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Will Washing Clothes Kill Ticks?

By Chris Williams on September 26, 2011.

Washing the kids’ clothes should kill any hitchhiking ticks that are still hanging on. It should, but does it? Ticks are tough, as anyone who’s tried to kill one knows.

Agricultural Research Service entomologist John Carroll was surprised to find a live lone star tick in his family washing machine. He decided to find out just how tough ticks are. He bagged up some nymphs of both the lone star tick and the blacklegged (deer) tick and then put them in the washing machine. The blacklegged tick is the tick that spreads Lyme disease in our area.

Carroll tried a number of different wash temperature settings and a number of different detergents. Most of the lone star ticks survived all of the water temperature/detergent combinations with no obvious problems. The deer ticks lived through the cold and warm water settings, but when one type of detergent was used with a hot water setting, only 25% of the deer ticks survived.


Because the tick nymphs were placed in mesh bags, they were prevented from being drained out of the machine during the rinse cycle (which is what might happen in real life). But in real life, ticks could probably survive the rinse cycle by hiding in the folds and crevices of the clothes. Hiding in the clothes in a washing machine might also help them survive the water and soap. Some ticks have been known to survive hours of submersion in fresh water.

What about drying the clothes? Will the heat kill the ticks? When the ticks were tumbled in the dryer for one hour set on “air only” (no heat), half of the lone star ticks and one third of the deer ticks survived that rough ride. But when they were tumbled for one hour (and that’s a long drying cycle), at high heat, all of the ticks of both species were killed.

So, what does this tell us? If you or your kids have been in tick-infested areas and you think ticks might still be hiding in the clothes, wash the clothes in hot water and dry them at a high heat setting. Since some ticks can survive even a hot water wash, drying the clothes at high heat is the most important factor.
 

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