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How to Get Seed Ticks Out of Clothes and Shoes (Without Chemicals)

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I’m a somewhat reluctant outdoorsman, because of bugs and snakes.  I much prefer to be outside when it’s just chilly enough for both of my enemies not to be around.

However, this summer my family took a 3-mile hike in a new-to-us state park.  Everything was going well–we were identifying trees and plants with the boys, and everyone was having a good time.  We were about halfway into the hike when the oldest commented there were bugs all over his shoes.

Upon closer inspection, all of our feet were covered with seed ticks.  We had used bug spray, but the ticks didn’t seem to mind as they began marching up our legs. We had no course of action to take other than walking back to the trailhead as quickly as possible.  By the time we got there, our ankles/legs felt like they were on fire.

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There was a water pump by the parking lot, so we took off shoes and socks, and began washing off the best we could.  I threw all our socks away, but the shoes I stuffed into plastic grocery bags and tied the tops tightly.

We drove quickly to the nearest store, where we purchased black trash bags, Benadryl and calamine lotion.  We bagged up our shoes and what clothes we weren’t wearing, and headed home, still itching.  The ticks came off with hot showers and scrubbing, (and tweezers, for the stubborn ones), but I still didn’t know what to do about our clothes and shoes.

Last summer, my husband was attending training across the state for work, and his hotel had an outbreak of bedbugs. Everyone was sent home, and the health department told us to bag up all his clothes and luggage in black trash bags, and quarantine it all in a hot car for a week. We escaped the bed bugs (he didn’t think they weren’t in his actual room, to begin with), and I hoped this same treatment would kill the ticks.

We left the bagged clothes locked in the back of the pickup camper and figured the hot August sun would do the rest. Except that after a week, I pulled the bags out and saw crawling ticks. Google wasn’t much help–what I found was that seed ticks are very hard to kill. Lots of sites suggested to put clothing into the dryer (apparently they can swim, and the washer doesn’t do much to them, but the heat of the dryer can kill them). However, I was really reluctant to bring the clothes inside the house, still infested with ticks.

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I wanted to avoid chemicals if I could at all–I don’t like to use chemical bug sprays, while at the same time, tick and mosquito bites can be extremely dangerous, so sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils. I was tempted to throw everything away, but my four-year-old wears braces inside his shoes (which are expensive, and insurance doesn’t pay for). He (of course) had been wearing brand new shoes with his braces, so I wanted to salvage them if I could.

I finally decided to dump a container of diatomaceous earth into the black trash bag, secure the top, and shake it up once a day or so. Diatomaceous earth is basically crushed up a rock that looks like chalk dust (make sure it’s food grade). We use it for lots of things–we put it in smoothies (it’s good for hair and nails), we feed it to our chickens, we put it in the cat’s litter box, and we use it on flowers and vegetables for natural pest control.

I ended up turning all of the clothes inside out midway through the week, just to make sure I got any lingering ticks, and soon all the ticks were dead. I shook out the clothes outside, and washed and dried them all on the hottest setting possible, and wiped the shoes down with a wet rag.

This was an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I ended up emailing the boys’ teachers before school started because they started school looking like they had chickenpox, from all the tick bites. (The one silver lining is that seed ticks don’t transmit diseases as adult ticks do). I hope you don’t have a hike like ours, but if you do, now you know how to get seed ticks out of clothes and shoes.

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