How to Identify and Clean Bed Bug Stains

White bed sheets covered with bed bug stains

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Unless you are an entomologist or an exterminator, you'll never meet a bed bug that you like. These tiny insects are opportunistic pests that survive by feeding on blood—both human and animal.

Because the bugs are so small and most active in dark spaces, the first sign of an infestation is often mysterious bites or a rash on your skin. However, there are other bed bug signs to watch for in bedding and furniture that will alert you that it is time to take action:

  • Adult bed bugs: Oval, flat, and reddish-brown, they will appear rounded if they have recently fed on blood.
  • Bed bug nymphs: Recently hatched bed bugs are translucent, tiny, and very difficult to see.
  • Bed bug eggs: Milky white and the size of a small grain of rice, the eggs are laid in dark crevices like mattress seams and under furniture cushions.
  • Bed bug exoskeletons: Bed bugs shed their skins at least five times during their life cycle. The skins look like a live bug, but are more translucent and don't move.
  • Bed bug excrement: Tiny black specks or thin black streaks on bedding can be bed bug waste.
  • Blood: Mysterious dried or fresh specks of blood on bedding or furniture are a possible indication that there are active and feeding bed bugs present.

Once you determine that you do have bed bugs, it is essential to take eradication measures as soon as possible. Bed bugs reproduce rapidly and they will never go away on their own as long as there is a source of food (humans). Professional pest control measures are usually necessary. Once the infestation is under control, cleaning the bed bug stains is relatively easy but will require time and patience.

 Stain type  Protein-based
 Detergent type  Normal or heavy-duty
 Water temperature  Hottest recommended
 Cycle type  Varies by fabric

Before You Begin

If you do not take action right away to eradicate the bed bug infestation, stains are likely to return due to the continued feeding of these bloodsucking pests. While it is possible to handle a small infestation yourself with diligence and persistence, it is generally best to call in a professional service to handle the eradication process, as they will have access to more effective chemicals and equipment, as well as more experience in conquering an infestation of these tiny, well-hidden insects.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Washable Fabrics

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer

Dry-Clean Fabrics

  • Clothes steamer
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Clothesline or drying rack (optional)

Mattresses or Furniture

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Clothes or hand steamer

Materials

Washable Fabrics

  • Large plastic bags
  • Laundry detergent
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol (optional)
  • Laundry stain remover spray or gel (optional)

Dry-Clean Fabrics

  • Laundry stain remover spray or gel

Mattresses or Furniture

  • Laundry stain remover gel or spray

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean bed bug stains

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

How to Clean Bed Bug Stains on Washable Laundry

  1. Separate Laundry by Color and Fabric Type

    Gather every piece of laundry that could have come in contact with the bed bugs, including clothing, towels, and bedding. Separate the items by color and fabric types. Place the items in plastic bags and seal them tightly until you can wash each bag of laundry. Keep the bags sealed to prevent the spreading of the bugs.

    Tip

    If you see live bed bugs on colorfast clothing, a quick spray with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol will kill the bugs on contact. It will not eliminate eggs or take care of the infestation, however.



    Laundry separated into different color and fabric groups

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  2. Treat Stains on Washable Fabrics

    These stains usually look like tiny, dark rusty dots and can be caused by bedbug excrement or drops of human blood, Most will be removed during a regular wash. However, if the staining is heavy, pretreat it with an enzyme-based fabric stain remover before washing, such as Zout or Shout.

    Apply the stain remover to the stains, and allow it to work for about 10 minutes before washing the fabrics as recommended.

    White sheets with bed bug stains being sprayed with enzyme-based stain remover

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  3. Choose Washer Settings

    Add your regular detergent to the washer's automatic dispenser or drum. Set the washer to the cycle (normal, gentle, permanent press) and the hottest water temperature recommended for the fabric.

    Washing machine set to a hot water temperature

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  4. Load and Start the Washer

    Carefully empty one plastic bag of laundry into the washer, keeping the bag inside the drum as much as possible. Work carefully to prevent scattering the bugs. Start the washer immediately and dispose of the bag in an outside bin.

    Trash bag carefully placed inside washing machine to insert stained bed sheets

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  5. Use the Correct Dryer Cycle

    While washing will remove the stains and flush away most of the bugs, there may be some bugs and eggs that survive. Quickly transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer. Select the highest possible heat cycle for the fabric type, and allow the dryer to run for at least 30 minutes. Ideally, the heat should exceed 120°F to kill both the bugs and the eggs.

    When each cycle is finished, empty the dryer lint filter and dispose of the contents in a sealed plastic bag in an outside trash can.

    Wet sheets placed inside drying machine

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  6. Protect Clean Laundry

    Unless you are certain that the bed bug infestation has been eliminated by a pest management company or your own diligence, place freshly washed, folded laundry in sealable plastic bags to prevent reinfestation.

    Freshly washed and folded bed sheets placed in clean trash bag for storage

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

How to Clean Bed Bug Stains on Dry-Clean Fabrics

  1. Use a Professional Dry Cleaner

    Clothes and bedding that cannot be machine-washed should be sealed in a large plastic bag and taken to a professional cleaner. As a courtesy, warn the cleaner about the bed bugs.

    White plastic bag filled with bed bug stained sheets for dry cleaning

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  2. Pretreat Stains

    If you decide to clean non-washable fabrics at home, inspect the bedding or clothes for stains and pretreat them with an enzyme-based laundry stain remover such as Zout or Shout.

    Dry cleaning solvent sprayed on to bed bug stained blanket

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  3. Use a Steam Cleaner and Vacuum

    clothes steamer that reaches a temperature between 160 and 180°F can be used to kill the bugs and eggs. Follow the instructions for the steamer and treat every surface of the item. After steaming, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove any dead bugs. Empty the vacuum bag or dust container into a plastic bag, and dispose of it in an outside bin.

    Clothes steamer applying heat to bed bug stained blanket

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  4. Leave the Fabric to Air-Dry

    Let the fabric air-dry. Hang sheets and clothing on a clothesline, or lay out bulky garments, such as sweaters, on a drying rack. This lets air circulate all around the fabric, and also helps release wrinkles as the material dries.

How to Remove Bed Bug Stains From Mattresses

One of the most common sites for bed bug stains is on the mattress, as these pests like to hide along mattress seams during the day, and then come out at night to bite sleeping humans. Once your home is completely free from the infestation, it's time to clean your mattress. Using a steam cleaner not only removes most stains, it also helps eliminate any lingering bed bug eggs, as well as dust mites and other allergens. You can use this technique to clean upholstery as well, but take care not to wet upholstery too much.

  1. Strip the Bed

    Remove all of your blankets, sheets, mattress toppers, and mattress protectors from the bed.

  2. Vacuum the Mattress

    Vacuum the entire surface of your mattress, paying particular attention to the seams. Lift the mattress so you can access the bottom as well.

    Black vacuum wand on mattress to control dust mites

    Ratchat/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

  3. Treat Stains with Stain Remover

    Treat any obvious stains with an enzyme-based laundry stain remover, such as Shout or Zout. Rub the treatment into the stain, and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then blot it away with a clean, dry cloth or paper towel.

    person spraying a mattress

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  

  4. Clean the Mattress With a Steamer

    Steam the mattress with a hand steamer or clothes steamer, keeping the steamer head 2 or 3 inches above the mattress. Keep the steamer moving in long, slow strokes to avoid overly saturating any one spot. Work from one corner of the mattress to the other, then steam the sides of the mattress, and then prop the mattress up against a wall or large piece of furniture so you can steam the underside.

    Tip

    The mattress should feel slightly damp, not drenched. If it is too wet, you are either holding the steamer too close or lingering in one spot for too long.

    Black steamer nozzle held up over mattress for cleaning

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Air-Dry the Mattress

    Leave the mattress propped up on its side until it is completely dry. Open windows, if possible, or run a fan in the room to increase air circulation. Once the mattress is dry, go ahead and make up your bed as usual.

Additional Tips for Handling Bed Bug Stains

If you notice a return of stains after your cleaning process, there's a good chance that the bed bugs were not entirely eradicated. If this is the case, call a professional exterminating service to handle the problem. It can be very difficult to get rid of bed bugs on your own, and the process requires persistence.

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. Bed Bugs.” Penn State Extension