Last fall, I got the call that all parents dread: there was an outbreak of head lice in my daughter’s classroom. 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. And yet, the lice returned.
What we tried next was more effective, much safer (commercial lice shampoos contain pesticides), and far cheaper than another trip to the drugstore.
1. Coat hair and scalp with mayonnaise or olive oil for 3 hours.
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. We put a shower cap on over the plastic wrap, just to be safe.
2. Soak hair in distilled white vinegar for 15 minutes.
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.
3. Work coconut oil into damp hair and scalp.
Coconut oil is deadly to lice and will kill adult lice as well as 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’ve 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.
4. 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.
Treat your house for head lice
1. Wash and dry fabric items in high heat for at least 30 minutes.
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.
2. Put items in a garbage bag or an airtight container 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.
3. Wipe down hard surfaces with rubbing alcohol.
Rubbing alcohol will kill any nits or live bugs that have transferred to a surface.
4. Soak hairbrushes, hairclips, and the lice comb in rubbing alcohol for an hour.
Make sure no one is sharing hair supplies. Clean hair out of brushes after every use.