Doing a lice treatment at home may not be at the top of your bucket list, but this effective, simple solution will take care of any infestation once and for all.
Ugh. I know…lice, yuck, my 13-year-old daughter had lice a couple of months ago. As you can probably guess, it didn’t end there. I found lice in my hair and two of my boys. Yep, I wanted to cry!
Thankfully, I was able to come up with a natural lice treatment at home that worked really well with no chemicals. All we used was common household supplies and essential oils.
There are a ton of lice treatment at home ideas out there. Some people say they work while others don’t have good luck. The option I’m sharing today is what worked well for us.
I’m not saying this is the ONLY option or even the best option, but this is what worked for us. It was simple, inexpensive, and less scary than dousing my child’s head full of chemicals!
FAQ About Lice
First, let’s address some common misconceptions and questions about lice. I learned a lot about these little critters and am only happy to pass along any info I have in hopes that it’s helpful and enlightening.
What does lice look like?
The best way I can describe what lice look is to show you a picture (sorry!). This is an adult louse.
What do nits look like?
Nits, aka baby lice eggs, are oval and generally a tanish-brown color. Like this:
How do lice spread?
The most common way lice are spread is head to head contact. If your child is a hugger (like mine is), that is probably how they ended up with lice in the first place.
While it is possible to spread lice from sharing hats, hairbrushes, hair accessories, etc. they’re actually far less likely to spread that way than head to head contact, despite popular belief. That’s not to say that you don’t have to worry at all about inanimate objects spreading lice, but it’s not as common as most people think.
This is because lice MUST stay on a head to survive. They only lay eggs ON a head and cannot survive elsewhere. Additionally, lice also do not jump or fly like other pests (fleas, bedbugs etc). Instead, they move by using their claws to crawl into another piece of hair. Yes, it’s gross! But so much less gross than the thought of them jumping freely all over!
Think about how much your child loves to cuddle, snuggle, hug you, lay their head on you, put his/her head together with a friend or sibling while looking at a device, etc. All those are opportunities to share lice.
Can my children get lice from a swimming pool or beach?
No, lice won’t detach from one child’s head in water and float to your child’s head. There is a slight risk of spreading lice from rubbing heads with the same towel though, so if you think someone has lice, don’t share towels at the pool.
How long can lice live?
Lice can live for up to 30 days on someone’s head, but no more than 24-48 hours OFF their host’s head. See the cleaning tips below for more info!
Can my pets have lice or spread it?
No, lice are human-only pests; they cannot survive on dogs, cats, or other pets.
How to Check for Lice
Think you might have an infestation? Don’t panic! First things first – before you do a lice treatment at home, confirm that you are actually dealing with lice.
Doing this is fairly simple. Make sure you do this in an area with good lighting. I recommend a bright bathroom or next to a bright sunny window.
You will also need a good lice comb – this is the one we use and recommend. It’s inexpensive and works really well. I personally bought this comb about 3 years ago and never needed it other than occasional checks up until a couple of months ago when my daughter DID have lice. I was thankful to have it in the house already and didn’t have to run out and buy one!
You will also want to have white paper towels.
Lice are VERY good at hiding, so you will want to take some time to carefully comb through your child’s hair.
The most important thing to do is to comb your child’s head carefully and then comb it again. You do not want to rush through “nit picking”. (This brings awhile new meaning to the term nit-picking!) Unfortunately, this does take time and you cannot skip or rush this step.
My daughter was pretty sure she had lice (she said she had one fall onto her book – YUCK!) and it still took me about 20 minutes of combing before I had a definite louse on the comb.
Tips for Finding Lice:
Comb carefully starting at the scalp and comb all the way down the hair shaft. Wipe the comb on the paper towel. Lice are tricky to see in hair and it can be even trickier to spot eggs (also called nits).
If your child has long hair, use hair clips or ties to section off the hair as you slowly go through section by section.
The most common places to find nits are near and above the ears and at the base of the neck. So be sure to pay extra attention to those areas.
Dandruff vs Lice:
If your child has dandruff, it can be even trickier. (Yep, my daughter has dandruff too.) How do you tell what’s dandruff and what’s the icky bugs?
This is where the paper towel comes in handy. Dandruff is white and lice and eggs are a more tan color. They may look white in the hair, but when you wipe them onto a paper towel you can see them if you look closely, while any dandruff flakes will blend right into the paper towel.
Dandruff will also flake off the scalp and hair easily. Lice eggs will be firmly stuck onto the hair shaft, usually just above the scalp.
Here are some photos to help you compare.
If you’re not sure, use a magnifying glass to look more closely or take a picture with your phone and zoom in.
When we were first getting started with our lice treatment at home in our family, I relied on the picture method to help me confirm lice many times as they are really small to see by eye.
You hope it’s not lice and sometimes it’s so nice to see that that little piece of something was actually just a tiny bit of fuzz, but once you magnify or zoom in, you will see little feet and you can’t miss that it is definitely lice. GROSS!
What to Do if Your Child Has Lice
So your child has lice. It’s not fun, but don’t panic. You will get through it with this simple lice treatment at home!
First, let’s address cleaning.
How much do I have to clean?
You may have heard horror stories about people throwing away their children’s belongings, including favorite stuffed animals because of lice.
Let me calm your fears. You do not have to throw everything away or sterilize your home from top to bottom.
Remember lice cannot survive for more than 2 days off a human head. It’s actually in their best interest to stay ON the head as much as possible, so they will not be burrowing into your child’s pillow and infesting his/her bed, your couch, etc.
You can actually do fairly minimal cleaning. It is far more important that you spend time nitpicking lice and eggs from your child’s head than cleaning. Many people spend more time cleaning their house/vaccuming/ washing bedding etc, and not as much on their child’s head only to have continued lice issues for long periods of time.
For my family, 4 of the 6 of us had lice (yes, including myself.) We did very minimal cleaning while I spent HOURS combing hair and applying our lice treatment at home. We were 100% clear of lice within 2 weeks.
What to Clean When You Have Lice
Here is what I recommend you focus on for cleaning with lice:
- wash sheets and pillowcases
- sort and wash clothing as normal – you do not have to wash all of your family’s clothes
- wash and/or dry any hats, coats, etc on heat high for 40 minutes
- put comforters, pillows, and any small stuffed animals in the dryer for 40+ minutes on high heat. You do not have to wash them unless you prefer. If a certain beloved stuffy will be ruined by going through the wash, it’s okay to NOT wash it.
- for larger stuffed animals, pillows etc, put into a trash bag and store in your garage or attic for a few days to make sure any possible lice die off. My daughter had one of those large lounge pillows that would not easily fit in our dryer and I simply put it in our cold attic for a week.
- for couches, fabric chairs etc, especially any your children may have leaned their head against, use a lint roller brush over those sections. Though I personally did not do that, I kept the children off our couches or made sure a clean towel was placed on the couch where their head was going to touch. Again we had no issues.
- when it comes to cars, do the same as the above tip – use a lint roller &/or cover any areas that the infested heads may have touched with a towel. Remember lice cannot live for long away from a head!
- vacuum any carpeted areas. I personally didn’t do more than our normal vacuuming.
- important: wash bath towels, especially any that may have been used to dry hair
How to Clean Hair Brushes and Combs with Lice
What about hair brushes and combs? First, remove as many hairs as you can from the brush. Then you can do one of these options:
- 1) Put the brush in a Ziploc bag for a few days and wait for any possible lice to die
- 2) Run the brush through your dishwasher on the top rack
- 3) Put the brush in hot water for several minutes. Do NOT use boiling water as you can melt the brush.
Personally, I put my daughter’s brush in a bag for a few days and used simple combs only for a few days.
For combs and cleaning the lice comb, I would put not-quite-boiling water in our 2-cup measuring glass and soak the combs in that for a few minutes to kill any possible nits or lice. Same for some of the hair clips.
I threw away a few hair ties I knew my daughter had used while her hair was ‘contaminated’ but most hair ties, I didn’t worry about because they were unused for long enough that any possible live lice would have long since died.
If you feel more comfortable doing more thorough cleaning, go for it. Just know that you really don’t HAVE to.
Again it is more important that you spend time combing out your child’s hair.
How to Get Rid of Lice
There are many MANY opinions for getting rid of lice. I’ve had some friends share that the traditional chemicals did a ‘decent’ job (though maybe not all the lice) while others had good luck with other natural ways of doing a lice treatment at home.
The truth is I don’t think there is ANY lice treatment that will kill 100% of all lice and eggs in one go.
The best way to get rid of lice is to spend the time nitpicking and comb through with a good lice comb.
But it does help make your life easier to do a couple of at-home ways to kill as many lice as you can.
We used the mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar method.
You will need:
- full-fat mayonnaise – we used Miracle Whip. Do not use a ‘lite’ version because you need full-fat to smother the lice
- shower cap (preferably a cheap one you can throw away later)
- hair clips if your child has longer hair to help section off as you go
- essential oils – optional. They will not kill lice but may help deter lice. Tea tree, rosemary, and peppermint are what I suggest, however, do not use peppermint on children under age 10.
- apple cider vinegar
White Vinegar vs Apple Cider Vinegar for a Lice Treatment at Home
I have heard some people reporting that regular white distilled vinegar worked well too. We had apple cider vinegar in the house already so I used that. You can try either and see what works.
How to Use Mayonnaise to Kill Lice
1. Mix up a bowl of mayonnaise.
How much depends on how much hair your child has.
My daughter has very thick, medium length hair and we used a good 2 cups of mayo or more for each mayo treatment. I added 5 drops each of tea tree oil, rosemary, and peppermint essential oils and stirred them in.
2. Coat your child’s head with mayonnaise
You’ll need to make sure to cover every bit of the scalp.
3. Cover with a shower cap and leave on for 1-2 hours.
2 hours is better, but 1 seemed to work well for us too. Do not leave on overnight as the mayo will begin to melt and would probably make a terrible, smelly mess!
4. Shampoo well.
Allow your child’s hair to dry a little bit before going on to the next step.
5. Next is apple cider vinegar.
The reason this step is important is that vinegar helps to soak in and kill the eggs. On the other hand, mayonnaise helps to smother and kill young and adult lice.
Neither will kill all stages of lice which is why both are important. The vinegar is acidic and from what I’ve read, the acidity is what can help dissolve the shell of the egg. As an added bonus, it helps loosen the eggs and makes combing through easier and less painful all around.
6. Spay apple cider vinegar on the hair.
Pour apple cider vinegar into a spray bottle and spray over your child’s hair at the roots. You want it to saturate your child’s scalp as much as possible, paying extra attention to make sure you soak hair at the base of the neck and near the ears (the most common places for nits.)
You may want to lay a towel over your child’s shoulder to prevent them from getting all wet.
I will say my daughter did complain a couple times that it ‘stung’ a little but it wasn’t so terrible we had to stop. I’m not sure if it was the vinegar itself or more that her scalp was sore from the combing I did while I was first checking for lice. If your child complains, you can try diluting the apple cider vinegar to a more tolerable level.
DO NOT get the vinegar your child’s eyes as it WILL STING! BE careful! I had my kids hold a washcloth over the eyes.
7. Place a shower cap over your child’s head.
Allow the vinegar to sit for 30-60 minutes. Do NOT rinse yet.
8. Now you want to begin lice combing.
Again, take your time. Section off the hair and comb small 1” sections so you don’t miss anything.
It’s best to go over each section multiple times. If you find an egg or a louse, keep combing that section until you can comb it several times without finding anything. Use a paper towel to wipe off anything you find from the comb.
Make sure you comb extra in areas where nits are most likely to be found – near the ears and at the neck.
If you run into tangles, use a conditioner to help work through it.
9. Rinse and wash.
When you are finally done, wash the hair again well.
10. Repeat as necessary.
You might need to go through the whole mayonnaise and vinegar process a couple more times.
How long does it take to treat lice?
This process does take time.
For my boys, who have very short buzzed hair, it took me about 45-60 minutes to comb through each boy’s head.
My daughter, again with longer very very thick hair, took me about 4 hours to comb through every section.
And when I found lice in my own hair, my husband helped me painstakingly comb through my hair the first time (now that’s love!) and I think it took 4-5 hours.
I wish there was a magic way to make this process go faster, but there isn’t.
Like I said it brings new meaning to the term nit-picking!
Does it work to do a lice treatment at home?
For my daughter, I found 0 live lice after the mayonnaise and vinegar treatment the first time. We did a second treatment the second day to be safe (it was thankfully the weekend.) I combed out her hair again a few days later and found 1 live lice. We went through the mayo and vinegar treatment again.
A few days later and she was clean. The next week she was still clean.
For myself and my boys, I managed to kill everything with 2 treatments in 2 days. We checked every few days for several weeks and thankfully were clear.
The key is taking the time – as difficult and frustrating as it is – to comb through every strand of hair carefully. Put on your child’s favorite TV show and watch together. Or watch a movie to help pass the time.
What about hair dryers or flat irons to kill the lice?
I have read that some people try to use flat irons or hair dryers to kill lice. I personally do not think hair dryers are a safe or effective way to kill lice and nits. It would need to be too hot for far too long in order to completely kill lice and their eggs. The same for flat irons.
I do use a flat iron for my hair but I can’t say that it helped kill any eggs or nits. Hopefully, we had already gotten everything out of my hair by combing and I think we did.
What about olive oil for suffocating lice?
Because I had 3 kids with lice, I tried a couple different methods. For my youngest son, I coated his hair in olive oil for several hours, then combed it out.
I do not think it works as well as mayonnaise because I picked out 2 LIVE lice after the olive oil treatment where we found 0 lice the 3 times we used mayonnaise.
I suspect it’s because olive oil is thinner and runs more easily making it less likely to full coat and stick to each lice. Mayonnaise is thicker and stays in place better.
The best way to deal with lice is to prevent them in the first place. Lice dislike certain smells and that’s where a simple lice prevention spray can come in handy.
If your child’s hair smells bad to lice, they are much less likely to want to crawl on over in the first place. Try my simple lice prevention spray here.
Pin it below to find the instructions later!
Elizabeth Schlaner says
I don’t have any kids but I have a younger niece so this was helpful to know ahead of time. If she comes to have this issue when she reaches the school age. Because she is already a hugger and cuddly girl, I didn’t know that’s how they spread. I’ve never had lice as a kid because I wasn’t a hugger at all. I enjoyed y space and I still do as an adult.