It turns out getting the critters off is easier than experts thought.
If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors this summer, you'll want to be up on this latest study from the journal Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases.
In a series of experiments that involved more than 1,000 lab-raised blacklegged (aka deer) adult and immature ticks, researchers determined the very best way to get the creepy-crawly critters off your clothes: Put your duds in the dryer on high heat for a minimum of six minutes.
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 authors.
Following these guidelines, in addition to practicing other tick-bite prevention methods, will help reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease or another tickborne illnesses.
"Reported cases of Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases are increasing, so we need to expand the repetoire of prevention measures," says lead author Christina Nelson, MD, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "We are excited about this finding because it offers an additional effective, easily implemented strategy to prevent tick bites."
Previously, the CDC recommended that clothing potentially carrying ticks be dried on high heat for one hour. The new research shows that you don't need to wait that long to kill the pests. 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 now recommends 10 minutes of drying time).
With warmer weather comes a greater risk of contracting Lyme disease. Across 14 states in the U.S, there are an estimated 300,000 cases of the disease per year, with the likelihood of infection greatest in late spring and throughout the summer, according to the CDC.
To avoid tick bites, the agency recommends using 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 an outdoor activity, the CDC suggests 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 gear and clothes as well, obviously, which is why the the new washing guidelines are so important.
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Below, the CDC's updated recommendations for treating your clothes (whether you've actually spotted a tick or not):
"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 effectively. If the clothes cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. The clothes should be warm and completely dry."