Does Washing Clothes Kill Bed Bugs? A bed bug crawling on clothing

Does Washing Clothes Kill Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs cannot be killed by simply washing clothes; you must dry the clothing in a high heat dryer to kill them. The washing machine will kill a few bed bugs through agitation, water submersion, and detergent. Most washing machines do not get the water up to a high enough temperature to kill bed bugs effectively. Not only would the temperature need to be 120°F, but you will need to hold it at that temperature for a certain amount of time. Does Washing Clothes Kill Bed Bugs? Not likely.

A true-life example of bed bugs surviving after floating in water for four days:

Bed bugs do not typically drown in water unless they are completely submerged and fall to the bottom. Most bed bugs can float, and therefore they can access air. A few years ago, I arrived at a client’s apartment in Brooklyn, and they showed me the bed bug they caught in their cat’s water bowl. They left it sitting in the water bowl for four days before I arrived. However, when I saw it floating in the water, it looked dead. I drained the water and dumped the bug onto a white piece of paper to photograph it, and when I did, the bed bug began running. The client screamed out of shock. If this same bed bug was sitting at the bottom of the water bowl completely submerged under the water then research says it will drown.

An example of bed bugs coming out of the washer alive:

Two years ago, I was doing a bed bug inspection on the Upper West Side in NYC, and this couple had a washer and dryer in their apartment. They wanted me to figure out if they still had bed bugs since they were undergoing treatment.  While I was there, the resident took a sheet out of the washer, and luckily I was standing right there because I saw a few bed bugs still alive and crawling after the wash cycle. I quickly instructed the resident to get the sheet into the dryer.

Most of us have heard that you can kill bed bugs by putting your clothes in the dryer. 

The truth is those heat treatments in the dryer are what kill bed bugs on your clothing, not the washer.

Industrial washing machines, with clothing and bed bugs

Before we proceed, we must answer the question:

What temperature kills bed bugs? 

The temperature that kills bed bugs and eggs is 120°F. While some people advise that drying the clothing for 30 minutes is enough to kill the bed bugs, there are many factors to consider. 

Are the clothes able to tumble around and have even heat distribution on all sides?  I would put wet clothes into the dryer for 2 hours to kill the bed bugs to play it safe. It’s better if you choose not to wash the clothes with bed bugs on them first. Instead, place them directly into the dryer for 1 hour.

Get this heat sensor to place into your dryer so you can monitor the temperature.

(This post may contain Amazon affiliate links, we earn a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase anything through the links)

SensorPush HT.w Wireless Thermometer/Hygrometer Water-Resistant for iPhone/Android. USA Made Indoor/Outdoor Humidity/Temperature/Dewpoint/VPD Monitor/Logger. Smart Sensor with Alerts
  • Accurate: Swiss-made sensing component with accuracy of ±2%RH, ±0.2°C / 0.36°F. Professional-grade components, assembled in America into devices you can trust. For even more demanding applications, the device is easily calibratable to a trusted reference, or try the SensorPush HTP.xw for even greater out-of-the-box accuracy. Whichever SensorPush you choose, you'll enjoy reliable, quality monitoring of environmental conditions including air temperature, relative humidity, dewpoint and VPD
  • Durable: Water-resistant splash-proof and weatherproof design protects sensor from rain and dust. The HT.w is at home just about anywhere: in a refrigerator, freezer, greenhouse, humidor, wine cellar, instrument case like guitar or violin, a piano, outside as a mini weather station, around the house monitoring a humidifier or thermostat in baby nursery, in the attic, basement, crawlspace, reptile tank, terrarium, plants in a grow tent, drying and curing, a chicken coop or egg incubator and more
  • Flexible: Use just the sensor and your phone via Bluetooth or add a SensorPush G1 WiFi Gateway (sold separately) for data and alerts via the Internet. With the SensorPush Gateway and Cloud, get updates anywhere and push notifications when conditions exceed min/max alarm settings, or ask Alexa for updates. It's the perfect combo for a vacation home, garage, server room, data center, ensuring a dog or other pets are safe in an RV (cellular hotspot required) or anywhere remote monitoring is useful
  • Powerful: Line of sight Bluetooth range of 325 feet keeps you up to date, even on the other side of your home. Obstructions such as walls or doors will reduce this, often considerably, but every day in real world conditions, customers happily monitor difficult situations like walk-in coolers, safes, inside a wall or even on a roof. The small size, convenient mounting slot, and long battery life (typically over 2 years) simplify placing one or multiple sensors wherever they are needed most
  • Easy one-time setup with our beautifully designed, free app (iOS or Android). Quickly view a digital summary of current conditions for your entire system of connected SensorPush devices. Drill deeper with integrated data logging and graphing with 45 days of storage on the sensor and unlimited in-app storage for unlimited devices using our custom built high performance database. Export any data recording to CSV for analysis or archival with Excel, Google Sheets, etc, and calibrate with ease.

Do Bed Bugs Die in the Washer?

If you found bed bugs on your clothes, then you may want to read this article. If you see a lot of bed bugs on your clothes, then you may have an infestation. Bed bugs get on our clothing for many reasons.

Reasons why bed bugs might be on your clothing

  • You sat down in a cab, Uber, or Lyft, and a bed bug crawled onto your clothing.
  • You have an active infestation in your bed or furniture, and you took a piece of clothing sitting on your bed and hung it in the closet. Bed bugs are usually not inhabiting closets; humans put bed bugs into the closet by moving clothing from the bed to the closet.
  • Perhaps you were visiting a friend, sat on their couch, and picked up a bed bug.
  • If you were recently traveling and the hotel or Air BNB has bed bugs, you may accidentally bring some home in your luggage.
  • A movie theatre seat has bed bugs, and you picked one up.

  • You sat on a subway, train, or bus seat and brought a bed bug home with you.
  • A museum has bed bugs in their upholstery, and you picked one up.
  • You were at a restaurant, and a bed bug was on the chair.
  • Perhaps you brought a piece of clothing home from Goodwill or Salvation Army with bed bugs on it.
  • Some people have brought bed bugs into their homes with yard sale clothing.
  • A neighbor has bed bugs in their apartment or home, and they let you borrow an item of clothing.
  • You rode in an ambulance with bed bugs.
  • You put a shirt on a hotel bed, a bed bug crawled into it, and then you put the shirt on. This is how you can transfer and carry around bed bugs, dropping them off in other places.

What you should do as soon as possible if you think you have come in contact with bed bugs:

  • Bag or wash the clothing that you had on when you had a run-in with bed bugs.

How to Wash Bed Bug Infested Clothes. (Does Washing Clothes Kill Bed Bugs?)

  • First – put the clothing through the hottest dryer cycle for 1 hour. Doing this will give you peace of mind that you killed any bed bugs on your clothing.
  • Second – place the items into a hot wash cycle.
  • Third – put the wet clothes back into the dryer for 1-2 hours. The time will depend on how much you are washing. Don’t pack the dryer tight, do a light load so you allow the air to circulate.
  • Fourth – you can bag and seal the clean clothes in air tight containers.

Do bed bugs stay on your clothes?

The answer will depend on where you keep your clothing. If your clothing is in a dresser right next to your bed, then the bed bugs can quickly come out of your clothing to feed. Bed bugs are not the type of parasite to live on us like ticks; however, we can accidentally carry around a straggler on our clothing. If you have bed bugs in your bed and then take clothing sitting on your bed and put it away in a closet, you will unknowingly be putting bed bugs into your wardrobe.

Over the past ten years, I have done many inspections for people who found a bed bug on their clothing. Often it is a straggler that they picked up.  Sometimes people don’t realize that their couch has a bed bug issue, especially if they are part of the 30% of humans who do not react to bed bug bites. People rarely carry around tons of bed bugs on their clothing. They do not usually live and lay eggs on our clothing.

If you have many bed bugs in your home, the answer is yes: they will probably be living amongst your clothing. If you accidentally put a shirt back into your wardrobe after visiting someone who has an infestation, then the straggler might find its way to your favorite sweater as well. There are several things you can do to minimize your chances of bringing home a bed bug from a friend’s or relative’s house.

-Place clothing in zippered bags before it goes into the laundry hamper.

-Spray your shoes with 90% alcohol before going into your home.

There are rare occasions when I may see bed bugs on a client’s clothes. One time, there was a guy wearing a  flannel shirt and shoes that were crawling with bed bugs. In his room was a significant infestation where there were bed bugs on everything: bed bugs on clothes, shoes, ceiling, and visible all over his walls.  The landlord hired us to inspect the entire building because all of his neighbors were finding bed bugs.

Will bugs die in the washer?

Does Washing Clothes Kill Bed Bugs? A few may die, but a washer is not known for killing bed bugs. A washer does not usually have a water temperature over 120°F; even if it did, it would not maintain it for 30 minutes. And the clothing would have to be held at 120°F for at least 30 minutes.

Does the Dryer Kill Bed Bugs?

Yes, the dryer is capable of killing bed bugs. However, the longer you leave the clothing in at the hottest setting, the better your chances are of the dryer killing bed bugs.

Can Bed Bugs Survive the Dryer?

Yes, if you pack the dryer, so the air is not able to circulate the clothing. During a dryer cycle, a bed bug can crawl into a cool pocket of air and survive. Have you ever taken your clothing out of the dryer only to find one small section is still damp? The longer the dryer cycle, the better chance you have of killing all of the bed bugs in a dryer.

How Hot Does A Dryer Get?

The temperature inside of your dryer will get between 120°F and 135°F, depending on the setting. Most dryers have a maximum temperature built-in cut-off switch for safety reasons.  If you are not sure what temperature your dryer gets, put a small temperature sensor in  2 socks and place it in the dryer with your clothing. You need to put it in 2 socks, so you cushion it from banging around the walls of the dryer. You can monitor the temperature inside of your dryer on an app. 

Suppose you have a dryer that does not get hot enough, buy a Thermal Strike bed bug killing heater or ZappBug. Both of these machines allow you to store them away; they are collapsible and will enable you to heat-treat just about anything inside of a small chamber.

ThermalStrike Ranger Bed Bug Heater | 100% Guaranteed to Reach Lethal Temperature | Used by Professionals and Homeowners | Effective Against Moths, Carpet Beetles, and Lice
  • [Lethal Heating System] ThermalStrike uses a patented six-sided heating system that surrounds and destroys bed bugs, carpet beetles, moths, and other insects – including eggs, larvae, and adults. Heat in excess of 120 degrees penetrates deep into cracks and small openings all while being non-toxic and chemical free.
  • [Commercial Grade Construction] A fully sealed inner liner constructed of hospital grade heating pad material traps the bugs inside the unit. Additional layers of insulation keeps the heat inside the Ranger to minimize electrical power draw while seven thermostats continually monitor and control the heating system.
  • [Easy to Load and Operate] Place luggage directly into the unit or load the Ranger like a laundry hamper. Heat comes from all sides and eliminates cold spots, so there is no moving air, motors, or moving parts which can break down. Items being treated can touch the interior walls.
  • [Everything You Need] Includes a built-in timer (two, four, and eight hour cycles) which turns the unit off and a thermometer which clips onto the front of the unit and shows the current and maximum temperature reached during a heat treatment. Based on a national average, a four-hour heating cycle costs less than 16 cents.
  • [Safety Lab and Entomologist Tested] Lab Certified for Safety With 7 Thermostats Regulating Wall Temperatures At 155°F Making Them Safe to Touch.

Learning that a washer alone does not kill bed bugs is important.  If you’re worried about bed bugs being present or getting onto your clothing, then we recommend using a high heat dryer or a bed bug oven machine.