How Long Do Bed Bugs Live on Clothes? (And How to Get Rid of Them)

how long do bed bugs live on clothes

Finding bed bugs on your clothes can be worrying. These sneaky pests can hitchhike their way into your home by hiding in clothing and luggage.

While bed bugs don’t live permanently on fabric, they can survive on clothes for extended periods. Knowing how to inspect for signs of infestation, properly wash items, and prevent bed bugs from crawling onto your garments in the first place is key.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about how bed bugs get on clothes, how long they can survive, and most importantly – how to fully eliminate them and keep them off your wardrobe for good.

How Bed Bugs Get on Clothes

Before you can start thinking of getting bed bugs off your clothes and home, knowing how they got there in the first place will help you prevent them from infesting your clothes and home again.

1. By hiding in luggage’s

Bed bugs are crafty hitchhikers that find ways to spread by catching rides on our belongings. One of the most common ways they transfer from place to place is by hiding in clothing and luggage.

When you stay in hotels or other accommodations that may have bed bugs, the pests can sneak into your suitcase or backpack and hide amongst your clothes and other belongings. They are small and flat enough to squeeze into tiny crevices and folds, going undetected until you unpack back at home.

Similarly, putting a purse or bag on an infested area (bed or couch) at a friend’s house could allow bugs to crawl inside before you leave.

2. By crawling onto clothes

Bed bugs are mostly nocturnal insects and they come out at night to feed. Unlike lice or fleas, they don’t live on human bodies. But they can crawl onto pajamas or other clothing you are wearing at night in order to get to exposed skin and bite.

After feeding for a short time, they will crawl back off and find crevices to hide in near the bed or resting place during daylight hours. Their flat bodies allow them to squeeze into very tight spaces like seams, folds, and crevices in mattresses, furniture, floors, and walls.

3. By Infesting laundry rooms

Infestations can also spread through shared laundry facilities in apartments or dorms. The bugs may be brought in on someone’s clothing and transferred to yours during washing and drying.

It’s important to use caution and check for signs of bed bugs when using any public laundry room. Being able to identify the signs of an infestation, like blood stains or live bugs, can help prevent further spread through clothing and other belongings.

Signs of Bed Bugs on Clothes

When bed bugs infest clothing, they can leave behind telltale signs of their presence.

Blood spots on fabrics: As bugs crawl around and are pressed into creases and folds, some may be smashed, leaving reddish-brown smears or spots.

Dark spots from excrement: You may also notice dark spots on clothing that are caused by bed bug excrement. The digested blood leaves a tarry, black residue.

Presence of bed bug eggs and shells: In more severe infestations, you might find the actual eggs and eggshells of bed bugs attached to fabric. They are very small and white, about the size of a pinhead.

Seeing live bed bugs: Seeing a live bed bug on clothing is definitive proof of an infestation. They are flat, oval-shaped, and wingless, with a reddish-brown color.

Musty, sweet odor: Finally, a musty, sweet, coriander-like odor emanating from clothes can indicate the presence of bed bugs and their scent glands.

Being able to recognize the above signs can help you identify if bed bugs have infested your clothing.

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live on Clothes?

Bed bugs are adept at surviving for extended periods of time on clothing and fabric. Without a blood meal,  they can typically live up to 1-4 months on clothes . However, with access to regular feedings, bed bugs can live up to a year or more.

Factors that influence the lifespan of bed bugs

Even if bed bugs can’t feed, they can still survive many months on clothing due to their resilience: for example, lower temperatures can slow down their metabolism and development (i.e., they enter a dormant state), which makes them live longer.

At room temperature, starving bed bugs can survive up to one to four months on fabric. In colder conditions around 55° degrees Fahrenheit, they can persist up to approximately 12 months without feeding.

Other factors like the fabric type also impact how long they can endure. For example, bed bugs can live longer on cotton and denim than on polyester, rayon, and spandex fabrics. This is because the texture and weave of the material affects their ability to grip and hide.

While results vary based on conditions, bed bugs are equipped to handle long spans of time on clothes. Keeping fabric bagged and sealed limits access to hosts. But after many months without disruption, hungry bed bugs may still emerge looking for a meal.

Dangers and Risks of Bed Bugs on Clothes

Having bed bugs on your clothing and belongings can lead to more than just nuisance and discomfort. Bed bug bites often provoke painful, itchy welts on the skin that can lead to infection if they are scratched too much.

Trying to eradicate an infestation on your own is extremely difficult, requiring professional extermination services is one of the best ways to totally get rid of them although that can be expensive.

There is also an unfortunate stigma and embarrassment associated with having bed bugs since they are seen as the result of uncleanliness.

However, even the tidiest homes and hygienic people can be susceptible through no fault of their own. As bed bugs can be introduced to any place via clothing, luggage, furniture, or any other infested item.

The frustration and anxiety over not being able to get rid of an infestation can take a toll mentally and emotionally.  In rare cases, some individuals may have severe allergic reactions to the bites, requiring medical attention.

While not known to transmit diseases, bed bugs should be addressed quickly before populations multiply, and they spread to other locations in the home or to other people.

How to Wash Clothes to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

Getting rid of bed bugs on clothing requires diligent washing and drying methods to ensure all bugs and eggs are killed. To properly wash your clothes and kill bed bugs while you are at it, follow these instructions:

Step 1: Sort infested clothes into bags before washing

Start by carefully sorting your pile of clothes or fabrics that may be infested into plastic garbage bags sealed tightly to prevent bugs from spreading. Have separate bags for colors, delicates, and dry clean items.

Step 2: Wash in hot, soapy water

Wash items in the hottest water recommended for the fabric and with regular laundry detergent. The heat of the water along with the agitation of the washing machine can kill bed bugs, nymphs (young bed bugs), and eggs – Typically, hot water above 120°F can kill bed bugs and their eggs.

Step 3: Dry on the highest heat setting

Drying on the hottest setting is recommended as the high temperatures are lethal to the bugs – Typically, high dryer temperatures above 113°F for about 30 minutes or more can kill bed bugs and their eggs. The extreme heat needs to permeate all clothing and linens to be effective, so dry them completely.

Step 4: Store washed clothes in sealed bags

After washing and drying, do not put clothes back into dressers or closets yet. Keep them sealed in plastic bags or storage bins until you are sure the infestation is gone from the home.

Only take out what you need to wear. This prevents any bugs you may have missed from spreading back into your clothing.

Step 5: Freeze delicate items

For delicate items that cannot withstand hot water or drying, place them in the freezer at 0°F or below for at least four days. This cold temperature kills bed bugs at all stages.

When freezing, make sure that the items are in bags and that they are sealed tightly.

Step 6: Repeat the washing cycle

If bed bugs are still present after the first wash cycle, repeat washing and drying the clothes. Thoroughly inspect the clothing for any remaining live bugs.

For heavy infestations, use a steamer to kill bugs and eggs before washing. The heat from the steamer will help eliminate the bed bugs.

Step 7: Dry cleaning

If you are unable to fully remove the bed bugs through washing at home, take the clothes to a dry cleaner. Inform them that the items are infested so they can take proper precautions. The heat used in dry cleaning can effectively kill bed bugs and their eggs.

Preventing Bed Bug Infestation

Being proactive is key to keeping bed bugs from infesting your clothing and home. To prevent bed bug infestation in the future, do the following:

1. Carefully inspect clothing after traveling

Bed bugs love to sneak into suitcases and take free rides home from vacations. So after every trip, give your bags and belongings the third degree before bringing them inside. Inspect all clothing and luggage thoroughly for any suspicious spots or stowaways. Make sure to check the seams and folds extra carefully! Even one stray bug can start an infestation.

Once home, immediately wash all clothing and linens on the hottest cycle and dry on the highest heat setting. This will exterminate any pests trying to move in. Take the same precautions after visiting friends or family too.

2. Avoid purchasing secondhand clothing/furniture

Buying used furniture or clothes is always tempting, but they can harbor hidden bed bugs too. Either avoid secondhand items altogether or inspect everything meticulously before bringing them home. Look in crevices and under cushions for signs of bugs. When in doubt, pass it up!

3. Use plastic bins or seal bags to store clothing

Make it hard for bed bugs to crawl into your clean clothes! Use plastic bins or sealable bags to store clothing and linens. After washing, seal items away until you need to wear them. This creates a bug-proof barrier between your closet and any wandering pests.

4. Be cautious of public seating areas

Bed bugs occasionally hitch rides on buses, trains, and theater seats too. After using public seating, keep exposed clothing isolated in a plastic bag until you can launder it. Then wash and dry items on hot settings to exterminate any hangers-on.

5. Keep sleeping areas clean and minimal

A clean, minimal bedroom is less inviting to bed bugs looking for places to hide. Eliminate clutter and keep sheets and bedding to a minimum. Give them fewer spots to tuck themselves away in!

When to Call for Professional Extermination

For serious or extensive bed bug infestations, professional extermination services (i.e., a pest control company) may be the best option.

They have access to intensive heat treatments, chemical spraying methods, and freezing techniques that reach bedbugs lurking in cracks and crevices all over the home. This can provide a more thorough and effective elimination than do-it-yourself approaches for severe cases or very tricky infestations.

Completely removing bed bugs often requires treatment of the entire home. While costly, professionals can give peace of mind knowing that the infestation has been fully eradicated so you can rest easy again.

Conclusion

Bed bugs are resilient pests that can stay on clothing and fabric for months. But through vigilance and proper laundering techniques, you can get rid of bed bugs and prevent infestations from taking hold.

What should you do? Be thorough in inspecting luggage and clothing after traveling and wash all items in hot water and high heat drying cycles. Store clothing in sealed bags or containers and avoid buying secondhand items without checking carefully first.

Stay proactive and don’t let your guard down when it comes to keeping bed bugs off your clothes!

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