How can I make sure my used sweaters don't have bedbugs?
October 16, 2010 11:52 PM   Subscribe

I just bought some secondhand sweaters and I'm concerned about bedbugs. What can I do to make sure they're not infested?

I know you're supposed to wash secondhand clothes in hot water and then put them in the dryer to kill any bedbugs to be sure.

But, I just bought two used sweaters from Value Village, one of them is 100% acrylic and the other is a ramie/cotton blend, and according to the tags I'm not supposed to put either in the dryer, and the ramie/cotton one says to only wash in cold water to boot.

What can I do to make sure they're bedbug free before I wear them? And is there any weird chance I could have picked up bedbugs by trying them on in the dressing room?

I haven't noticed any weird bites or anything but I'm nervous because I live in Vancouver where bedbugs have been a problem lately and I really do not want them!

posted by vanitas to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Put them in the freezer:
posted by Pigpen at 12:10 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've heard the freezer thing doesn't work.

I've also heard that one can vacuum belongings that can't go in a hot washer or dryer.

But the bottom line is that you should stop freaking out about bed bugs. You are as likely to get a bed bug infestation from new clothes as from secondhand, and you're probably more likely to get them by going to the movies or using public transit. You can't entirely avoid the risk.
posted by Sara C. at 1:27 AM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, I would be more inclined to worry about sweater moths than bedbugs in a thrift store woolen item. I bought a thrift store sweater years ago and still occasionally find little moth holes in my knits.
posted by Sara C. at 1:40 AM on October 17, 2010

Previously, on MetaFilter.
posted by Biru at 4:29 AM on October 17, 2010

Best answer: I'd either take them both to the dry cleaner, or I'd put them both in the dryer on high without washing them first. Almost all cloth can take the temperature of a high dryer, just not when it's wet. The dryer is the real killing cycle when it comes to bedbugs.
posted by OmieWise at 6:27 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in Vancouver and run a homeless shelter. I understand how serious the bed bug problem is here. I suggest putting the clothing in a clear garbage bag and tie it off. Leave for a week - shaking occassionally and if bed bugs are present, you might see them crawling inside the bag.

We use a similar method but in addition, spray items with the non-toxic 'Spray Kleen' (ordered from Ontario), which acts as a repellant. Then we bag and check in a few days. We also freeze (48 hrs or more) but there are mixed reviews of that method. The freezer must get below -10C and don`t bunch the clothing up, as the bed bugs can snuggle in the folds.

Bed bugs are a reality and a nightmare!. All precautions must be taken.
posted by what's her name at 6:42 AM on October 17, 2010

Best answer: OmieWise has it tight. Either have the sweaters dry-cleaned, or run them through a hot dryer. Raising bedbugs to an internal temperature of 113 F kills them and their eggs.

The freezer thing is indeed unreliable: regular household freezers don't get cold enough to kill 100% of bedbugs. To kill bedbugs with cold, you need to put them in a -20 F commercial freezer for several days; a 0 F home freezer may leave some bedbugs alive.

Vacuuming the sweaters may remove some of the bedbugs and some their tiny eggs, but again, not a 100% reliable solution. And then you have to dispose of the vacuum bag.

Keeping the possibly infested clothes in a sealed plastic bag is a good idea. But keep in mind that bedbugs can survive up to 18 months without feeding, so keeping them in a bag for a few weeks won't kill them. And bedbugs are generally averse to light, so don't expect them to walk around on the bag where you can see them. Bagging them is strictly an infestation control measure until you can definitively treat the sweaters.

Bottom line: the cheapest 100% effective home treatment is to use heat. Put the clothes in a hot dryer for 20 minutes. Or, if you don't want to agitate the clothing, put the sweaters, one at a time, in a 140 F oven long enough for all parts of the garment to get that hot, maybe 30 minutes -- just make sure you don't start a fire.
posted by Dimpy at 8:38 AM on October 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A hot wash has no effect on bed bugs or their eggs. Only a dryer, run for at least an hour on high, will do the job.

Dry cleaning is an option, though you must be sure the cleaners aren't using a 'green' method; only the nasty, chemically intensive, traditional way will do.
posted by Gin and Comics at 8:42 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I buy second hand sweaters all the time and they are never hurt by putting them in the dryer (without washing them) for about 45 minutes. A bedbugs prevention source on the Internet suggested this was the only surefire thing (I think it said 30 minutes should do, but I do 45 to make sure). I also usually do it at the laundromat straightaway from purchase, so they don't enter the house first before being fried. Again, the dryer never shrinks or otherwise hurts the sweaters when I put them in there dry. And peace of mind -- woo hoo!
posted by onlyconnect at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I put the sweaters in the dryer for 45 min on high and they came out looking fine and not shrunken at all. Hopefully that will have killed any bedbugs if they were lurking in there.

They probably would be fine, I've bought a ton of used stuff before (including a lot of things that couldn't be put in the dryer) and never had a problem, but with all the bedbug hysteria lately I wanted to be extra sure.
posted by vanitas at 10:55 PM on October 17, 2010

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