Do bed bugs go through clothes?

Bed bugs are small, flat, oval-shaped insects that feed on human blood. They are a nuisance pest that can cause uncomfortable bites and anxiety for homeowners. Bed bugs are excellent at hiding in small cracks and crevices and can inadvertently be transported in luggage, furniture, clothing, and other personal belongings. This leads many people to ask: can bed bugs go through clothes?

Can Bed Bugs Go Through Clothes?

The short answer is yes, bed bugs can go through clothes. However, they typically prefer to hide in areas close to their food source. Clothing and other fabrics provide an opportunity for bed bugs to travel to new locations, but they generally do not live permanently within fabrics.

Bed bugs are small enough to fit into the fibers and weave of clothing materials. The average bed bug is about the size of an apple seed, measuring roughly 5-7 millimeters long. All life stages of bed bugs including eggs, nymphs, and adults can work their way into clothing folds, pockets, seams, and other fabric crevices.

Their flattened bodies allow them to tuck into clothes in ways that round-bodied insects may not be able to. Bed bugs’ thin profile enables them to slide between fabric threads, hide inside hems or waistbands, or cling unseen to the inner lining of garments. Like many hitchhiking pests, bed bugs take advantage of our clothing as vehicles to spread infestations.

Where Bed Bugs Are Most Likely To Hide in Clothes

Although bed bugs can crawl anywhere on clothing, there are certain items and locations where they are more likely to be found:

– Inside seams, hems, and any fabric folds
– Waistbands of pants, shorts, skirts
– Inner lining of suitcases and bags
– Under shirt collars and inside shirt cuffs
– Inside shoes, especially along the sole edge
– Jacket and coat linings
– Hat bands
– Backpack and purse straps or handles
– Between fibers of knitted or woven fabrics

Bed bugs prefer snug hiding spots where they make contact with multiple surfaces. Tight crevices provide more opportunities to cling securely while moving. Areas where fabric layers come together allow bed bugs to crawl out of sight quickly.

Clothing touching furniture or floors where bed bugs are living are also more likely to pick them up. Any items kept near the bed or upholstered furniture have a higher risk of encountering bed bugs.

Can Bed Bugs Live in Clothes?

While bed bugs may temporarily hide in clothing, they cannot live permanently within fabrics alone. Bed bugs need regular blood meals from humans or pets in order to survive, mature, and reproduce. Clothing does not provide the food or harborage bed bugs require for an extended lifespan.

However, bed bugs can survive for several weeks or even months without feeding. If they manage to find a blood meal source at clothing’s destination, such as an occupied home, bed bugs may then establish a more permanent infestation.

Bug experts have found live bed bugs clinging to clothing after time spent in luggage away from any hosts. Under ideal conditions, clothing can help sustain bed bugs for long enough to spread them to new locations.

Clothing At High Risk of Carrying Bed Bugs

Certain clothing items and situations make it more likely for bed bugs to grab a ride:

– **Used clothing or furniture:** Bed bugs easily spread through secondhand stores, yard sales, and donated items. Always inspect and wash used clothing thoroughly.

– **Shared laundry facilities:** Apartment building laundry rooms with infested units can pick up bed bugs in washers/dryers. Keep clothes isolated in the dryer on high heat.

– **Luggage:** Suitcases left open near an infested bed are prime targets for stowaway bugs. Inspect bags after travel, especially in hotels.

– **Work uniforms:** Jobs with lots of customer contact like hospitals and shelters are vulnerable. Change clothes before going home and wash work uniforms separately.

– **Cardboard boxes:** Bed bugs can cling to cardboard surfaces like moving boxes stored in infested areas. Unpack carefully.

– **After guests visit:** Bed bugs may crawl onto visitors’ coats and purses and be left behind. Inspect after having company over.

– **International travel:** Bed bugs appear more commonly in some regions outside the US. Suitcases should be thoroughly inspected after foreign trips.

Any clothing regularly kept in rooms with bed bug activity is also at high risk of infestation. Focus on laundry and containment of items from infested bedrooms and upholstered furniture to avoid spreading bugs.

Do Bed Bugs Fall Off Clothes Easily?

Bed bugs do not easily fall or get shaken off of clothes. Their bodies are extremely well adapted to latching onto surfaces and resisting external forces.

Several bed bug adaptations allow them to cling tenaciously to clothing fibers:

– **Small size** fits into fabric weave gaps to avoid external pressure

– **Flattened shape** can squeeze more surface area into direct contact with fibers

– **Rough exoskeleton** creates friction and grip on smooth surfaces like fabric

– **Claw-like feet** have microscopic hairs that snag clothing threads and pores that secrete clingy substance

Unless deliberately removed, bed bugs will not readily drop off clothing on their own. Easy passage from infested rooms into and onto worn clothing allows bed bugs to stubbornly stick with us even outside their main habitats.

Frequent wearing and folding of clothes also creates opportunities for bed bugs to crawl deeper into garment folds over time. The longer an item contacts bed bugs, the better chance they have of working into unseen crevices within fabric items.

Can Clothes Be Decontaminated After Bed Bug Exposure?

Clothing and other belongings can be treated to eliminate bed bugs after exposure:

– **Washing/drying:** Machine washing clothes on hot and then drying on high heat for at least 30 minutes will kill all bed bug life stages. This works for most fabric items.

– **Dry cleaning:** Items labeled “dry clean only” can be treated by professional dry cleaners at high temperatures lethal to bed bugs.

– **Heating:** Placing infested items in a hot car under the sun can raise internal temperatures high enough to kill bed bugs. Monitor temperature carefully.

– **Freezing:** Storing items below 0°F for at least 4 days will kill bed bugs and eggs. Double bag clothing and squeeze out air.

– **Pesticide sprays:** Clothing can be treated with specifically labeled sprays but may need reapplication after washing. Most sprays are contact killers only.

– **Discarding:** Severely infested clothing, shoes, bags, etc. with too many hiding spots or crevices may need to be thrown away.

When decontaminating clothing, focus on items from the room with the infestation to avoid further spread. Isolate treated items in sealed bags or bins until the bed bug problem is fully resolved.

Signs of Bed Bugs in Clothes

Look for these signs that may indicate bed bugs have hitched a ride on clothing:

– **Live or dead bed bugs** – Visible on seams, creases, or sticking partially out of fabric

– **Blood spots** – Fecal specks or blood smears rubbed onto clothing from crushed bed bugs

– **Discarded skins** – Light empty shells from molted bed bug nymphs

– **Unusual stains** – Rusty-colored bed bug excrement or dark blood stains

– **Musty, sweet odor** – Detectable musty, sweet scent from bed bug secretions

– **Bites on body** – People changing into possibly infested clothes start getting mysterious bites

– **Itchy welts after wearing** – Delayed reactions hours after putting on clothing with bed bugs

Carefully screening clothes for bed bugs upon returning from trips or after guests visit can help catch an infestation before it spreads further in the home. Isolate and treat any items with suspicious signs right away.

Preventing Bed Bugs on Clothes

To help avoid bed bugs crawling onto clothing, follow these proactive measures:

– Inspect luggage carefully after hotel stays and trips
– Keep luggage in bathrooms or on hard surfaces, not on beds
– Use luggage racks to keep suitcases off carpeted floors
– Vacuum and wash clothing right after returning from travel
– Dry laundry inside dryers on high heat for at least 30 minutes
– Store cleaned garments inside sealed bins or plastic bags
– Avoid borrowing clothing or buying used clothes without inspection
– Seal clothing inside airtight bags when storing long-term
– Place sticky traps around closets and dresser drawers to monitor for bed bugs
– Be aware of bed bug signs and inspect clothing frequently
– Act quickly on any signs to treat and isolate affected items

Being cautious when acquiring used clothing or furniture can prevent introducing bed bugs into the home. Frequent and thorough laundry habits make it harder for bed bugs to find their way onto clothing. Protecting cleaned clothes in sealed containers keeps them pest-free.

Clothing Treatment Options for Bed Bugs

Common methods to eliminate bed bugs hiding in clothing or fabrics:

Method Procedure Notes
Washing Machine wash with detergent on hottest suitable setting, at least 120°F Ensure item is fully submerged
Drying Tumble dry on high heat for at least 30 minutes Kills all life stages
Dry Cleaning Take items to professional dry cleaner Chemicals and heat kill bed bugs
Heat Place items in heated car or heat treatment bag/box for several hours Monitor temperature carefully
Freezing Keep items below 0°F for at least 4 days Double bag tightly
Pesticides Apply product specifically labeled for bed bugs on fabrics May need repeat applications after washing

Isolating and quickly treating fabrics showing signs of bed bugs is the best protection against infestation. Take precautions when acquiring used clothes or luggage to avoid bringing bed bugs home.


Bed bugs are stealthy hitchhikers adept at hiding in clothing and getting transported to new areas. Their small size enables them to easily crawl into fabrics and avoid detection. While clothing does not provide an ideal permanent habitat, bed bugs can survive in seams and folds long enough to spread infestations. Carefully inspecting garments after travel and frequently laundering items from infested rooms provides the best protection. With vigilance, bed bugs can be kept out of your wardrobe and home.

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