By Chris Williams on October 9, 2017.

If you’re worried about bringing bed bugs home from your vacation, pay attention to your dirty laundry. Dirty clothes attract bed bugs. Yes, this sounds like an old wives tale. Bed bugs feed on people’s blood, what do they care about those less-than-clean T-shirts and undies that you’ve been throwing into your luggage for the trip home?

Apparently, bed bugs are attracted to the human smells on dirty clothes. Researchers at The University of Sheffield in England offered newly-fed bed bugs clean tote bags full of clean clothes and tote bags full of dirty clothes*. Five days later they checked the bags and discovered that, in the absence of a human, the bed bugs were twice as likely to crawl into the dirty clothes as they were the clean clothes.

*[The dirty clothes in the study were brand new, cotton T-shirts and socks worn by newly-showered volunteers for only 3 hours of normal activity…hardly normal “dirty” clothes by anyone’s definition].

When bed bugs are searching for a person to feed on, one of the things that they key in on is the many volatiles that make up human odor. Dirty clothes obviously contain various levels of human scent, depending on the human and how long he wore those sweaty clothes. Carbon dioxide generated by a person breathing is another bed bug cue. In a second part of the experiment, the researchers pumped CO2 into the test “bedroom” and found that the presence of carbon dioxide did not affect the earlier clothing preference results but it did get the bugs moving about in anticipation of a nearby blood meal.


1. When traveling, think about where you are putting the family’s dirty clothes. If you’re piling them up in a corner of the hotel room or on the closet floor, you’re inviting any bed bugs present to crawl into the pile and ride home with you. Storing dirty clothes in a hotel dresser drawer or suitcase won’t stop bed bugs, in fact that’s more likely to attract them. The best bet is to store dirty laundry in a sealed plastic bag and tote it home the same way. Keep travel laundry separate from other household laundry until washed and dried in a dryer.

2. If your college student brings dirty laundry home, ask him to transport it in a sealed bag. Make sure it stays in the bag until it’s put in the washer. Hot water and a high-heat drying cycle should kill bed bugs.

3. If you’re battling a bed bug problem in your home, rethink how you handle dirty laundry. If dirty clothes are stored in the bedroom, they could be hiding bed bugs.

Of course, you could use dirty laundry as a low-tech trap for bed bugs, but consider that most of the time bed bugs still prefer to hide as close to your bed, and you, as possible. Your scent is the real deal!



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