs or eggs. If there are, bag your pillows and wash them as soon as you can.

It’s only by being diligent and continually killing them that you’ll get rid of every bed bug.

Should You Throw Out Bed Bug Infested Pillows?

If your pillows keep getting infested, even though you follow our steps above, you may be tempted to throw them out. There are good reasons why you shouldn’t do this:

  • Picking up your pillow in order to throw it out can spread the infestation. Just carrying it through your house can cause the bed bugs to spread elsewhere.
  • Pillows are almost never the origin of an infestation. Infestations start under the mattress.
  • If you were to buy new pillows to replace your old ones, the new ones would get infested too.
  • Pillows can be expensive. Since you can kill a bed bug infestation in a pillow, try again before throwing it away.

Bed bugs don’t go away of their own accord. You have to kill them and repel them, wherever they’ve set up their home. Do everything you can to kill the bed bugs in your bed, your furniture, and anywhere else they’re living.

Only then will you begin to see real improvements, like fewer bites and better sleep.

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Lou Carter

Hi, I'm Lou. I’ve long been fascinated by bed bugs, ever since a friend’s life was turned upside down. That’s why I’ve put together this specialist site. You’ll find detailed answers to all of your questions on how to get rid of a bed bug infestation. I hope you find it useful!

1 thought on “Killing Bed Bugs in Pillows (in 7 Easy Steps)”

  1. I was gifted a duvet and I took it in and had it dry-cleaned. I now see that I have bed bug shells or did bed bugs on the Dube how do I get rid of them


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