People tend to think of bed bugs as being confined to sleeping areas. While mattresses, sheets, and bed linen are an obvious destination for hungry bed b bugs they are by no means their sole habitat. Bed bugs can, and will, take up residence darn near anywhere in your home. They can live in furniture, under carpets, and in closets and wardrobes. The larger they infestation the more likely they will start to turn up throughout your home. That means that at some point (and likely fairly often) bed bugs are coming into close contact with your clothes.
While a bed bug probably wouldn’t choose to live in clothing they’ll often stake a claim to areas of the home where clothing is stored. Closets, wardrobes, laundry baskets can become home to wayward bed bugs, and that means they will be in direct contact with your family’s clothing. If the thought of stepping into a pair of trousers that have been home to a family of bed bugs disturbs you (and, frankly, how could it not) then it’s time we talked about how to handle clothes and linens that have been exposed to bed bug colonies.
First Things First
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of dealing with bed bug infested clothing let’s talk a little bit about these parasites and how they interact with our environment.
Bed bugs are primarily sedentary creatures. Once they have found a host environment they are unlikely to leave of their own accord. That’s why it is so important to call in a professional removal service at the first signs of an infestation. The sooner you act, the sooner you can restore your home to a bed bug free area. With that bit of warning out of the way, let’s move on to some specific information about bed bugs that will prove useful down the line when we’re dealing with infested clothing and linens.
Can Bed Bugs Survive in Water?
Bed bugs aren’t outdoor insects. They spend their lives inside, hiding in furniture and carpeting until it’s safe for them to come out and feed. Consequently, they rarely encounter many of the natural elements that could do them any real harm. Water, for example, is a bed bugs Achilles heel. If dropped in a glass of water a bed bug will struggle for a minute or two, but will ultimately drown. They are not equipped to survive submersion in liquids.
This makes water one of the primary tools when dealing with bed bug infested clothing and linens. When washing the items the bed bugs cannot survive being submerged in the washing liquid. Moreover, the heat of a standard wash cycle will also kill them and their eggs. This is good news for us, and makes for a useful weapon in our anti-bed bug arsenal.
Will Laundry Detergent Kill Bed Bugs?
The good news is that laundry detergent can kill bed bugs. The even better news is that the detergent you use doesn’t need to be expensive or in any way unique. IN fact, good old fashioned washing up liquid can kill bed bugs. All you need is a generic laundry detergent and you are good to go.
How does soap kill bed bugs? Simple. All soap products will break down the layers of a bed bug’s outer shell (the exocuticle to be precise). This thin outer layer prevents the bed bug’s inner moisture from evaporating. Once that layer is damaged or removed they will essentially dehydrate and die. However, the effectiveness of soap products is limited to contact. For any detergent or soap to break down a bed bug’s exocuticle it must come into direct contact with the insect.
Laundering Bed Bug Infested Clothing
Washing clothes that may be infested with bed bugs is chiefly about isolating the affected items in order to avoid spreading the insects throughout your home. So, let’s get down to brass tacks:
- Bag Your Clothes – You need to first start by bagging up any clothing that you feel may have been in contact with bed bugs. This is an important step, because you don’t want to spread any of the bed bugs throughout your home as you move the affected laundry to the washing machine. Remember, isolation is key. Bag everything you intend to wash at the same time, and move it to the washing area immediately. You don’t want to do this in stages. Also, be sure to use heavy-duty trash bags that can be tightly sealed. You want to avoid rips along the way that could allow a stray bed bug or two to escape.
- Seal the Bags – Step to is to securely seal the bags. This can be done with tape or string. The important thing here is you want to avoid any bed bugs escaping. A good trick to ensure a secure seal is to twist the mouth of the bag shut before taping or tying it closed. Remember, it only takes a couple of bed bugs escaping to restart a colony. A female bed bug can lay as many as five eggs a day, and up to 500 in a lifetime. It doesn’t take many strays to start an infestation.
- Put the Contents of the Bags Directly into the Washing Machine – Here’s where things get a little tricky. You will want to take your first bag of laundry and put it directly into the washing machine. That’s right – the whole bag. Without opening it. You don’t want any of the bed bugs to escape. With the bag safely inside the washing machine cut or tear the bag open and deposit the clothing in the machine. Once the clothes are out of the bag take the torn bag and place it into another sealable bag. Again, this is important. When you dispose of the bags you want to avoid any chance of releasing bed bugs back into your home.
- Wash the Clothes – Once you have you laundry in the machine add your detergent and set the machine to the appropriate wash cycle. For best results use the highest temperature possible for the fabrics you are washing. While water is enough to kill bed bugs the added heat will maximize results.
- Dry your Laundry – Once wash cycle has finished place your laundry in the dryer. For best results all clothing and linens should be dried in a dryer rather than left to air/drip dry. Set the dryer to the highest temperature you can. Bed bugs will die at temperatures of 118 degrees or greater, so a ride in the tumble dryer at high setting will kill and potential stragglers.
- Place Clean Clothes in Fresh Bags – When your laundry is fully dried place the clean clothing in sealable bags. Again, twist and seal the bags with tape. They may have to stay in the bags while you clean and inspect your wardrobes and closets. Once your home is bed bug free and your furniture passes inspection you can unpack your laundry and put everything away where it belongs.
- Repeat as Necessary – Finally, repeat all steps until you have washed and dried all infested laundry.
How to Kill Bed Bugs on Clothing that can’t be Machine Washed
One last thing, you may find that you have clothing that cannot be machined washed and tumble dried. There are a couple of ways to handle this. First, take them to your local dry cleaner. The process of dry cleaning kills bed bugs. It’s a sure thing. However, you may find it difficult to find a dry cleaner that is comfortable accepting bed bug infested items.
Your second option is to tightly seal the non-washable items in bags or plastic containers. After a while the bed bugs will die of starvation. However, the time it takes for this to happen can be excessive. Be aware that with this method you will likely have to go without the items in question for a fair amount of time.
If you feel your clothing has been exposed to bed bugs it is not the end of the world. While it is certainly unsettling to think about wearing clothes that have, even temporarily, been home to bed bugs there are steps you can take to handle the situation. If you follow the steps we’ve outlined here you should be able to remove any stray bed bugs from your laundry and restore your clothes and your home to bed bug free zone.