Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed on human blood. They are a nuisance pest that can be very difficult to get rid of once established in a home. Many people wonder if bed bugs can go through clothing and travel from one place to another on our clothes. Here are some quick answers to common questions about bed bugs and clothes:
Can bed bugs live in clothes?
Bed bugs cannot live for long periods in clothing or fabric. Clothes do not provide the stable temperature and humidity that bed bugs need to survive. However, bed bugs can crawl onto clothing and hide within seams, folds, and pockets for short periods.
Can bed bugs lay eggs in clothes?
No, bed bugs cannot lay eggs and reproduce in clothing. The eggs need the warmth of a host (human or animal) to hatch. The eggs are also sticky and adhere to surfaces like bedding or furniture rather than fabric.
Can bed bugs travel on clothes?
Yes, bed bugs can travel short distances on clothing. If clothing comes in contact with a bed bug infested area, some bugs or eggs may cling to the fabric and travel when the clothing moves. Bugs tend to stay on materials close to a host’s body.
Can bed bugs survive a clothes dryer?
No, bed bugs cannot survive standard clothes dryer conditions. The heat from a dryer, around 120°F, is lethal for bed bugs in all stages. Drying clothes on a high heat setting for at least 30 minutes will kill any bed bugs or eggs.
Can bed bugs survive the laundry?
Maybe, but it’s unlikely. The combination of detergent and hot water is usually lethal to bed bugs hiding in clothing, bedding or fabric. However, cold or warm cycles may allow some bugs to survive. The safest approach is to wash and dry items at the hottest settings.
While bed bugs prefer to live on furniture, mattresses, and in bedroom crevices, they can temporarily survive on clothing and travel short distances this way. Laundering items in hot water and drying on high heat will eliminate any stray bugs or eggs. Check clothing after returning from areas that may have bed bugs to avoid transporting them.
Do Bed Bugs Live in Clothes?
Bed bugs do not actually live in clothes long-term. Clothes do not provide the stable environment and access to hosts that bed bugs need to survive for more than a few days. Specifically, clothes lack:
- Access to regular blood meals from hosts
- Consistent temperatures around 70-80°F
- Higher humidity levels that prevent dehydration
Without these conditions, bed bugs will die from starvation or dehydration within 5-10 days. They cannot reproduce or lay eggs in clothing either.
However, bed bugs can temporarily hide in clothes and travel short distances this way when necessary. Clothes stored in infested areas or placed on beds may pick up some adult bed bugs, nymphs, eggs, or egg casings shed skins. These can stay alive for a few hours to days on fabric.
Where Bed Bugs Hide in Clothing
When bed bugs do crawl onto clothing, they will hide in protected areas including:
- Folded areas and pleats
- Hems of pants or skirts
Bed bugs prefer tight spaces where they make contact with warm bodies. Hiding near armpits, waist, or legs provides warmth and a potential blood meal source when the garment is worn again.
Clothing At High Risk of Transporting Bed Bugs
The following types of clothing are more likely to pick up and transport bed bugs:
- Clothing stored in rooms with infestations
- Clothing placed directly on infested beds, couches, etc
- Sleepwear and pajamas where bugs can access skin
- Shoes worn in infested areas
- Jackets, purses, backpacks stored in infested areas
- Laundry hampers in infested rooms
- Items purchased secondhand
Inspecting and cleaning these items promptly can help avoid spread to new areas.
Can Bed Bugs Lay Eggs in Clothes?
No, bed bugs cannot successfully reproduce and lay viable eggs in clothing or other fabrics. There are two main reasons for this:
Eggs Require a Host to Hatch
Bed bug eggs will only hatch in conditions around 70-90°F with access to a regular blood meal from a sleeping host. Without the heat and carbon dioxide signal from a host, the eggs will not hatch and continue the lifecycle.
Eggs Do Not Adhere to Fabrics
Bed bug eggs have a sticky outer coating that enables them to adhere to surfaces like wood, carpet, and upholstery fibers. The eggs stick where the female lays them and do not easily transfer onto fabrics.
While female bed bugs may lay sterile eggs in random locations when under extreme stress, clothes do not provide suitable conditions for viable egg laying or hatching. The eggs need more stable environments with access to hosts.
Can Bed Bugs Travel on Clothes?
Yes, bed bugs can travel short distances by clinging onto clothing or hiding in clothes placed near infested areas. Transfer to clothing commonly happens when:
- Keeping clothes or linens in an infested room
- Leaving clothes or towels on an infested bed
- Sitting on infested furniture in clothes
- Trying on clothes at a thrift store with an infestation
Blood stains, bug shells, eggs, or fecal spots may be visible on clothing after picking up bed bugs. These can then transfer to new locations on clothing worn again.
Limiting Bed Bug Dispersal Through Clothing
To avoid spreading bed bugs when traveling, it is recommended to:
- Store clothing and luggage away from beds and upholstery in hotels
- Use hard-sided luggage less prone to infestation
- Inspect clothing after trips for signs of bugs
- Isolate and wash clothes after returning from infested areas
Checking clothes thoroughly before and after traveling can help prevent some bed bug spread through clothing.
Can Bed Bugs Survive a Clothes Dryer?
No, bed bugs cannot survive standard clothes dryer conditions. Dryers create an environment with several factors lethal to bed bugs including:
- Temperatures of 120°F or greater
- Tumbling and abrasion from clothes
- Low humidity
When drying clothes on a high heat setting for at least 30 minutes, all life stages of bed bugs are killed.
Bed Bug Thermal Death Points
Bed bugs die quickly from exposure to high temperatures. The thermal death points for bed bugs are:
|Bed Bug Stage
|Time for 100% Mortality
Standard dryers easily surpass the temperatures needed to kill all bed bug stages. The constant hot air and tumbling kills them quickly with no survivorship.
Dryer Tips to Kill Bed Bugs
To effectively destroy bed bugs hiding in laundry, it is recommended to:
- Use the hottest setting possible for the fabric type
- Dry items for at least 30 minutes
- Clean lint screen before drying to maximize airflow
- Only dry what will tumble freely to expose all areas to heat
- Avoid overloading the dryer
Following these tips will ensure bed bugs have no opportunity to survival the drying process.
Can Bed Bugs Survive the Laundry?
Maybe, but it’s unlikely bed bugs will survive a complete cycle in a washer and dryer. Hot water and detergent can kill bed bugs, but cold and warm water cycles may allow some to live.
Hot Water Kills Bed Bugs
Hot water is lethal to bed bugs with exposure times of:
- Eggs – Killed instantly at 122°F
- Nymphs – Die at 118°F within 15 minutes
- Adults – 118°F kills within 15 minutes
As most hot water heaters keep water between 120-140°F, a hot wash cycle can effectively kill bed bugs. However, using only warm or cold water allows some bugs to survive.
Detergent Damages Bug Exoskeleton
The chemical detergent combined with agitation in a washer damages the protective exoskeleton of bed bugs. This increases their susceptibility to heat and water.
Insulating Fabrics May Protect Bugs
Bed bugs tucked deep into folded or layered fabrics may avoid direct exposure to water. Insulating materials like wool, fleece, linen, and canvas provide hiding spots that limit heat contact.
Washing Tips to Kill Bed Bugs
To maximize bed bug mortality in laundry, you should:
- Wash in hot 130°F+ water if possible
- Use a full detergent dose
- Agitate clothes for several minutes
- Soak clothes for 30+ minutes before washing
- Avoid overstuffing the machine
Combining these tips with machine drying on high heat provides the best elimination of bed bugs from laundry.
Bed bugs prefer furniture and bedding to clothing for long-term habitation. However, they can crawl onto clothes kept near infested areas and travel in search of a host. While they do not breed, survive long-term, or lay viable eggs in clothing, bed bugs can temporarily use it to spread infestations.
Travelers should be cautious of picking up bed bugs from high-risk places by inspecting and immediately washing/drying clothes after trips. Heating and laundering clothing at the hottest settings remains the most effective way to kill bed bugs and eggs that may cling to fabrics.
With vigilance inspecting clothing exposed to potential infestations and properly washing and drying items, you can avoid transporting bed bugs through laundry.