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Treating Clothing and Personal Belongings for Bed Bugs

One of the reasons why so many do-it-yourself bed bug control treatments fail is because the people performing them neglect to treat clothing and personal belongings where bed bugs may be hiding. The best way to maximize your chances of a successful treatment is to adopt the attitude that bed bugs can get into almost anything, because the truth is that they can.

Treating Clothing for Bed Bugs

Clothing hanging on a rack in a closet

One place where bed bugs hide is in clothing. In fact, that may be how they got into your house in the first place. Bed bugs don't actually nest on people, but they often hitchhike on our clothing.

When doing a bed bug control treatment, clothing must be removed from the infested room prior to treating it. The clothing itself must also be treated and should not be returned to the room until a day or two after the room has been treated.

When removing clothing or possessions from the room to wash, dry-clean, or treat them, seal them tightly in two plastic trash bags (one inside the other). This is to prevent bed bugs from being carried to uninfested locations. After the items have been treated, store them in a place that you know to be free of bed bugs until the rooms in which they're usually stored have been treated.

If the whole house is infested with bed bugs, then store your clothing and belonging in another building until after the house has been treated. Rent a storage pod or trailer if you have to. It's better than having to re-treat everything all over again.

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There are several ways to treat clothing. Dry-cleaning is the best choice for clothes that can be dry-cleaned. Other clothing can be washed in laundry detergent and the warmest water it can stand, then dried in a clothes dryer. Some bed bugs may survive the washing, but drying the clothing for at least half an hour at high heat or 90 minutes at low heat should finish them off. This procedure will also work for bedding, but down-filled comforters and other thick items should be allowed to dry a bit longer.

Fur coats should not be washed in water or dry-cleaned. If it's been a while since the fur has been cleaned, take it to a shop that specializes in cleaning furs. If it doesn't need cleaning, then the best way to treat it is by deep freezing. This requires storage at a temperature no higher than 0° F (-18° C) for a continuous period of at least five days. If you interrupt the freezing (for example, if the power goes out or you open the freezer for more than a few seconds), then you'll need to start all over again.

Finally, a bed bug steamer can also be used to treat most clothing, but it's very time-consuming. It usually easier to just machine wash and dry the clothes.

Treating Shoes for Bed Bugs

Shoes are difficult to treat because most shoes will be damaged by exposure to heat, and you don't want any residual pesticides in contact with your feet.

Canvas sneakers can usually be safely washed, but the glue may soften if you dry them in a clothes dryer. The same is true of steaming: It may separate the layers, melt the glue, or otherwise damage the shoes. And of course, leather sneakers or shoes can't be washed in water. Most shoes can be safely treated using the deep-freeze option, however, if you don't mind going barefoot for a week.

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One semi-legal chemical option to treat shoes for bed bugs is to use Nuvan ProStrips. Their active ingredient is dichlorvos, which is an old-school organophosphate insecticide that's very volatile, so the fumes are lethal to insects. To treat for bed bugs, the shoes or other items being treated would have to be enclosed "in a suitable plastic bag, poly sheeting that is completely sealed by adhesive tape on all sides, container or room that is closed to contain the strip treatment," along with the ProStrips, for the requisite amount of time (48 hours to kill nymphs or adults, or seven days to kill eggs).

In all honesty, pest control operators have been using dichlorvos strips this way for years, even before the strips were labeled for bed bugs. It works. The problem for do-it-yourselfers is that although the label does in fact provide instructions for using the product against bed bugs (see page 4 of the label), and although footwear is specifically included in the kinds of items that can be treated, the label also states that the product is intended for use only by pest management professionals, not by homeowners or consumers.

Some would argue that "intended for use" doesn't mean the same as "restricted use pesticide," which most definitely would make the product illegal to sell to unlicensed people. I say that it's a fuzzy, semi-legal area that you'll have to decide for yourself. But if you do decide to use it, follow the label instructions to the letter, especially the airing-out period after treatment. Dichlorvos is pretty nasty stuff.

Another option, of course, is to bring all your shoes and other items that you would like treated this way to your friendly neighborhood exterminator and ask them to treat the items for you. Whether they will or not is hit or miss, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

Treating Plush Toys for Bed Bugs

Although plush toys are also on the label list of items that can be treated with Nuvan ProStrips, I prefer a non-chemical solution for anything that kids touch and play with.

I personally would rather take my chances washing plush toys and then tossing them in the dryer at low heat for at least 90 minutes. The toys might fall apart, but at least they wouldn't be contaminated with dichlorvos. Using a bed bug steamer would also work.


Electronic devices like televisions, stereos, computers, video games, and cell phones are difficult to treat. Most of them can't tolerate heat over about 110° F (43° C) for very long, and that's not hot enough to kill bed bugs. Most electronic devices can tolerate 0° F (-18° C) indefinitely if they're enclosed in plastic freezer bags to prevent condensation, but some of them might be damaged, especially devices that have screens that may become brittle and crack. So if you want to try using cold, just know that you're taking a chance.

This is another case in which most professionals would use Nuvan ProStrips or something similar. Electronic items are listed on the label as being among the products that can be treated for bed bugs using the product. But again, the product is "not intended" to be sold to anyone other than licensed exterminators, so the legality of non-professionals using it is fuzzy. If you have a lot of assorted stuff that would be good candidates for a Nuvan treatment, it might be worth renting a trailer, loading your stuff into it, and paying a licensed exterminator to place the Nuvan strips inside and seal it up.

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