How Do I Clean My House After Lice?

Identifying a Lice Infestation

When dealing with a lice infestation, it is crucial to first accurately identify the presence of head lice in your home. This process involves a thorough examination of the infested person’s hair, scalp, and surrounding areas. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Check the scalp and hair: Using a fine-toothed comb, carefully comb through the individual’s hair, starting from the scalp and moving outwards. Be sure to inspect behind the ears and nape of the neck, as these are common hiding spots for head lice.
  2. Look for signs of lice: Adult lice are small, brownish insects about the size of a sesame seed. They move quickly and avoid light, which can make them difficult to spot. Nits, or lice eggs, are tiny, oval-shaped objects that attach to the hair shaft close to the scalp. They can resemble dandruff, but unlike dandruff, they cannot be easily removed by brushing or shaking the hair.
  3. Examine household items: Lice can also be found on items that have come into direct contact with the infested person’s head. This includes hairbrushes, combs, hats, headphones, and bedding. Check these items for signs of lice as well.

Once a lice infestation is confirmed, it’s important to act quickly to prevent an outbreak. Inform any individuals who may have come in close contact with the infested person and suggest they also check for head lice. Remember, the key to successfully dealing with a lice infestation is early detection and swift action.

Lice Treatment and Prevention

When dealing with a lice infestation, you need to ensure proper treatment and prevention methods are in place. The following approaches can be considered, depending on your preference and the severity of the infestation.

Prescription Medication

If over-the-counter treatments fail or the infestation is severe, your doctor may prescribe medications such as permethrin or ivermectin. These prescription pediculicides are more potent and can effectively eliminate lice. Always follow your doctor’s instructions and the directions on the package, as these treatments may require multiple applications.

  • Permethrin: This synthetic pyrethroid is often used in stronger concentrations than those available in OTC treatments. It acts as a neurotoxin to lice, killing them and their eggs.
  • Ivermectin: This medication works by paralyzing lice and their eggs, preventing them from reproducing. It is usually taken orally or applied as a lotion.

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Treatment

There is a variety of OTC lice treatments available, typically including permethrin lotion, pyrethrins, and piperonyl butoxide. These pediculicides kill lice and their eggs.

  1. Apply the treatment according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Use the special comb provided with the product to remove dead lice and nits.
  3. Retreatment is usually necessary within 7-10 days to ensure that newly hatched lice are also eradicated.

Home Remedies

While home remedies may not be as effective as prescription or OTC treatments, some people prefer these methods. Here are a few home remedies that may help control lice:

  • Olive oil: Suffocates lice by coating them with oil, making it difficult for them to move and breathe. Apply a generous amount of olive oil to the scalp and hair, cover with a shower cap, and leave on overnight. In the morning, comb out the dead lice and wash your hair thoroughly.
  • Wet combing: This method involves the use of a fine-toothed comb on wet hair. It can help physical removal of lice and nits. Comb through small sections of hair, wiping the comb onto a white napkin or tissue after each stroke. Repeat the process daily for about two weeks.
  • Essential oils: Some people believe that certain essential oils, such as tea tree and lavender, can help repel lice. Add a few drops of the oil to a carrier oil or your regular shampoo and use it daily for prevention or during an infestation.

Remember, preventing re-infestation is key. Regularly wash beddings, clothing, and personal items, vacuum your home, and teach your family members about lice prevention practices.

Personal Items Cleaning

Combs and Brushes

To eliminate lice and nits from your combs and brushes, first, remove all visible debris. Then, to ensure thorough cleaning, soak them in hot water (at least 130°F or 54°C) for 10-15 minutes. This temperature will kill any lice and nits present. You can also choose to clean your combs and brushes in a dishwasher on a high heat cycle.

Hair Accessories

Hair accessories such as hair ties, hair clips, and headbands should be cleaned in a similar manner. Soak them in hot water (minimum of 130°F or 54°C) for at least 10 minutes to ensure all lice and nits are killed. If the accessories can withstand higher temperatures, consider washing them in a mesh laundry bag along with your regular laundry on the highest heat setting.

Hats and Helmets

For hats and helmets, lice cannot survive long without feeding on their human host. As such, you should isolate these items for 48 hours, as lice will die within this time period. In the meanwhile, inspect them thoroughly for the presence of lice and nits and remove any visible ones. If the hat is washable, wash it at high heat (130°F or 54°C) to ensure any remaining lice are killed.


Cleaning wigs can be a little more complicated as they come in various materials. For synthetic wigs, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning and maintain the recommended temperature limits for washing. For human hair wigs, you can use a fine-toothed comb or a nit comb to carefully remove lice and nits. If possible, wash the wig in hot water (130°F or 54°C) to ensure all lice and nits are killed. Always consult the wig manufacturer’s guide to avoid causing damage to the wig.

Laundry and Clothing

Laundry Cycle

To clean your house after a lice outbreak, it’s essential to wash clothing, bed linens, bedding, towels, and pillowcases that have been in contact with the infected person. Place these items directly into the washing machine without any pre-sorting. Use a high heat setting for both washing and drying cycles. Lice and their nits are susceptible to heat, so the high heat will help to kill them.

When washing, use the hottest water setting recommended by the manufacturer for each type of fabric. For the dryer, choose the highest heat setting and make sure the items are thoroughly dried. Lice and nits cannot survive temperatures above 130°F (54°C) for more than a few minutes.

Non-Washable Items

For items that cannot be machine washed or dry-cleaned, such as stuffed animals and certain types of clothing, there are several alternative methods you can use to help eliminate lice and their nits.

  • Freezing: Place non-washable items inside a plastic bag and seal it tightly. Put the bag in your freezer for at least 48 hours. Lice and nits cannot survive in temperatures below 5°F (-15°C).
  • Bagging: If freezing is not an option or if the item is too large, you can bag it in a sealed airtight plastic bag and store it away from any human contact for two weeks. Lice cannot survive without feeding on a human host for this long.
  • Lint Roller: For items that come in limited contact with the head or hair, like hats or jackets, a thorough lint rolling will help remove any lice or nits. Do this outside and discard the lint roller sheets immediately after use.

By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to a lice-free home and help prevent further infestations.

Household Cleaning

Furniture and Floors

To clean your house after a lice infestation, start by tackling furniture and floors. Vacuum all upholstered furniture, carpets, and floors to remove lice and nits. Pay special attention to areas where household members frequently sit or lie down, such as sofas and mattresses. After vacuuming, discard the vacuum bag or empty the canister outside to prevent any lice from re-infesting your home.

Pesticide Use

While it may be tempting to use pesticides to kill head lice, it’s important to be cautious. According to the CDC, pesticide sprays are not recommended for controlling lice indoors. Insecticide fogs, fumigant sprays, and other toxic chemicals can pose health risks to you and your household members. Instead, focus on vacuuming and cleaning to eliminate lice and nits from your home.

Other Household Items

For smaller items that may have been in contact with the lice-infested individual, like hairbrushes, combs, hats, headphones, and scarves, you can either wash them in hot water (above 130°F) or seal them inside a plastic bag for at least two weeks. This will ensure that any remaining lice or nits are no longer viable.

Finally, don’t forget to clean your car seats. Vacuum the seats thoroughly and, if possible, use a disinfectant specifically designed for fabric surfaces to ensure that all traces of lice are removed. By addressing furniture, floors, and other household items, you can be confident that you have effectively cleaned your home after a lice infestation.

Preventing Re-Infestation

When dealing with a lice infestation, it’s essential to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. To prevent re-infestation, follow these steps:

  1. Treat all household members: Check everyone in your household for lice and nits. Make sure to treat everyone who has an infestation, even if it’s a mild one.

  2. Sanitize personal items: In addition to treating individuals, you need to sanitize all personal items that might have been in contact with the lice, including combs, brushes, hats, and headphones. To do this, soak them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5-10 minutes or place them in a sealed plastic bag for two weeks.

  3. Wash clothing and bedding: All clothes, towels, and bedding used by the infested person should be washed in hot water and dried on a high heat setting. If you cannot wash an item, seal it in a plastic bag for two weeks.

  4. Avoid sharing personal items: Lice can spread through direct contact or by sharing personal items, like combs, hats, or headphones, so it’s best to avoid sharing these items. Teach your children to keep their belongings separate from others, especially at school.

  5. Vacuum and clean: Lice cannot survive long away from human hair, but it’s still a good idea to clean your home thoroughly. Vacuum carpets, furniture, and car seats to remove any stray lice or nits that may be present.

  6. Regularly check for nits: After the initial cleaning and treatment, continue to check your and your family members’ hair for nits and lice eggs every few days for at least two weeks. This will help you catch any potential re-infestation early.

  7. Inform your child’s school and close contacts: Informing your child’s school and close contacts about the lice infestation can help prevent the spread and reduce the risk of re-infestation. The school can take necessary precautions, like cleaning classrooms and encouraging other parents to check their children for lice.

By following these steps, you can prevent lice from re-infesting your home and ensure that your family remains lice-free. Remember, vigilance is key—regularly checking for nits and lice eggs, as well as maintaining good hygiene practices, will help minimize the risk of another infestation.

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