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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

What Kills Mites Off Clothes?

By Dr. Laundry April 20, 2017

Q. What kills mites off clothes?

—Lola

A. Hi Lola;

You would think this question would have an easy answer but actually it’s a little complicated. Dust mites are a complex problem!

The biggest problem is that their excrement and decomposing bodies (not the live bugs themselves) can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Dust mites don’t bite people, but they do eat the dead flakes of skin that people naturally shed. This is a particular problem on bed sheets, where people naturally shed a lot of skin flakes while they are sleeping. For this reason, bedrooms are ground zero for people who are sensitive to dust mite allergens.

As far as what kills dust mites, any chemical product that makes a pest “kill” claim is regulated by the EPA. The EPA reviews the claim, as well as the required test results that prove the product kills the pest when used as directed, and assigns the product a registration number. I don’t know of any products with EPA approval to claim actual dust mite kill of the bugs themselves.

Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 is an EPA-registered sanitizer and disinfectant that kills various bacteria, viruses and fungi, but it is not registered to kill dust mites. Any product that claims to kill dust mites must have an EPA registration number.

Also, watch out for phony claims like “kills dust mite allergens” because it’s like saying they kill dust mite excrement and dead dust mites (which you can’t really kill if they are already dead). The Mayo Clinic website has some good information here.

They recommend a wash temperature of 130°F or higher to kill dust mites. You would need to measure the temperature of your wash water to make sure you actually are washing at this temperature. You can’t assume that just because you selected the “hot” cycle you are getting hot enough water. It depends on what temperature your hot water heater is set at, how far away from your clothes washer the hot water heater is, and what type of clothes washer you have. If your washer’s hot water cycle automatically adds a little cold water along with the hot for a 120°F target hot wash temperature (to save energy) even if your hot water heater is set at 140°F you won’t end up with that temperature in your washer!

Note that it is OK for a product to claim that it removes dust mite allergens, and you may see variations of this on expensive specialty products. There is no oversight for these claims, though.

As far as what’s the best way to clean bed sheets (remember, they are dirtier than you think — soiled with body oils, skin flakes, perspiration and mite allergens at a minimum), to get them as clean as possible select hot water and add ½ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 along with your favorite detergent.

Not sure if your sheets are colorfast to bleach? You can check with this easy test. Add 1 ½ teaspoons Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 to ¼ cup water and apply a drop of the solution to the bottom hem of the sheet (the hem that gets tucked in at the foot of the bed) and wait 1 minute. Rinse and blot dry, and look for a color change — if the color is unchanged then you can safely wash the sheets with Clorox® Regular-Bleach1.

If the sheets don’t pass, then you can add Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster along with your regular detergent for improved cleaning than you would get with detergent by itself. Also, be sure to select the hot water setting.

I know in your question you only asked about clothes; all of this laundry advice applies to clothes as well. I just wanted to make sure you were aware that bed sheets are the primary problem. I hope this information is useful. Please let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for writing!

—Dr. Laundry