How to Get Rid of Head Lice in the Hair & House

Head lice are most common in children.
Head lice are most common in children. (Image: child's hair in pig tails / girl image by Katrina Miller from

Head lice — tiny, parasitic insects that thrive on blood from your scalp — are a common, itchy problem. In addition to intense itching, they may cause red bumps. Lice are often spread through close contact or sharing personal items with an infected person. Children ages 3 to 11 and their families are most likely to get head lice, according to the National Institutes of Health. Use the appropriate medications and clean your home thoroughly to eliminate the problem.

Things You'll Need

  • Shampoo containing pyrethrin or permethrin
  • Nit comb

Use a shampoo containing either pyrethrin or permethrin. Follow the directions closely. If the infested person has long hair, you may need to use a second bottle.

Consult your doctor if over-the-counter preparations don't work after eight to 12 hours. Your doctor may prescribe alternative medicated shampoos or lotions.

Check the hair and comb with a nit comb, often found in lice medicine packages, every two or three days to prevent self-reinfestation. Continue to check for two to three weeks to make sure all lice are gone.

Re-treat nine days after the original treatment with the medicated lotion or shampoo that your doctor gave you to kill any surviving hatched lice before they produce new eggs. If you used the prescription drug malathion, re-treat after seven to nine days only if lice are found.

Wash stuffed animals, bedding, clothing, hats, scarves, pillowcases and towels with hot, soapy water with a temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit, then dry them at high heat for at least 20 minutes. Do so as soon as lice are detected. Soak brushes and combs in very hot water for five to 10 minutes. Lice eggs are killed by exposure for five minutes to temperatures greater than 128 F, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Store unwashable items in an airtight bag for three or four days. Lice die if they can't eat.

Vacuum all floors in the home thoroughly. Do not use fumigant sprays because they may be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you or your child have lice, examine family members and close contacts for lice as well.
  • Do not use a combination shampoo/conditioner or conditioner before using lice medicine. Don't wash the hair for one to two days after using the lice medicine.
  • Don't use insecticide medications on children under age 2. Instead, remove the lice from wet hair with a fine-toothed or nit comb and repeat every three or four days for at least two weeks.
  • Do not use different head lice drugs at the same time unless your doctor recommends it.

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