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Will Drying Clothes Kill Bed Bugs?

By Chris Williams on September 29, 2014.
bed bugs killed in dryer

Bed bugs can be killed by the washer or dryer, if the cycle is hot and long enough.

People ask me this all the time and then seem surprised when I tell them, “Yes!” Fortunately, a conventional clothes dryer can kill bed bugs. This is good news since it is so hard to kill bed bugs, even with pesticides. High temperatures will kill many insects, and bed bugs are no exception.

Keep It Hot for a Long Time

Notice that I said “high temperatures.” One research study found that all stages of bed bugs died at temperatures of 104-122° F., if held for at least 30 minutes. Other research has shown that even higher temperatures are necessary to do the job. You should err on the side of drying for a longer time to ensure kill. When items spent only 10 minutes in a dryer on high, 25% of the bed bug nymphs and 15% of adult bed bugs survived. Using the COOL setting on a dryer for an extended time did not kill any bed bugs at all. This shows that it’s the heat, not the trauma of being “tumbled” that is killing the bugs.

The problem is that most people don’t know how hot their dryer gets on the HIGH or HOT setting. In general, LOW settings are around 125° F., MEDIUM settings reach 135° F., and on HIGH, a dryer should reach 155° F. Use the hottest dryer setting that your items will tolerate.

Washing clothes at very hot temperatures will also kill bed bugs without the need for a hot dry cycle—although adding a drying cycle will help insure kill. Again, both time and temperature are important. One hundred percent of bed bugs are killed when wash water is 140° F. for a 30-minute wash cycle. Washing at lower temperatures will kill adults and nymphs but most bed bugs eggs will survive.

Bed bugs don’t live in clothes like body lice but they will hide in clothes or shoes. And it’s very likely that some bed bugs will be found on bed linens and mattress covers. Clothes or other items that don’t require washing but do require bed bug disinfestation can be dried only. Items like backpacks, fabric purses, stuffed animals, and shoes can be placed in a dryer, too, as long as they won’t be damaged by hot temps. Dry cleaning kills all stages of bed bugs and is a good alternative for delicate items that can’t take hot washer or dryer temperatures.

Washing & Drying Won’t Eliminate an Infestation

Remember, though, that washing and/or drying clothes and certain items may give you peace of mind after a vacation, but if you have a bed bug infestation in your home, you need the services of a professional exterminator. After all, you can’t wash and dry your mattress, box spring, bedside table, etc., all of which may be hiding bed bugs.

photo credit: m01229 via photopin cc

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