The truth is, you can get bed bugs almost anywhere.
In metropolitan areas like New York City, people will occasionally bring clothes with bed bugs to laundromats and dry cleaners.
Sometimes it’s done purposely in order to get rid of these pests, and other times it can be an accidental result of bed bugs sneaking into dirty laundry undetected.
So how can you avoid picking up someone else’s bed bugs at these places?
And if you have a bed bug problem, what precautions should you take with your laundry to protect others?
How do dry cleaners deal with bed bugs?
Many dry cleaners are aware of the problem of bed bugs and take special precautions against them. Some even specialize in getting bed bugs and their eggs off clothing.
The dry cleaning process usually treats garments with heat. If this heat treatment gets every part of the garment up to 120 degrees for at least a minute, no bed bugs or eggs will survive.
Feel free to ask your dry cleaner at what temperature your garments will be treated and for how long.
What precautions can you take?
It’s possible to get bed bugs at a dry cleaner from patrons who have been less cautious, just as it’s possible to get bed bugs anywhere.
But because of the combined series of treatments (heat & chemicals) involved in dry cleaning, it’s highly unlikely for you to get bed bugs there.
If you would like to take extra precautions, you can visually inspect your garments after leaving the dry cleaners. (Remember, bed bugs are slightly smaller than the size of an apple seed and rarely hide in the open, so check in folds and pockets.).
After you get home, dispose of the paper hangers provided by the dry cleaner, and hang your garments on wire or plastic hangers.
If you suspect you have bed bugs, you should warn your dry cleaners so that they can take precautions to protect their other patrons. Your regular cleaner may ask you to take your clothing to a specialist until the end of your infestation.
Laundromats are a different animal altogether. Being self-service by design, it is up to you to protect yourself and others at laundromats.
Instead of using drop-off services, it’s best to do your laundry yourself so that you can ensure every precaution is being taken.
How to avoid picking up bed bugs at the laundromat:
- Don’t set your laundry on tables, seating, or floors.
- If you carry your laundry in a cloth bag, put that cloth bag in the wash too.
- Run the dryer on medium to high heat when possible.
- Take items out of the dryer 1-by-1 for a quick visual check.
- Wait until you get home before folding laundry.
How much heat is needed to kill bed bugs?
Heat is your friend. Bed bugs die at 113 degrees Fahrenheit and their eggs die at 120 degrees Fahrenheit (if the temperature is sustained for at least a minute).
However, while washing your clothes on hot will kill most bed bugs, some will find pockets of cooler temperatures to survive. Thus, making proper use of the dryer is extremely important.
In order for every part of your clothing to reach the proper temperature, you need to run the dryer for anywhere from 15 minutes (if the clothes are dry and light) to 90 minutes (if you have a lot of bulky, wet clothes).
Some dryers can’t get to this temperature at all, so you might want to test the temperature with a small (non-mercury) thermometer.
For clothes that can’t be dried at a high temperature, be sure to visually inspect them when you remove them from the dryer. If you suspect you have bed bugs, bring low-temperature clothes to a dry cleaner that specializes in bed bugs.
Avoid bed bugs by properly bagging your laundry
If you don’t have bed bugs, bring your dirty laundry in a cloth bag, then wash said cloth bag with your laundry every time.
If you suspect you have bed bugs, bring your clothing to the laundromat in sealed plastic bags (biodegradable ones for the sake of mother nature), and dump it directly into the washing machine.
Take the old plastic bags, tie them up, and dispose of them as you would any trash you suspect might be infested (sealed in plastic, labeled, and outside).
After your clothes are cleaned, move them directly from the dryer into new plastic bags and seal them tightly. Watch out for tears!
When you get home, visually inspect the outside of your bags of clean laundry before you bring them inside.
Don’t put clothing on laundromat surfaces
Bring your own cart or basket, and do not set your laundry basket on the floor or any kind of seating.
Visually inspect the joints of your laundry cart or basket before putting your clean clothing in.
Do not fold your clothes at the laundromat. Seriously, please don’t. If you absolutely must do so for some reason, visually inspect the table and wipe it down with an alcohol wipe.
Should you use a laundromat or dry cleaner if you have bed bugs?
If you don’t have bed bugs, it is up to you to work with your laundromat and dry cleaners to protect yourself.
When picking a laundromat or dry cleaner, feel free to ask their established protocols on bed bug protection — for instance, do they have a monthly canine bed bug inspection?
If they don’t, be sure to let them know you’ll be using another business for now, but will be happy to switch when they adopt bed bug protocols in the future.
Laundromats and dry cleaners are valuable tools for bed bug treatment and prevention.
Use heat whenever possible, keep dirty and clean clothes sealed, and warn your dry cleaner if you suspect you have bed bugs. By taking proper precautions, you can protect both yourself and others.
About MMPC: NYC’s Bed Bug Experts
If you ever find yourself in a scary bed bug situation, send us an email or call us at (212) 219-8218.
We have over 25 years of experience and knowledge to help you inspect for, treat, and prevent bed bugs. Our service area covers New York City, Long Island, and parts of Upstate New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.