Getting a tick bite is not fun. It’s gross, and these bites can be dangerous. Yet it’s part of the deal we make when we enjoy the great outdoors, right? What seems particularly unfair is when you find a tick in your own home! That feels like an invasion. Maybe the dog brought it in, maybe you did. Either way leads to a similar question: how long can ticks live on clothing?
Let’s find out. Read on below as we shrink ourselves down, Honey I Shrunk The Kids style, and enter the miniature world of these little bloodsuckers.
First, What is a Tick?
Ticks are tiny vampire bloodsuckers that need a host to feed on to survive. They can’t jump. They can’t fly. They can’t do anything fancy like that. They basically just hide and wait – usually in tall grass – until a poor unsuspecting animal, or human, brushes past them. They then latch on and start sucking. This is a process in the tick world known as “questing”!
Not a lot of people know this – as it’s really boring – but ticks are not insects at all. They are actually arachnids, like spiders. Don’t believe us? Well, if you’re unlucky enough to have one sucking blood from you right now, have a close look. It’s got four pairs of two legs – like a spider. It also lacks antenna – like spiders.
But that’s not why you’re here, is it? You’re here to find out how long do ticks live on clothes. Ok, settle down. And don’t get ticked off! We’ll tell you, right now.
So, How Long Do Ticks Live on Clothes?
In theory, a tick can live for a long time without a host. However, in reality, our homes today aren’t the best environment for ticks and most will die within the first 24 hours.
Ticks like to be moist; that’s what makes them tick. Typically, our homes today are pretty dry. If your home has a relatively normal 70-75% humidity level then this will be too dry for a tick to last longer than a day or two.
Now, say for some reason you have a particularly damp home. Maybe you live in a cave. Or maybe a tick has found its way into a moist place, like a clothes hamper. In which case, Little Mr Tick might be able to survive a week or two. But, if you’ve left your dirty clothes a week without washing them – and then put them back on – well, that tick bite could be your own fault!
Depends on the Tick!
There are a lot of different types of tick out there, and each has different stages of its life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. Dog ticks, Deer ticks, and Lone Star Ticks are the most common little bleeders you will come across. In the wild, they can all survive for different amounts of time. For instance, American dog ticks can live for an awfully long time without a host: 2 years, in fact. Terrifying, right?!
But fortunately, none of the common species can live that long without a host indoors. So if you brought one in on your shirt and your home is relatively dry, even the long-lasting American Dog Tick will perish after 2-3 days. Phew.
Why Should You Care About Ticks?
Have you ever heard of Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Fever? If the answer is no then you’re lucky. Because you don’t want to catch either of these nasty tick-borne illnesses. Both can lead to extended bouts of headaches, fever, fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and rashes. Untreated Lyme Disease, in particular, can also lead to secondary illnesses and symptoms that can last for weeks, months or even years. Including neurological disorders and heart conditions. All from a little tick bite!
The bad news for us is that the cases of Lyme Disease are rocketing. In 1982 there were just a few hundred cases, in 2018 the number was 33,000. The reason, well it’s thought to be rebounding populations of deer who are the main vector for disease-carrying ticks. A single deer can carry hundreds of ticks across large distances, kinda like a big furry bus full of tiny vampires.
That’s right, it’s all Bambi’s fault! She’s not looking so cute now, is she?!
How to Remove Ticks From Your Clothes?
If you have just returned from a trip to the outdoors and worry you may have collected a few tick friends, then you should use one of the two methods below:
1. Leave items in the garage or shed for 2–3 days. Quarantine them away from the main house until the ticks have had time to die.
2. Wash and dry clothes immediately when returning home from a trip.
A combination of the two methods above is the most sensible way to prevent little ticky hitchhikers from entering your home. Things like tents and sleeping bags you can isolate in the garage or shed for a few days. With items of clothing, you should wash and dry straight away.
It’s important to note that ticks can survive a round in the washing machine. But they are very unlikely to survive the heat of the dryer, so make sure you use the hottest setting and a good long cycle.
Final Thoughts: Don’t Get Ticked Off!
It’s frustrating that something so small can have such a large impact on your life. A tiny bite from a tiny tick can lead to weeks, months – or in some cases, years – of pain and discomfort. But let’s not get carried away; most tick bites are completely harmless and just a bit icky.
If you find a tick on your clothing, that’s good. It means it isn’t on you. Plus, now that we know how long can ticks live on clothing, we also know that it isn’t actually too long and that getting rid of them isn’t too hard.
If you do find a tick embedded in your skin sucking away, don’t panic. Remove it with some tweezers – making sure you get the head – and flush it down the loo. Keep vigilant. If you get a rash in the next few weeks – which you probably won’t – just call a doctor. Easy as that. Don’t worry too much and don’t let these bloodsuckers suck the fun out of the great outdoors!