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Can you get stung through your clothes?

Getting stung by an insect like a bee, wasp, or hornet can be painful and irritating. Many people wonder if wearing clothing can prevent insect stings or if insects can sting right through fabric.

Can bees, wasps, and hornets sting through clothes?

The short answer is yes, bees, wasps, hornets and other stinging insects can sting through light clothing like shirts, pants, dresses, and jackets. Their stingers are designed to penetrate skin and fabric to inject venom.

However, thicker and tighter-woven fabrics like denim jeans and leather can better protect against stings. Tucking pant legs into socks or boots can also help prevent stings on the legs and ankles when outdoors.

How insect stingers work

Bees, wasps, and hornets all have modified egg-laying structures called stingers that allow them to penetrate skin and inject venom. The stinger has sharp stylets that can slice through fabric threads and clothing seams to reach skin.

When an insect stings, it pierces the skin with the stylets. The stylets have small barbs that help the stinger lodged in place as venom flows down the stinger and into the wound.

The barbs catch on fabric threads as the stinger penetrates clothing. But the insect is usually able to push the stinger through most lightweight fabrics anyway.

Venom potency

Another factor is the potency of the insect venom. Bee, wasp, and hornet venom is designed to work quickly. The venom contains compounds like histamine, serotonin, lipids, and amines that promote pain, itching, and inflammation almost instantly.

Even a small amount of venom introduced through clothing can cause a sting reaction. Only a minimal penetration of the stinger is needed to inject enough venom to cause pain and swelling.

Factors that influence sting risk

Several factors come into play in determining if an insect can successfully sting through clothing:

Type of fabric

The type of fabric makes a difference. Lightweight and loosely woven fabrics like cotton t-shirts allow easier penetration. But thicker and tighter weave fabrics like denim and leather are harder for stingers to penetrate.

Thickness of fabric

Similarly, thicker fabrics provide better protection. Thin fabrics like those used in t-shirts and dresses offer minimal barrier to stingers. Multiple fabric layers can sometimes prevent penetration.

Looseness of clothing

How tightly clothing fits the body is also a factor. Tight-fitting clothes leave less space between the fabric and skin for the stinger to reach through. Loose-fitting clothes have more room for the stinger to penetrate.

Tucking in shirts and pant legs removes potential entry points for insects to access skin.

Location on body

Where the clothing sits on the body matters too. Areas where fabric is stretched tight across the skin, like shirt sleeves, are more easily penetrated. Areas where the fabric hangs loosely, like a loose t-shirt, are less easily penetrated.

Type of insect

The type and size of the insect makes a difference. Bees have smaller stingers than wasps and hornets, so may have more difficulty penetrating thicker fabrics.

But even bees can generate substantial force to drive their stingers through clothing. Estimates suggest bees can apply a force of around 1.17 newtons when stinging, which is enough puncture thin fabrics.

Parts of the body at highest risk

Certain parts of the body seem to be at higher risk of getting stung through clothing. Areas where fabric is thinner, tighter, or has seams and gaps are most vulnerable.


The neck area is at high risk since stingers can penetrate through shirt collars. T-shirt collars in particular are thin and lay flat against the neck.


Like the neck, shirt fabrics over the shoulders and upper back provide minimal protection from stingers.


The waist area is also prone to stings, as stingers can penetrate through seams, belt loops, and gaps between shirts and pants.


Ankles are very vulnerable when wearing pants or jeans. Stingers can easily penetrate through sock openings or gaps between pants and shoes.


The thighs have tight, thin fabric that leaves little barrier to penetration. Insect stingers can often pierce through pants fabrics on the thighs.


Like the thighs, the arm area often has snug, thin sleeve fabric that is readily penetrated by stingers.

Clothing tips to reduce sting risk

To lower your chances of getting stung through clothes, here are some useful tips:

  • Wear tightly woven fabrics like denim, khaki, or twill
  • Choose thicker fabrics and layer clothing
  • Tuck shirts into pants and tuck pants into socks or boots
  • Wear closed shoes instead of sandals
  • Avoid loose fitting clothes
  • Wear light colors over dark colors, which are more attractive to insects
  • Apply insect repellent to clothing for added protection

First aid for stings through clothing

Even with precautions, stings through clothes can sometimes still occur. Here is what you should do if stung through clothing:

  1. Carefully remove the stinger if still embedded. Use a credit card or other straight edge to scrape it off.
  2. Wash the sting area with soap and water to clean it
  3. Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling and pain
  4. Take an antihistamine containing diphenhydramine to relieve itching
  5. Use hydrocortisone cream to ease inflammation
  6. Monitor for signs of severe reaction like trouble breathing, nausea, or hives
  7. Seek medical attention if you have a severe reaction to the sting

When to seek emergency care

Most sting reactions are minor and can be treated with first aid. But in some cases, you may need urgent medical care for a severe reaction:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the lips, face or throat
  • Rapid heart rate, dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea, cramps or vomiting
  • Hives spreading across the body

Seek emergency care if you experience any signs of a severe allergic reaction. Call 911 or have someone drive you to an emergency room.

Reducing your risk of insect stings

The best way to prevent getting stung is to avoid interactions with stinging insects like bees, wasps and hornets when possible:

  • Stay away from hives, nests or swarms
  • Don’t try to remove hives or nests yourself
  • Be cautious around flowering plants, trash cans, and food
  • Keep skin covered when outdoors
  • Avoid wearing strong perfumes or scented lotions
  • Stay away from areas where insects congregate
  • Remain calm and still if an insect approaches


In most cases, bees, wasps, hornets and other stinging insects can penetrate through light fabrics like shirts, pants, dresses, and jackets. Their stingers are designed to inject venom quickly. While thick and tightly woven fabrics like denim provide more protection, stings can still occur.

To reduce your risk, wear tightly woven, thicker fabrics and layer clothing when outside. Tuck in shirt tails and pant legs. And inspect areas carefully before reaching to avoid startling nearby insects. Seek emergency care if you ever have a severe reaction to a sting.