Did you recently take a vacation out of town and stayed at a motel? Maybe you went to the local laundromat to get your clothes cleaned and had your clean laundry next to another person’s soiled clothing?. When you go to the closet and grab your favorite shirt to wear and suddenly start feeling itchy and pull it off, you’re horrified to see that you have little red bite marks on you. This looks like the work of bed bugs and it can happen more often than you think.
Bed bugs are not a problem that you would want to encounter in your home, but infestations are unfortunately on the rise due to what scientists are calling a “rapid global expansion” of the blood sucking pests. One of the avenues of which bed bugs gain access into a home is through our luggage and suitcases, nuzzling into our clothing and staying out of sight until you decide to pull out the garment and wear it.
If bed bugs are in your clothes, keep reading to find out what you should do to wipe out the infestation before your entire wardrobe is riddled with bed bugs.
The Rise of Bed Bugs
Bed bug infestations have skyrocketed in the U.S. and have steadily been doing so the last 20 years or so. Pest control specialists have reported that they receive more calls specifically to deal with bed bug problems than any other issue. Scientists believe the increase of bed bug presence is in large due to international travel and people gathering in areas with high human traffic such as airports, bus stations, theatres, hotels and motels etc.
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Bed bugs don’t fly or jump, so how is it that they get around so quickly that it seems that they appear out of nowhere? Their ability of hiding and crawling is what makes them so sneaky. They will crawl from one object to another and will hitchhike onto objects that lay around in close proximity. This can range anywhere from purses, to suitcases and sports bags to larger objects like couches and furniture.
Most people that have bed bugs or are carrying bed bugs don’t realize it until they have been bitten and feel an irritating itch. You can have company over from out of town who are guests for a few hours or are allowed to spend the night and they will have bed bugs in their things and they will crawl from their belongings onto yours, spreading the infestation to you.
Bed bugs hide really well, so you won’t notice an issue until nightfall. Bed bugs are nocturnal and hide during the day then activate themselves at night, crawling to where their preferred host (us humans) sleep. They will crawl up our beds and right onto us to feed. When they sink their disgusting mouthparts onto us, at the same time, they inject us with a numbing substance so we don’t feel them feeding upon us temporarily.
By the time we feel an irritating itch and wake up to find out where they are, bed bugs have retreated back to their hiding spots (often in the nooks and crannies of your mattress). This is what makes dealing with bed bugs the most frustrating.
While bed bugs are not known for spreading disease, their itchy bites can cause allergic reactions and their appetite for human blood revs up their reproductive process, meaning the more they get to feed, the more they get to multiply, meaning the more you and the loved ones living with you are going to continue to be feasted upon.
Bed Bugs Like Soiled Clothes
According to a recent scientific study, it appears that bed bugs are fans of our dirty laundry. Bed bugs in general are attracted to human scent and are lured by it when they are looking to fill their stomachs, but there’s something about stinky clothing that makes them want to stick around.
An experiment performed by scientists tests this theory by releasing bed bugs into a room where there were two bags of clothing separated from one another—one filled with clean clothes and the other filled with dirty socks and soiled t-shirts. After the testing ended, the researchers found that the amount of bed bugs that were attracted to the dirty clothes double that of the ones that gravitated to the clean clothes. They concluded it was due to the fact that bed bugs have the ability to smell human compounds on our bodies and those that linger behind on used, unclean clothing.
It is important to note that bed bugs do not prefer to live in clothing, especially clothing we are currently wearing. This is because bed bugs don’t want to be around heat, and so the body heat we give off while they happen to be in our clothing would be unpleasant to them. They would just want to get a blood meal and leave to a cool, dark area away from us such as shoes, mattresses, luggage and furniture crevices until they want to feed again.
It has also been found from studies that when bed bugs do temporarily hide in clothing, they prefer dark colored clothing as opposed to light or white colored clothing. This makes sense as it keeps them (and the blood stains they leave behind) undetected.
How To Rid Bed Bugs From Infested Clothes
When it comes to getting bed bugs out of your clothing, your best option is to treat with heat. Bed bugs are vulnerable to temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and above as it kills every phase of the bed bug cycle.
Pre-sort your clothing, separating the clothing that are dry-clean only like you should do for a typical day of laundry. Once sorted, load your clothing into the washing machine (making sure not to do so in a rough manner so bed bugs don’t fly off a piece or clothing and onto the floor) and place it on the highest heat setting for at least an hour. In that amount of time, bed bugs that are on your clothes will likely be killed.
To be certain the bed bugs are dead, move the washed clothing immediately into the dryer and start a cycle on the highest heat setting there as well. When you are done washing and drying your clothes, they should be free of bed bugs, but you shouldn’t put them back in their usual places just yet.
It is recommended to place clothing that were infested by bed bugs in a plastic bag and keep them in your closet away from your dressers and other potential areas that bed bugs may be in so they don’t reinfest the item. Whenever you want to wear an item from the quarantined bag of clothes, pull it out from the bag. Items should not be put away until the bed bug infestation is totally under control.
What About Clothes You Can’t Wash?
While a washer and dryer cycle can treat the majority of bed bug infested clothing you have, there are some clothing items that this method would not be wise to heat treat. These are usual sensitive fabrics apparel that is labeled to be dry-clean only and either shouldn’t be washed or will not tolerate the high heat settings that are needed to kill bed bugs infestations. Thankfully there is an alternative you can use, replacing extreme heat with extreme cold.
Bed bugs are unable to withstand freezing temperatures and so for clothing such as lingerie, silk attire, suede shoes and stuffed animals that bed bugs can periodically infest, you should place the items in a freezer. Place the item in a plastic bag first and put them in the freezer for at least a couple days, depending on how large the item is. This will freeze and kill adult bed bugs and their eggs.
You can then take the items out and vacuum them to remove any of the frozen bed bug remains that are on the item.
Bed Bugs Are Not Just On Clothing
It would be also wise to do this not just for your clothing but also your bedding as bed bugs may be hiding there as well.
Strip your bed of the bed sheets, comforters, pillowcases and whatever else and run them through a cycle as well. If you have a significant infestation, these laundry cycles can kill a good number of them but only a handful of bed bugs that are lingering around can be enough to reignite a new infestation since they lay so many eggs and reproduce so quickly.
This is why it’s also important to carry out a bed bug control program by vacuuming, steam cleaning and using the proper pesticides to address all the bed bugs that you may have present in your home.
Preventing Future Infestations
If you are successful in getting rid of bed bugs from your homes and clothing items, don’t celebrate just yet. You need to make sure you are cautious because you could very well get bed bugs again if you are not careful.
When traveling, make sure to place your luggage on metal luggage racks in your hotel room or keep them near the door on a raised smooth surface since bed bugs are unable to climb up smooth surfaces to crawl into your things. Your dirty laundry should be sealed in an airtight bag to mask the smell and make bed bugs unable to sneak into the bag.
When you return back from traveling, make sure you thoroughly examine your luggage bag and wash the clothing items immediately. Your best bet to make sure no bed bugs are found alive is to put the bag in a portable bed bug heating chamber to heat treat and kill any existing bed bugs.
By taking these measures, you’ll never have to deal with bed bug bites whenever you lay your head to rest at night or put on your favorite clothes.
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