OK, you’re probably here because you just found out you have lice. I’m so sorry. This will be hard, and a ginormous pain in the ass, but you will get through it. I’m here to help. Take deep breaths. I went completely ballistic the first time my kids had it. There’s no reason to go ballistic. It totally sucks, and it’s a lot of work, but you’ll survive.
And don’t feel bad or embarrassed, it can happen to anyone. It’s not because you’re dirty (lice don’t really like dirty hair). However, you DO have to work hard to get rid of it, and be vigilant for a while after it’s gone (because it will come back!! Don’t miss a single nit!). Lice is out there, it’s widespread, and with schools and doctors recommending that we all go on with life as usual, kids are going to be getting lice. A lot.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe you suspect you have lice but you’re not sure. So in case you’re not, look at the pictures of lice and nits here. (Try not to vomit.)
As a child care provider, I’ve been dealing with too much lice for too long. I’ve tried everything and devised what I think is the best way to get rid of lice. If you take my suggestions, you can be rid of lice in as little as six days. But it will need your full commitment and 100% effort!
Honestly, I know you don’t want to hear it but, the first step is to just cut their hair. Especially if you have a child that is under age four or five and won’t sit still for hours while you dig through it. And I do mean hours.
I’m not trying to be callous, I was in the same boat – I’m not shaving my boys’ heads!! They are DEFINED by their awesome giant fluffy hair-helmets! But you will save yourself hours of heartache if you, in the words of my friend Michelle, “Just rip the band-aid!”
I know you’re emotionally attached to it, and they still have their baby curls, and you can’t possibly imagine life without them, but it’s HAIR. It grows back. And they still look really cute and/or beautiful no matter how much of it they have on their heads. In fact, most of the kids I’ve seen with shaved heads look even cuter – they’re like hip little pixie cuts. Especially if they’re boys, a crewcut is no big deal.
For girls, if you can’t stand to chop it, at least give them a bob and have it thinned (with thinning shears that I searched high and low for during my first lice crisis, but I guess they’re a specialty item available only to the secret society of professional hairdressers).
I recommend a haircut in the backyard (because if you tell your hairdresser you have lice, they will set up a fifty-foot perimeter around their salon to keep your buggy ass out). Pick up as much of the hair as you can, bag it tightly, and throw it directly in the trash. They can survive for up to two days without a host, and if one of your kids decides to go sit right near where you cut it, they can still crawl into their hair.
Be VERY careful during this whole process to get those buggers bagged up and removed from the premises as soon as possible.
And in case you’re worried, lice don’t live on pets. That is the one small relief in all of this. They can only live on human blood (yum).
OK now you have to decide if you want to use the lice-killing shampoo or not. Honestly, I don’t think it works that well. THE KEY TO ENDING LICE IS REMOVING THE BUGS AND NITS. Even if you use the shampoo and it kills some of the bugs, you still have to get everything out of their hair (hence, the cutting. If you cut half the little bastards off, you’re halfway there).
So you have to decide if you want to use the shampoo (which is basically putting pesticide on your child’s head) or go the manual-removal route, which you have to do anyway. I found that the more natural products were just as effective, if not more so.
And remember – you still have to pick out all the bugs and nits. You’re never off the hook on this one, no matter what else you do.
If you want to debate the effectiveness of the lice shampoos, I’ll tell you this. Every time I’ve used them, I’ve seen live bugs on the head soon after the shampoo and the following day. The shampoo only kills a percentage of the bugs, and it doesn’t do ANYTHING to nits. The nits are eggs waiting to hatch, and they can withstand the pesticide. That is why you must remove them all, because if one hatches, that bug can lay up to another 15-20 eggs (nits). So you’re right back where you started even if you did everything the shampoo kit told you to do.
What You Need to Remove Lice
I know, right?
Once you’ve made the shampoo decision, take this shopping list and head to the store. You will need a wide variety of tools in your lice-killing arsenal (or as I named it, the Nit Kit. See? I was being witty in my despair). They are:
- A good metal comb. If you insist on keeping long hair, buy the Terminator comb, which I’ve heard is the best. But you have to order it, so buy a RID one at the store to begin with while you’re waiting for the Terminator to arrive. I made it through with just the store-bought RID comb, but I also shaved heads.
- If you want to, the lice-killing shampoo kit (if not, don’t worry just keep reading)
- Lice-killing fabric spray
- Rubbing alcohol, 90% solution (I don’t mess around)
- Decent (sharp) hair-cutting scissors
- Decent tweezers (I used eyebrow ones)
- A package of about 20 barrettes
- Ziploc bags
- Toilet paper or tissues
- Apple cider vinegar
- Olive oil
- Large green garbage bags
- Laundry soap (for all the extra loads you’ll be doing. Deep breaths.)
- Lice-repelling hair spray and/or shampoo (for when you get rid of the lice, and then your kid goes back to school and gets it again three months later)
- A headlamp (like people use when they go camping, or mining). That was a joke. Laugh a little. It’s good for you.
Now that you’ve dropped about seventy-five bucks at the store, come home and prepare yourself to take it out on the bugs.
The All-Natural Cure for Lice
Put the buggy child in the tub. If you got the lice shampoo, use it as directed.
If you chose not to get the lice shampoo, take your apple cider vinegar and make a mix of half water, half vinegar in an old water bottle. Have your child close their eyes and mouth tight, because it does sting if you get it in your eyes, and it’s just nasty if you taste it. Or they can cover their face with a washcloth. Pour the vinegar over their hair, enough to cover it, and really scrub it in. If they can take it, let it sit for a few minutes.
Here is a brilliant idea that was invented by my Younger Son. I can’t take the credit for this. Now that you’ve got the vinegar in their hair, comb it in the tub!!! The comb goes through much easier and all you have to do is wipe the comb with toilet paper and throw the bugs in the toilet! (I’m sorry. That just gives me so much pleasure.)
Make sure to wipe the comb with the toilet paper after you run it through the hair so you’re not just combing them back in there. You may have been wondering what the toothpicks are for, and by now you may have figured it out. They’re for digging dead bugs out of the comb. (Yum again!)
Comb through the whole head and get ready to rinse. If you have a hard setting on your shower head, use that to BLAST THOSE LITTLE BASTARDS OUT OF THEIR HAIR!!!!!
OK, sorry. I had to have a freakout at some point. Go ahead, you’re allowed to have one too. You’ll feel better.
Again, make sure your child is covering their eyes with a washcloth while you rinse. Vinegar stings!!
Both the bugs and nits hold onto the hair with glue, and the vinegar actually releases that glue (either that or the smell just gags them to death). So it loosens everything enough that it’s easier to comb out. You won’t believe all the gunk that comes out. That’s why I recommend a whole roll of toilet paper… Then get rid of the TP immediately – if not in the toilet then a garbage can (that you’re going to empty as soon as you finish) or a ziploc bag.
By the way, even if you used the lice shampoo, you can do the vinegar rinse and olive oil soak (more on that below) as often as you like. But give it a day after the lice shampoo, their little scalp needs a break.
Combing Through the Hair
Even if you do the combing-in-the-tub method, you’re still going to have to pick through their hair. (Ever wonder where the phrase “nitpicker” came from? Or “go through it with a fine-tooth comb”? Now you know. Aren’t you psyched?!) This is so you can find any bugs the comb missed (they’re VERY good at hiding) or nits that are still stuck on the hairs. NOTHING COMPLETELY REMOVES THE NITS EXCEPT DIGGING THROUGH THE HAIR AND CUTTING THEM OUT.
So now we begin the agonizing process of combing. If you got the shampoo, just follow the directions enclosed in the box. But first you want to throw away the silly little plastic comb they give you, because it’s useless. Get out your metal one.
BTW, you should probably have a movie on, or give your child their DS or something, because you’re gonna be sitting around for a while and they’re gonna be whining the entire time and you’re gonna be telling them to hold still eighty thousand times.
Spread newspapers under where you’ll be combing. I prefer outside because you’ll have fewer bugs in your house, and it’s easier to see the nits in the sunlight. My husband disagrees, he prefers a headlamp because he thinks the sun just makes all the hair look glittery. Whichever works for you.
The shampoo directions show you how to comb through small sections of hair and put them in a barrette when you’re finished. Even though we had buzzcuts, I still used the barrettes to show where I left off. Comb through from the top down, paying close attention to the areas above the ears and the back of the neck (lice’s favorite spots).
Just look at them smiling away in that picture. Oh honey, it’s your first lice! Let’s bond while we comb it out. We’ll enjoy this time together so much! Grrr.
When you find a bug, grab it with the tweezers fast. They are really quick, and will crawl away and hide. Don’t worry, you’ll probably find it again within about an inch of where you saw it the first time.
When you find a nit, just cut the strand of hair out with your comb. Put it in a ziploc (or trash can or toilet). Don’t worry about neatness – at this point your kid’s awesome designer ‘do is all messed up anyway, and they won’t miss a little chunk of hair. Remember, it’s growing back… and it’s easier to just get that nit the heck outta there.
It’s easy to confuse nits with dandruff (and dirt, and crumbs, and glitter, and all the other crud that gets in your child’s hair). If you’re not sure, just try to pull the nit off the hair. If it sticks, it’s a nit, if it comes off, it’s something else. Also they are usually found within 1 cm of the scalp.
If you did the combing in the house, bag up and throw away the newspapers and vacuum the area. Put the vacuum outside. Seriously. Soak everything (combs, tweezers, barrettes, scissors) in alcohol overnight. Put the clothes your child was wearing during the combing in the laundry (and maybe you want to shake them outside first. It helps to be really OCD about this).
Using Olive Oil to Smother Lice
Yep, that’s what I said. SMOTHER THEM. I remember at some point Older Son said “Ohhh, poor bugs!” as I was gloating over flushing them down the toilet. I told him I don’t care, you can love all the animals you want but these deserve to die more than anything on the planet!!!
My friend begged me to try putting olive oil in the kids’ hair overnight and it just sounded so disgusting to me. So I held out, doing my vinegar rinses every day and combing for hours and hours. But I’m here to tell you: believe in olive oil. Smear it over their heads, comb it through (with a regular comb) and send them off to bed. It just feels like you didn’t get a shower after your jog. You know, a little extra sweaty. YUM!!!
Use folded-up towels for pillows if you want to avoid stains, though I found the oil really didn’t stain pillowcases that much (use an old one). In the morning, comb through their hair with the nit comb and give them a regular shampoo to get the grease out. I can’t tell you how effective it was at killing bugs. I did it once every 2-3 nights for a week and we had no bugs (keep checking though!).
Housecleaning When You Have Lice
Now, for decontaminating your house. You can choose to go completely nuts with this, or just do the basics. I’ll list everything since I went comletely nuts. Remember the OCD? A lot of people say it’s more important to spend your time and effort on combing hair and I agree with that. But you should probably do at least a few basics – just pick your favorites from below…
And at least change their pillowcases every day. I mean, that’s logical, right?
Start with the beds. Take all non-essentials (stuffed animals, extra pillows, blankets, and comforters) and put them in garbage bags. Put the pillow they sleep on in a bag and use folded-up towels as a pillow (and wash them daily as described below) until you get rid of the lice.
Strip all blankets and sheets, including mattress pads. Spray the empty mattress with the lice-killing spray. If you want to get really crazy, go ahead and vacuum that mattress!
On the lice-killing spray: mixed verdict. Some people say it’s great why not use it, others say it’s harmful to kids and pets. I say spray when no one’s around and give it a while to dry (i.e. spray the beds in the morning after they’re up, and the couches in the evening after you put them to bed). Then no one’s sitting on wet chemicals. Yuuuummmm.
You have to take all the garbage bags, tie them up tight, and put them in the garage, basement, or attic for at least two weeks. Don’t worry about missing stuff, you’d be surprised how much you can live without. I had EIGHTEEN bags of stuff in my garage. Of course, I have seven children who nap in my house, but we lived without it all. You really only need a couple of sheets and blankets!
Wash every fabric you’ve touched in the past week (sheets, towels, clothes, coats, hats) in hot water and dry it for at least thirty minutes on high heat. Whatever you can’t wash needs to go in the garbage bag for two weeks.
OR if you have lots of freezer space (I don’t) you can also freeze items and the bugs will die overnight (12 hours)!! Yippee!
In case you’re wondering, you can’t drown them. They can hold their breath under water. They die in the hot water wash because of the heat. So if you happen to have bedbugs and you’re using some crazy super-heater to kill them, at least that’ll kill lice too! And no, a blow-dryer on your kid’s head is NOT strong enough. We’re talking 140 degrees, scalding, we do not want to scald our children. (You should have heard the suggestions Dave came up with: sticking heads in snow banks, alcohol shampoos, underwater chlorine pool tea parties, etc. etc.)
Use the lice-killing spray on couches, rugs, anywhere the kids have been hanging out. Don’t forget your car seats!! Vacuum the rugs after you spray (give it a couple minutes to soak in so they will die).
Gather up all the combs and brushes you may have used in the past week and either soak them in alcohol or throw them away. Seriously, take a close look! There may be some nit-hairs embedded in that brush! (Or don’t, because you might vomit again, and just take my word for it.)
If it’s at all possible (and depending on the extent of your infestation), leave your house for the weekend. Lice cannot live for more than 48 hours without a host. If anything is left, hopefully it will die and your house will be clean!
When you bring all the bags out of storage, shake out the stuff you can’t wash, then wash and dry everything else in hot water/high heat before you put it back where it belongs.
Keep up the vinegar rinse, olive oil, and DAILY combings until you can’t find any more bugs or nits, and then keep checking their heads weekly.
Congratulations. You survived. And save all your equipment so that when you get lice again in six months, you’ll know just what to do! Seriously. Remember I said “the first time” we got lice? If kids at school have it, your kids will get it again. Like mine did, three months after the first time it happened. And that leads me to:
Why Lice Is So Hard to Get Rid Of
I’m gonna get a little sciency on you here, because I like to do that sometimes. Insects evolve incredibly fast. This is why single-celled organisms were able to create the spectacular array of life on this planet in the first place. This is why we are seeing superbugs and sicknesses that can’t be killed with antibiotics, because we aren’t really killing them anymore.
And whatever doesn’t kill them just makes them stronger.
Sort of like lice. (I mean what it did to me. Personally. I think I have a twitch now.)
So the lice shampoos are becoming less effective, and the pesticides that we were kinda OK with putting on our childrens’ heads have to be a little stronger now but they’re not quite working, and maybe you put the second dose on six days later instead of five, and it was like a little innoculation for those lice.
To top it all off, this year the good ol’ American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) decided that it’s OK if we all walk around with it! They want to “remove the stigma” of having lice, so they announced that it’s really not that big of a deal, and we shouldn’t be so upset about it, and then they oh-so-helpfully changed their recommendations to allow children with lice to come to school.
That’s just brilliant. Even if kids are being sent home for treatment, they’re back the next day. Well let me ask this. Is the AAP going to come over and de-louse my life again? Are they going to pay me for all the business I lose when I have to close my day care for a week? Are they going to spend hours combing through my kids’ hair? Are they going to get the bugs off my pillow at night? Didn’t think so.
So when people talk about how the lice must be getting harder to kill because they’re everywhere, I like to point out that it’s everywhere because no one is keeping their kids home when they have it!!!
If You Have Lice in Your Day Care
If you are a provider, first of all I’m so sorry this happened to you. In seven years of running a day care, this was by far the worst thing that ever happened to me. Second, I recommend you have a no-nit policy. There is a lot of pressure for child care centers to let kids attend even if they have nits, and to this I say, hogwash. Schools have to make their attendance requirements so they’re not really that concerned if your kid has bugs, as long as his butt is in his chair during school hours. Plus school-age kids aren’t in as much close contact as they are in a day care (but they’re still sitting on the same rug, their coats are hanging next to each other on hooks, they’re putting their heads together to huddle or tell secrets, etc).
Even the AAP, in the same report that says SCHOOLS should abandon no-nit policies, says the following regarding child care: “Little information is available on the incidence and control of head lice outside of the school-aged population and outside of school. Because head lice are most readily transmitted by direct head-to-head contact, child care centers and camps where children share sleeping quarters may allow for easier spread. Reminding parents of the importance of carefully checking a child’s head before and after a sleepover experience may be helpful.”
In child care, you have kids crawling all over each other, and all over you, and all over your furniture, and those bugs are crawling right along with them. Children nap in your house, they don’t do that at school. And we all give each other lots of hugs and kisses, which involves a lot of head-to-head contact! If your clients complain point out the following:
- This is your home, not a school. Lice live on fabrics that child care kids are crawling on all the time, and are therefore much easier to transmit.
- This is your business. Schools make money whether or not the kids are there. You don’t.
- You are exposing not only all the other children in your care, but your own family and any guests who come into your home, and anyone else who any of those people visit.
- No matter what child brings lice into your home, you will be blamed for being the cause. That is bad for your reputation and bad for business.
- The kids you care for are younger than school-age, and infants are not allowed to use lice shampoo because it will poison them. Therefore it really is a health hazard for younger children, no matter what the AAP says.
- Finally – your house, your rules. If you don’t want bugs crawling all over the place, no one has the right to tell you you should.
If people are giving you a really hard time, you might have to resort to this question: do YOU want bugs crawling around on your head sucking your blood? And doing the same thing to your kids? I didn’t think so.
Good luck, my friends. Fight the good fight. When you’re ready to scream, or cry, or topple into the abyss of despair, remember my motto: This too shall pass.
That’s right, Frequently Asked Questions about lice! (Really, I can’t imagine a better way I’d like to be spending my time right now.) I will update this list as they come in so feel free to add more! Ask away!
Should I send my child to day care when the other kids have it?
Well, that’s up to you. How bad is the infestation? Do kids have live bugs crawling around on their heads or has it been contained? What is the provider doing to contain it? How much vacation time can you take from work? You can ask your provider to try to keep your child away from the other kids but there are just no guarantees. You can also douse your child in the Lice Shield shampoo and spray, check them every afternoon when you pick up, and pray for the best.
Will all the children in day care get lice?
I would have to say, if nothing is done to stop it, eventually, yes. Talk to your provider and see what she is doing to contain it. If she’s keeping kids from huddling together too much, washing sheets in hot water, checking heads herself, and excluding kids who have live bugs, then she’s doing the best she can. There’s no “this will go away if we just use the shampoo.” And she can’t control what parents are doing to get rid of the bugs.
Can lice live on pillows?
Lice can live on fabrics for 48 hours. So yes they can live on pillows. And sheets, and blankets, and hats, and shirts, and coats, and couches, and rugs, and stuffed animals…
Some people say they will not crawl off a head if they’re happy there. My response to that is, then why isn’t there only one child in the whole world who has all the lice on her head? Of course they crawl off! How did your kid get it?! One preschool I know of told parents that if the child had been in bed with them, the parents wouldn’t get lice because they wouldn’t crawl around on the bed. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. If you’re a warm body, lice will crawl on you. (Isn’t that a pleasant thought?!)
As I mentioned before, if you can leave your house for the weekend it will greatly improve your chances of getting rid of the lice because hopefully any stray ones you missed will die.
Can my baby get lice?
Does your baby have hair? I thankfully haven’t seen lice on any of the babies in my care. They definitely like very thick hair, so they may not prefer baby hair, but that’s not to say they’ll never go on it. Also, usually, the older sibling gets it first so you can keep the baby out of its path. AND their hair is so fine that you’d probaby notice bugs crawling in it! (But if you’re not convinced that it’s a possibility, see the question below that asks “How do I get rid of lice on a baby?”)
Why do some kids get lice and others don’t?
Luck. As I said before, their favorite hair is clean, not oily, THICK patches of hair (I don’t mean thick strands, I mean lots of hair) because they can nestle down in there nice and cozy and hide from us. If your child is a loner, they might not tend to get it because they’re not whispering secrets all day. But if they hug anyone who has it, they’ve been exposed.
How do I avoid bringing lice home from child care?
As I mentioned above, use Lice Shield shampoo and spray, check them every afternoon when you pick up, and pray for the best. My hairdresser (and friend) swears by hair gel – she feels that if you keep the hair coated the bugs aren’t attracted to it. Also check heads if they have a sleepover at someone’s house. If you can avoid nap time, that might help, but again I can’t make any guarantees.
Can lice live in the garage?
I’m gonna say no, unless you’ve got living beings in there. They need warmth and blood and hair to live (remember they don’t live on pets THANK YOU LORD for small favors). If you’ve put fabrics (such as blankets or stuffed animals) in the garage to kill the lice, leave them there for at least two weeks and there will definitely be nothing living on it. If humans are in contact with the items, the lice will probably survive by crawling onto you!
Can you get lice by sitting on someone’s mattress?
Hmm…if the lice are alive on it, I guess. The risk is probably minimal, but anything can happen. Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along? And I still get skeeved out every time I sit in the chair at a movie theater.
If one child gets lice will the whole house get it also?
Eventually, unless you treat that child. When you find out one person has it, check everyone just to be sure.
Can you get lice from sitting close?
Good question. I really think it has to be possible, because how else do my children keep bringing it home from school? People say it’s close-up, head-to-head contact, but I know they’re not hugging every friend at school. And my other theory is that snuggling is probably how parents get it from kids. Have someone check your head just to be sure.
Here’s a good quote from the PTA, of all places! “Activities such as hugging, play wrestling, and sharing a bed all offer opportunities for lice to spread between friends and family members.” So there you have it. That’s actually a good link if you want to check it out.
How do I get rid of lice on a baby?
DO NOT use pesticide shampoo. It should be relatively easy to see the lice and nits because baby hair is so fine. Comb, cut the hair, use olive oil, comb some more.
How can you tell if you’re rid of lice?
Persistence. You just have to keep combing through and searching for bugs and nits. If you shaved heads, you’ve got a much better success rate because you threw all the nits in the trash. Continue to comb heads and do head checks every week, and even throw in a vinegar rinse every now and then.