This is an old FAQ, from November 2006. Some more recent data has changed our recommendations for how to deal with laundry. Some pest management professionals no longer require most customers to treat all their clothing; if your PCO doesn’t require it, I am not sure I would bother.
Other information below is still relevant. I’ve crossed out some of it, which is superseded by this FAQ on drying clothing.
Please read what’s below, but go to the dryer FAQ to get the most up to date information on laundry. And the news is good: studies have shown it is not as hard to kill bed bugs in clothes (or to kill bed bug eggs) as we used to think.
Here’s what I know about bed bugs in clothes:
Many experts feel that that you need
to wash and thendry all clothing, bedding and other items on hot for a very long time. You then need to seal them in airtight bags. Space bags, sealed properly, can be airtight but must be treated and stored with care. Ziploc XLs and XXLs (from Target, Home Depot, Drugstore.com) work well for sealing and re-sealing, but sometimes come open without warning. Some prefer 2 gallon ziplocs with individual outfits inside. Superthick 3mm lawn trash bags are very strong, and can be used with cable ties (from a hardware store) to provide an airtight seal. But do not use normal garbage bags and twist ties. They will not be airtight. Rubbermaid type plastic boxes and dry cleaners’ bags are also not airtight.
After this writing, it became well known based on expert research that drying items on hot alone is sufficient to kill all life stages of bed bugs in clothes and other fabrics. Note that tests were done on clean, dry socks, in which bed bugs were killed in 5 minutes. Since thicker items may take longer, I hear a general recommendation of 20 minutes or so (some say 30) on hot, if starting with clean, dry items. For more on various options, including using a washer only for those without access to a dryer, see this FAQ.
Some of us like to use long term solutions to store most things (bagged with cable ties or space bags) and then keep washing and using a few days’ worth in ziplocs. But it depends largely on what your lifestyle is like and how spartan you can be.
Whatever you do, do not put your freshly washed and dried or dry-cleaned stuff back in a dresser or closet as is. You must seal them up, or your clothing will be reinfested. (Also, don’t seal clothing and linens that have not been treated; you may be storing bed bugs which can come out later, when you think your pest problem is gone.)
How long to dry? I dry items for an hour. Others do 2 hours (which I don’t because I assume it will ruin stuff!) In any case, you should dry on hot until the item is bone dry, really hot and dry. And then do 20 minutes MORE. That’s my theory.
No one has verified exactly how long it will take.
And don’t believe anyone who tells you they know for sure– there is a lot of misinformation out there that people claim is correct about bed bugs. I’ve seen a document provided by the Australian government online which says temps below 48F or above 96F kill bedbugs and this is absolutely NOT true. Even seemingly reliable sources are often incorrect about how to deal with bed bugs–because remember, they are “new” to most western and northern countries after not being around much for decades.
So my advice is conservative: an hour will probably do most cloth items. 20 minutes after the thing is totally dry is safer. 2 hours is most conservative.
And another thing: we’re told dry cleaning will kill bed bugs. However, the possibility of infesting the dry cleaners is a real one. Be sure you warn the dry cleaner the items may contain bed bugs, so they will treat them carefully before cleaning. (I have not heard anyone say their dry cleaner turned them away when they said this.)
Be cautious with thick items, like comforters, pillows, down jackets. Even if you dry these on hot for a long time (as above) or dry clean them, be aware that it may be harder to eradicate bed bugs from these.
If you are trying to save an expensive comforter, down jacket, etc. then have it cleaned as above, but be aware that we’ve had one reader, S., who believes a comforter came out of dry cleaning, and harbored bed bugs which emerged 6 months later. There’s no way she can know for sure that this happened, but it really appears to be the case. Perhaps the dry cleaning was done improperly. Or perhaps the dry cleaner did not keep it separate from someone else’s infested stuff (good reason to come clean with your cleaners!) It is also possible that drying and dry cleaning thicker, denser items is just harder. The best thing is to be aware of this possibility. Better you discover this right after eliminating your infestation, rather than 6 months later when you pull the item out of storage, as S. did.
Liz, from the Bedbugger Yahoo Group, wrote the following post:
I’m curious about how everyone is managing clothing etc. Like you,
am trying to be super careful to keep from carrying anything to work
I’m using a series of XL Ziplocs that are labeled quarantine, clean
I bought new shoes and a new purse, which are placed in “quarantine”
Ziplocs in the living room as soon as I come in the door at night.
Coats (which were either washed or dry cleaned) are also placed in
the quarantine bags.
Except for coats, I only wear an item of clothing once now, then it
goes right into the “dirty” XXL Ziploc in the bedroom, to be
washed/dried on hot.
Clean clothes are put in more XXL ziplocs right out of the dryer
(ouch, wrinkles). Currently I’m storing these in the living room
of my one-story house.
Towels are hung to dry, then put in the “dirty” Ziplocs.
I opted not to isolate my bed, so sheets are changed 2x/week.
Comforter, blanket and mattress pad are washed/dried at least
Is this consistent with what you all are doing? I took advice from
another poster – to minimize both clutter and
constant Ziploc replacement, am trying to keep only 2 weeks’ worth
of clothes, towels etc. in play. The unneeded stuff is/will be
sealed in Ziplocs and Rubbermaid containers in the garage.
Comments/ideas welcome. I’m getting tired of tripping over all
these bags, and it’s a pain to vacuum!
After this post was written, dissolving laundry bags which can go through the washer with their contents became available. They allow you to seal in dirty laundry, and wash the items directly in the bag. They are expensive but for some people, provide an easy alternative to using and throwing away garbage bags. You can read about or purchase them by clicking this banner:
To post a comment or add a suggestion or your alternate way of dealing with clothing and linens, please click “comments” and leave a response.
To see or purchase XL ziplocs, 2 gallon ziplocs, and other products recommended by Bedbuggers, click here.
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