Will ticks survive in the washer and dryer? It depends. Washing the tick-infested clothes alone will not kill ticks, but drying them with heat can do the trick. With the right water and heat temperature, ticks have no chances of survival.
Do Ticks Survive in the Washer and Dryer?
Based on a 2013 study by then 16-year-old Braintree High School student Jacqueline Flynn, ticks on clothes die after being exposed to a clothes dryer on low heat for at least five minutes. Before Flynn’s study, the CDC suggested that tick-infested clothing pieces should be placed inside a clothes dryer with high heat for at least one hour after the wearer spent a significant amount of time outdoors. But, the young student thought that the suggested time and temperature was excessive. She believed that since ticks are very tiny insects, it should not take that much exposure for them to die.
To prove her point, she contacted the Oklahoma University lab to order fifty ticks. She placed them all in a small mesh bag, and then put the bag in the dryer and set the temperatures between 130 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of that experiment, Flynn found out that ticks cannot survive five minutes of heat exposure. The discovery earned the first prize in Braintree High School’s science fair and ranked second in the regional competition during that year.
The CDC also noticed her discovery. It opened more studies to explore the possibility of killing ticks on clothes using a dryer and washer. But unlike Flynn’s breakthrough, researchers from The University of Vermont had a different time recommendation to kill the pests. Because there are other species of ticks that are more heat-resistant, they recommend that clothes with an infestation should stay inside the dryer for not less than 10 minutes.
The researchers of the 2016 study conducted several tests to find out how temperature, humidity, and drying time can kill both nymphal and adult black-legged ticks, also known as the Ixodes scapularis. Several muslin bags, containing five ticks each, were washed in a washer, then dried using a spin dryer or dried using six cotton towels only.
The researchers found out that all nymphal and adult ticks died after being exposed to wash cycles as soon as the temperature of the water reached over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, half of the ticks survived when the water was less than 129 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, almost all ticks survived the warm water temperatures of 80 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and all those that were washed in cold water at 59 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit temperature managed to stay alive.
When all adult and nymphal ticks were placed inside the dryer together with dried towels and dried using high heat for 4 minutes, none of them survived. But according to the researchers, putting the clothes directly in the dryer for at least 6 minutes on high heat could be the most effective way to kill the ticks. The CDC accepted their study and posted the recommendation on their website.
Do Ticks Drown in Water?
While ticks cannot swim, they can survive submersion in water for a long time. According to Tick Encounter, deer ticks can even survive in water for two to three days. This ability means that ticks do not die in the bath or swimming pools. Saltwater and chlorinated water both have no effects on ticks.
The chemical concentrations in the pools and the ocean are not enough to kill the pests. If these pesky insects attached themselves to a person, no reasonable amount of bathing or swimming can get rid of them. Forcing them off only increases the risks of infection and catching the disease carried by the insect.
To carefully pull them off, one must use a pair of tweezers or a special tick remover tool. Once the tick is no longer attached to any body part, you can finally get rid of the pesky insects by flushing them down the toilet. Since they have a tiny pair of legs and body, they won’t be able to fight the pulling pressure of the flush.
On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Energy believed that ticks might drown if you put them in a bottle of rubbing alcohol. While small oxygen pockets in normal water can help them stay alive, the fumes from the alcohol slowly cut the insect’s oxygen supply and is eventually fatal.
How Long Can Ticks Live on Clothes?
Ticks can live on moist or wet clothes for two to three days, especially if they just fed on a host’s blood. They are also able to stay in any piece of clothing for at least 24 hours. When left unfed for more than a day the chance of survival for a tick goes down immensely.
The longer they attach themselves to a person the higher the odds become of contracting fatal diseases like the Rocky Mountain Fever and Lyme disease. These diseases make it clear why it is essential to clean your clothes properly if spending a lot of time in tick-infested areas.
Anyone knowingly wearing clothes which have ticks should head straight to the laundry area and avoid interacting with family members or pets to lessen the chances of transferring the insect to another host. They may also opt to change clothes before entering the house and put the tick-infested garments inside a well-sealed bag. This strategy helps makes sure that the ticks stay attached to the worn clothes up to being cleaned in the washer and dryer. The bag should also be washed in this scenario.
Insect repellents can also serve to deter ticks. Anyone who has plans to go outdoors should apply repellents that contain at least 20% of DEET or 0.5% of permethrin. These are two of the most popular chemicals that are known for effectively keeping insects like ticks away from the body. These repellents can also work on clothes, particularly: shirts, socks, shorts, and the fabric of the shoes. When applying these repellents you should spray a small area of the fabric to make sure no stains are left.
Why Do Ticks like Staying on Clothes?
While little is known as to why ticks like to attach themselves to clothes, a study tried to find out which color appeals more to these insects. A group of researchers from the School of Health Science in Sweden’s Blekinge Institute of Technology asked ten individuals to wear light and dark clothing alternately every time they have to expose themselves in tick-infested areas. Based on the study, the ticks are more drawn to light-colored clothes compared to the dark ones. This means that it is better to wear black or other dark tones to help avoid ticks.
Aside from wearing dark clothes, it is also recommended to cover all parts of the body when entering in tick-infested areas. Long-sleeved turtleneck shirts, a pair of pants, socks, and closed shoes are needed to avoid bites. Constant reapplying of insect repellents is also a must, especially on the exposed areas of the body. Sweating and water exposure can cause repellents to wear off faster. Always check the label for the recommended time-frame to reapply.
Meanwhile, another group of researchers from the CDC learned that permethrin-treated clothes could repel certain types of ticks. According to the study, deer ticks or black-legged ticks lack attraction to chemically-treated clothes. Lead researcher Lars Eisen claimed that ticks get irritated with permethrin treatment. This finding is why they tend to fall off these clothing pieces before they can have the opportunity to bite the wearer’s skin.
Based on the results of the study, wearing permethrin-treated clothes can be an effective way to avoid ticks that cause Lyme disease together with an effective insect repellent for the skin. These types of clothes are readily available in the U.S. and you should be able to find them for sale online or at your local outdoor store.
It is imperative to remove ticks as fast as possible to avoid bites. By controlling the possible infestation of ticks in the household, the chances of acquiring an infectious disease will also reduce significantly.