How to kill Bed Bugs by Washing

When doing bed bug work, we tell customers that they need to clean or launder their clothing and linens to kill any bed bugs present. Bed bugs don’t live in clothes like body lice but they will hide in clothes or shoes. And it’s very likely that some bed bugs will be found on bed linens and mattress covers. Unfortunately, we don’t always give details as to just how to wash clothes for best results.

Much of the information below was based on research conducted by British researchers R.A. Naylor and C.J. Boase and interpreted by entomology specialist Mike Merchant.

Do you know how long clothes have to remain in a dryer to kill bed bug eggs?

When washing or drying clothes the main thing to remember is HOT. The problem is that most people don’t know how hot their wash water or their dryer gets on the HIGH or HOT setting. You should err on the side of drying for a longer time to ensure kill. Clothes or other items that don’t require washing but do require bed bug disinfestation can be dried only. Items like back packs, fabric purses, stuffed animals, and shoes can be placed in a dryer too, as long as they wont be damaged by hot temps.

Using a dryer: All stages of bed bugs will die at temperatures of 104-122 degrees. To reach this high temperature, clothes should be dried in a large tumble dryer at the HOT setting for at least 30 minutes (for a 7.7 lb load). In this study, when items spent only 10 minutes in a dryer on high, 25% of the nymphs and 15% of adult bed bugs survived. Using the COOL dryer setting did not kill any bed bugs at all. This shows that it’s the heat that is killing the bugs, not the trauma of being “tumbled. “

Using a washer: Washing clothes at very hot temperatures will also kill bed bugs without the need for a hot dry cycle–although adding a drying cycle will help insure kill. One hundred percent of bed bugs were killed when wash water was at 140 degrees for a 30 minute wash cycle. Washing at a warm temperature of 100F killed all the adults and nymphs, but only 25% of bed bug eggs.

Soaking clothes: Soaking clothes in cold water, without detergent, for 24 hours killed all adults and nymphs, but none of the eggs.

Dry cleaning: Dry cleaning kills all stages of bed bugs and is a good alternative for delicate items that can’t take hot washer or dryer temperatures.

Cold treatment: Freezing will kill all stages of bed bugs if temperatures can be dropped to 0 degrees for two hours. Chest freezers can reach this temp but refrigerator freezers are not usually cold enough. It will take a 5.5 lb. batch of clothes much longer (about 8 hours) for the center of the pile to reach that temperature. Allow 10-12 hours at 0 degrees to freeze-kill bed bugs in a load of clothes or linens.