How To Spot and Remove Bed Bugs on Clothes (Kill Bed Bug Eggs on Clothes)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Pest Control | January 22, 2024

Woman with bites wonders if there are bed bugs on clothes, how to tell if bedbugs are in your clothes, how to kill bed bugs on clothes, does the dryer kill bed bugs, and can bed bugs bite through clothing?

Can you spot bed bugs on clothes before you accidentally take them into your home?

Absolutely, if you know what to look for. In fact, most bed bug infestations are carried home from the little bugs hitching a ride on clothing.

Bed bug bites can cause bug bite inflammation, itchiness, dead skin buildup, and severe allergic reactions in some cases.1

However, the most severe medical consequence of experiencing a bed bug infestation in your home is usually psychological shock and anxiety.1 Bed bugs are ancient, blood-seeking micro predators who actively seek living things to feed on.

Preventing bed bugs from hitching a ride to your home by attaching to clothes, perhaps while staying in an overnight rental, can be a real relief.

This complete guide explains how to look for and identify bed bugs on clothes before you bring them into your house and create an expensive infestation.

How To Tell if Bedbugs Are in Your Clothes

Bed bugs will leave behind evidence of their existence and spots like tiny blood stains, fecal matter, molted skin, and eggs. If you have a serious infestation, then it won’t be hard for you to spot bed bugs on clothes, laundry, or in a wardrobe closet.

However, by that time, they’ll likely have spread everywhere.

Bed bug saliva, as well as acting as an anesthetic also features blood thinning qualities that help it to ingest blood more efficiently.1

You might bleed in negligible amounts without realizing it and leave behind tiny dot-sized blood stains on your bed sheets or clothing, which is another telltale sign of their activity.

Graphics with text and images that shows how to tell if bedbugs are in your clothes.

If you suspect that you have a bed bug infestation in a wardrobe closet then you should expose the closet to light and look for the telltale signs of bed bug activity.

Is It Hard To Spot Bedbug Eggs on Clothes?

Recognizing a bed bug on shirt collections, pants, or other clothing items is very hard to do if you don’t know the typical symptoms of a bed bug infestation.

Most people don’t bother to learn how to recognize a bed bug or its egg until they have an infestation problem.

You probably won’t aesthetically recognize bed bug eggs on your clothing for what they are until long after you realize you have an infestation because the eggs are nearly translucent.

What To Look For With Bed Bug Eggs

Although bed bug eggs are difficult to spot, you can look for small, semi-transparent specks.

Eggs that have hatched are almost completely transparent.

Finding Bed Bugs on Clothes Is an Ancient Societal Plague

Aristotle wrote about bed bugs over 2,400 years ago.1 The term “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” was probably coined in the 1800s due to infestations plaguing Americans of the era.2

Beds of the era were comprised of a bed frame made of rope and mattresses filled with feathers, straw, or corn husks, materials that became ideal homes for bed bug intruders. Paris, the so-called City of Lights and the planet’s number one tourist destination is currently being overrun with an internationally embarrassing citywide bed bug infestation.3

Over 44 million tourists went to Paris in 2022 and yet about one out of every ten Parisian households reported experiencing severe bed bug infestations.3 It’s a hugely embarrassing cultural scandal for France since the country will host the Olympics in Summer 2024.4

Still, bed bugs are found in every continent and country and are experiencing a global resurgence as pests.5 Bed bugs as a genetic insect species are technically mutants and have developed intense resistance to modern pesticides.5 (More on that later)

The point is that while it is psychologically startling to spot bed bugs on clothes you’re wearing, there are simple solutions to enact to solve the problem. Maintaining vigilance and segregating luggage and clothes when traveling, investing in a garment steamer or room heater, and keeping to a regular cleaning schedule that includes vacuuming can help you stay bed bug-free or efficiently handle infestations as they arise.

This comprehensive guide on how to spot bed bugs on clothes offers many helpful eradication tips. Firstly, here is some brief but vital information about the ancient, blood-sucking bed bug.

Bed Bugs 101

Bed bugs are an ancient species of blood-sucking insect pests that probably evolved from insects that regularly feasted on bats, birds, and other ancient animals. There are less than 100 bed bug species currently in existence, however, scientists believe that only three distinct bed bug species have evolved to expand their diets to include humans.6

In other words, bed bugs have existed long before human beings walked the Earth to complain about infestations of bed bugs on clothes. Leptocimex boueti is a species of bed bug that is mostly native to West Africa.6

Cimex lectularius is the common bed bug, so if you find any bed bugs on clothes you own, it’s probably this species afflicting you.7 Cimex hemipterus is a bed bug species that is primarily found is tropical regions of the world.8

The common bed bug species of the modern era probably evolved from an insect ancestor over 115 million years ago.1 For some additional context to this fact, dinosaurs went extinct over 65 million years ago while the common bed bug is still thriving.9

An adult bed bug is about five millimeters long and kind of resembles a cross between a tiny roach and wide oblate beetle.10 Adult bed bugs are flat-width, red, reddish-brown, brown, or rust-brown in color.

Young bed bugs can sometimes look translucent if they have not been fed and can be mistaken for other insects if you don’t know what to look for. Bed bug eggs are whitish in color and can be the size of a pin’s head.

Although bed bugs and bed bug eggs are very small, they are not invisible to the naked eye and you can spot them if you know what to look for. Bed bugs are small and flat and prefer darkness but are not shy when exposed to light or if their infestation explodes in population.

Bed bugs leave behind molted cast-off skins as they grow, which is an indication of an infestation. Bed bug saliva contains enzymes that act like anesthesia, so their bites are painless.

Even though scientists have found bed bugs are capable of harboring pathogens, there is no current scientific research that shows that bed bugs transmit diseases, pathogens, or bacteria harmful to humans.1,6 Anywhere between 20 percent to 70 percent of people bitten by bed bugs don’t even physically manifest adverse symptoms.1

Most of the physical symptoms that manifest after a bed bug bite are patches of inflammation, blisters, itchiness, lesions, minor bleeding, and potential allergic reactions. However, the most potent medical consequence of being bitten by a bed bug is the psychological shock.

A bed bug is a creepily-looking micro predator that locates humans via carbon dioxide emission, body warmth, and chemical smell detection and then stealthily sucks blood for sustenance. What makes bed bugs so creepy is their tenacity for survival.

Recent scientific research shows that bed bugs probably existed before bats even existed, so scientists have no idea what bed bugs were feeding on before bats; in other words, bed bugs never needed human beings to survive and might outlive humans if there was another global cataclysm like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.11 In this context, these creepy micro predators should probably be called anything except “bed bugs.”

Worse, scientists are concluding that bed bugs are genetic insect mutants with an exoskeleton and physiology that is evolutionarily designed to help them develop resistance to disease and human-made pesticides.12 The bed bugs of the early 20th century were eliminated from large swathes of Europe after the invention of DDT.1

However, modern bed bugs have developed strong resistance to DDT, diatomaceous earth, and other pesticides.5 However, the bed bug cannot survive 90 minutes of exposure to temperatures above 113 degrees Fahrenheit.1,5

Additionally, many experts believe that the bed bug will never develop a resistance to high-temperature heat exposure as an extermination method.13 There are also newer pesticides that will kill bed bugs, but they are toxic to humans and the bed bug might develop future resistance to them.

How Long Do Bed Bugs Live on Clothes?

To answer the questions, “How long can bed bugs live without food” or “How long can bed bugs live without a host?” you need to understand that bed bugs can live for long times without food.

Some experts believe that bed bugs can live for a few days and up to 300 days without eating.1 There is other scientific research that suggests bed bugs might be able to live 400+ days without ingesting blood.14

Some scientists have also theorized that bed bugs enter the insect equivalent of hibernation or physiological dormancy to be able to live so long without sustenance. So, how long do bed bugs live?

While bed bugs are technically not immortal, they can live well over a year without feeding and explode in population once an infestation takes hold, so it might seem that way to you once afflicted. As previously mentioned, out of almost 100 species of bed bugs, barely three have evolved to include humans in their diet plans.

Bed bugs have never needed human beings to survive and can live a long time without a parasitic host as a meal. Bed bugs can live on your clothes for weeks or months without detection depending on how long you go cycling through unworn wardrobe items.

Dormant bed bugs will be awakened by heat and carbon dioxide emissions when you wear infected clothing, although their sustenance activities will become noticeable via the telltale signs over time.

Can Bed Bugs Travel on Clothes?

Bed bugs on clothes hitchhiking is a good way for bed bugs to get around, but they do not just spontaneously appear on your clothes.

Graphics showing the common areas where bed bugs are which include theater and public transportation seats, sofas, and hotels.

You are more likely to get bed bugs on clothes contamination from an infected movie theater seat, public transportation seat, or the sofa of an infected dwelling you visit.

Your clothes are more likely to get infested with bed bugs after you lay your luggage on the floor, bed, or sofa of an infected hotel room.

You can spot them by inspecting the hems or seams of your clothes before you enter your home.

Can Bed Bugs Bite Thru Clothing?

Bed bugs eat through a straw-like orifice called a proboscis like other insects. As the insect’s saliva anesthetizes the puncture site and thins the blood, it injects its proboscis into the skin and begins sucking blood for sustenance.

A bed bug cannot efficiently bite through clothing to suck your blood. Bed bugs need direct tactile contact with your skin to suck blood efficiently.

Visible bed bugs on clothes contamination is more of a sign that you just recently brought bed bugs into your home from outside or you have an unchecked and unnoticed infestation in your home already raging.

How To Prevent Bed Bugs From Getting on Your Clothes

When you travel on public transportation or sit in public entertainment venues, inspect the seat before sitting down.

Put your luggage in the bathtub after checking into a hotel room and check the chairs, sofa, couch, mattress, and any piece of furniture that is more likely to be used by people.

Graphics with texts and images that shows how to prevent bed bugs from getting on your clothes.

Routinely check frequently used furniture like the couch; how to check for bed bugs should become a routine strategy whenever you travel to new places and then come back home.

Other Basic Tips for Keeping Bed Bugs Off Clothes

Be careful when touching wild or stray animals; they could be infested with bed bugs that you may not notice until too late. Clean and vacuum your home regularly.

Regularly vacuum the inner folds of the sofa and couches often. Live a minimalist lifestyle and declutter your home.

The more clothing and items that you have in your home during a suspected bed bug infestation, the more items you will need to heat treat or consider throwing away. Inspect all second-hand furniture, items, and goods you buy before bringing them into your home.

How To Kill Bed Bugs on Clothes

The solution to bed bugs on clothes infestation is relative to the severity of your infestation problem. Finding bed bugs, molted bed bug skin, fecal matter, and tiny dot blood stains on your clothing could just be a clue that you possibly got infected outside of your home and then infected your furniture and mattress via your clothes.

If you believe that your clothes are infected by bed bugs then you should start by strategically examining your clothes for bed bug activity. Separate all suspected clothing items and segregate them into plastic bags; do not use cardboard boxes.

Bed bugs can easily inhabit, hide, and multiply in the porous air voids in the corrugated parts of cardboard boxes. Bed bugs die once exposed to long periods of heat over 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, you can wash your clothes on the highest heat setting a few times or you can dry them in the dryer. Use your common sense and dry suspected infested clothing at 30-minute or 45-minute intervals for an hour to 90 minutes.

You can use a traditional garment heat steamer to kill bed bugs if you believe only a few articles of clothing are infested. For best results, make sure that the heat settings on any method you use are at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Does Washing Clothes Kill Bed Bugs?

Washing clothing infected with bed bugs should kill them as long as the water’s temperature is over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Additionally, it might take multiple washings to get the job done. The dryer, set on high heat is also effective at killing them.

Clothes in the washing machine that answers does washing clothes kill bed bugs.

(Image: stevepb16)

Do bed bugs die in the washer? If the water temperature is less than 113 degrees then all your efforts will be in vain.

You are better off drying your clothes at high settings at 30-minute or 45-minute intervals for an hour or 90 minutes in total.

If I Have Bed Bugs Do I Need To Wash All My Clothes?

Bed bugs congregate in areas that optimize their efficient access to food. You should separate any clothing you suspect of being infected, and any clothing pile it was a part of, from your wardrobe.

Focus on drying or washing those clothes in high heat settings. Then carefully inspect your other clothing; you may not necessarily need to wash every item of clothing you own but it is not a bad idea if you are suffering from a bad infestation.

Does the Dryer Kill Bed Bugs on Clothes?

Your laundry dryer will kill bed bugs on clothes, but the heat setting should be set at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not stuff the dryer drum full of clothing, that will only make the dryer work harder and potentially overheat it.

Never leave the dryer unattended if you opt to use this method.

Is It Easier To Find Bed Bugs During the Night or Day?

Bed bugs like hiding and congregating in the corner folds of mattresses, the inner folds of sofas and couches, crevices and cracks in chairs and other furniture to hide from the light. Bed bugs prefer to live in darkness and stealthily bite humans as they sleep.

Still, bed bugs are not shy and will visibly scurry around in the daytime when disturbed. You won’t have to worry about how to find bed bugs during the day if you have a bad enough infestation.

Do Bed Bugs Infest One Room or the Entire Home?

If one room has bed bugs do they all? That all depends on the severity of the infestation. The bed bugs in your home might be congregated in the folds of a sofa or couch or the folds in the corners of a mattress.

You just need to strategically identify severe congregation centers of the infestation of your home. So, one or two rooms in your home might be infected, but not the whole place.

What Should I Do if My Mattress Is Infested With Bed Bugs?

If you want to know how to get rid of bed bugs in a mattress, your best option might be to get rid of it.

You might be able to use a garment steamer to heat any area where you visibly see bed bugs, but they are also small enough to infiltrate the interior of the mattress.

Photo of a backpack infested with bed bugs.

(Image: Ventriloquist17)

Professional bed bug exterminators utilize a process called heat chamber treatments where they use specialized and industrial-sized space heaters that can heat a room or even an entire home to over 113 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour or more to kill every bed bug within the infested environment. While this extermination method can be costly, it’s a good way to delouse your mattress.

Otherwise, it may be cheaper and more efficient for you to just throw away the mattress or any large item of furniture that is deeply infiltrated with bed bugs.

Is a Bed Bug Infestation a Sign of Living a Unhygienic Lifestyle?

You should feel no shame if you’re currently afflicted by a bed bug infestation. Bed bug bites are not a stigma of leading an unhygienic lifestyle; some of the most luxurious hotels in Paris, France are currently infested with bed bugs.

Bed bugs are opportunistic bloodsuckers that hitchhike everyone on clothes, public transport, commercial airliners, and ships, and are easily found in high population density areas all over the world.

What Is the Average Cost for a Bed Bug Exterminator?

If want you to know “How much does a bed bug exterminator cost?” It’s a lot.

Typical exterminator prices or Terminix pricing can be as little as $300 or as much as $1,750.15 The fumigation or heat treatment for bed bugs cost can be as high as $5,000 or more for an entire house.15

Also, keep in mind that it could take multiple treatments before they take effect depending on the severity of the infestation. Professional exterminators know how to get rid of bed bugs efficiently, so you should probably consider their services if needed.

Are There Any Organic DIY Ways To Kill Bedbugs?

Using diatomaceous earth for bed bugs as an extermination method may not work. Diatomaceous earth is an extreme desiccant that can shred and violently dehydrate bed bugs, but they have developed a resistance to it in recent decades.5

Isopropyl alcohol might kill them but you are more likely to annoy them and cause them to scurry away. Heat chamber treatments are probably the best solution for how to get rid of bed bugs permanently.

Graphics with texts and images that shows how to kill bed bugs on clothes.

Extreme cold also kills bed bugs but may not be a practical solution in an enclosed setting. What kills bed bugs instantly?

The strategic application of ambient heat. You should feel no shame if you discover a bed bug infestation in your home, but you should act fast to deal with the problem.

Once you start noticing bed bugs on clothes contamination, especially during the daytime, then the problem could be more severe than you realize.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bed Bugs on Clothes

Are Bed Bugs Immortal?

Bed bugs are not technically immortal, but they have been documented to live for over 400 days without eating. If you have a severe infestation in your home then you could experience multiple generations of bed bug populations living and dying in your home for years making it seem like they are immortal.

What Is the Most Serious Medical Effect of Experiencing a Bed Bug Infestation?

The most serious effect of finding bed bugs on your clothes or at home is the psychological shock of discovery and the resulting anxiety or shame. Beyond developing itchiness, inflamed bites and blisters, lesions, and allergic reactions, bed bug bites are not dangerous or fatal.

Do Bed Bugs Emit an Odor?

Some scientific research suggests that bed bug congregations emit a smell reminiscent of rotting and decaying strawberries. Other experts believe that bed bugs emit a more foul-smelling odor as they congregate.

Read More About Bed Bugs on Clothes


References

1Wikipedia. (2023). Bed Bug. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bed_bug>

2Karstensen, R. (18 January 2018). Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite – A Myth Debunked. Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://blogs.libraries.indiana.edu/wyliehouse/2018/01/18/sleep-tight-dont-let-the-bed-bugs-bite-a-myth-debunked/>

3Morelli, O., and Hobbs, C. (13 October 2023). The Bedbugs in Paris: Here’s What We Know So Far. Conde Nast Traveler. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.cntraveler.com/story/bedbugs-are-taking-paris-heres-what-you-need-to-know>

4BBC Sports. (2023). Paris 2024 Olympics: Russian and Belarusian athletes allowed to compete as neutrals. BBC Sports. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.bbc.com/sport/olympics/67663582>

5Jone, B. (15 October 2023). It’s not just Paris. There’s a “global resurgence” of bedbugs. Vox. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth/2023/10/15/23914204/paris-france-bed-bugs-infestation-outbreak>

6Weirauch, C., and Gerry, A. (2023). Bed Bugs. UC Riverside. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://cisr.ucr.edu/invasive-species/bed-bugs>

7Wikipedia. (2023). Cimex lectularius. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cimex_lectularius>

8Wikipedia. (2023). Cimex hemipterus. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cimex_hemipterus>

9USGS. (2023). When did dinosaurs become extinct? USGS. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/when-did-dinosaurs-become-extinct>

10EPA. (2023). Bed Bugs Appearance and Life Cycle. EPA. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/bed-bugs-appearance-and-life-cycle>

11Wu, K. (16 May 2019). Bed bugs don’t need beds, or humans, to survive. They never did. PBS. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/bed-bugs-phylogeny/>

12Fessenden, M. (14 March 2013). Massive Resistance: Bed Bugs’ Genetic Armor Shields Them from Pesticides. Scientific American. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/massive-resistance-bed-bugs/>

13Ashbrook AR, Scharf ME, Bennett GW, & Gondhalekar AD. 7 February 2019. Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.) exhibit limited ability to develop heat resistance. PLoS One. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366730/>

14UCIPM. (2023). Pests of Homes, Structures, People, and Pets. UCIPM. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7454.html>

15This Old House. 27 March 2023. How Much Does a Bed Bug Exterminator Cost? This Old House. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.thisoldhouse.com/pest-control/reviews/bed-bug-exterminator-cost>

16Washing machine, Laundry, Tumble drier Photo by Steve Buissinne (stevepb). (2017, August 21) / Pixabay Content License. Resized. Pixabay. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/washing-machine-laundry-tumble-drier-2668472/>

17Bed Bug Infestation Photo by Ventriloquist. (2018, January 25) / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped and Resized. Retrieved December 14, 202, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bed_Bug_Infestation.jpg>