Home Remedies: Busting Head Lice

Alright after the flea post I did promise a post about getting rid of head lice without risking pesticide poisoning. Let me first explain why this is so important to me. [Click through at the "Read More" because I cut it for the bug-squick.]


I was living in a house with quite a number of adults, and my fiancé's daughter brought home lice from her mom's. It wasn't the first time, it wasn't even the last time, but it was the first time that her mom didn't know about it and warn us when she was picked up so we could treat the kid before the entire house was infested. No one else in the house was terribly interested in taking the situation seriously or more importantly, lifting a finger to do the requisite cleaning to ensure we didn't just keep reinvesting ourselves. One roommate, the NANNY!, looked me dead in the eye and said "If you want to get rid of the lice, we will all cooperate, but we aren't buying anything or cleaning." And then only because my fiancé bullied them into cooperating that much.

It was a nightmare. I followed the directions from the kid's doctor and on the pesticide shampoo package and picked up the furniture spray. I shampooed everyone's heads personally, sprayed and cleaned furniture, and got all the laundry done. I was able to get two people to help with the laundry, so that I could have an un-shampooed person dealing with infested clothes and stuffed animals while the shampooed person switched things to and out of the dryer.

I got pesticide poisoning. It triggered a severe migraine and I was on anti-nausea pills for a week because otherwise I couldn't keep anything down. I had some nerve damage in my hands where most of the pesticide exposure was, and I got pneumonia in August. Worse yet is that I was supposed to go through all the shampooing, furniture spraying, and thankfully not as much laundering again ten days after the first round. My doctor made me promise not to expose myself to the pesticides again, but agreed that the re-treat is necessary. I looked her in the eye, I promised her I wouldn't land back in the hospital again with pesticide poisoning, and I went home thinking, there has GOT to be a better way.

Well, I found it. And when we did the re-treat, I used that better way. We did find more hatched lice on everyone's heads, and so I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it worked for us because after the re-treat we didn't get re-infested. It also worked for those same lazy bums when the kid brought home lice the next year and they didn't catch it at the door but didn't have me around to do it all for them. (BTW we figured out where the lice was coming from, it was a camping trip they were taking every years, and when the kid comes back that week she gets treated immediately so nothing gets infested anymore thank goodness. Of course she still brought it home from school in first grade once. Ah, the joys of kids.)

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Step one: Supplies

Buy a Lice Meister comb. It's $12 on Amazon now and worth every freaking penny of not having pesticide poisoning.

Buy some olive oil or coconut oil based shampoo and conditioner. You can find them at health food stores and in the kinky-hair care section of the shampoo aisle. If you can switch to these shampoos entirely you can probably prevent ever being infested again because for some reason the lice don't like coconut and olive oil. If you can't, just keep them around for this.

A good vacuum.

Compressed air.

Lots of large trash bags. Two colors is actually really helpful.

Stock up on your favorite laundry soap!

Clean bandanas, or cloth hats that can be re-washed. Wash them freshly before you get started.

Hair scissors. If you can trust yourself and your kids to do home hair-cuts, great. At worst it will help with any split ends that pop out from the combing.

Hair brushes & Combs: I don't know if you've ever tried to wash those brushes with the air gap in them, but they're a pain. If you have any grooming objects that can't be shampooed, replace them.

Optional: Plastic sheeting for the beds and furniture. It really is optional, though. But some flat sheets might come in handy.


Step two: Prep

Just give yourself the whole day. It might not take the whole day, but if it doesn't, great. Order take-out for dinner. Give yourself a break on the rest of it all. And remember that you're doing this again in a week to ten days, so plan accordingly.

As I said above, wash those hats/bandanas. Having an extra adult to help wrangle any kids is going to make this a lot easier too, and if they don't live with you, you can give them a clean hat to help avoid them getting lice too. You also want to clean all your towels because you're going to need them.

You have to take a long look at your space and the number of people you have. Age of kids and season of the year is going to impact this, too. After each person's head gets scrubbed, you want them to have a live-free place to hang out during the rest of the head-scrubbing, and cleaning if they aren't helping with that. Hard chairs that can be wiped down, even just a floor to sit on, but if you can send them outside, great! Just keep their heads away from upholstery.

Strategize your order of head-scrubs. Honestly, do the squirmiest one(s) first. Both for your own sanity and theirs, so that you're handling them with your highest levee of patience. Expect, especially if you're doing this alone, that you will be scrubbing your own head twice. Mostly for squick factor.

I shampoo first, then clean. Partially because then unscrubbed heads can't re-infest my furniture, and partially because I want to get those bugs off us as soon as possible.


Step three: The Hard Part

Shampoo & Comb: Shampoo your head. Lather, rinse, repeat. Put a small amount of conditioner in your hair, and cleave it on. Then go through your head with the Lice Meister comb, section by section. Rinse out the comb after every pass. Put your hair up so it's covered as completely as possible by your hat or bandana. Shampoo all the combs and brushes in the house that you can.

Now do everyone else. Keep in mind that hand towels work just fine for this! After the first shampoo, it's really helpful to give the hair a trim if you can, because the comb snags on split ends and really hurts.

After you're done with each unhelpful person, send them off to an un-upholstered area to play or wait.  If that's not an option, put a flat sheet on the couch/chair back to avoid getting the eggs on them. Helpful people like other adults can get to work on the cleaning below!

Laundry: If you have another adult who's getting shampooed, or kids who are old enough to follow directions, have them do this while you shampoo and comb (or switch, I really don't care). Otherwise, if it's just you, well this is why you have a bandana. If you can, put an unshampooed person in charge of filling the clothes washer, and a shampooed person in charge of moving it into and out of the dryer. It helps to avoid cross-contamination of things like lifting a bunch of egg-y laundry near the face/clothes and then emptying the dryer, getting those eggs everywhere again. If necessary, wash everything while you shampoo everyone else, shampoo yourself again and put on fresh clothes, then dry everything.

Strip the beds but do so by pulling those corners up and into the middle. Try not to let anything from the top of the sheets get onto the mattress. Get those started, as well as the towels. If you can't wash at home while you do other things or if you have to do it all yourself, put everything into plastic bags a load at a time so you don't have to do any sorting at the laundry mat. If you have black & white bags, put the dirty clothes in the white ones. Don't forget the blankets and pillows!

Stuffed animals might not be able to be put in the washer, but many can go in the dryer. Put delicate ones in clean pillow cases. Any dolls and toys with a lot of crevices that you can't clean by hand/in the dishwasher, any stuffed animals that can't even get dried, put into trash bags, tape them up, and store where sad little hands can't open them. Coloring books and crayons, that sort of stuff is totally safe.

Vacuuming: Vacuum everything. Start with the mattresses so you can get clean sheets on them when they're ready. Make sure you get the crevices in bed frames and head boards, too. If you have to move the beds to the middle of the room to do this, do so and just leave them there for the week. Make sure you get into the creases of furniture, and the backs too.

Wiping/scrubbing: Anything that can be wiped down should. Especially walls by the head of the bed, headboards, chair backs, and give a quick swipe to the door handles and switch plates while you're there just because they so rarely get done. Toys that can go in the washers should. Toys that can't go into trash bags, taped up, and put away for the next two weeks.

If you have to use a laundry mat, you can do it now or tomorrow. Dump each load as-is into the washers -- this avoids flinging the eggs and lice around. Stuffed animals and pillows that can't get washed just put straight into the dryers. Throw away those white dirty clothes bags. As everything comes out clean, put it into black bags.

Any of those taped bags of stuff you just can't get cleaned well, write "DO NOT OPEN until [date two weeks from today]"

Take the vacuum and compressed air outside. Empty the bag or canister, and blow out the insides of the vacuum with the compressed air.

Now take a shower. You've earned it, and you probably recontaminated yourself with eggs and adult lice somewhere along the way. Make sure everyone's clothes come off and straight into the washing machine or white laundry bag tonight before bed/bathtime.


Step four: Daily Stuff

Vacuum upholstered furniture and the carpet every day. The eggs wake up with warm vibrations, so this hatches them since vacuuming out the eggs is pretty hard.

Shampoo everyone once every day or two. Don't worry about combing with the lice meister.

Anything that's in black bags (meaning stuff you've cleaned) should stay there if you don't need it, just so it doesn't get recontaminated. If it's a taped bag, DO NOT OPEN IT.


Step five: Re-treatment Day

Seven to ten days after the first one, you need to retreat. This gives the eggs time to hatch so you can get rid of the infestation once and for all.

Again, with the shampooing and combing. Wash bedding again. Vacuum upholstered furniture, mattresses and headboard areas; you can put beds back where they belong now. Wipe down all the un-upholstered places people sit and the walls by people's heads when they sleep.


Step six: Putting it all back together

Any of those taped bags should not get opened until the full two weeks is up. Everything else can go back to normal. You're done, it's over, and you survived.

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That's what worked for me!

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