Warm weather comes with the risk of contracting Lyme disease. In the United States, there are thousands of cases of the disease reported per year, with the likelihood of infection greatest in late spring and throughout the summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Reported cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases are increasing, so we need to expand the repertoire of prevention measures," said Christina Nelson, MD, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC.
One such way to prevent Lyme disease deals with how you do your laundry: Research indicated that you could kill the pests in little to no time with washers and dryers. Here's what to know about getting rid of ticks in your clothes.
How Can You Kill Ticks By Doing Laundry?
Researchers, including Dr. Nelson, conducted a study published in July 2016 in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases. The goal of the study was to investigate the use of washers and dryers to kill blacklegged ticks for Lyme disease prevention by testing the effectiveness of doing so at different temperatures.
In a series of experiments that involved more than 1,000 lab-raised adult and immature ticks, the researchers determined the very best way to get the critters off your clothes: Dry your clothes for at least six minutes on high heat (or wash the clothes in hot water with subsequent high heat drying).
"We are excited about this finding because it offers an additional effective, easily implemented strategy to prevent tick bites," Dr. Nelson said.
Additionally, the CDC had originally recommended that clothing potentially carrying ticks be dried on high heat for one hour. However, it updated its guidelines to the following: "Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks."
What Else To Consider When Using Laundry Appliances To Kill Ticks
It's important to note that this study was only conducted on blacklegged ticks, which spread Lyme disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central U.S. Other species are more resistant to heat and would likely require longer drying times—which is why the CDC modified its recommendations.
If the clothes are so messy they need to be washed beforehand, the water temp should be 130°F or greater. These methods will effectively kill any blacklegged ticks crawling around your garments, according to the study authors.
Other Ways To Keep Ticks Off Your Clothes—and Yourself
The CDC noted that people should use repellants with at least 20% DEET on exposed skin and clothing. You can also treat your clothes with products that contain 0.5% permethrin, which remains on the fabric through a few washing cycles.
When you return from outdoor activities, the CDC suggested taking a shower within two hours, so it's easier for you to spot ticks or rinse them off. But ticks can be transported into the home on pets, gear, and clothes, which is why the washing and drying guidelines are so important.
Following these guidelines, in addition to practicing other CDC-recommended tick-bite prevention methods, will help reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease or other tickborne illnesses.
What To Do if You Find a Tick on Your Skin
If you do find that a tick has attached itself to you or others, the CDC has provided steps to remove the tick. Once it has been removed, you'll want to use rubbing alcohol or soap and water to clean your hands and the area that was bitten. Finally, if a tick is still alive, there are several ways to get rid of it, per the CDC, which include putting it in alcohol; sealing it in a bag, container, or tape; or flushing it.
Finally, make sure to look out for rash or fever within the following weeks of tick removal; if they occur, see your healthcare provider immediately. They'll want to know about the bite, when it happened, and where you may have gotten the tick.