Experts recommend washing and drying clothes on hot or dry cleaning them, and keeping them sealed in bags for the duration of treatment. The dry cleaning idea brings up a problem: you must tell the dry cleaners about the bed bugs before giving them your sealed-in-a-bag clothes.
A reader asked,
Did you have problems finding dry cleaners to accept your clothes?
I personally did not, but I did not have much stuff that needed to be dry cleaned. If your things can be washed and dried on hot (until seriously, seriously dry and hot), that’s probably better, cheaper, and safer.
If it can’t be washed and dried but can be put in the dryer when it is already dry on hot for a shorter period of time, then this is probably also a good option. Bed bug researcher Dr. Michael Potter says dry for hot for 5 minutes, if the item is already dry, and he seems to know his stuff! But if that skeeves you out, 20 is probably even safer for many clothing items that may be thicker than a sock. If drying only does not seem “clean” enough to you, you can always dry in this way, then bag the item until a full dry cleaning were possible, say in a few months when the bed bugs seem to be long gone (hopefully).
I’d be interested in hearing from others about their dry cleaner experiences.
I don’t doubt that many people simply take the stuff in to be cleaned, and say nothing, but I think that’s very dangerous. Better to take them in in a sealed bag and explain that they had been exposed to bed bugs and should be kept separate from other items until dry cleaned.
I could fully understand some dry cleaners not wanting to deal with that, but there will be others who will want your business regardless. I’d expect some careless others to say “sure,” but if they don’t much about bed bugs, they might not pay much attention to what happens. If you’re lucky, they will agree and they’ll care.
While we’re at it, wash and fold services are very popular, especially in cities like New York. I seriously don’t recommend using them. The risk of transmitting the bed bugs to the business and to others–both workers and other people via their laundry–is too great.
If it seems like a good time to weed out which clothing items you can give to charity, wash, dry and bag them first–at least they won’t be sitting around your house in bags for weeks.
You may also want to just throw things away, but think about it carefully; here in NYC, seeing people pick through other peoples’ garbage is a daily occurrence. Even if you don’t see it, it happens at night, everywhere.
Okay, I’m off my soapbox. Anybody got dry cleaning stories to share?
Update 12/07: a word of warning. In our forums, Doug Summers wrote:
I think we need to be careful when we discuss dry cleaning. Traditional dry cleaning uses perchloroethylene or “Perc” instead of water. Dry cleaning used to mean a wet cleaning method that does not use water.
Some newer “environmentally friendly dry cleaning” methods utilize water in the process to eliminate the health issues that are associated with exposure to Perc. These methods are essentially a mechanical method using a cold water delicate wash approach. I don’t know if the “No Perc” methods will actually kill bed bugs.
So you might want to make sure your dry cleaner uses PERC.
I think this is another reason to try and use wash/dry (drying wet items on hot until really dry and really hot) or drying dry items on hot (see above).
I also would not rely on dry cleaning or even wash/dry or dry/dry methods with thick items like pillows, comforters, and sleeping bags. It can’t hurt, but I would not be very confident.