Updated On

December 31, 2023

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    How To Get Rid of Lice

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, one in five children will get head lice this year. And it does not matter how many times per week they wash their hair. It can happen to the cleanest people. 

    In this important guide to lice control, you will discover:

    • How To Get Rid of Lice Quickly
    • How To Prevent Future Infestations
    • How To Tell if You Have Head Lice
    • The Signs and Causes of Lice Infestations

    How To Get Rid of Lice in Your Home 

    There are generally two types of lice treatments:

    1. Those that work on the insect’s nervous system utilizing an insecticide
    2. Those that smother the lice to kill them

    The kinds of products that incorporate pesticides are faster. However, they have been known to cause side effects in children, especially when used against label directions. 

    Conversely, those who smother the insect to kill it cause few adverse reactions. Still, they can work a bit slower, and they usually are not as effective against developing eggs and nymphs. 

    Identify the Problem

    The only way to identify lice is by looking closely to see if any live adult lice are crawling on strands of hair or on the scalp. The presence of eggs (nits), on the other hand, does not necessarily mean there is an infestation. 

    The presence of dandruff flakes can give a false positive for head lice. Therefore, it is crucial to make sure there is a problem before starting treatment. 

    Standard Lice Treatment

    Over-the-counter shampoos are available for lice control. They typically contain one or more of the following ingredients:

    • Pyrethrins
    • Benzyl alcohol
    • Permethrin (synthetic pyrethroid)
    • Sodium Chloride
    • Menthol

    First Treatment

    Many lice treatment shampoos require you to massage the product into dry hair and the scalp. Others have you lather the shampoo into wet hair. Either way, be sure to read the label directions to achieve the best results. 

    In addition, you may be required to leave the product in the hair for up to 10 minutes. Despite that, communicate closely with your child to ensure they are not experiencing any burning or discomfort. If so, rinse the hair thoroughly and discontinue using that brand. 

    Second Treatment

    A follow-up treatment is usually prescribed by the product you are using to kill lice. However, it is essential to read the label directions fully. This will help prevent any allergic reactions to it. 

    If after the second treatment you see little progress, discontinue using that brand and try another one. The insects have likely developed a resistance to the active ingredients. 


    Using a lice comb will help remove nits and live lice from the hair. This task is easier when the hair is wet. In addition, a thick conditioner helps aid in the process. 

    Combing lice from short hair is more manageable than with long hair. However, it is not necessary to cut the hair or shave the head to gain control of lice. 

    Dimethicone Oil

    Dimethicone is a silicone-based, organic polymer that is non-toxic and non-flammable. You use it to lubricate the hair, so lice removal becomes a simpler task. 

    Several products are available that are safe and affordable. They usually come in a liquid spray formula and are proven effective against lice without any chemical resistance. 

    Medical Treatments

    For stubborn infestations, prescription treatments are available from a  physician. For example:

    • Malathion is an insect growth regulator that disrupts the developmental stages of lice. Of all the prescription medication treatments, it is the least effective.
    • Ivermectin is a powerful medication used for parasitic diseases. However, it is not approved for children under five years of age. 
    • Spinosad is an insecticide widely used for many purposes, including lice treatments. Although more studies are needed, it appears to have low toxicity to humans. 

    Many of the prescription medications used to treat head lice can cause side effects in some patients. For that reason, it is vital to talk to your doctor about the risks involved. 

    Home Remedies

    DIY head lice treatments abound. Some are good; others are not so great. What follows are a few that show promising results. 

    Olive Oil

    Olive oils treat head lice by smothering them, so they suffocate. Unfortunately, this method does not kill eggs, so follow-up treatments are necessary. 

    Also, be careful using it on younger children. Olive oil contains a chemical that causes mild irritation if it finds its way into the eyes.

    Essential Oils

    Peppermint oil works well for lice control. Better still is tea tree oil. Studies show it is effective for both adult lice and eggs

    Although essential oil products are all-natural, they can have side effects. For example, some may excessively dry the hair and scalp. Therefore, it is good to consult with your doctor or pediatrician to discover the best course of action. 

    Petroleum Jelly

    While spreading petroleum jelly all over your head may not seem very pleasant, the thick gel works to suffocate adult lice. Leave it on for at least 24 hours to achieve maximum effectiveness. Also, it may be worthwhile to wear a shower cap, so it has less chance of making a mess. 

    Speeding up the Process

    Follow these steps to help speed up the process of removing lice infestations:

    1. Place infected combs and brushes in a plastic bag and freeze it overnight to kill larva and adult lice. 
    2. Wash the infected person’s clothing, towels, and linens in hot water. Be sure to dry on high at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 
    3. Vacuum furniture, car seats, and chairs
    4. Wash scarves, hats, and other headgear regularly.

    How To Treat Braided Hair

    Combing hair extensions, dreadlocks, and braided hair to remove head lice may be impractical. Instead, use a series of three dimethicone treatments in a seven-day period. This method will preclude the need for wet combing. 

    How to Prevent Head Lice 


    Parents should communicate with their kid’s teachers and school officials if they suspect an infestation. Also, always take lice infestation alerts from your child’s school seriously. While you do not need to be alarmed by every event, it is still wise to know what is going on. 

    Avoiding Contact 

    The person with the lice infestation should avoid close contact with others at least until it is under control. While this may seem harsh, especially for children, it will prevent a much bigger problem later. 

    Wet Combing

    Periodic wet combing with a nit comb or a fine-toothed comb will ensure nits left behind by prior treatments will eventually be removed. Additionally, it may help prevent reinfestation by disrupting adult lice activity. 

    Preventive Treatments

    While it may be tempting to stave off future infestations with regular use of lice treatment shampoos, doctors advise against it. The harsh ingredients in these products leave hair dry and brittle over time. Furthermore, overuse can cause health risks in children.

    Instead, try using a mild essential oil shampoo containing peppermint or tea tree oil. When used once a week, these products are gentler on the hair and have less chance of adverse side effects. 

    What Do Lice Look Like? 

    Lice are parasitic insects that feed off the blood and skin secretions of humans. They’re typically the size of a sesame seed, measuring from two to three millimeters long, and are light gray. Oftentimes it can be difficult to tell lice and dandruff apart. However, after a blood meal, they become much darker. 

    Head lice are relatively fast climbers but cannot hop from one host to another. They feed on the scalp of humans and take a blood meal about every two hours. Yet, they are so tiny that you cannot feel them biting. 

    Life Cycle

    Lice eggs (nits) are difficult to see, so a magnifying glass may help uncover them. One female lays up to five eggs, usually close to the scalp, in a 24-hour period. 

    Eggs hatch in about seven to 10 days. Survival of the newly-hatched nymph depends on receiving a blood meal immediately. 

    Adult lice live between three and four weeks. However, they can only survive without a host for up to 48 hours. Moreover, head lice can only live on humans and not animals. 

    Can Head Lice Live on Your Pillows and Sheets? 

    Lice can live up to 48 hours without a human host. That also means they can transfer from one host to another in that time. 

    Therefore, it is important not to share linens with other family members. During the treatment process, it is a good idea to wash sheets and pillowcases in hot water and then dry them using high heat. 

    As an added precaution, you could replace infested pillows. However, this is usually not necessary. Instead, set them outdoors in plastic bags for at least 48 hours so the lice can die naturally. 

    Signs & Causes of a Lice Infestation  

    In most instances, head-to-head contact causes lice infestations, especially in children playing in close proximity to each other. After that, they can spread through a child’s hair quite rapidly. Then, within a few weeks, the entire family may become infested.

    Early signs include itching, which can eventually cause secondary skin infections. Wet combing is the best way to inspect for head lice visually. Look for live adults as well as tiny white nits cemented to strands of hair near the scalp. 

    A magnifying glass will aid in lice detection. You can distinguish nits from dandruff flakes by the way they stick to the hair shaft, whereas you can easily brush off dandruff.

    Today’s Homeowner Tips

    Adult lice live between three and four weeks. However, they can only survive without a host for up to 48 hours.

    A Final Note About Head Lice

    rnPreschool children are not the only victims of head lice infestations. It can spread to other family members as well. Therefore, it is crucial to be armed with the best information, and hopefully, we have given you a reasonable start here. rnrnAbove all, talk to your pediatrician or primary healthcare provider when faced with this challenge. They should always have the final word concerning the health of your family.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Ed Spicer

    Ed Spicer

    Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management.

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