Can Your Dirty Laundry Attract Bed Bugs?

As well as being attracted to the carbon dioxide we breathe out when we sleep and the warmth from our bodies, bed bugs are also attracted to our dirty laundry!

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional

Why are bed bugs attracted to dirty clothes?

When we sleep, we emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) through our scent that attracts bed bugs, and studies have found that bed bugs can detect over 100 of them. So it stands to good reason that, of course, bed bugs would be attracted to our dirty laundry as our odor stays on our clothes for several days.

To test this theory, researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK offered recently fed bed bugs a choice between bags filled with clean laundry and bags with dirty laundry.

After four days, they concluded that bed bugs were far more attracted to the bags containing dirty laundry than the bags that held fresh ones.[1]

Does having bed bugs mean you’ve got an unclean home?

Unlike other insects, bed bugs are not attracted to dirt, rotting food, or anything unhygienic; they are only attracted to blood, preferably human blood.

The carbon dioxide we breathe out and our warm bodies draw them to us in our beds.

They don’t care about how dirty or clean our homes are; they’re only interested in finding a person to feed on.

However, having a lot of clutter underneath your bed and in your bedroom certainly gives them more places to hide and breed once they’ve got in your home.

Can your dirty clothes cause bed bugs in your home?

Just because you might leave a few clothes on your bedroom floor doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to have a bed bug problem.

These pests have to be brought into your home somehow, and a few possibilities are:

  • hotels and other overnight accommodations.

How do bed bugs get into your home?

Above are just some of the ways these blood-sucking insects get introduced into your home.

The most common way is from hotels, motels, resorts, etc. So it’s always a good idea to check your hotel room for bed bugs whenever you stay in any overnight accommodation.

Putting your soiled clothing into your overnight bag or suitcase in a hotel room that has bed bugs is like giving them an open invitation to travel back home with you. And this is how they can start an infestation in your home.

Referring back to the University of Sheffield study, not only were the bed bugs attracted to the soiled clothes in the bags, they stayed on the clothes instead of going back to their harborages.

This shows why bed bugs crawl into your suitcase and how easy it is to take the bugs back home with you.

To avoid bringing home bed bugs when you go on vacation, store your dirty clothes in a tightly sealed plastic bag as soon as you’ve finished wearing them.

Not only does this limit the odor that attracts them, but it also stops them from having somewhere to hide and get transported back to your home. 

Finding a bed bug on your soiled clothes – what to do

If you come across one of these horrible bugs in your laundry bag, wash everything in it immediately on a hot wash.

The next step is the most important one, so put all the clothing into the dryer as soon as they are washed.

Heat kills bed bugs instantly, and your dryer will kill the bed bugs and any eggs as long as a temperature of 125F (51C) is reached for at least 30 minutes. You can find more details on how to remove bed bugs permanently here.