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Get Rid of It Fast: Affordable Home Remedies for Head Lice

This fall, I got the call that all parents dread: there was an outbreak of head lice in my daughter’s classroom. As soon as she arrived home from school, I checked her head, and sure enough, the nasty little buggers were there. The worst part: she had managed to spread it to her sister before the school called.

After the initial freak-out at the grossness of it all, we did what most parents would do: headed to the drugstore for the strong smelling, super-expensive lice shampoo kit. We applied immediately, being sure to follow the instructions to the letter. We bagged stuffed animals, stripped all of our bedding, did about 1,000 loads of laundry. And yet, the lice returned.

Reluctant to shell out more of our hard-earned cash for more over-the-counter lice treatments that didn’t work, we started scouring the Internet. What we found was more effective, much safer (commercial lice shampoos contain pesticides), and far cheaper than another trip to the drugstore. You probably already have most of the tools necessary for eradicating head lice in your pantry and under your sink.

Treatment for Hair

  • Mayonnaise or Olive Oil. Completely coat the hair and scalp in the mayo or oil (we used olive oil) until hair is saturated. This should kill any adult lice on the scalp. Wring out any excess to limit drips, then wrap the hair in plastic wrap (with long hair, pull it into a ponytail before you wrap it to hold it in place). Leave the oil on for at least 3 hours, or longer for added benefit (I’ve heard stories of people sleeping with this treatment in, but I’d imagine that could get messy, so proceed with caution). We put a shower cap on over the plastic wrap, just to be safe.
  • Distilled White Vinegar. After you’ve finished the oil treatment, wash hair with shampoo (it may take a couple applications to get all the oil out). Towel dry hair, then completely saturate hair with vinegar, making sure it reaches the scalp (if there are already open sores on the head, you may want to skip this step, since it could burn). Leave the vinegar on for 15 minutes, then wash with shampoo. The vinegar dissolves the “glue” that holds the nits to the hair, making them much easier to comb out.
  • Coconut Oil. We’ve already stocked up on coconut oil because of all the benefits, right? Well, add this one to the list. Coconut oil is deadly to lice and will kill the adult lice as well as the nymphs as they hatch. Work a couple teaspoons of oil into damp hair, making sure to work it into the scalp. It will make the hair soft and shiny, and it smells fantastic (which is good, considering you just doused the hair in vinegar). After you have eradicated the lice, you can continue to use the coconut oil as a hair treatment, or simply dab a couple drops behind the ears to prevent future infestation.
  • Comb, comb, comb. Warning: this step takes forever. With small kids, we found it was easiest to put on a movie to keep them still. For a detailed description of how to use a lice comb, go here. This should occur every day to every other day for at least 2 weeks.

Treatment for the house

  • Wash it. If it can be washed in hot water and/or dried on high heat for at least 30 minutes, do it. Nothing should be re-worn or reused for more than one day. You’ll be doing a lot of laundry, but it’s better than dealing with lice forever. This is especially true of things that come in contact with hair, like pillowcases and towels.
  • Bag it. If it can’t be washed, bag it up in an airtight container or garbage bag for two weeks. Lice can’t live away from a human head for longer than that, so after two weeks it will be perfectly safe.
  • Wipe it. Hard surfaces should be wiped down with rubbing alcohol to kill any nits or live bugs that have transferred to the surface.
  • Soak it. Hairbrushes, hair clips, and the lice comb can be soaked in rubbing alcohol for an hour to kill any bugs on them. Make sure no one is sharing hair supplies. Clean hair out of brushes after every use.
  • Vacuum it. Upholstered furniture, carpets, throw pillows, car seats, and headrests should be vacuumed regularly.

While head lice is always an extreme annoyance, it’s good to know now that I have everything I need to take care of it already at my fingertips. No more expensive trips to the drugstore for dangerous chemicals that don’t work! These home remedies are safe, cheap, and effective.  They wiped out our infestation in just a couple days! Good luck, and I hope you never have to use these tips.

This has been a guest post by Lauren from Brentwood, TN
Find out more about the KCL Contributor Network!

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46 thoughts on “Get Rid of It Fast: Affordable Home Remedies for Head Lice”

  1. Ashley says:

    Me and my girls have been fighting this infestation for a month I hope it works.

  2. whitmpow says:

    please do a frugal way to get rid of bed bugs! If not frugal….ANY WAY

  3. Anonymous says:

    FWIW, Lice Shield Gear Guard regularly runs $9.99, but is currently on clearance at CVS for $2.49.

  4. Melinda says:

    I wish i had this article sooner, i used to babysit this little girl and i check her for lice and told her parents she had lice. They never treated it, she had blonde hair and it was extremely visible the lice where bigger than fleas. I dyed my hair which killed them all off, and quit babysitting

  5. For those of you with children with fine hair, the combs for lice will NOT be effecient, they will slide right past those buggers.  For a month, I went over my 2 daughters’ hair, by hand with a rat tail comb to make the passes, inch by inch.  It was so tedious.  However…we caught a second infestation by one missed nit.  It just takes one.  Neither OTC or home remedies worked for my girls.  Much to my sadness.

    I used the time to go over their school day, or we chatted about what they wanted to be when they grow up, etc.  As much as talking about it makes my own head itch, that month of painstaking searching on each girl every night was the only solution for our household.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just remember, the OTC stuff is a pesticide and can be harmful if over used.  You’re better off using a heavy conditioner and a shower cap to smother the living.  And using a metal lice comb to remove nits….one at a time.

  7. bethaney cotten says:

    Schools in NY aren’t allowed to tell parents that lice is in their classroom, which is SUCH a misguided policy. They don’t want to make it a big deal to have lice. But it IS a big deal. One thing we learned in our recent lice episode is that cold can kill lice as well. So if you can’t wash in hot water, store it outside in the car for a couple really cold nights and that should kill the eggs AND adult lice. 

  8. Shanna Herndon says:

    As a pharmacy technician, I can tell you from talking with thousands of patients over the last 10 years of my career, that the incidence of the home remedies above working completely working are hit or miss.  OTC (over the counter) treatments, and some older generation prescription products don’t work as well because the head lice have grown resistant to these products.  The good news is that as of 2009, the FDA approved a new treatment that, a lotion called 
    Ulesfia Lotion that is benzyl alcohol based, and suffocates head lice.  It has been proven to be very effective.  It is only available by prescription.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi! I’m a pharmacy tech too, I just wanted to include that the Ulesfia lotion is only avaliable as a prescription, however the benzoyl peroxide 5% is avaliable otc! Additionally keep in mind that this product like ALL lice shampoos/lotions does not kill the eggs or nits. You must treat 2x, 7 days apart. This will kill the adult lice and then kill the newly hatched lice.
      The way that this product works is thru suffocation, however unlike mayo and oil it paralyzes the breathing mechanism of the bug so that the product can physically suffocate it. Lice are able to survive HOURS with out breathing which is why most of the topical oils/mayo are ineffective unless applied for a VERY long time and very frequently.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for posting this. Although we haven’t had these in a long time, my one child had them when she was younger. Truly, this will drive your family nuts from looking for the nits to vacuuming the whole house everyday and washing everything every day.  Use a shower cap with the treatments…go to bed with this on.  After spending up to $120 dollars on shampoo, conditioner, combs for lice treatment only to find they didn’t work. We used vaseline with a shower cap at night 1x.  We spent next day using various shampoos and detergents to get it out including dawn.  It work. Whatever you use..go to bed with shower cap.  Also, if you leave your house for a weekend the bugs will die without a host. Having to do it over again, I would have gone to a hotel ha. 

  10. I’ve been teaching preschool for eight years and we just had our first out break in 6 years!  It started in one class with one kid and then a second kid in the same class another kid in our oldest class and then a case in my room…Luckily only one of my kids got it and I didn’t!

  11. UGH!! I dealt with this about 2 months ago with my 3 kids, my boys are 6 and my daughter is 2. When my boys got it I shaved their heads and treated them with the shampoo and it worked, but a week later I found them on my little 2 year old. I didn’t want to use the OTC stuff a lot on her since she is little so I read the entire internet (lol) and found what ultimately worked for us…a combination of denorex extra strength shampoo and suave coconut shampoo and conditioner. Let the denorex sit for 10 mins and then re-wash with the coconut shampoo and conditioners, comb through the hair and then blow dry it on the highest heat tolerable (the little critters don’t like high heat). I spent way too much money on the “treatments” and wish I had just done this to begin with so much cheaper! Also, go through the hair every.single.day to get the nits out and to get any “baby” lice, they can’t lay eggs until they mature which is 4-7 days I think. Our famiily now only uses the suave coconut shampoo and conditioners. And beware if you have small kids read up on tea tree oil before you use it, too much can be toxic!

  12. Gina says:

    This happened to my son, and boys tend to not catch it as girls do, considering their long hair. I did the same thing as you stated, and it returned in 2 weeks.. I did his hair again, and it was gone. I wouldn’t trust some home-made remedy when it comes to lice. Buy the best, and get rid of it! It’s normal for lice to hatch eggs two weeks after the first treatment.. I didn’t know this until I read it on the bottle.. Well I hope you got rid of it completely.. but I would never use homemade stuff on my childs head.

  13. When we were little I never got lice. My mom only washed my hair every 3rd day. Lice like a clean head not dirty ones. While that may seem gross it was easy. Back Ponytail Monday, side ponytails tuesday, braid wednesday and wash. Baths every night just not washing the hair every night. The girls in my class that always got it washed their hair every night.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’m so glad I’m reading this now! My oldest is in kindergarten and I have feared the possibility of her coming home with lice. At least now I will know what to do right away instead of wasting money on the OTC treatments. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  15. Anonymous says:

    We just had to deal with this. Wiping things down is a bit overboard but whatever makes someone feel better. I used Listerine after the traditional lice treatments didn’t work. Saturate hair with the gold Listerine, put on a shower cap and leave in for a few hours. All bugs were dead.  We repeated this every few days.The problem is getting out every.single.nit. It took  a week and a half to get rid of it out of my daughters hair however, my son must have had an egg that I missed because during my daily inspections I found out a bug in his hair and more eggs. He refused to sit still for more than 30 seconds, wouldn’t leave a shower cap on w/Listerine and it was so hard to go through his hair. I found this spray at Walgreens called Licefreee which kills the bugs and the eggs and all you have to do it spray it in and leave it….no combing necessary and it’s all natural and safe. I was able to treat my son and we have not had a problem since. Yay!!!! And at $9.99 a bottle it’s well worth it in my opinion. Had I known about it, I would have used that first and not spent so long soaking all of our hair in Listerine.

  16. My child just got sent home because of this.. the second time in 3 weeks.. it is CRAZY!

  17. Annette Chan says:

    What alot of people don’t know is if you use Sergeants  flea  and tick shampoo for dogs once a month it’s works better than anything.
    I had hair long enough to sit on when I was 8 and got head lice so bad they was going to have to cut all my hair off. A old lady told my mom about this and it worked. We also washed the stuffed animals and bedding in this. I still use it to this day. My kids have never had head lice!!!!

  18. maria says:

    i tried all those things but they did not work work my girls and im cleaning them every single day 
    including doing conditioner after each shower and the head lice come out faster 
    is really up to the parent to check there kid at least once a week 
    good luck

  19. Anonymous says:

    Just thought I’d share because my daughter got lice not once but three times in a school year.  After treating her with the OTC methods three times in one week I noticed her scalp was peeling and red, did some rescearch and realized I was putting poison on her head!  Really, don’t use them, the chemicals can go into the blood stream and cause all kinds of problems.  So we called the pediatrician,she told us this method and this remedy works!  First go buy some Cetaphil cleanser(generic works too) and saturate the hair. I mean absolutely dripping with the stuff, we used almost half a bottle on my daughter’s waist length hair. Next comb out excess into a towel and immediately wash that towel.  Then blow dry the hair, with Cetaphil still in it, on the hottest setting your child can stand until COMPLETELY dry. Keep it like that for at least 12 hour, we left it in overnight, and then wash out. You still have to pick the nits out and clean your house but no more smelly poison and no more lice!

  20. Anonymous says:

    If you use the oil or mayo treatment, the best thing to do is to wash the hair with DAWN! Do not wet the hair just apply DAWN work in to a lather then rinse and repeat. The one good thing about lice is that my kids hair looked AMAZING after, but even doing most of the work myself I still shelled out a few hundred bucks on dry cleaning bills and taking bigger items that didn’t fit in my washer to the laundry mat. 

  21. Miss EM says:

    I think I’ve literally tried every concoction known to man (except the really powerful poison… but I won’t go there with my kids).  The best thing I’ve found is coconut oil and heat.  I now use coconut oil prophylactically on my kids’ hair following long vacations.  It seems to creep into our schools from other locations after the school kids have been away visiting family.  Coconut shampoo helps keep them at bay as well. I have three daughters with long hair and our house has been infested more than twice.  ICK! (Ps. My youngest daughter refuses to eat mayonnaise now since the I tried it for lice.  The smell just gets to her.) We tried tea tree oil but coconut oil smells so much better… like a day at the beach. :)

  22. Melissa Miniel says:

    Don’t forget the flat iron!!! When my toddler got it I bought one of the mini flat irons.

  23. Anonymous says:

    be forwarned!  My daughter got Lice last summer, and I had to treat her  with the only solution that I knew would work…the OTC stuff.  It said re-apply after 7 days, but after checking her the next day and the next and the next I had to keep treating her EVERY DAY for 2 weeks!  Combing and checking and pulling some strands out by hand since her hair is thin and the combs just slid right thru….  this was a nightmare!  I looked at the brush and they were infected too.  OMG, It was truly one of the worst experiences of both our lives.  Now if I even look at her hair for too long she nearly bites my hand off!

    • Anonymous says:

      Lol!! I remember when we got lice when I was younger and my mom would stare at my hair I would hate it because I knew what was coming

    • Andria says:

      you should not have treated this often. the pesticides in the shampoo build up on  the scalp and can become toxic, esp with small children. There is a reason that there are restrictions on the use of these products. You are very lucky that the child didn’t become very ill. I understand that lice are gross, but treating every day for 14 days is excessive. You should have contacted the pediatrician.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I hold up a picture of the Kardashians and all the lice jump out desiring to return to their original breeding ground!

  25. the best, cheapest, and EASIEST lice solution I found was BABY OIL!! saturate your hair (I treated the whole family when my son brought home lice, as a preventative measure) before bed time. cover your pillows in a towel or sleep in a shower cap. Wash your hair in the morning. The oil suffocates the lice. You do this for 3 days in a row, then every 3rd day for 3 more times. When using this method you do not have to treat other household items such as pillows and furniture due to the life cycle of the lice. Using the baby oil every 3rd day after the initial treatment prevents re-infestation while the lice in the house die off.

  26. what kind of 
    Coconut Oil do you use??

  27. They also make a shampoo that can prevent them. I think the name is Fairy Tales.

  28. Dont forget to empty the vaccum cleaner bag and tie it in a bag and throw away immediately.  Dont waste money on the sprays for furniture, it doesn’t work.  I used to work for a preschool and this was a major teaching issue I used to do with families in the fall especially! Keep boys hair short, keep girls hair up and oiled with either pink oil or other such products.  Lice dont like it when they cant breath or stick to the hair.

  29. DogLog says:

    I’ve worked in the lice business for more than a year and comb lice out of clients hair everyday so I’m very educated in lice! I’m glad this article did not recommend OTC treatments. They are VERY bad for you and really do not work. Hair dye usually just dyes the nits and makes them harder to see. The best method for getting
    rid of lice is to comb with olive oil. Comb every day for a week to make sure you got
    rid of it all. Make sure to check EVERYONE in the family too. (I’m not sure how one commenters dog got lice, because lice are species specific and do not transfer from pets to humans.) I would
    also tell your children’s playmate cause there’s a good chance they
    could have them too. The best way to get lice back is to NOT tell them. (There are also lice salons in some areas if you don’t want to comb yourself, but they are not cheap!)

    There are so many lice myths out there pertaining to your environment! Bagging stuff is just a myth and you do not need to do it. A louse can only live off of the head for 24-72 hours tops! If an item can’t be put in the drier on high for 30 minutes, you can stick it in the freezer over night, or put it ‘off limits’ in another room or just where it will be out of contact for a few days. Vacuum common areas like a couch or car seats. If you have children that roll around on carpet then vacuum the carpet as well, otherwise, no need to. There’s no need to wipe anything down other than leather furniture or leather car head rests. Nits do not live in your environment and cannot hatch off the head. They are glued to your hair strands. Hair brushes and accessories can be put in a bag and placed in the freezer over night. Soaking them in alcohol will not do anything. You can also boil for 10 minutes or put in the dishwasher, IF your stuff can hold up to the heat, most can’t. 

  30. If there is an infestation in your child’s school/classroom and your child hasn’t gotten them yet…keep their hair up and use hair gel and hair spray.  

  31. Gina Kay says:

    Here is something else you can do as a preventative measure when you hear of a lice outbreak- place a few drops of tea tree oil in your shampoo. Lice do not like tree tea oil and it is sort of like a repellent. I am a former hairdresser and this does work!

  32. booney2ns says:

    We dealt w/all 3 of our girls having it (two of them w/long hair). We did use the expensive kits for the “first round” & then added tea tree oil to their shampoo. That worked great, but I still spent about a week combing through their hair. It was gross, but I found using my nails worked way better than a nit comb. It seems like a lot of articles/posts came out AFTER we went through it. While I hope we don’t have to go through that again, I’m glad to have better tools, in case it happens again.

  33. Don’t forget the fury kids, too! When I was in jr high, I kept getting infected with lice… for 8 WEEKS! It wasn’t until my long-haired dog’s annual checkup that we discovered that I had infected the dog and then was re-contaminating myself when I would play with the pooch. He got a lice dip and I treated one last time and they were FINALLY gone! I had to get a salon conditioning treatment to save my waist-long hair. (by that time, I was seriously considering shaving my head…)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much. Sure enough about 2 weeks ago my daughter came home with a letter and nits in her hair. So me being the couponer I am scoured the sites for a coupon for a lice kit and headed to Walmart. OMG are they expensive. Even with a $2 off coupon the Equate was $4 cheaper than the name brand.
    @yahoo-RG2SMI77Q4TC6ABOT73HXPGX6Q:disqus 
    I believe this solution will be easier on all of us. My daughter hates to have her hair combed, and I think the oddity of mayo on her hair would help alot.

    Also, lice must be bad this year. Two days after she came home with “the note” I saw an article on Yahoo News about truths and myths of head lice.

  35. Erin Anglin says:

    tea tree oil works well too

  36. Another cheap, easy way to keep head lice away is to wash your hair in listerine/mint mouth wash. I had long hair in school and got it all the time. Then my mom made me start wearing my hair in a pony tail and washing it in the mouth wash. Never got it again.

  37.  I found that for adults and older teens dying your hair works wonders. The chemicals in hair dye kill the lil buggers and all the nits.

  38. After a lice outbreak at one school, the afterschool care program  continued to just place all coats and hats in a big pile, rather than hanging them separately.

  39. Schools need to be aware as well about how they are storing kids coats and hats. 

  40. Anonymous says:

    OMG..just reading this makes my head itch!!!!!! lol…great post though xoxo