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How To Wash Clothes Exposed To Bedbugs

Updated
Don’t let bedbugs get in the way of laundry day.

“Goodnight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” was a phrase we all heard growing up. But as adults, how can we make sure that we really don’t let the bedbugs bite?

One way is learning how to wash clothes exposed to bed bugs. This guide will show you everything you need to know to kill bedbugs in the laundry.

How To Wash Clothes Exposed To Bedbugs

  1. Spray clothes with rubbing alcohol: If clothes are colorfast, you can spray them with rubbing alcohol.
  2. Sort the clothes: As you would normally separate your clothes, sort them into trash bags.
  3. Wash the clothes: Wash according to the clothing label instructions with regular detergent.
  4. Dry the clothes: Dry them with heat, if possible.


What Are Bed Bugs?

Bedbugs are small bugs that feed on human or animal blood. They tend to attack when we’re sleeping, which is slightly terrifying.

Thankfully, they don’t spread disease or contribute to any other health issues (1). They’re just pretty gross.

If you spot a small brownish bug, about the size of an apple seed, crawling around your bed, that’s a bedbug.

Bedbugs are actually travelers. They use luggage, purses, and backpacks to vacate from one place to another. They originate from infested areas and used furniture.

If you live in an apartment, they might migrate from your neighbor’s home into yours (2).

Where Do Bedbugs Commonly Hide?

Bedbugs are extremely thin, so they can creep into narrow hiding spots. You’ll catch them between luggage, clothing, sheets, couches, and, of course, your bed. They also tend to live in groups; where you find one bedbug, there might actually be many (3).

As creepy as this sounds, they’ve worked out that hiding in your bed means they have easy access to food at night.

If you keep your dirty laundry in the hamper for a long time before washing it, this becomes a bedbug’s paradise. They use dirty clothes to travel from one place to another (4).

If you’ve recently visited a hotel (where bedbugs remain a huge problem), be on the lookout. There’s a chance that bedbugs have latched onto your dirty laundry and ended up in your home.

Does Washing Clothes Kill Bedbugs?

It’s normal to panic initially when you find bedbugs in your home. Thankfully, there are solutions that don’t involve tossing your whole wardrobe away. Washing your clothes can kill bedbugs if you do it right.

Can Bedbugs Survive in Water?

It depends. Bedbugs will typically drown if put in water, so the short answer, is no, they can’t survive in water.

However, in a washing machine, there is still some access to air if they rise above the water. In that case, they have a slight possibility of surviving.

If you want to kill a bedbug in water, make sure it’s fully emerged into the water. Also, the water should be as hot as possible, exceeding 122 degrees Fahrenheit (5).

How Long Do Bedbugs Live on Clothing?

A bedbug’s typical lifespan is between six months and a year. (6).

However, if you have bedbugs living on your dirty laundry, they’re likely not getting any food. When a bedbug isn’t feeding, it can still survive for two to three months (7). This changes slightly depending on the climate in which they’re living.

How to Wash Clothes Exposed to Bedbugs (Step-by-Step)

Now that you’re armed with your bedbug tackling equipment, it’s time to walk you through the important steps to washing your clothes. Bedbugs, be gone!

  • Time: 15 minutes (plus washing and drying time).
  • Difficulty: Intermediate.

What You’ll Need

  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • Spray bottle.
  • Laundry detergent.
  • Trash bags
  • Washing machine
  • Dryer.

1. Spray Clothes With Rubbing Alcohol

For this step, you’ll need to check which clothing is colorfast. If the clothing label says to wash separately or with similar colors, it’s not colorfast, and you should skip this step.

On colorfast clothing, spray with rubbing alcohol as soon as you have found that there is a bedbug infestation.

This might not eliminate eggs or the infestation, but it will kill the live bedbugs.

Be Careful

Rubbing alcohol is flammable. So do this away from smoking areas or rooms where you sometimes have an open flame (8). This step can be skipped if you’re at all nervous.

2. Sort Your Clothes

It’s vital to sort your clothes according to the washing instructions on the labels.

For example, keep colors together, and items that can handle a hot wash. This saves you from destroying clothes in a washing cycle.

Keep the clothes in the trash bags as they wait for their turn in the washing machine. This prevents the bedbugs from moving to other areas in the house.

Sort the clothes in the infested area of your home or near your suitcase to prevent spreading the bedbugs through the house.

3. Wash the Clothes

Empty the bags into the washing machine one cycle at a time. Once you’ve emptied a bag, put it into a clean trash bag and dispose of it.

Wash the clothes at the hottest temperature the clothes can handle with your regular detergent. Choose the cycle required for the type of clothes you’re washing.

Be Careful

When emptying the clothes into the washer, do it carefully directly from the bag. If you throw them in, the bedbugs could become airborne or fall onto the floor, where they might travel to their next victim.

4. Dry the Clothes

You’ll want to dry the clothes at the hottest temperature the fabric can withstand for at least 30 minutes. If your dryer reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it can kill the bedbugs and their eggs (9).

Try This

Don’t want to clean the clothes but just want to kill the bedbugs? Then you can do this step without putting them through a washing cycle first.

What About Clothes That Can’t Go in a Normal Dryer?

For clothes that are dry-clean only, put them in a trash bag and bring them to your dry-cleaners. Make sure you tell them about the infestation, so they can decide whether or not to take them. Some dry-cleaners might not want to risk spreading the infestation to other customers.

Perhaps you have a clothing item that cannot be tumble dried at all. Don’t worry! You can take the items to a commercial laundry and use a dryer with a shelf to heat them. Make sure to subject them to heat for at least 90 minutes to ensure the bedbugs are killed.

One More Trick

If you have a car, you could leave the items on your dashboard on a scorching day. Do this for at least 12 hours.

Tips for Washing Clothes Exposed to Bedbugs

Do you want to go the extra mile to ensure your bedbugs are really gone? Or maybe you don’t have access to some of these supplies and tools? Here are some extra tips.

  • Be careful in communal areas: If you are in a shared laundry room, take extra precautions. Inspect folding areas and washing machines for bedbugs.
  • Try a clothes steamer: Follow the instructions on the steamer to use. The fabric steamer should reach between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill the bedbugs. Make sure to steam every inch of the clothing to eliminate the infestation.
  • Vacuum: A HEPA vacuum is a great purchase. If you use this after cleaning or steaming your infested clothes, it will pick up the remains of the dead bugs. Of course, make sure you empty the vacuum bag and dispose of it in an outside trash can.
  • Freeze your clothes: I know we’ve talked about heat non-stop, but freezing actually works, too. Try this tip for clothes that can’t be washed at a high temperature, such as silk, suede, shoes, or stuffed animals. Simply put the items in a plastic bag inside of your freezer. Set the temperature to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. This will kill the bedbugs, but you must leave them in the freezer for at least two days (10). Larger items may take longer.

FAQs

Can Bedbugs Survive in the Washing Machine?

The scary answer is yes. However, if you follow the steps above, they shouldn’t.

Make sure you’re using heat of some sort to kill the bedbugs. Whether that’s hot water, a steamer, or your tumble dryer, the heat should kill the bugs.

Remember

While bedbugs drown if fully submerged in water, the eggs do not. That’s why using heat is extremely important when washing clothes that have been exposed to bedbugs (11).

Can Frequent Washing and Drying Kill Bedbugs and Eggs?

Yes. If you frequently wash and dry your clothes at hot temperatures, you could be doing yourself a huge favor. This is a grand way to prevent and eliminate bedbugs.

If possible, you should wash every washable fabric you own. This includes couch covers, mattress protectors, and duvets.

What Type Of Laundry Soap Kills Bedbugs?

Use your regular laundry detergent when washing clothes exposed to bedbugs. It’s the heat and the water that’s doing the killing (12).

So, stick to a brand you know and love. It saves you money, too!


Break Up With Your Bedbugs

Now that you know how to wash clothes exposed to bedbugs, you never need to worry about an infestation again. You don’t want to wake up from one nightmare to another next time you’re in bed. With these simple tips, you can break up with your bedbugs forever.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!