How to Clean and Care for Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

Bedbugs on a bed sheet

Roger Eritja / Getty Images

Bedbugs are excellent hitchhikers, and an infestation can begin with a single female caught in luggage, clothing, or upholstered furniture. If you find yourself dealing with the unfortunate event of an outbreak, you do not need to dispose of your wardrobe, and it's possible to treat your clothing. The key to caring for laundry riddled with bedbugs is washing and drying it with the highest heat your garments can tolerate. Don't skip the drying part because high heat is what truly kills off bedbugs.

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

Project Metrics

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: 2 hours, including washing and drying time

Skill level: Beginner

What You’ll Need

Supplies

Tools

Instructions

  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 will not 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.

  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 be put into the dryer on high heat to help get rid of the bugs.

  3. Sort Clothes Into Trash Bags

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

  4. Set the Washing Machine

    If your washer does not 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.

  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.

  6. Select the Best Dryer Cycle

    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 will not damage the fabric. Ideally, the heat should exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit to kill both the bugs and the eggs.

  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.

Storing Laundry Infested With Bed Bugs

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 bedbug 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. Fortunately, bedbugs cannot survive freezing temperatures or long periods without humans for feeding.

Silk garments, suede boots or shoes, lingerie, and beloved stuffed animals can be sealed in a plastic bag and placed in a freezer, set to zero degrees Fahrenheit, to kill bedbugs and their eggs. 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 Fahrenheit. Bulky items may 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 will see from bedbugs is the stains they will leave behind.

Treating Stains on Laundry Infested With Bed Bugs

Unfortunately, bedbugs can leave stains that you may find on your bedding and clothing. The stains (bedbug excrement) will look like little dark and rusty dots, and they will likely be removed through the wash. If you see some dots, you can pre-treat them using 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%) on the damp areas. Or, use an enzyme-based fabric stain remover to pre-treat 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 as 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 upfront 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. The steamer temperature must reach between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Follow the instructions for the machine and cover every surface of the fabric to kill the bugs and the 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.