Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Clothing?

  • Written By Dan Edwards on December 23, 2017
    Last Updated: December 23, 2020

Do bed bugs get on clothes? If you’re like most people who are concerned about bed bugs, you’ve probably wondered if these pests will live on clothing. Maybe you’ve even wondered whether bed bugs can bite through clothes.

The fact is, there’s a lot of contradictory and even false information going around about bed bugs and their behaviors.

How Do Bed Bugs Get Onto Clothes?

The first thing to know about bed bugs is that they cannot fly or jump. They are not going to leap from the person next to you onto your clothes. That being said, they definitely can be found on clothing. The thing is that it’s usually clothing in your room or in the laundry, not the clothes you are currently wearing. Bed bugs do not like to travel on a live host, instead preferring to hide in crevices or piles of clothing.

The most common way that bed bugs get onto clothes is when the clothes are left in the floor or on the bed in an infested room. Of course, bed bugs don’t only hide in beds, so they could get on your clothing from any piece of furniture.

Washing your clothes can definitely help with getting rid of bed bugs that have found their way into your clothes. You can drown bed bugs in hot, moving water. Putting infested clothing in the dryer on high heat for at least 30 minutes will also take care of the bugs. It should be noted, however, that washing can help remove the bugs from clothes. Drying will kill them but not remove them.

Bed Bugs On Clothes

The problem is that you need to ensure that you are not spreading the pest infestation around when you wash the laundry. If you unknowingly carry bed bugs or their eggs with your dirty clothes to the laundry room, then bed bugs could spread to any other room you pass along the way. Even more likely, though, is that they will take up residence in their final destination–your laundry room–and continue to infest piles of laundry and spread around your home.

Also, don’t think you have to have an existing colony of bed bugs in order for them to get into your clothes. They can sneak into luggage when you are traveling. That means your clothes can be their ticket into your home, if you’re not careful.

Do Bed Bugs Live On Clothes?

As mentioned above, bed bugs do not like to travel on live hosts, unlike some other blood-feeders such as head lice. That means it is unlikely to find them actually living on clothes, unless you’ve left some clothing in a pile for an extended period of time. They much prefer areas where they can hide without being disturbed, and clothes usually don’t fit that description because they get moved around.

Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Clothing?

Can bed bugs bite through clothes? The short answer is no. A bed bug’s mouthparts are not long enough to bite through the majority of clothing. That’s because they only need to reach the blood vessels near the skin’s surface in order to ingest blood. There seems to be some confusion, however, about what this means for preventing bites.

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

In online forums, you’ll see a lot of people recommending wearing long clothing that covers the arms and legs when you go to sleep. The idea is that bed bugs won’t be able to bite the unexposed skin.

Whether bed bugs bite through clothing can appear to be a tricky question, though, because it seems that bed bugs do not always bite exposed skin. Many people report having bed bug bites under their clothes. The truth is, however, that bed bugs are not biting through the clothes. They are simply crawling underneath clothing and then biting the skin.

What that means for you and the prevention of insect bites is that the tip to wear long clothing to bed may not really be a deterrent for bites. Additionally, bed bugs are quite happy to bite the face and neck. In fact, those are some of the most highly reported areas for bed bug bites.

Bed bug bites don’t hurt either, and the physical appearance of a bite can take hours to days to appear on the skin. This means that you may notice a new bite under clothing, but the bite could have in fact been caused in bed the night before.

If you are being bitten under areas of full clothing, maybe also consider other culprits, such as mosquitoes, or even scabies.

How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs From Clothes

I touched briefly on the fact that you can get rid of bed bugs on clothing by washing and drying the items. I want to give you a little more information, though, on the right way to do this. I don’t want you to have the unfortunate experience of trying to reduce bed bugs in your home and actually spreading the problem around!

The first line of precaution is to isolate the affected clothing items. That means sealing infested clothing in a plastic bag and then sealing THAT bag in another plastic bag–double-sealed. Do this before you ever take your clothes to the laundry room or laundromat. Do not move them to another area in your home to perform this task. Seal them up right where you found them.

Here’s a second tip. If you suspect that you have picked up bed bugs in your luggage, you can seal up the clothing, and the suitcase or bag itself, before you return home. This allows you to prevent bringing the infestation home. Open the luggage outside or in the garage, where bed bugs are unlikely to get out and find a meal or start a colony. Do not open it in your home, and especially not in your bedroom.

How Do Bed Bugs Spread

Then, take the separately sealed clothing out of your suitcase or bag and reseal it until you are ready to clean it and kill any bed bugs inside. Take the sealed clothes immediately to your washing machine. Empty the clothes into the machine and wash and dry them right away.

How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs With DIY Treatment Methods

Hiring pest control professionals can be costly, and while it’s usually the best option, there are some preliminary steps you can take to get rid of bed bugs yourself.

1. Carefully bag and wash all of your bedding and clear any clutter around the room. Bed bugs love to hide in piles of clothes, so remove these and wash them before you start cleaning.

3. Use a high-powered vacuum to clean around the bed to take care of stray bugs and eggs. Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter is vital to ensure bed bugs cannot escape once captured. The Shark Navigator Upright Vacuum easily ticks all of the boxes while remaining lightweight and easily maneuverable.

4. Use a specialist, non-toxic bed bug spray to clean your bed-frame, headboard, and surrounding furniture. Bed Bug Patrol Bed Bug Killer is a completely natural spray that has a reported 100% kill rate against live bed bugs in controlled tests, and most importantly, it’s child and pet-friendly.

5. Pull your bed away from the walls and place bed bug interceptor cups under each leg. These will isolate your bed and help to prevent the spread of bed bugs. Additionally, interceptors can serve as tools to help you track progress. Ideally, the interceptors should contain fewer bed bugs every time you empty them. My favorites are these Bed Bug Blocker Interceptor Traps.

6. Using a bed bug mattress protector to encase your mattress will either help to save it if it’s yet to be infested, or otherwise keep bed bugs trapped in and around it until they eventually die of starvation. My favorite is the SureGuard Mattress Encasement which is thick, strong, and will help to stop bed bugs of all sizes from getting to, or from, your mattress. A SureGuard Box Spring Encasement is also available.

7. If you wish to be extremely thorough, specialist bed bug heaters can be purchased to raise household items to a temperature that is sure to kill all bed bugs and eggs. ZappBug is the most popular option, and is designed to automatically reach the all-important killing temperature to eradicate all stages of the bed bugs life cycle. Large and small versions are also available.


Let’s review. You can pick up bed bugs anywhere that you leave your clothing, if bed bugs are present. If you have an existing infestation, they can get into your clothing or laundry.

You can also pick up bed bugs when you are traveling. They may be in hotels, offices, movie theaters, or even vehicles. They are not likely, though, to travel on the clothes you are currently wearing. Instead, they will enter a bag or other luggage.

Another possibility is that they may come back with your clothes from an infested laundromat. The good news is that you can prevent the spread to your home by sealing up any luggage or clothing that is potentially infested and washing and drying everything thoroughly on the highest heat settings the clothing can tolerate.

As far as whether bed bugs can bite through clothes, the answer is generally no, but clothes will not protect you from their ability to crawl onto your covered skin, anyway. They are tiny and flat.