People think that bed bugs only live in bedding. But if you didn’t know, they can live in furniture, under the sides of your carpet, and even in your wardrobe. If the idea of walking around in bed bug infested clothes disgusts you, then you have to learn how to kill them quickly.
Bag your clothes and put them directly straight into the washing machine. Wash them as normal, and at as high a heat as possible. Drying kills bed bugs too. Store your clothes away from your wardrobe until you spray it, and the bed bugs there will die.
After you’re done with your first batch of washing, keep going, and store your clothes in airtight tubs. If you follow this procedure with your clothes at all times, there’s no chance of your clothes remaining infested. Learn how to get bed bugs out of clothing, bedding, towels and more.
Table of Contents:
Do Bed Bugs Die in Water?
Bed bugs spend their lives hiding under mattresses and furniture. They aren’t outdoor bugs, and won’t ever encounter puddles, rain or other bodies of water. They don’t know how to swim.
If you were to put them into a glass of water, they would drown in a couple of minutes. That’s how bed bug traps work—you place a small plastic dish around each foot of your bed, fill it with a little water, and kill any bed bugs that try and reach you.
The same applies to when you put bed bugs in the laundry. There’s no way for them to survive being in water for that long. And even if they could, the heat of the water can kill them too. That’s why laundering your things is one of the best ways to contain bed bugs.
However, it’s no good just putting your clothes in the wash—there’s a whole process to it that can make it much more effective.
Does Dish Soap Kill Bed Bugs?
If you want a laundry soap that kills bed bugs, you don’t have to buy top-of-the-line detergent. Regular dish soap can kill bed bugs, but only on contact. However, it doesn’t work as a repellent like common pesticides.
How does soap kill bed bugs? It works by breaking down the outer layer of the bed bug’s shell, called the exocuticle. This thin layer stops the bed bug’s internal moisture from evaporating, which is necessary because they feed infrequently, and never drink. When this external layer is scratched away, or broken down by soap, the bed bug dries up and dies.
However, it only works on contact. Pesticides work without direct contact because the chemicals linger and stick to surfaces. Water and dish soap is easily absorbed, so don’t have the same effect.
You can still use dish soap as part of a DIY bed bug spray. Believe it or not, but many commercial sprays contain soap as one of their active ingredients.
Can Bed Bugs Live in Clothes?
Bed bugs don’t choose to live in clothes. They prefer to live in cracks and corners, where it’s dark, and they’re unlikely to be disturbed. Because you no doubt check your wardrobe each morning and look through your clothes, they won’t enjoy being there.
They may choose to live in clothes if those clothes are left in piles on the floor. This is part of the reason why people associate bed bugs with messy or dirty living.
Anything that’s left on the floor could potentially be a bed bug harborage. A study in Scientific Reports shows that they like to live in worn clothing, indicating that they still smell your scent on it.
Bed bugs can hitch a ride in your clothing, though. This is the easiest way for them to travel between houses. They will hide inside the hem of your jeans, in the crack between your shoe and the sole, or your pockets. They won’t stay there once they get to your home, but it does happen.
How to Wash Clothes Exposed to Bed Bugs
Washing bed bug clothes is all about quarantine. You have to find a way to wash them without spreading bed bugs throughout your house.
Bag Your Clothes
You have to bag your clothes, or failing that, put them in a sealable box.
You can’t just pick them up and carry them to the washing machine. Or worse yet, you can’t put them with the rest of your clothes in the hamper. If you do, and there are bed bugs in your clothes, then they’ll spread around your house if you carry them openly.
You should bag your clothes. Bagging is better than using a box, since as we’ll point out later, it’s important to open and dump the bag directly into the washing machine. This is easier with a bag than a box. Pick sizeable plastic bags that are reasonably thick, so that they don’t develop any tears.
You should bag everything, all at once. Take all of your affected clothes and bag them, even if you’re not going to wash them immediately. Bed bugs can’t get out of sealed bags and boxes, so you’re preventing the infestation from getting any worse.
If this concerns you, you could bag the clothes according to color and wash temperature. Then, write on the outside of the bag, or affix labels so that you know which bag is which.
Seal the Bag
Once you’ve bagged your clothes, you have to seal the bags. This is easily done with tape, but you could do it with string or something else if you like. The important thing is that the bag is completely sealed, with no possible way for bed bugs to get in or out.
Remember, bed bugs can fit through the tiniest gaps, so you can’t just tape the open end of the bag down in one place but leave another part open.
For the best seal, you should twist the top of the bag shut before taping it. Twist it hard, over and over, before taping the twist in place. No bed bug would be able to get out of that.
If this seems a little excessive, remember that just one female bed bug is enough to start an infestation. After mating, they lay eggs for six to eight weeks, egg after egg after egg. So, if even one gets out, all of your effort will have been for nothing.
Put the Contents into the Washing Machine
You have to wash your clothes bag by bag. Take the first bag and put it into the washing machine. Yes, directly inside, without opening it.
Then rip the tape off, cut the bag, or do whatever you have to do to dump the clothes inside. If you were to do this outside of the washing machine, or not use a bag at all, then you would spread bed bugs around your home.
Set the washing machine to the appropriate temperature. Check your care tags and wash items by temperature grouping, if possible. For ideal bed-bug-killing results, wash at a high temperature for a long time. At least half an hour is necessary to kill both bed bugs and their eggs.
Once you’re done with it, take the bag and put it inside another sealed bag/box. Throw the bag away in the outside trash can. The point of doing so is again to avoid accidentally spreading any bed bugs that might have still been in there.
Clean your Wardrobe
As your clothes are washing, you should take the opportunity to clean your wardrobe. It should be empty, with all of your clothes bagged up securely, preferably out in the yard or your garage. With your wardrobe bare, it’s time to clean up.
You’re going to need a bed bug spray. Spray into any corners and cracks, anywhere that bed bugs might live, such as the upper and lower corners of the inside of the wardrobe, and inside and behind any drawers that are inside your wardrobe. Once you spray in these areas, leave the spray to dry. In all instances, follow the instructions on the spray can.
If you’re only worried about one set of clothes, you won’t need to do this step. Say for example that you went to a friend’s house, only to learn that your friend has bed bugs. You would be fine only bagging and washing those clothes, since the rest of your wardrobe wouldn’t have been affected.
Killing Bed Bugs in Dryer
Once the first load of laundry is done, you should dry your clothes. Just take the clothes from the washing machine drum and transfer them to the dryer, as you usually would.
Take a quick look to see if you can see any dead bed bugs. No bed bug would be able to survive the washing machine, so if there were any in there, they would now be dead.
For best results, it’s recommended that you dry everything you launder in a dryer rather than leave it to dry in the air. The dryer on its own can kill bed bugs better than almost anything else.
Bed bugs die quickly in temperatures higher than 118 degrees. Dryers work at higher temperatures than this. GE’s dryers, for example, go up to 125 degrees at ‘Low Heat’ and 135 degrees at ‘High Heat.’ At this level, bed bugs die in minutes.
There are good reasons to use a dryer rather than leave your clothes to dry naturally. There’s a minute chance that a bed bug might have survived.
Maybe your washing machine doesn’t use much water, so the bed bugs didn’t drown. Or, maybe they were hidden inside a pocket or hem of some kind and had access to a small amount of air.
In the dryer, there’s no hiding from the heat. Second, the dryer will fry any eggs that may have survived the wash, too. So for best results, use a dryer.
Wash the Rest of Your Clothes
If you’re washing your whole wardrobe, the next step is to keep washing each bag using the same process described above. Only by washing all of your clothes, bag by bag, can you completely ensure that all of the bed bugs are dead.
If you want to cut down on your infestation, treat all of your clothes the same. Instead of leaving clothes out in the hamper, keep them in sealed boxes or bags.
Say for example that your work uniform sat in the hamper for a few days before you washed it. If you caught bed bugs from work, then the bugs inside will have long ago scattered, and maybe even got to your mattress.
Bagging all of your dirty clothes prevents this from happening. Continue this process indefinitely, or at least until your infestation is gone.
Store Your Clothes Securely
Once your clothes are dried, it’s time to store them securely. However, you shouldn’t put them straight back into the wardrobe.
Commercial bed bug sprays don’t immediately kill every single bed bug. They take many weeks to have a full effect. Even then, there may be one or two bed bugs left.
It’s important not to use your wardrobe to store your clothes, at least not yet. Instead, store your clothes in sealable plastic bins/tubs.
The point is to prevent any bed bugs from being able to get in, or out, at any time. This stops them from being able to spread to other parts of your room. Make sure that you buy enough tubs to store all of your clothes.
Store Your Outdoor Clothes Separately
Of critical importance is that you store your outdoor clothes separately to your indoor clothes. By outdoor clothes, we mean everything including:
- Your work uniform/uniforms
- Your coat
- Your boots or sneakers
- Your scarves, hat, and gloves
Infestations typically spread because we bring bed bugs back to our homes accidentally. Say you go to a friend’s house. As you’re sat on their couch, a bed bug scuttles out from underneath and hides in your bag, nearby. Unbeknownst to you, you’ll bring them home later that night, and they’ll scuttle into your room, under your bed, and be there that night to feed.
But if you keep your outdoor clothes separate to your indoor clothes, there’s no chance of that happening. When you get home, you put your bag and coat into your outdoor clothes bin, and your outfit straight into the wash.
Any bed bugs in your bag can’t infest your home, and will die if you spray the inside of the box. And any bed bugs that might have gotten into the hem of your outfit, or into a pocket, will be killed in the laundry.
This kind of quarantine is as basic as it gets, but it can and will stop infestations before they start.
How to Remove Bed Bugs in Bedding and Towels
Killing bed bugs in bedding is a similar process. You can wash and dry them for similar results.
If your bedding is white, you could also try using bleach instead of detergent. Bleach kills on contact just like detergent does. Hotels and motels (or the cleaning companies that clean for them) will leave sheets to soak in bleach to thoroughly disinfect them before cleaning them properly.
As for towels, there aren’t likely to be any bed bugs in them anyway. The only way that bed bugs would get into towels is if you had a big pile of them that you hardly ever used.
If so, consider keeping them boxed up just like your clothes. This will stop infestations before they start.
How to Kill Bed Bugs in Clothes That Can’t Be Washed
If you have clothing or bedding that can’t be washed in a regular washing machine, you have several options. The first is dry cleaning.
Dry cleaning kills bed bugs outright, although you may struggle to find a dry cleaner’s that’s comfortable with your customers if your bedding and clothes are completely infested.
Aside from that, you could try spraying your items with a pesticidal spray. Spray usually takes weeks to kill every single bed bug, but in this case, it shouldn’t take too long. There aren’t many places to hide in fabric bedding or clothes, not like there are in furniture.
You could try sealing the infested clothes in a bag for long enough that the bed bugs die. Be warned, though, as this can take a very long time.
In very warm conditions, bed bugs will live for two months. But in cooler conditions (50 degrees), bed bugs can live for a year or more without feeding.
If you do want to bag your clothes, be prepared to be without them for a while.
Best Laundry Detergent for Bed Bugs
You can use any laundry detergent to kill bed bugs. When you launder clothes to kill bed bugs, it’s not the detergent that kills them. It’s the combination of heat and water that does. You should use the detergent that you always use.
There also isn’t a special pesticidal detergent that you need. There is such a specific thing called insecticidal soap, but this is dissolved in water and used as a commercial pesticide on farms.