It’s no secret that bed bug infestations are on the rise. These blood-sucking parasites have made a full throttled return to our shores, and bed bug activity is plaguing families throughout the country. These biting insects make no allowances for taste or decorum, and are as likely to invade a modest suburban home as they are a high-end townhouse. In short, they are likely to show up anywhere and at anytime.

While bed bugs get their common name from their favorite habitat, namely beds, they are just as likely to take up residence in other areas of the home. Closets and bureaus are extremely popular hiding spots for bed bugs. Unfortunately that gives them access to our clothing and personal items. So, the question you may be asking is – how worried should I be that bed bugs are infiltrating my clothes, and what should I do to protect myself and my family?

Can Bed Bugs Live on Clothing?

The question of whether on not bed bugs will live on clothing is difficult to answer. It’s true that bed bugs have ben found in clothing, but the more important question to answer is how do they get there in the first place. Bed bugs are sedentary by nature. They do not jump and they do not fly. So, for the most part they are not going to jump onto your clothing and start breeding new generations while your clothes are hung safely in a closet.

However, having said that, if you are in a building or a vehicle that has a bed bug infestation there is a good chance one or more will find a way to attach themselves to your coat or bag. While they prefer to remain stationary, once attached to you they can cling on long enough to be transferred to your own home, this is where the trouble starts.

For example, let’s say you are in a public building that is experiencing an ongoing bed bug infestation. A stray bug or two attaches themselves to your overcoat, and when your get home you put that coat in your closet with your other clothes. Once inside the closet the bed bugs will likely detach from the coat and fall to the ground, scattering to the baseboards where they will begin to build a colony. But if you have clothing stored on the floor of your closet, or if you keep your dirty laundry close by, those bed bugs may very well end up snuggled in with your shirts and trousers. That can spell trouble, especially if the bed bugs go unnoticed for any length of time.

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live on Clothing?

If you find that you have bed bugs in your clothing, either in clean clothes or in your dirty laundry basket, you need to address the problem immediately. While it may be tempting to try to starve the pests out, that simply is not an option. Bed bugs can live for months without feeding, so simply ignoring them and hoping the problem will go away is not realistic. Moreover, even if the bed bugs have made your laundry their home they will venture forth looking for food and new areas in your home to build nests and breed. 

Laundering Clothes to Eliminate Bed Bugs

If you think that bed bugs have infested your dirty laundry, or have even made it into your clean clothes racks or closets, you need to take immediate steps to address the situation. Naturally, you are going to want to wash all of the affected clothes, and as quickly and thoroughly as possible. But before you grab an armful of laundry and head to your washer and dryer we need to talk about the right way to approach bed bug infested clothing.

Step-by-Step Guide to Washing Bed Bug Infested Clothing

There are three main steps to washing bed bug infested clothing, and in order to fully remove these pesky insects it is important to follow these steps closely. The steps can be broken down as follows:

Sorting –

  • In the infested area pre-sort your clothes as normal, placing each pile into its own plastic bag. Pay attention to washing instructions and make a note of the highest acceptable wash and dry temperatures for each batch.
  • Separate out any dry-clean only pieces. While these cannot go in the washer you will want to run them through a dryer cycle before taking them to the cleaners.
  • Carefully seal all of the plastic bags before moving taking them to your laundry room. This is an important step, as you want to minimize the chances of spreading bed bugs throughout your home.

Washing and Drying –

  • Empty the plastic laundry bag into your washer. For dry-clean only articles empty the bag into the dryer.
  • When the plastic laundry bag is emptied, carefully fold the opening into the center of the bag and wrap the remainder around of the bag around that opening. Put the folded bag into a separate clean bag and seal it closed with tape before disposing into an outside trash receptacle.
  • Wash and dry clothing on the highest temperature the fabrics can withstand.
  • Dry-clean only articles can be placed in the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes at medium to high settings. The heat from the dryer will kill the bed bugs, after which you will want to take your clothes to your usual dry cleaner.

Storing Clean Clothes –

  • Fold clothes as soon as they are removed from the dryer and place them into new plastic bags. (If you are doing your laundry in a commercial Laundromat place your clean clothes in a fresh plastic bag and carefully seal it shut. Avoid placing your clean clothes on any tables or work surfaces without carefully inspecting the area first)
  • Keep your clean clothes in plastic bags until you have satisfactorily addressed the bed bug infestation in your home. Remember, your clothes were likely the vehicle that brought the bed bugs into your house or apartment, and they have most likely migrated into other areas of your home.
  • Once your home has been inspected and treated for bed bugs, and your exterminator has given you the all clear, unpack your clean laundry and return it to your closet.

Follow Through with a Professional Inspection

Bed bugs can be killed by water and heat, and washing your clothes and linens is a good way to help reduce the number of bed bugs in the home. However, this is only a stopgap, and does little to solve the larger problem – namely, a household bed bug invasion.

If you have noticed bed bugs on your clothes, there is a greater than even chance that you have bed bug colonies in your home. To fully address the situation before it becomes any worse you should contact a professional bed bug removal service and schedule a canine inspection. After the inspection your exterminator will develop an actionable plan to fully eradicate any bed bugs that are lurking in your home.