One Key Habit to Keep Bedbugs Away

There's something extra horrifying about bedbugs in your living space. Nothing is safe — every piece of clothing and furniture might leave you with unsightly, itchy bites, and you can't even see the warning signs most of the time. But it turns out some new research confirms one thing about keeping bedbugs away, and it's as simple as doing a load of laundry.

Entomologists at the University of Sheffield wanted to find out how bedbugs actually spread, given that they're kind of useless at traveling themselves. One theory has always been airports and hotels, and that bedbugs get into luggage. The researchers speculated that there was something about dirty laundry that attracted the bedbugs, so they set up an experiment that will probably give you nightmares.

The team placed two bags of laundry, one clean and one soiled, at two ends of a room and deposited bedbugs between them. After six hours, the dirty laundry had twice as many bedbugs as the clean load. The smell of compounds in human skin means dinner for them, and the carbon dioxide you breathe out while sleeping sends a signal that it's time to leave the nest and start foraging.

The good news is that there are ways to keep the bedbugs from biting — first by doing your laundry regularly and keeping it off the floor. Bedbugs also can't climb up smooth surfaces, so if you're at a hotel and you're suspicious, place your bags on top of those metal fold-out caddies. Finally, you can buy bedbug-proof slip covers for your mattress, box spring, and pillows; because of the tightness and shape of the weave, bedbugs can't get in or out.

A bedbug infestation can make you feel helpless and uncomfortable, but keeping them at bay can start with as little as the cost of a wash and a dry.