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Will laundry detergent + cold water wash kill bed bugs

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  1. billyfieldman

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 1:40:42
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    Hi,
    I just moved to a new rental and been getting bites that itch and turn into welts. As a precaution I want to wash beddings. Would washing with cold water and laundry detergent be sufficient to kill bed bugs?
    I don't have a drier and would be hanging them to dry in the sun.

  2. Sleepless in NYC

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 1:47:26
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    No, I don't think cold water and detergent will work. What I've read is that heat from the dryer is the most efficient way to kill them.

    However, I do recall reading somewhere that either using HOT HOT water, I'm sorry I can't remember the temperature, OR using the dryer at high temperatures +120 degrees would work.

    So HEAT is what kills the bedbugs, nymphs, and EGGS.

  3. nycyn

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 1:49:05
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    Maybe an iron? (Anybody?) Or shlep to a laundromat.

  4. BBQueen

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 4:42:03
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    Yeah, I think a laundromat trip is required as it's the dryer heat that kills them. (I can also attest that I washed some stuff in my prep on hot and dried it and *still* saw a little red bug running because I think I had too much stuff in the dryer, so you need to make sure that *everything* reaches that high temperature)

  5. Richard56

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 4:56:48
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    Taking them to a dryer makes the most sense. You want to dry them on a "hot" setting (some say medium is OK) for at least 20-30 minutes AFTER the clothes are already dry. Alternatively, you can just use the dryer and skip the wash because the heat of the dryer will do them in. BTW dry clothes put into a dryer will not shrink the way wet clothes will. For that reason you cold reverse the wash process (if you have to use cold water to clean) and dry the clothes first -- to kill the bugs -- and then wash them in cold so for example the colors won't run. Some say this could set in stains, but I personally didn't have that problem when using this process and it gave me a relatively quick and doable way of using cold water wash on my workout clothes while killing any potential bed bugs at the same time. You could also buy a PakTite device (they are on back order) and heat treatment them there, but it is more time consuming.

  6. Sleepless in NYC

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 8:49:06
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    That leads to another question. Is it at all possible that if you go to a laundromat, and the person who used the washing machine before you had bbs. If you used cold water in that machine, would the bbs be washed away from the person before or are you running a risk of getting bbs?

    For this doubt in my mind, if I have to run a cold water wash, I run the machine empty with hot water and then I use the cold water wash. Am I being overly paranoid?

  7. cilecto

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 11:26:07
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    If you just moved into a place and suspect BB, then washing your bedding is not the solution. BB can and do hide and breed in many places in your home and it may take a more comprehensive approach than just a wash (or a mattress bag). Please, read this site's FAQ for an overview. Then go to the Resources tab, download and read UKY Prof. Michael Potter's concise but excellent guide or the comprehensive State of Michigan Guide. This is really important, perhaps more so than a hot or cold wash.

    Regarding laundry, I'm not an expert, but my thoughts. In a washer, regardless of temperature:
    - Not everything you wash is infested to begin with.
    - Some washers' "hot" settings are not all that hot. The public washers in my parents' building clock in at ~105F on hot. I'm told that this is a common energy (and $) saving technique. BB at all stages die at ~115-125F.
    - Bugs that are submerged will likely drown, but some bugs might escape to the surface and survive.
    - Detergent is a contact killer, but concentrations used in laundry might not be fully effective, if at all.
    - Bugs that are not "stuck" in an item may well be washed away in one of the two spin cycles.
    - None of this is likely to kill eggs, which, AFAIK, are often securely attached to a surface and not affected by water and detergent.
    - I would suspect that it's possible to have stray BB in or on the washer, or other surfaces in the laundry. So, while the risk gets reduced by the wash, drying is really where it's at. When I launder, I unload directly from the dryer to a plastic bag or basket, avoiding other surfaces. I might rest my basket on a slick surface, but will eyeball the basket and surface when I place and remove it.

    Hit us with your questions. We have a great, supportive community and we welcome you.

    Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
    - Psalms 91:5-7

    (Not an pro)
  8. buggyinsocal

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 13:21:24
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    What Cilecto said.

    I will only add the following:

    Most prep sheets for PCOs require a hot water wash and a long time in a dryer because by doing both you're dramatically increasing the chances that you'll kill more of the bugs and their eggs.

    Heat is the enemy of bed bugs. It is one of the fastest ways to kill them.

    Many bugs and eggs will be killed by drowning in cold water with detergent. (Detergent does something to the surface tension of water that makes it more likely bugs will drown. I'm an English major, so please do not ask me to explain the science at work there. I just know that when I was battling ants, if I put plain water on the plate that I sat my cat's food bowl on, the ants would toss the dead bodies of their compatriots into the water and use the corpses as a bridge to the food.

    But if I put dish soap around the edge, they couldn't do that.)

    However, not all of them will be. Using hot water increases the chances of killing them.

    Unfortunately for you, it's the time in the dryer that really is most efficient at killing them. So much so that most people say that if items are already clean, you can put those items into the dryer and run it long enough to get every nook and cranny of the item to be hot and then let the dryer run for 20 minutes past that point and that should kill the bugs and the eggs.

    In other words, the washing even in hot water is far less effective than time in the dryer when it comes to killing bugs and their eggs.

    (The bugs often glue the eggs in place, so just vacuuming won't solve the egg problem.)

    While putting items on a line to dry--indoors or out--is very environmentally friendly, it's a useless method when it comes to killing bed bugs.

    Even in warm temperatures, unfortunately.

    (BTW to everyone else, no, I'm not dead. I also didn't decide that I didn't want to talk about bed bugs any longer. It's just midterms, so things are very hectic at work, and I haven't had as much time to be around on the boards. Now that California is climbing out of its fiscal crisis--however slowly we're climbing--my employment levels have gone back up, so time has been doubly short. Last year, for example, I was only teaching 75% of full time in the spring. I'm back up to full time. In the fall. my hours at the local community college dropped to 60% of what they normally are. In short, I'm back to a week that means the contracts say that I'm working 50 hours a week. Since those contracts seem to underestimate how long prep and grading actually take, I'm often working more hours a week than that. I will continue to pop in when I can, but there may be longer delays between posts and replies. Sorry about that. I just have a ton of grading to do. Trust me, I would much rather be posting here than grading--as my colleague said just yesterday, she would actually rather be getting a root canal, which she's actually had recently, than be grading-- but until I get more grading done, I have to dole out time here as a reward.)

  9. cilecto

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 13:30:03
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    Great to see you, BuggyInSocal!

  10. The Reluctant Entomologist

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 15:36:41
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    Hey, re: laundry --

    I know that people always feel better if they've taken the most extreme measures possible. However, given that people sometimes get hysterical after having taken an action against the bugs which they later worry was less than pointless and ruined everything, I think it's good to just remind people of the following (along w/what Ci pointed out re: the laundry possibly not having been infested to begin with!):

    Michael Potter et. al., PCT article “Killing them softly: battling bed bugs in sensitive accounts” (1/19/2007) -- emphasis mine:

    "Bed bugs often infest bedding, clothing and other personal belongings which cannot be treated with insecticides. An oft-mentioned way to de-bug such items is laundering — yet to our knowledge, no testing has been done to verify effectiveness. A simple experiment was conducted to study this question. Three groups of live bed bug adults, nymphs and eggs were placed in small nylon mesh pouches which were then placed inside cotton socks. The bed bug-provisioned socks (along with a full load of clothing) were then run through a standard wash cycle using hot water. A second trial was run with similarly infested socks placed only in a clothes dryer. The bed bug-laden socks were accompanied by a load of unwashed clothing and subjected to high heat (greater than 175° F) for five minutes. No bed bugs or eggs survived the washing or drying cycles, suggesting that either regimen, alone or in combination, is effective."

    I'd also just point out that the very well-respected M&M says in its brochure that for delicate items, you can soak them for several hours in very soapy water and then wash them as you normally would. I was surprised by this. (BTW, of course, it's often mentioned that if you put them through the dryer when they're not wet, they won't shrink; then you could always wash them as usual afterwards).

    If nothing else, I would hope this lessens any extra feelings of paranoia! The more of this you can eliminate in the bb situation, the better!

  11. Richard_Naylor

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 16:06:21
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    I did a little study on this recently and published it. If you are interested you can downloaded by clicking the link below:

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3217659/papers/Naylor%202010.pdf

    It basically backs up what people have said already. Cold water only killed the live stages but not the eggs. Temperatures in excess of 45oC (113oF) are required to kill the bugs, whether by washing machine or dryer.

  12. The Reluctant Entomologist

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 16:28:44
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    Thanks for this info! I totally nerd out on this stuff; I've truly missed my calling in life.

    So, here's a quick question: the study says >40 degr C (>113 F) for 30 min. in the dryer kills all stages, including eggs; I assume then that if clothes could really be kept that warm or higher, soaking in a washing machine for at least 30 min., all eggs would bite the big one in that case, too?

    Just want to make sure I get it.

    Thanks!

  13. Richard_Naylor

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 16:55:11
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    Thanks TRE,

    I'm glad you like the study. You are right that temperature seems to be the critical thing. The washing machine we used had settings 30, 40 and 60oC (86, 104 and 140oF). 40oC wasn't enough to kill all the eggs but I imagine 45oC (113oF) probably would have done it, based on what we found from using the dryer and the already published thermal death points.

    For those who don't have a thermometer 45oC is about the temperature of a hot bath, so you really don't have to incinerate these bugs to kill them.

  14. nycyn

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 17:01:44
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    Great thread.

    Richard: Very clever idea about drying the cold water washables before washing!

  15. Bug wary

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 21:41:36
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    Two matters to consider.

    I looked at my hot water tank and the standard heat setting (one has to override it to change it) is 140 F In Canada (where I live) and 120 F in the US. Unless one's washing machine has a heating element, the highest temperature one can achieve is 140/120 F. I also read that the water temperature drops about 10 F by the time it reaches the machine. ergo, I'm washing at a temperature of no more than 130 F or 110 F if in the US. Mines a front loader, so I can't stick in a thermometer and measure the water temp. Temperature to kill BB and eggs is 112-115F.

    II don't have a PackTite (not available in Canada) but decided to use my remote Meat thermometer to measure core temperatures of items in my dryer while stationary on a shelf. Mine is about 12 years old and front end loader. I put in a pair of my husband's running shoes. It took a couple of hours to raise the core temperature in the shoe to 120F. The highest temperature I achieved was 140 F.

  16. Richard56

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 21:56:45
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    Items stationery on a dryer shelf will always dry at a lower temperature than items tumbling. The reason is less air circulation. If you don't have a PakTite, you can wash your "cold water" items by first putting into the dryer as normal (no shelf) and then drying on hot for around 20-30 minutes. This should not shrink the items if you put them in dry. After that you can use your cold water wash. Items that will not tumble well -- for example shoes -- could be put on a shelf, but you would have to hold 120 degrees for about an hour as measured with a probe stuck into the middle of the shoe.

  17. Sleepless in NYC

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sat Oct 23 2010 23:12:22
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    Great study Richard. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Question, what if one were to pour boiled water on garments or kitchen towels ?

    Also, as a side, in your opinion, if one were to pour boiling water on metal, plastic objects would that kill all stages of bbs?

  18. billyfieldman

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sun Oct 24 2010 2:46:05
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    Thank you everybody for the help. It's so disappointing that detergent doesn't kill BBs.

  19. cilecto

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sun Oct 24 2010 8:42:45
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    Billy, what's getting lost in this discussion is that if you have BB in your home, it's a bigger issue than whether laundry will solve your problem. Please review the first paragraph of my response to you.

    If you just moved into a place and suspect BB, then washing your bedding is not the solution. BB can and do hide and breed in many places in your home and it may take a more comprehensive approach than just a wash (or a mattress bag). Please, read this site's FAQ for an overview. Then go to the Resources tab, download and read UKY Prof. Michael Potter's concise but excellent guide or the comprehensive State of Michigan Guide. This is really important, perhaps more so than a hot or cold wash.

  20. Richard56

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Sun Oct 24 2010 9:16:26
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    SINY: Question, what if one were to pour boiled water on garments or kitchen towels ?

    Also, as a side, in your opinion, if one were to pour boiling water on metal, plastic objects would that kill all stages of bbs?
    --------------
    Boiling water should work and used to be a common bb killer, but I would think the clothes dryer a lot more convenient at least for multiple pieces. Should also work on the other non-porous objects for all stages if the boiling water hits all surfaces. But again, it would seem that something like PakTite would be more convenient and potentially cause less damage.

  21. Bug wary

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Mon Oct 25 2010 11:41:28
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    sleepless,

    My elderly mother-in-law told me that after the War, she and her mother temporarily lived in a bombed out building infested with bed bugs. Her mother took boiling water and poured it over the mattresses as a treatment. Not recommended today because of mold issues.

    I tried boiling water on plastic framed eyeglasses. Turned the plastic white. Only use if desperate. Would work fine on metal fraamed glassware, I imagine.

  22. cilecto

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    Mon Oct 25 2010 15:01:36
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    > I tried boiling water on plastic framed eyeglasses. Turned the plastic white. Only use if desperate. Would work fine on metal fraamed glassware, I imagine.

    "Boiling" water is not necessary. BB die between ~115-125F. People I'm the throes of BB infestations seem to adopt a quasi-religious/macho attitude; the nastier the substance, the more successful I'll be. So, they ruin their stuff with alcohol or bleach, but detergent would have done the same for them with less damage. Or they start tossing "everything" without considering that the items they sacrificed to the gods could have been treated or that the little that remains could still be infested, or, they don't even have BB.

  23. cilecto

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Mon Oct 25 2010 15:03:32
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    cilecto - 29 seconds ago  » 
    > I tried boiling water on plastic framed eyeglasses. Turned the plastic white. Only use if desperate. Would work fine on metal fraamed glassware, I imagine.
    "Boiling" water is not necessary. BB die between ~115-125F. People I'm the throes of BB infestations seem to adopt a quasi-religious/macho attitude; the nastier the substance, the more successful I'll be. So, they ruin their stuff with alcohol or bleach, but detergent would have done the same for them with less damage. Or they start tossing "everything" without considering that the items they sacrificed to the gods could have been treated or that the little that remains could still be infested, or, they don't even have BB.

    …and a pair of glasses can be easily inspected visually and cleaned.

  24. billyfieldman

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Mon Oct 25 2010 20:55:10
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    cilecto - 1 day ago  » 
    Billy, what's getting lost in this discussion is that if you have BB in your home, it's a bigger issue than whether laundry will solve your problem. Please review the first paragraph of my response to you.

    [/quote]

    Hi, Yes I'm going through the faq and the recommended articles.

  25. Sleepless in NYC

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    Posted 3 years ago
    Mon Oct 25 2010 23:36:47
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    Bug Wary,
    boiling water on the mattress. wow. i thought back in the day, everyone had a pump can of ddt.

  26. Grateful for Help

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    Sat Sep 8 2012 23:31:56
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    This is a good thread. When I was freaking out two years ago and dousing everything with alcohol, cilecto gently reminded me (with humor) that these bugs are not deities, 'sacrificing' our belongings to them by destroying them with weird substances won't help.

    I used to use a spray bottle full of very soapy water to clean the floor when I had come in from public transportation, or for peace of mind after carrying a (sealed) bag of laundry to the machine, just in case I had dropped some nasty critter as I dumped the laundry into the dryer. Would spraying and mopping with soapy water really kill anything? It doesn't seem like enough soapy water somehow.

    It seems to make sense that washing clothing I wore on public transportation, or at the movie theatre, etc, would be enough to kill bugs, if I did a small (not packed) load, because it is unlikely that some bug I just picked up somewhere would have had time or inclination to lay eggs on my clothing. (since eggs seem to be the contention point/weak point with washing and not drying). Am I being too cavalier?

    Thanks.
    ~grateful for help

  27. BedBugMutts

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    Posted 1 year ago
    Sun Sep 9 2012 0:28:38
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    The Australian "A Code of Practice For the Control of Bed Bug Infestations" 4th ed. Sept 2011 states: "Studies from the United Kingdom (Naylor & Boase, 201) have shown if the water is at 60C, then every bed bug stage will be killed in the wash. However, a temperature of 40C will not be lethal to all the eggs". Note 60C is 140F and 40C is 140F. I would not rely on soapy cold or warm water.

  28. DougSummersMS

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    Sun Sep 9 2012 1:55:55
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    Grateful for Help,

    You are correct... It is unlikely that a bed bug would attach an egg to an individual on the move... You would likely be concerned about a live bug if you pick up a hitchhiker on your clothing or personal items while commuting or at the movies.

    Richard Naylor's laundry study found that clothing submerged for 24 hours in cold water would kill live bugs.

    I don't think spraying soapy water on the floor and mopping will do much good... if you sprayed a disinfectant that contained quaternary ammonium chloride compounds it might produce a contact kill.

    Liquid Lysol concentrate mixed with water in a spray bottle (Do not use the aerosol spray in a can form) or Sam's Club sells "Lemon Scented Disinfectant" concentrate made by EcoLab that should produce a contact kill if the BB is soaked down with the solution.

    There is an enzyme based laundry additive that can be used in cold water, but I do not have any experience with it.

    Using 140 degree F water for your wash cycle can produce a serious burn injury... long gloves, protective clothing and tongs would be required for safe handling of hot laundry.

    A PackTite can be utilized instead of a clothes dryer for effective heat treatment of clothing, shoes. backpacks and other items... if you do not have a 220 volt outlet for an electric dryer or a gas connection available.

  29. Grateful for Help

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    Posted 1 year ago
    Sun Sep 9 2012 10:40:00
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    Thanks, DougSummersMS and BedBugMuts,
    I should clarify, I do have a packtite, and use it immediately when I get home for all things like shoes, bags, etc that cannot go in the dryer. What I was wondering about was whether I could put, say, my shirt I was wearing on the train in the washer with soap, and a small enough load that it gets saturated, wash it immediately, and then hang it dry (if it's a no dry item). Would that be effective for a hitchiker?

    Thanks for the info on which soapy substances produce contact kills. It makes me worried that my spray soap routine wasn't really effective. Hmmm.

    Thanks again.
    ~grateful for help

  30. P Bello

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    Sun Sep 9 2012 10:59:02
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    Once again folks, regarding destruction of bed bugs:

    Heat = good !

    Cold = not good ! ! !

    Use hot water cycle if laundering for purposes of killing bed bugs & their eggs.

    Note that use of dryer alone will also kill bed bugs & their eggs.

    HOWEVER, remember that to successfully kill eggs you need ALL three of these components:

    1. To exceed the thermal mortality threshold temperature. (there are charts which list these temps)
    2. To expose the bed bugs to the target temperature for the required period of time (again, refer to charts on temps & required exposure times)
    3. To uniformly deliver the temperature and exposure time to all the areas and itmes being treated to kill the bugs.

    With bed bugs there are NO shortcuts and, with the exception of some new products/technologies that may be launched this October, there is really "nothing new under the sun" that comes close to being "the bed bug silver bullet" like the old chemistries (organochlorines organophosphate type chemicals) were many years ago.

    Hope this helps ! paul b.

    As a consulting entomologist I provide services for entities such as property managers, health/housing/emergency depts, schools, hospitality/resort/cruise industry, homeowners, food service, retail, pest professionals & product manufacturers. I recommend only efficacious methodologies, products and equipment. Professional relations have included Actisol, AMVAC, Atrix, BASF, Bayer, Catchmaster, FMC, GMT, Eaton, MattressSafe, Nisus, ProTeam, Rockwell, Syngenta & Woodstream. No compensation for product sales occurs. As inventor of Knight Safe bed bug sleep tent provides a royalty.
  31. highlyneurotic

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    Sun Sep 9 2012 13:39:14
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    I know this is off topic, but Paul B., can you tell us (or hint at) what new products/technology might be coming soon? Thanks!!

  32. Nobugsonme

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    highlyneurotic - 4 hours ago  » 
    I know this is off topic, but Paul B., can you tell us (or hint at) what new products/technology might be coming soon? Thanks!!

    Please go to this thread to continue the discussion about new products and technologies.

    It will interest many people (both sharing and receiving information) and is unlikely to be seen by many in a thread about laundry.

    Thanks!

    I started and run the site but am "not an expert."
  33. highlyneurotic

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    Thanks Paul B., will do!

  34. chinamike

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    I do and have done a lot of outreach work for homeless people and groups here in Honolulu, Hawaii. Because of the large influx of Micronesian people and other Polynesian groups there is a very bad bed bug problem here.

    I see conflicting information here regarding this post and I wish to clear it up. Laundry detergent/cold water will work to kill bed bugs on "contact". In fact, you don't even need laundry detergent. You can use simple dish soap in a diluted mixture. It will immediately kill bed bugs on contact, but it will not kill bed bugs that it did not come in contact with.

    Perhaps the misinformation about all this is that simple. If you take a spray bottle and put an ounce of dish soap in it and fill the rest up with water and you go and spray it on bed bugs you can see, you will notice an immediate effect. The bugs will turn their hindquarters upward and immediately suffocate; the soap stops up their air intake. Simple dish soap and cold water in a spray bottle is very effective to kill off mass infestations of bugs you can see! But you still need to wash all clothing, bedding, and other loose cloth items you can put into either a washing machine or a large container with very hot water and soap. Items you cannot fit into a washing machine, such as luggage--you can wipe down with the dish soap solution, then set the item out in direct sun light, rotating it and/or flipping it over to expose all sides for several hours. Bed bugs do not survive direct UV rays.

    These methods were used and are still used successfully in two shelters I have volunteered for.

  35. Pauliwogs

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    That is a really interesting study, and it is great to hear that soap and water can perform a contact kill on bed bugs. However, that study warns that folks in the US may have not similar results due to shorter wash cycles and different standard temperatures. I also live in Hawaii and have never had to deal with bed bugs until this month.

    If I set my wash cycle to hot (which is bath water temperature I would consider "hot" not "very hot"-- definitely not boiling or burning your skin), and wash with detergent for 30 minutes, then it won't kill all the bed bugs and probably none of the eggs, right? It will have the detergent in the water, so it would kill the bed bugs that gets touched by the soapy water? Or is there a dilution effect to take into account? Or am I worrying too much?

    Would this even be recommended? Or should I just throw my dirty clothes in the dryer (the highest setting I have is "medium) run it for 30 minutes to an hour when they're already dry?

    Conceivably, the washer has holes in it within it's cylinders (part of its design) and I worry that bed bugs may have just settled into those holes and will crawl out later if they somehow survived. The way it is constructed, there is no easy way to dismantle my washing machine or to effective check all the holes. This makes me worry that I shouldn't try the detergent and "hot" water cycle (30 minutes) because the study was based on a 90 minute "hot" cycle that was hotter than the US standard.

    Will an overdose of detergent remedy this obstacle?

    Thank you for all your input and information so far. It's been a great help, especially the comments that there is no need for overkill. I just don't want to "underkill" them, either.

    Thanks.

    PS: It would be great to know where infestations have been taken place and if there is a pattern or correlation somewhere in Hawaii. Movie theatres, parks, condos, etc. Probably a little bit of everything, but I don't know. It's made me almost afraid to set foot outside my home, and anything I touch in my home -- I feel compelled to study every object for bed bugs!


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