How to Wash and Care for Laundry Infested With Bedbugs

Bedbugs are tiny, flat, oval-shaped insects that feed on human blood. They are a nuisance pest that can infest homes, hotels, schools and other places where humans sleep or rest. Bedbugs do not fly or jump, but they are good at crawling and hiding. They are mostly active at night when people are sleeping. Adult bedbugs are reddish-brown in color, while young nymphs are smaller and lighter in color.

Bedbugs can hitch a ride into your home on luggage, furniture, clothing, bedding and other items. They can spread from room to room in a home or travel between units in an apartment building. Bedbugs get their name because they like to hide in bedding and mattresses during the day. However, they can also be found hiding in carpeting, furniture, walls and other places.

If you find bedbugs in your laundry, take action right away to kill them and stop them from spreading further. With the proper washing techniques and prevention measures, you can eliminate bedbugs from your clothing and bedding. This article provides comprehensive guidance on how to wash and care for laundry infested with bedbugs.

Inspect Items for Signs of Bedbugs

At the first sign of a possible bedbug infestation, thoroughly inspect your laundry and rooms to identify all affected items. Look for:

  • Live bugs – Check mattress seams, bed frames, linens, furniture, cracks and crevices. Bedbugs are small and can hide very well.
  • Blood spots – Look for tiny dark stains on your sheets or mattress from crushed bedbugs.
  • Molted skins – As bedbugs grow, they shed their exoskeletons. These translucent skins may be left behind in infested areas.
  • Odor – Some people report smelling a “musty, sweet” odor from bedbug infestations.
  • Bites – Bedbugs feed on blood, leaving small, itchy bite marks on skin. Bites often occur in lines or clusters.

Carefully isolate any laundry or fabric items that show signs of bedbugs. The bugs can spread very easily, so contain infested items in sealed bags until they can be treated.

Wash Infested Laundry in Hot Water

Heat is one of the most effective ways to kill all stages of bedbugs. Washing laundry in very hot 140°F (60°C) water will kill bedbugs and their eggs.

Follow these steps to wash bedbug-infested laundry:

  • Do not mix infested laundry with non-infested items. Keep them separated.
  • For washers without a sanitization cycle, use the hottest water temperature possible for the fabric type.
  • For white laundry, wash in hot water at 140°F (60°C) for at least 20 minutes.
  • For colored laundry, use the hottest water safe for the material. Dry on the highest heat setting.
  • Dry everything on the highest heat setting afterwards to kill any remaining bugs.
  • Repeat washing and drying if you see any living bedbugs after the first cycle.

The heat from the washer and dryer should kill all bedbugs and eggs, leaving your laundry bug-free. Be sure to move the clean laundry to another room or indoor area not infested.

Use Laundry Additives to Boost Effectiveness

Adding certain products to your wash cycle can further help eliminate bedbugs:

  • Laundry detergent – Use a detergent like you normally would. Detergents help wash away bedbugs and their debris from fabric.
  • Bleach – For white, color-safe laundry, add 1/2 cup of bleach per load. Bleach kills bedbugs and eggs on contact.
  • Borax – This natural mineral compound has insecticidal properties. Add 1/2 cup borax per laundry load.
  • Baking soda – Baking soda helps scrub out bedbug debris. Add 1/2 cup per wash cycle.
  • Vinegar – White vinegar helps remove bedbug blood stains. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup per load.
  • Essential oils – Oils like tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus and peppermint have bug-repelling properties. Add 10 drops per load.

Only use these laundry additives for fabrics that can tolerate them safely. Do not use bleach, vinegar or other additives on delicate fabrics like silk, wool or spandex.

Dry on the Hottest Setting

After washing infested laundry in hot water, it is vital to dry items on the highest heat setting. Tumble drying will kill any bedbugs or eggs that may have survived the wash cycle.

  • Dry laundry on the hottest cycle allowed for the fabric type. Use very high heat up to 140°F if possible.
  • Dry for at least 20 minutes at the highest heat to ensure bedbugs are killed.
  • For added assurance, dry longer or use a second dry cycle on already dried laundry. The extra heat exposure will kill any remaining bedbugs.
  • Remove laundry immediately once the dry cycle finishes so bedbugs don’t crawl back on.

Drying bedbug laundry on a clothesline in the sun may not heat items enough to fully kill bedbugs. Using a mechanical tumble dryer is best.

Clean Machines and Laundry Area Afterwards

Once you have washed and dried any infested laundry, it is important to also clean the machines and laundry room to prevent bedbugs from lingering or spreading.

  • Empty lint traps in the washer and dryer after use. Discard lint in a tightly sealed bag.
  • Scrub out washers and dryers with hot water, soap and a brush to remove any bedbugs or eggs.
  • Vacuum the laundry room floor, counters and any cracks or crevices bedbugs could hide. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Seal used vacuum bags tightly and dispose of them outside immediately.
  • Disinfect laundry hampers, baskets, detergent bottles and other containers in the room.
  • Limit items stored in the laundry area to prevent bedbug hiding spots.

With diligent machine cleaning, you can prevent bedbugs from taking hold again in your laundry room.

Take Apart and Inspect Machine Parts

Bedbugs can sometimes get lodged inside laundry machines themselves. Take apart washers and dryers and inspect all crevices that bugs could hide:

  • Remove and inspect under the washing machine rim. Vacuum and sanitize the space beneath it.
  • Check under the dryer lint screen housing and clean out any debris.
  • For top load washers, take off the lid and inspect around the rim, hinges and underside.
  • Remove and disinfect the washing machine barrel, agitator and laundry plates if possible.
  • Vacuum out the space behind dryers where vent hoses attach.
  • Seal and discard any debris that could contain bedbugs.

Thoroughly disassembling and cleaning washing machines can help eliminate all traces of bedbugs. Contact appliance repair professionals if you need assistance taking machines apart.

Quarantine and Monitor After Treatment

After treating and drying infested laundry, remain vigilant for any signs that bedbugs remain:

  • Keep treated laundry bags sealed for 2-3 weeks. Inspect sealed bags for any bedbugs that may still be alive.
  • Check bedrooms and other areas near the infested laundry daily for 2-3 weeks. Look for live bugs or new stains/skins.
  • Continue washing and drying clothes at high heat during the monitoring period.
  • Vacuum frequently to detect and control any emerging bedbug activity.
  • Consider professional pest control treatment if bedbugs persist after aggressive laundry and heat treatments.

Staying observant for any lingering bedbug activity will help ensure you fully eliminate the infestation following laundry treatments.

Prevent Bedbugs from Infesting Laundry

Stopping bedbugs from initially infesting your laundry requires diligence:

  • Inspect secondhand furniture and clothing for signs of bedbugs before bringing them home.
  • Wash and dry clothes immediately after traveling before mixing with other laundry.
  • Use mattress and box spring covers to restrict bugs from infesting bedding.
  • Vacuum and declutter bedrooms regularly to remove bedbug hiding spots.
  • Fix cracks in walls, peeling wallpaper and other areas bedbugs can hide and nest.
  • Avoid using laundry hampers or baskets that sit directly on bedroom floors.
  • Keep dirty laundry in sealed bags until washing to prevent bedbug escape and transfer.

With proper precautions, you can avoid introducing bedbugs that can infest your clothing and laundry.

When to Call a Professional Exterminator

If DIY treatments don’t eliminate bedbugs from your laundry or home, professional pest control may be needed:

  • Exterminators have access to insecticides and fumigation methods homeowners cannot use.
  • They can treat all rooms and hiding spots where bedbugs may linger.
  • Professionals can confirm whether bugs are fully eliminated after treatment.
  • It can be expensive, but vital for severe, persistent infestations.

Consider calling in an exterminator if you still see live bedbugs after aggressive washing, drying, vacuuming and cleaning of your laundry and home. They can take inspection and extermination to the next level.

Frequently Asked Questions

What temperature kills bed bugs in laundry?

  • Washing infested laundry in 140°F (60°C) hot water will kill all stages of bedbugs, including eggs. Drying on very high heat will also kill bedbugs.

Does putting clothes in the dryer kill bed bugs?

  • Yes, drying laundry on the highest heat setting will kill remaining bedbugs and eggs after washing clothes. Use at least 20 minutes on the hottest cycle. Repeated drying provides added assurance.

Can bed bugs live in washing machines?

  • Bedbugs can occasionally get into washing machines and survive wash cycles. Inspect machines thoroughly after washing infested laundry. Take apart and sanitize all parts. Vacuum under, behind and inside machines to remove bedbugs.

What scent keeps bedbugs away?

  • Essential oils like tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus and peppermint may help repel bedbugs. Dilute oils in water and spray on infested surfaces, but avoid direct contact with skin. Oils should not replace other treatments.

Will Lysol kill bed bugs?

  • Lysol is less effective than heat treatments for killing bedbugs. Lysol may kill some bedbugs on contact, but it will not eliminate infestations from laundry or bedrooms. Use Lysol cleaners to help sanitize laundry rooms and machines after heat treatments.


Bedbugs can easily hitch a ride on clothing and hide in laundry, requiring thorough washing protocols to destroy infestations. By using very hot 140°F water, high heat drying and laundry additives, you can kill bedbugs and their eggs to stop them from spreading further in your home and clothing. Take apart and clean washing machines afterward as well. Follow prevention tips, quarantine procedures and consider professional pest control if bedbugs remain after aggressive DIY treatments. With diligence and intense heat, you can clear bedbugs from your laundry and halt infestations.