How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs in Clothes – A Guide for Laundry

how to get rid of bed bugs in clothes

When you’re dealing with bedbugs, how to get rid of bed bugs in clothes is a big question.

As bed bugs feed on the blood of humans (and sometimes other mammals and birds), it might seem like leaving your infested clothes will starve the bugs to death. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. Bed bugs can often live on clothes, luggage, bedding and in your home for months, even without feeding.

The good news is, if you’ve got bedbugs in your clothes and want to get rid of them, it’s not hard.

To eliminate bed bugs in clothing, you’ll need to wash your clothes using the hottest temperature water possible for the clothing, then dry in the clothes dryer. You can also use a garment steamer to kill bed bugs on clothing and their eggs providing the steamer heats above 131 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are a few different ways that you can go about this process – I’ll cover how to wash clothes exposed to bed bugs, how to use a garment steamer on infested clothes, how best to store laundry when dealing with an infestation and how to prevent future problems with bedbugs.

What You’ll Need for the Washing Process:

  • Regular Laundry Detergent (found at most grocery and department stores)
  • Clothes Dryer
  • Large plastic bags to separate and store clothes in
  • Vacuum cleaner for clean up
  • Garment steamer or home steamer

Separate Your Clothing

For this you will need a few large plastic bags (trash bag style works well) to sort your clothes into prior to washing. The reason I’m suggesting trash bags is they are economical to buy, and they keep your clothing (and therefore the bed bugs) contained inside whilst other items are being laundered.

Put any dry clean only clothes aside in one bag. We won’t be washing these and risking ruining the items, but will instead use a garment steamer to kill the bed bugs before taking them to the dry cleaners (if needed). I’ll come back to dry clean only clothes a little later in this post.

Separate your clothing as you would your normal laundry – whites and lights, colors, darks and delicate items.

Wash Your Clothing – Hot Water if You Can

It is important to remember that it is heat that will eliminate bed bugs. Whilst washing your clothes may help to drown the bugs, bed bugs cannot withstand high temperatures.

The water temperature you wash at will need to vary depending on the clothing you are washing. Check your labels prior to washing, as some fabrics will shrink in hotter water (particularly cotton and wool).

Washing Instructions: Add regular laundry detergent to the load as you normally would when laundering your clothes. Wash in the hottest water suitable for your clothing; or steam wash if you can.

You don’t need any fancy laundry detergents or bed bug chemical sprays, just use whatever detergent you usually wash with. Like I mentioned, heat kills bed bugs.

Strong white vinegar also kills bed bugs on contact. Depending on the color fastness of your clothes (as vinegar is an acid) you could try giving your clothing a light spray with vinegar prior to washing.

I’d recommend turning your clothes inside out before doing this, just incase the vinegar causes any color issues.

Dry Your Clothes in the Clothes Dryer

To be extra sure that all bugs are killed, dry your clothes on a high heat setting in the clothes dryer. Do not hang your clothes out on the clothesline, even if it is a hot sunny day.

As it is heat that will kill the bugs, if you want to skip the laundering process and go straight to the clothes dryer, you can.

Dry your clothes in small batches, on the extra dry setting. You don’t want to overload your dryer with too many clothes which may cause them to become tangled, ball up or not dry properly.

Using a Steam Washer to Eliminate Bed Bugs from Clothing

Pour about a gallon of hot water in the washing machine and add two or three cups of white vinegar. Turn your clothes inside out, put them into the washer and turn on the cycle with steam function.

Keep the door closed for at least an hour to kill any bed bugs that might be hiding there. Finish by drying your clothes, either with the steam dryer function or in a regular clothes dryer.

The correct temperature to kill bed bugs is above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (for the bugs themselves) and above 131 degrees Fahrenheit for bed bug eggs.

Using a Garment Steamer to Kill Bed Bugs on Clothes

A clothes steamer will kill bed bugs hiding in your clothes. It is also a great choice for killing bed bugs on luggage and any other infested area of your home.

According to a recent study by Cardiff University, most cottons can withstand 130 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 20 minutes before discoloration sets in. So don’t be concerned about your fabric when using a garment steamer, unless it is leather, suede and some types of velvet. You can’t steam leather, suede leather and whilst velvet can be steamed you want to in the opposite direction of the nap.

When steaming your clothes, make sure to steam both the outside and the inside. This wouldn’t normally be necessary when steaming to remove wrinkles, but you want to ensure that the steam comes into contact with all the bed bugs and eggs. Spending the time steaming both the inside and outside of your clothes will help to kill the bedbugs.

For example, steam the outside of your shirt, then turn your shirt inside out and steam again. If your garment steamer has multiple steam settings, use the highest setting to ensure the hottest temperature and highest output of steam to help get rid of these pests.

Be careful with silk clothes however, hold the steamer further away from the silk to start to ensure no damage occurs.

Dry Clean Only Clothing Infested With Bed Bugs

Steam is an excellent choice for dry-clean only garments. Start by turning your clothes inside out.

Using the highest setting on your clothes steamer steam from top to bottom of your clothes.

Pay close attention to under collars, pockets and any folds in fabrics – anywhere that bedbugs could be hiding.

Once you have sufficiently steamed the inside, turn your clothes the right way out and steam again.

If you see any evidence or bedbugs on your clothing, repeat this process until they are gone.

I also mentioned earlier in this article that vinegar kills bedbugs on contact. You could also try filling your steamer tank with half white vinegar and half distilled water. If you’ve been using tap water, this will help to descale your steamer at the same time!

Don’t worry about the vinegar smell on your clothing, it will evaporate.

Finally, if you have a particularly valuable item and are worried about the laundering and steaming process to eliminate a bedbug infestation, give your local dry cleaner’s a call.

Let them know that you have an infestation of bed bugs which are on a dry clean only item and check if it is okay to bring the item in. Put the item in a trash bag or plastic bag and seal it – you do not want these pests in your car too – before taking to the cleaners for a professional treatment.

Controlling Bed Bug Infestations Around Your Home

Use this time to clean up and declutter. Because bed bugs don’t like heat, they will seek cooler places to hide away from our bodies.

Check your mattress for any signs of bed bug infestations and treat. I have written a blog post on how to steam a mattress with bedbugs here.

Vacuum thorough around your bed, under your mattress, your curtains, behind picture frames, lamp shades, stored luggage, in your wardrobe and under your bed. Think a thorough spring clean, regardless of the time of year.

If you miss a reproducing bed bug, the infestation is likely to spread again.

Check your lounge and other lounge room furniture as well. Just as bed bugs love to hide in your mattress, the crevices of your lounge are also a popular spot.

They’ll pop out and bite you whilst you’re watching your favorite television show and you most likely won’t even notice. Gross? Yes it is.

Your garment steamer is great for steaming fabric lounges, cushions and other soft furnishings around the house. Give your lounge a thorough vacuum first, remove seat cushions and scatter cushions and steam separately.

If you think you have bed bugs in your lounge, treat your furnishings the same way as your laundry – that is, keep them contained to one area – otherwise you risk spreading the bedbugs to other areas of your home.

The same goes for your vacuum – empty the cannister into a trash bag and seal it well, to help eliminate the spread of bedbugs.

If you have a larger area to treat, you may also want to consider a steam cleaner for bed bugs. It will be more efficient than a handheld steamer and make your job easier.


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