How to Wash and Care for Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

How to Wash Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

The Spruce / Madelyn Goodnight

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

If you find yourself dealing with a bedbug outbreak, you don't need to dispose of your wardrobe and bedding—though you might be tempted. It's entirely possible to clean laundry infested with bedbugs in a manner that kills these troublesome insects. The key to successfully ridding your clothing and bedding of bedbugs is to wash and dry it with the highest heat your items can tolerate.

Here are the general steps to follow to get rid of bed bugs in laundry. If you can't wash it immediately, it's important to isolate your laundry in sealed plastic bags or bins to prevent bedbugs from taking up residence in furniture, rugs, and carpeting. Unless you do this, there's a good chance the infestation will return, as bedbugs can live for months between feedings.

What Is a Bedbug?

The bedbug (Cimex spp.) is a very tiny (just over 1/8 inch long) blood-feeding insect that hides in creases and crevices of furniture and fabrics, during daylight hours, emerging in darkness to seek out and bite warm-blooded animals, including humans and pets. Home infestations usually occur after homeowners have been traveling to regions where bedbugs are endemic, such as tropical resorts or hotels, bringing back the insects in luggage and clothing.

Bedbugs are so small that the initial bites can be virtually painless, becoming obvious only days later as red, itchy welts appear, similar in appearance to mosquito bites. The insects themselves, if you spot them, are sometimes mistaken for ticks, as both insects have flat, disc-shaped bodies. But unlike ticks, bedbugs to not latch on and embed themselves in skin, but rather retreat back into cracks, crevices and creases once they've enjoyed their tiny nighttime blood meal.

The bites of bedbugs are often mistaken for flea bites, but bedbugs typically bite on the upper half of the body (probably because they are drawn by carbon dioxide in human breath), while fleas are more likely to bite on the lower body, with bites that are much smaller than the red welts left by bedbugs.

How Often to Clean Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

Because it's the heat that kills the bedbugs, one high-temperature washing and drying per load of laundry should be enough to do the job. However, you'll need to monitor the bedbug situation for further infestations, as bedbugs hiding in mattress creases and cracks in walls and flooring can easily establish a new problem.

Glass spray bottle next to roll of plastic trash bag and laundry detergent bottle

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer

Materials

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Laundry detergent
  • Trash bags

Instructions

How to Wash Laundry Infested With Bedbugs
Detergent Regular
Water Temperature Hot
Cycle Type Normal
Drying Cycle Type Highest heat
Special Treatments Dry-clean only garments must be handled separately
Iron Settings Varies by garment
How Often to Wash Once, unless infestation returns
  1. Spray Clothes With Rubbing Alcohol

    Spray colorfast infested clothes with rubbing alcohol immediately upon identifying a bedbug infestation. The rubbing alcohol will kill live bedbugs on contact; however, it won't eliminate eggs or get rid of the infestation. For non-colorfast fabrics and items that must be dry cleaned, immediately place the clothes in a sealable plastic bag.

    Rubbing alcohol sprayed on gray clothes to kill bugs

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  2. Separate Dry-Clean-Only Garments

    Items with care labels that state "dry clean only" should go into a separate pile, even if you don’t plan to take them to the dry cleaner for additional cleaning. These items cannot be washed, but they can usually be put into the dryer on high heat to help get rid of the bugs.

    Clothes separated for dry cleaning and regular washing

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  3. Sort Clothes Into Trash Bags

    Sort your clothes as you normally would before washing a load of laundry. Sort them in the infested area to prevent spreading the bedbugs into another area of your home. Place each pile of clothing in a large trash bag, and seal it.

    Bug infested clothes separated into plastic trash bag

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  4. Set the Washing Machine

    If your washer doesn't have an automatic dispenser, add regular detergent (there’s no need for special detergent) to the drum of the washing machine. Select the hottest water temperature recommended for the fabrics and the correct cycle for the fabric types.

    Washing machine set to hottest temperature for bug infested clothes

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  5. Transfer Clothes to the Washer

    Take the bags to the washing machine, and tip them over so the clothes carefully spill into the machine. Don’t roughly dump out the clothes because the bedbugs could become airborne. This is important in your home or a communal laundry room or laundromat. Dispose of the trash bag in an outside bin.

    Bug infested clothes in plastic trash bag spilled into washing machine

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  6. Select the Best Dryer Cycle

    When the washing cycle is complete, transfer the clothes from the washing machine to the dryer. Set the dryer to run for at least 30 minutes on the highest possible heat cycle that won't damage the fabric. Ideally, the heat should exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit to kill both the bugs and the eggs.

    Dryer machine set to hottest temperature to kill bug infested clothes

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  7. Fold Laundry

    Fold the clean, dry clothes on a table that has been inspected to ensure that it’s free from bedbugs. Properly store laundry.

    Laundry folded after cleaning for bug investment

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Storing Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

After washing laundry infested with bedbugs, store the clothing. Use plastic containers or plastic bags for storage, as bedbugs can live inside cardboard boxes. Keep the clothing stored until you’re sure that the infestation has been eliminated. 

If you can't wash or dry clean some delicate fabrics and dry-clean-only clothes because they cannot withstand the high heat required in the dryer to kill bedbugs, store them in the freezer. Bedbugs can't survive freezing temperatures. However, the freezer needs to be set at a very low temperature—0 degrees or lower is ideal. The same cold treatment will work for silk garments, suede boots or shoes, lingerie, and beloved stuffed animals.. Most items must be left in the freezer for at least four days. This will ensure that the center of the item has reached zero degrees. Bulky items can take longer.

After removing the items from freezer storage, vacuum well to capture any debris, and dispose of the vacuum bag or dust cup contents in an outside bin.

Repairs

Bedbugs can't bite through fabrics, so they won't rip your laundry. However, they do crawl through the tiniest of crevices and holes without causing damage to your clothing or bedding. The worst damage you'll see from bedbugs is the stains they leave behind.

Treating Stains on Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

Unfortunately, bedbugs can leave stains on your bedding and clothing. The stains, which are bedbug excrement, will look like little, dark rusty dots, and they'll likely be removed through the wash.

If you see stains, pretreat them with a few different methods. Blotting while rubbing away the spots with cold water can remove the stains. (Hot water will set the stains.) Further lift the stains by blotting hydrogen peroxide (3 percent) on the damp areas. Or use an enzyme-based fabric stain remover to pretreat and break down the stains before washing the laundry.

Tips for Washing Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

  • Before and during the disinfection process, avoid leaving clothing directly on the floor because more bedbugs may hide in the fabric and drop to the floor.
  • Use a bedbug spray repellent in conjunction with washing your infested laundry.
  • If you’re unsure about how to clean the infested laundry, you can take it to a dry cleaner. However, be honest with the dry cleaner about the infestation to avoid spreading it to other patrons. 
  • Instead of washing delicate clothing or pillows in a washer, use a clothes steamer that reaches a temperature between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Follow the instructions for the machine, and cover every surface of the fabric to kill the bugs and eggs. After steaming, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to capture any dead bugs. Empty the vacuum bag or dust container into a plastic bag, and dispose of it in an outside bin.
FAQ
  • Is a bedbug infestation due to bad hygiene?

    No. These insects do not eat food and sloppy housekeeping has no bearing on their presence. Bedbugs arrive in your home simply because you (or a guest) has brought them in luggage or clothing from someplace with an existing infestation.

  • Do bedbugs carry disease?

    According to the CDC, bedbugs are not known vectors for any serious communicable diseases. However, some individual can have allergic reactions to the bites, sometimes requiring medical attention.

  • Are certain regions more prone to bedbug problems?

    Bedbugs are most prevalent in warm-weather, tropical climates, but because of increased tourist travel, they are now often found in cold-weather climates, too. It's wise to be alert whenever traveling (or when entertaining guests who are traveling). Savvy travelers make a practice of heat-washing all items upon returning from a trip.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cost-Effective and Money-Wasting Bed Bug Control Methods (Rutgers NJAES).