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. Before and during the disinfection process, avoid leaving clothing directly on the floor as more bedbugs may hide in the fabric. Once you've cleaned your clothes, use plastic containers or bags for storage as bedbugs can live inside cardboard boxes.

How to Wash Laundry Infested With Bedbugs
Detergent Regular
Water Temperature Hot
Cycle Type Normal
Drying Cycle High-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.

  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, delicates, etc. 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 in 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 in order to kill both the bugs and the eggs.

  7. Fold Laundry and Store Correctly

Fold the clean, dry clothes on a table that has been inspected to ensure that it’s free from bedbugs. Store the clothing in a clean plastic bag until you’re sure that the bedbug infestation has been eliminated from the closet or other storage areas. 

Tips for Washing Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

  • If you’re unsure about how to clean the infested laundry, you can take it to a dry cleaner. However, be upfront 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 F. 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.

For Clothing That Can't Stand the Heat

Some delicate fabrics and dry-clean-only clothes cannot be washed or cannot withstand the high heat required in the dryer to kill bedbugs. Fortunately, bedbugs cannot survive freezing temperatures or long periods without humans for feeding.

Silk garments, suede boots and 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 the freezer, vacuum well to capture any debris and dispose of the vacuum bag or dust cup contents in an outside bin.