FAQ: dry cleaners and bed bugs

by nobugsonme on June 26, 2007 · 41 comments

in bagging, bed bug prep, bed bugs, bedbugs, clothing, dry cleaning, green dry cleaners, laundry, PERC, treatment

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.

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1 happydays June 26, 2007 at 10:53 pm

I told my dry cleaners (on the UWS) about my potential bed-bug situation (was getting lots of bites but never had an actual visual of a bug) and they were very understanding and told me that they themselves may ahve had bed bugs at home, and how they dealt with it. They kept my laundry seperate from the other clothes there. I actually felt very supported by them, which helped me deal with my shame about the situation. They also gave me a discount because I gave them lots of business!

2 James Buggles June 26, 2007 at 11:01 pm

Ugh.

3 nobugsonme June 26, 2007 at 11:28 pm

Thanks for your comment happydays! (Love the nickname, by the way…)

Anyway, that is a very reassuring story indeed.
If you’re still fighting bed bugs, I hope it’s resolved soon.

4 S June 26, 2007 at 11:39 pm

The first drycleaners I went to looked at me like I was crazy when I told them about my bedbugs. I half suspect they didn’t even clean my stuff, since they are the place that “cleaned” my down comforter. The same down comforter that kept bedbugs in it for 6 months in my closet, post-”drycleaning.”

However, even if they did dryclean that comforter, obviously my disclaimer is that I don’t believe drycleaning works on down items like coats, pillows and comforters. So please, everyone, keep that in mind.

But the stigma there was equally annoying. So I found a second cleaners.

The new people were much nicer, but I don’t think they understood the severity of the situation at first. For example, once I handed over a sealed ziploc full of stuff, but the ziploc was kinda old (had been zipped and re-zipped so many times). It opened up as I gave it to the woman. I said “Oh – better zip that back up.” She said “Oh, okay” and kinda crumpled the top up and rolled it down. I said “No, that’s not going to work. It needs to be shut.” She smiled and said “Okay, will do.” I said “No, you need to zip it. Like, now!” She seemed a little taken aback, but leaned over and zipped it up. Only then did I feel satisfied, and only then did she “get it” – that they had to keep these bags zipped the whole time they were in their facility.

After that, I made sure to bring the cleaners my stuff in new, well-sealed ziplocs.

5 ofallthebeds June 27, 2007 at 3:09 am

I explained it to my dry cleaners because she had noticed that i was spending my Friday nights doing massive loads.. I mean 3 hours with 6 machines or more. So I told her what the deal was and she understood. I was lucky…. I also gaveher dry cleaning… heck… that place is not CHEAP… but I decided that because it is so well kept… they thoroughly clean, etc… I have seen how they handle the cleaning of filters too… something about it just made me feel comfortable.

Now, the one thing I am trying to figure out where and how to do are my leather and wool jackets… I am not sure where I can take those… I am almost sure they are k, but I do not want to risk it… nor do I want to ruin them. I thought… maybe just seal it for a LONG time… also keeping them in my car for a few hours in very high heat. Just thoughts… I don’t know if good ones… but I have had my coats in the car… double bagged for weeks now… it is one of th ewarmest places I can think of and as I have mentioned in a previous post… I am driving to a location where the heat will be very hot… I hope that takes care of that… I hope it does.

6 coopbugged June 27, 2007 at 8:59 am

My UES dry cleaner was very understanding, and did everything for me at cost except for coats and stuff that had to be done specially. His compassion and professionalism was one of the good things to come out of the bb experience!

7 Jasmine June 27, 2007 at 9:57 am

Hey happydays and coopbugged:

Can you post the names and addresses of these places?

Thanks

Editor’s note: As much as it might seem like a good idea to post names of dry cleaners who don’t mind having people bring stuff with bed bugs, this blog gets a lot of new readers every day (Right now, we get 12,000 visitors a month and 70% of those people are coming for the first time. Many are in NYC.) I’d hate to see these dry cleaners become less friendly as everyone in NYC brings their stuff in. And I’d really hate for a dry cleaner’s business to be ruined because they become the go-to dry cleaner for bed bugs, and they actually get an infestation of bed bugs.

Instead, Jasmine, please go to the forums, where you can use the same login as for this site. I am sure someone will private message (PM) you. Others, please go to the forums and PM Jasmine. Thanks!

8 happydays June 28, 2007 at 8:18 pm

I agree…I would prefer to not share the info of the actual cleaner…however, I shared my story to show you that you do not have to be ashamed and keep it a secret. If someone does not treat you well, take your business elsewhere.

I no longer have bites for over 6 months nobugs, thanks for asking.
I did a lot of laundry back in those days (everything- luckily I do have a washer dryer in my apt ( the kind you hook up to a sink). and I had the PCO come three times- one for bedroom and then I asked them to come back for living room and then 3 weeks later the whole entire apt. I also bought a little steamer and put clean free in the water and used that to clean myself. anyway- I am in the clear. as I said , I never saw an actual bug, but I had many many bites (and some blood stains on sheets), but there is a small chance that it was not bed-bugs. but I do think that the PCO and my work was important just in case, and it was effective.

9 nobugsonme June 28, 2007 at 10:56 pm

happydays–
we get lots of people who don’t find bugs. it’s rough–many people aren’t able to get a PCO to treat.
I would say it’s likely they were bed bugs, though–because if it were bird mites, scabies, etc. it would not have cleared up on its own. From what I understand from Lou Sorkin, bird mites require completely different treatment. So treating for bed bugs would mean they remain.
Good for you and thanks for participating!!!

10 happydays June 30, 2007 at 7:24 pm

oh…I love lou sorkin. i met him a few times at the museum and he was very calm and supportive when I was just losing it. he gave me great advice- although your FAQ sheet is informative enough at this point…he usually just refers to yours!

I wrote letters to the landlord and was very proactive and advocated for myself. I even quoted lou in the memo and they saw how serious I was. they payed for all the treatments even though I had no bugs to show. (the bugs I did find were identified by Lou as non-bedbugs)

I agree that it was most likely bedbugs as the bites were in dead winter and they were in groups, long lasting and very ichy/burning way more then mosquitos for example.

11 nobugsonme July 1, 2007 at 3:33 am

Not finding bed bugs is a common problem. Although undoubtedly many people who are in that situation don’t have bed bugs, I know a lot do. It’s really hard to catch samples in many cases. I personally think it makes getting treatment hard–since many PCOs are resistant to treat without an actual bug. They need to look for and find other evidence like fecal specks (not just fecal stains).

Everyone gets bed bug poop, right?

12 happydays July 1, 2007 at 9:52 pm

no- I did not find bed bug feces at all.
i may have had a very small infestation and they may have pooped in a non-visable area. who knows…

anyway-good luck with the blog! you do a great job.

13 nobugsonme July 1, 2007 at 11:21 pm

thanks happydays, much appreciated.

and glad you’re having happier days!

14 hotwater September 18, 2007 at 10:59 am

I need my suit cleaned tomorrow for a job interview. The dry cleaner told me this morning 10;10 that the workers said they will not do my suit and they only do a large amount from the same person so they don’t infect the others and can’t run my suit seperately. I brought it in last night and the owner was nice and didn’t notify me until this morning. This sucks. I need now a dry cleaner that will do it immediately, I don’t want to keep it a secret or by a new suit. I need a reccomendation. I live in NYC.

15 Bugparanoid October 24, 2007 at 12:30 am

I shipped some of my friend’s clothes home in my car trunk, her bed was infested with bedbugs. I doubled bagged the clothes, still I’m paranoid that some bugs could have gone out. Feeling paranoid that my car trunk can be infested if one got out of the bag. Can they live survive and follow us home when I drive? Is it possible for them to die in the car?

I took the clothes to wash and dry with hot water but no detergent or bleach just water alone. Should it work? I never had bedbugs.

Should I steam my car trunk by renting a steam machine, will it work?

16 shergil December 20, 2007 at 4:41 am

I was turned down by a dry cleaner in Clinton Hill area in Brookyln NY. He said he definately wouldn’t service me.

17 nobugsonme December 20, 2007 at 7:52 am

shergil, he probably was burned already by someone careless; or he knows another dry cleaner who was.

18 nobugsonme December 20, 2007 at 7:52 am

Updated to include Doug’s warning about “green” PERC-free dry cleaning, as well as other dry cleaning concerns. Also upgraded to FAQ.

19 douggienyc April 14, 2008 at 9:51 am

This place is such a great resource. I found an ad link to a place here that picked up my dry cleaning and laundry from my apartment. The place was Iris Cleaners you can google it for more information. They really seem to know what they were talking about unlike some other places i called. Luckily my landlord is paying for the cleaning because I have a lot of clothes and the bill for dy cleanig it all was more than i could afford. Unlike the previous posters experience, they actually charged more for the treatment because they claim that my clothes were processed sepratley and not mixed with anyone elses. In the end, i was most comfortable with them because their experince dealing with bedbugs and the guy on the phone kind of put me at ease about the whole situation.

20 Jean Pak June 14, 2008 at 11:12 am

does anyone have suggestions for cleaning a wooden bed frame? its the kind that doesnt have wheels but lays flat so it’s hard to put yogurt cups with tape over them like a metal frame (which is what i saw one person on another blog do).

thanks

21 nobugsonme June 15, 2008 at 12:11 am

The yogurt cups idea you mention is an attempt to “isolate the bed” (meaning that you completely remove bed bugs from the frame, encase the mattress to keep any bed bugs inside the encasement, and try to prevent bed bugs coming onto the bed via barriers such as mineral oil in yogurt cups under the legs.

We have a FAQ on this which is currently down for revision.

I think that isolating the bed can be useful for those who are suffering terribly from bites and can’t get any sleep.

However, it is not necessary to isolate the bed in order to fight bed bugs. It can be hard to do in many cases.

With a wooden bed frame, esp. a flat one, you will have a hard time.

Whether you choose to “isolate” or not, you must ensure no bed bugs are hiding in the frame. Is it a solid piece of wood or does it have pieces joined together (slats, screws, etc.)? If the latter, bed bugs can hide where there is the tiniest gap. You must dissemble the entire thing as far as is possible, and have all bed bugs and eggs removed. The frame must be sprayed by a pest control operator.

That doesn’t get your flat frame off the floor, however. If you want to “isolate”, you’ll probably need a frame with legs.

It might be better just to carefully disassemble and clean the frame, get a PCO to treat it and the home, and then encase the mattress.

22 this is the worst September 5, 2008 at 11:48 am

A few questions about dry cleaning:
- If you take all of your items in sealed plastic bags, how does your dry cleaner do the inventory and know how much to charge you? Do you go in with a sheet of paper listing the conents? I have a hard time believing they would trust you

- Landlord is paying for the PCO services, but do you get any compensation for this astronomical expense (besides dry cleaning, all the supplies of sealed bags, encasements, laundromat machines, etc.)?

- Does anyone recommend splitting it up among multiple dry cleaners? Or are you better off going to one and trying to get a volume discount?

- My PCO told me to absolutely NOT tell the dry cleaner about the issue and just say you’re doing spring cleaning. Good move? Bad move? Will the dry cleaning not be effective then?

23 nobugsonme September 5, 2008 at 9:03 pm

this is the worst,

#1 Good point. But what is the alternative? I suppose you can wrap items singly.

#2 In most cases probably not.

#3 Why would you split it between stores?

#4 Do you ever want the dry cleaner to take your stuff again? Or do you plan to allow them to become infested and go somewhere else from now on? Because if you do not tell them, they will take no precautions. And they can get infested. And so can all their customers. And so can you: they may re-infest your cleaned stuff by placing it where it was before it was dry cleaned.

BTW– make sure you use an old fashioned dry cleaner. At least one person has pointed out that the newer, “green” dry cleaning methods may not work to kill bed bugs.

24 DC Disaster December 10, 2008 at 5:59 pm

After a PCO confirmed that I do indeed have bedbugs yesterday evening, I am contemplating how to tackle all of the laundering. I have A LOT of clothes/coats that I need to take to the dry cleaners. I think a found a place to dry clean my things and they said that have had success in killing bedbugs in the past (but it isn’t guaranteed). Would it be a good idea to seal all of my clothes after the dry cleaning and take them directly to a storage unit for the duration of the month long treatment?

Also has anyone heard of bedbugs being transferred to cars from clothing/coats? If so, how would you go about treating your car?

25 nobedbugswanted January 7, 2009 at 11:24 am

Which drycleaners was this?? I just got bedbugs, and I have a TON of drycleaning, but I don’t want to just drop my clothes off anywhere if the cleaners aren’t going to be careful with my clothes!

26 nobugsonme January 7, 2009 at 4:38 pm

notbedbugswanted,

If you say your city, you may get recommendations.

The forums would be an even better place to ask, since few people read comments on old threads (besides me!):
http://bedbugger.com/forum/

27 sheismadenew January 10, 2009 at 2:57 am

I’ll also post this on a forum, but I have some leather coats that wouldn’t survive a dryer, and special sizes for me (I’m not a normal height). Does the leather cleaning method kill bedbugs? Does anyone know? If not, would the 180 degree oven or drying it in a zipped-up dryel bag to protect it kill the bedbugs?

28 anne17nyc April 16, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I live in Midtown and I found this place called Iris Cleaners http://www.iriscleaners.com/bedbugs from an ad on here and also saw that they were referenced in a previous post. I called and they e-mailed me a price list and some brief info on how to prepare my clothes for them to pick them up. I was glad they offer free pick up and delivery because I was already dreading having to cab 10 black bags full of clothes to the dry cleaners. Luckily they do wash & fold as well. The guy on the phone put me at ease but i tried to get a discount for the bulk but they told me they actually charge more for the bed bug removal because my stuff is processed sepratley from any other clothes. They gauranteed me that any bugs or traces would be completley removed or they would clean it again at no charge.

I found that the prices were a little bit expensive but overall he put me at ease and I would rather pay a little more so that i can finally sleep again at night.

The exterminators came twice so i ended up storing it there for 2 weeks which they allow but they told me they would charge me after that.

They also gave me some tips about the exterminators and were able to pick up my stuff at night and deliver it back on saturday since i work.

29 wordfromadrycleaner April 20, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Thought some folks might appreciate word from a dry cleaner. We recently found an infestation in our home. Most likely from a customer who didn’t let me know (if they knew themselves) about their little friends. I now have a home, and a business to get treated. PLEASE TELL YOUR DRY CLEANER! We do have methods of dealing with these guys. PERC should do the trick, and if not, the 180 degree dryer will. Most cleaners also have large capacity washers and dryers that can handle your comforters, sleeping bags, and larger items. I agree about the pillows though – get rid of them. The throw pillows too! As far as leather items or other specialty items (hats, shoes, purses), call a couple different cleaners in your area and see what they say. We do regular business with a company that specializes in cleaning these types of items. Of course this will come at a cost, so compare the replacement cost vs. cleaning cost. Find yourself a good dry cleaner and good luck to us all!

30 nobugsonme April 20, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Hi wordfromadrycleaner,

We agree of course about notifying dry cleaners that items are infested: the second sentence of the post you commented on says,

“…you must tell the dry cleaners about the bed bugs before giving them your sealed-in-a-bag clothes.”

I would favor treatment over replacement, because discarded items may spread bed bugs. They MAY spread them to neighbors, who may reinfest you.

Also, remember that some items which cannot be wet washed can nevertheless be dried in a hot dryer briefly. If dry items are put in a dryer, they do not need to be dried long. For some items, this may save money.

Finally, dry cleaners should be aware that not everyone who has bed bugs knows they have them. The visual signs can be difficult to detect, and many people do not react to bed bug bites.

Dry cleaners and other people in service professions need to take precautions at work because they may be exposed to bed bugs via people who have no clue they have them.

31 edward field July 21, 2009 at 8:32 pm

but what to do about a one-room apartment full of oriental rugs? high heat would wreck them, wouldn’t it? and dry cleaning costs a fortune. do the bed bugs travel everywhere, or are the bed bugs just confined to the beds area?

32 edward field July 21, 2009 at 8:34 pm

but what to do about a one-room apartment full of oriental rugs? high heat would wreck them, wouldn’t it? and dry cleaning costs a fortune. do the bed bugs travel everywhere, or are the bed bugs just confined to the beds area?

33 DougSummersMS July 23, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Bed bugs will travel throughout the room… not just the beds.

I suspect that the rugs could withstand 120 degrees for four hours, but talk with a rug expert to be sure.

Vikane fumigation or Cyronite is another option.

A Pest Control firm could treat the rugs with DDVP or other agents.

34 Blissful October 18, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Does anyone know if Dryell works for killing bed bugs? With dryell you only keep things in the dryer on LOW for about 20 minutes as per their directions and there are chemicals inside…

35 nobugsonme October 18, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Blissful,

I don’t think this has been tested.

I would not rely on it unless the low temperature dryer cycle was hot enough to kill bed bugs.

36 Jean Mannning November 10, 2009 at 7:09 pm

I used this place called Iris Cleaners (www.iriscleaners.com/bedbugs) and they were really great. I had a friend refer me who had the same problem. They did both my laundry (for $1.50/ pound) and dry cleaning. The best part was that they give you 2 weeks of storage for free. This was great in my case since they were coming 2 weeks later to re- spray my place.

They came up to my 4th floor no elevator apartment and took about 7 garbage bags full of dry cleaning. I got my stuff back looking cleaner than usual.

In the end while I spent quite a bit on the cleaning I felt more relieved than I had since this mess started.

37 scaredofbedbugs April 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

i have leather and wool jackets, im not sure if i have bedbugs, but if i do, and they get onto the leather and wool jackets how can i clean them, because they can’t be machine washed

38 nobugsonme April 27, 2010 at 10:57 pm

scaredofbugs,

Experts regularly report that dry cleaners will get rid of bed bugs.

I am not sure if this was tested; if it was, it may have been tested using traditional dry cleaning methods. Some dry cleaners now advertise “new, green methods” and we really do not know if these are sufficient to kill bed bugs.

However, even if all methods of dry cleaning are 100% lethal to bed bugs and eggs, I have an even bigger concern. In order for dry cleaners to deal properly with infested items:
1) Customers need to be aware they have bed bugs;
2) Customers need to disclose they have bed bugs to the cleaners;
3) Customers need to wrap items in an airtight manner before bringing them in to the cleaners; and
4) Staff need to know how to treat infested items so as not to cross-contaminate.

Consider for a moment how many people have bed bugs and don’t know it, or know they have them but don’t understand the need for precautions to avoid spreading them. Those factors alone mean that dry cleaners may be at risk of becoming infested and passing bed bugs on to others.

Sorry, this is more than you maybe bargained for, but I wanted to clarify some concerns I have about people taking infested items to dry cleaners.

A Packtite may be a worthwhile investment as it would save you from paying for dry cleaning of delicate items such as those mentioned. You can use it on leather and wool jackets, shoes, books and other household items which will not melt at approx. 140-150 F. The Packtite has a lot of fans around here.

(Before it was invented, a lot of people packed items in an airtight manner and stored them for 18 months.)

39 scaredofbedbugs April 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm

thanks nobugsonme,
but one thing i wanna know, would this packtite destroy the leather and wool jackets, or would it be fine, because I am really considering getting this packtite, thanks!

40 nobugsonme April 29, 2010 at 2:06 am

scared–

Vinyl record albums melt. They’re an example of something that can’t go through a Packtite.

It may be true that frequent or multiple treatments might dry out leather, but we have not heard any reports of damage to leather or wool items in the Packtite. This does not mean damage isn’t possible, but people do report using the product for these purposes.

It is possible you could also put items through a dryer. Many items which can’t be machine dried if wet will be safe if put in dry. Sorry I can’t advise you more specifically on that.

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