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How to Get Rid of Head Lice and Nits With Vinegar and Conditioner

Suzie is a busy mom with three energetic kids. She loves discovering easy solutions to those little problems every parent faces.

Close up of nits in a girl's hair

Dealing With Head Lice

When I first noticed little dots in my five-year-old daughter's hair, I wasn't concerned because I thought it was dandruff. However, when they didn't disappear with washing, I decided to check with the school. They confirmed that her class was indeed experiencing an outbreak of head lice.

Like any mother, I was horrified, and I immediately sought advice from everywhere I could. Just the thought of these little critters living on your scalp will probably have you literally scratching your head!

After conducting my own research, I found an easy, non-toxic solution. I was able to implement this treatment fairly quickly (in the space of only about an hour!), and I'm happy to report that the lice has not returned. In addition, no one else in the family has been infected.

This method cost me a fraction of the cost of regular medical treatments, and I didn't need to put harsh chemicals into my daughter's hair. Try it out!

What You'll Need

  • A nit comb, or a strong, very fine-toothed comb, metal if possible (these cost approximately $14 at the store).
  • A bottle of white vinegar.
  • A bottle of cheap hair conditioner.
how-to-get-rid-of-head-lice-and-nits-easily-and-cheaply

Instructions for Treating Lice at Home

  1. Soak the hair in white vinegar. First, I wrapped my daughter in a towel, and then I had her put her hair over the bathroom basin. Then I soaked her hair in white vinegar. I made sure that it really was saturated, including the scalp. I didn't rinse it out—I just tied her hair up and out of the way. My daughter then put on her swimming goggles (vinegar has a very sharp odour), and she sat outside in the fresh air for half an hour.
  2. Part hair and comb. After half an hour, I sat outside with her and parted her hair into small sections, each secured with a clip. (I did this outside because I didn't want to risk putting any live eggs into the house.) Using the nit comb, I then worked on combing out the eggs until there were none visible in each section. I rubbed a generous amount of conditioner into each section as I finished, and then I clipped it again before starting on the next section. This was time consuming, but worth it.
  3. Leave the conditioner in, comb again, then rinse. Once I had finished, I left the conditioner in my daughter's hair for an additional fifteen minutes. Then I combed her hair through once more with the nit comb. Lastly, she took a shower to rinse it all out.

Just to be safe, all members of our family also did the vinegar rinse and left it for half an hour before rinsing out. We then put a generous amount of conditioner through our hair and left it for another hour before rinsing again. A pleasant side effect is that it left the whole family with beautifully pure, clean hair.

Theory Behind the Technique

The theory behind this method of treatment is that the vinegar loosens the nits so they are easier to remove. It also gets rid of impurities in the hair, so that new eggs will not stick easily. Meanwhile, the conditioner smothers any living lice and kills them.

Follow-Up Checks

Ever since I treated my daughter's hair, I have been diligently checking all of my family members' hair every day. So far, we all appear to be clear.

If I had found any sign of nits, I would have immediately removed them with the comb. Then I would have thoroughly covered the hair and scalp with conditioner and left it for as long as possible (overnight, ideally) before rinsing it out.

I am no expert on head lice, but I am happy to report that this method worked for my family. It's cheap, avoids harsh chemicals, and it is comparatively easy!

Lice Prevention

Once your child's hair is lice-free, you may like to try some of these ideas to prevent reinfection from head lice.

Good luck!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do the head lice shells stick to the hair shaft?

Answer: Nits are head lice eggs. To make them stick to the hair shafts, lice produce a strong glue as they lay the nits. Once a nit hatches, the empty eggshell can stay stuck to the hair until it is combed out or until the glue weakens over time. The main purpose of using vinegar is to help relax the glue, making the nits and the empty eggshells much easier to comb out.

Question: Can Benadryl ointment kill head lice?

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Read More From Remedygrove

Answer: Benadryl can certainly help calm the itchiness from inflammation caused by head lice biting the scalp. However, it is not known to kill the lice, just to relieve one of the symptoms.

Benadryl is a trading name for an antihistamine called Diphenhydramine. Antihistamines work by blocking your body's natural reaction to a harmful substance. In the case of head lice, biting lice cause infection to the scalp. The body responds by making the infected area itchy.

Antihistamines such as Benadryl can block the itchiness from inflammation, but they won't kill the lice, and they won't stop the itchiness caused by live lice crawling on your scalp.

The best time to use Benadryl would be if the scalp still itches after the lice have definitely all been eliminated. Of course, while side effects are rare with Benadryl, it is always best to check with your doctor before using medication.

© 2010 Suzie Armstrong

Comments

Olivia on September 03, 2018:

I've had this issue for 3 years now. My frustration is getting rid of the dead ones. There's so many dead ones, those things stick like glue to the hair shaft. I have twins and it's becoming very painful to constantly get rid of.

Jessica on June 04, 2018:

If I leave the vinegar on overnight will it suffocate the louse and loosen the eggs so that the next morning I could take a shower and use the nit comb then the infestation would be gone?

Suzie Armstrong (author) on November 21, 2017:

Thanks for the advice. This would work the same way as the vinegar to loosen the glue that the lice use to attach their eggs (nits) to your hair shafts. Just be careful using alcohol too often, as it can dry out your hair and your scalp.

Ann on November 08, 2017:

I did a treatment but I still see little eggs or whatever on the strands of hair and they don't wanna come off help their is many what do i do i put rubbing rubbing alcohol on the day after the treatment

Suzie Armstrong (author) on October 23, 2017:

The nit comb really is quite easy as long as you soften your hair with conditioner, and is definitely the most effective. Some chemical preparations allow you to apply them without combing out the nits, but I worry about what is in them. Sometimes your scalp will itch after the nits and lice have gone, just because of the extra stimulation from all the combing. Hopefully your lice have disappeared. Good luck.

Dee on October 05, 2017:

Thank you very much for your advice. I found lice on my 3 year old son. As soon as I noticed it, I buzzed off his hair. I didn’t catch it soon enough because now I have them too. I tried your remedy with the vinegar and it seems to be working. My only problem is that I’m a single mom living on my own, so it’s hard for me to use the nit comb. What can you recommend? I’ve used the remedy twice already, but my scalp still itches.

Thank you.

Leesha on September 07, 2017:

Can I use baby oil instead of vinegar ? Wouldn't this make my child's hair smell ?

dave crook on August 20, 2017:

apply a good amount of insect repellant with a lot of deet in it. kills the live ones almost immediately. leave in for a few hours then wash out hair with normal shampoo. repeat a couple of times over the course of a week. best way to get rid of the lice ive ever seen

Suzie Armstrong (author) on August 09, 2017:

Yes. If you follow the instructions and are very careful to make sure you don't miss parts of your hair, it will work. It will get rid of the live lice and most of the nits immediately. By repeating the combing every few days, you will catch any remaining nits and hatching lice. Good luck!

Kayla on August 08, 2017:

I have head lice for 2 months already and we're going back to school in one week will this really help

Connie on August 06, 2017:

Thank you I'm desperate i can't get rid of the head lice on my kid and me since several months now i will try this method .

Suzie Armstrong (author) on July 30, 2017:

Hi Crystal, The only way is to be persistent and thorough. If the nit comb is not removing the nits, you could try loosening the nits with vinegar and conditioner, sitting your child in the sun so you can see clearly, and using your fingers to systematically slide each nit off the shaft. This is very time consuming, but effective.

It sounds like someone else is reinfecting your child each time you remove the nits and lice. Unfortunately there is no failsafe way to prevent this, but you will find some ways to minimise the risk here: https://healdove.com/alternative-medicine/How-To-A...

Good luck.

Crystal on July 30, 2017:

How do i remove the nits properly? I've tried everything. Plus every time i remove all the lice & nits my child catches it right back. This has been a constant problem for the past 2 years.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on July 25, 2017:

Hi Becky, You need to comb them out with a nit comb. They have quite possibly laid eggs, so I suggest you follow the instructions in the article to make sure you don't end up with more. Good luck!

Suzie Armstrong (author) on July 17, 2017:

My pleasure :) Thank you for your lovely comment.

Ma Nithya Virajananda on July 14, 2017:

THANK YOU SO MUCH AND IT IS SO SO SO SO USEFUL AND MY FRIENDS WILL BE SO HAPPY FOR IT AND ALSO IT SERIOUSLY SO USE FULL

THANK YOU SOMUCH

Suzie Armstrong (author) on June 20, 2017:

Yes, you need to get rid of the eggs (or nits) as they have hard shells and usually are not harmed by the chemical treatment. Normally a chemical treatment should advise to do two or more treatments a week apart so that you kill hatching lice before they are old enough to breed. The method I describe in this article is a natural treatment that should remove nits and hatching lice.

Lizzie on June 19, 2017:

I got head lice about a week ago and got a treatment from the pharmacy, i did the instructions on bottle, i think i got rid of all the live head lice but not the eggs, i didnt know there was eggs at the time. But could you tell me if i should use this method and if it will work

Thank you.

Kc on June 14, 2017:

In your original directions you stated that you took her outside and combed the nits out then put conditioner in each section and pinned it back up. Then after you finished you recombed each conditioned section after you had finished the entire head the first time. In another post you stated to do the vinegar treatment then cover the head in conditioner divide into sections then comb out. I just wanted to know which way was correct

Suzie Armstrong (author) on June 13, 2017:

Glad to hear, Alexis. Thanks for commenting.

Alexis on June 12, 2017:

Thx so much for this! I have lice and looked on the internet and I'm for sure doing this tomorrow or the day after. It really helped

Suzie Armstrong (author) on May 13, 2017:

Agree! It saves so much money too, as over the counter treatments are expensive.

Michelle How on May 12, 2017:

I couldn't even begin to guess who much I have paid in treatments for my kids. It was only when I bought a very fine toothed comb and used the conditioner method every day that I finally got rid. I would never buy over the counter treatments agin.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on May 02, 2017:

I think you have done enough cleaning. It's not really necessary (but it does feel better to know you have got rid of any dead lice.) Lice are more likely to be spread by brushes, hats etc which could come in touch with the hair quickly after being on an invested head.

Removing all lice and nits from the hair would end the infestation immediately. Only live lice can spread, but nits (eggs) will eventually hatch into live lice, and, because nits have a hard, protective covering, it is difficult to kill them. You need to remove nits before they have the chance to hatch. The problem is that when eggs are laid they are really tiny and can easily be missed by a nit comb. You have to comb every few days to remove nits as they grow. If you have removed all lice, there won't be any new nits, just the remaining ones growing. You don't have to comb every day - just every few days for a couple of weeks until you are sure all the nits are gone.

Tea tree oil will work as a deterrent, but there is no way to 100% definitely keep lice off hair. It will work just as well as expensive chemical products, and tea tree always good to have in the house anyway as it has many uses. When there are lice infections at school, I have my daughter comb her hair with a nit comb once a week just to make sure there is nothing there. Catching them early before they can mate and lay eggs is the best control.

Cas on May 01, 2017:

Its not necessary to have them change all their bedding again than right? only do that if they get another full blown outbreak? Because I dried their pillows for like an hour last night, so they should be ok for now?

And if their are still nits in their hair on Friday, do another treatment?

Cas on May 01, 2017:

so as long as they dont have live ones we are ok as far as them not being contagious anymore? so just continue combing everyday on dry hair, or with vinegar and conditioner? You think I should do another treatment just to be safe on Friday, as that would be the 7 days? Thanks for all your help. I've never had to deal with this before and am really freaked out. I'm trying to prevent it from the rest of us getting it. Does that tea tree stuff really work as far as prevention? I've been spraying my hair and my sons hair, in hopes of not catching it. otherwise I was going to go the store and buy like a lice free spray, leave in conditioner type of thing. Let me know your opinions. thanks so much :)

Suzie Armstrong (author) on May 01, 2017:

Oh Cas, I can feel your frustration! To answer your questions:

Firstly, you asked if there is anything else you should do. You didn't mention it, so just in case, it is essential for you to use a proper nit comb. The teeth in normal combs are too wide apart and you will not be able to remove any nits.

It sounds like you have been extremely thorough. The lice won't live very long at all without a host. The nits will live until they hatch, but then they will also quickly die without food, so I would say that your house is now safe.

I wouldn't worry about the vinegar and conditioner for you, your husband or your son unless you see definite signs of lice. You can easily check by using just the nit comb on dry hair every few days until everyone is in the clear. If nothing comes out of your hair, you are okay.

For the girls, you can put the conditioner directly on dry hair. As there are lots of nits, I recommend using the vinegar first, as it loosens the glue they use to stick to the hair. You can spray the vinegar or just pour a little onto each section of hair and comb through. After the first treatment, if you keep combing with just the nit comb (no vinegar or conditioner) every few days, you should be able to gradually remove baby lice and nits until the hair is clear. If the nits are hard to remove or there seem to be large lice, do the vinegar and conditioner treatment again.

Lice sit in the hair and will crawl from one head to another with contact. If you keep up the treatment as per my article, you will be removing the live lice each time as well as most nits, so the girls should be okay on furniture.

The lice treatment their mom did would probably have killed all living lice (although some lice seem to be immune to it), but it doesn't kill the nits. You will have to keep removing the nits with a nit comb every few days until they are all gone.

I hope this all helps. Good luck Cas!

Cas on May 01, 2017:

Please help!! Both of my step daughter's got lice, they were at their mom's over the weekend so she did a lice treatment. I washed all their bedding and clothes, vacuumed the entire house, and furniture. I also sprayed the furniture and beds with tea tree oil (furniture numerous times). I was just wondering if there is anything I have missed. I also checked my husband and son for lice and my husband checked me. I don't think we found anything on us three, but my husband and I have been itching. Do you recommend we do the vinegar and conditioner thing. I just feel so gross and want this cheap gone. How do I do the vinegar, do i comb it in, spray it in?m

Also I did the conditioner thing on the girls last night, but I put it on dry hair. I saw lots of nits in my one daughter's hair and got a dead louse out of the other daughters hair. Should I wet it first and then put the conditioner in? And should I do the vinegar as well? And how often should I do the conditioner?

I haven't been allowing them to sit on the furniture, or do you think it's ok for them too.

Thanks for your help and I will be waiting to hear back from you.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on March 05, 2017:

I have heard that the sulfur in onion juice can kill lice, but don't know personally know anyone who has tried it. I hope it works for you. It might be distressing for children, as onions can be very irritating to the eyes. Just like vinegar, onions won't kill the nits, as they are protected by a shell until they hatch. However, if it kills all live lice, you could repeat it weekly until the cycle was broken.

lice on March 05, 2017:

I want to get rid of lice I just put some onion and vinegar on my scalp

Suzie Armstrong (author) on March 03, 2017:

Hi Jazzylittlelady, My method won't work with dreadlocks, as it requires combing out the nits and lice. You will need to apply a commercial product to kill the lice. Then you will have to let the nits hatch and then kill those lice also. Most products will instruct you to comb out the nits, but as you can't do that, just reapply as per instructions on the product or once a week for several weeks to break the life cycle of the lice. The empty shells left by the hatching lice will eventually fall out of your hair. Good luck!

Jazzylittlelady on March 03, 2017:

I have lice, nits and dreadlocks help?

Suzie Armstrong (author) on March 02, 2017:

Apple cider vinegar is more expensive, but it will work the same as normal white vinegar. The vinegar will not kill the lice (although I can imagine it doesn't make things very pleasant for them!). It loosens the glue that holds the nits to the hair shafts, making them easier to remove. You need to comb out all the lice and nits to ensure that you don't get reinfected.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on February 12, 2017:

Yes, you can use just normal vinegar, but it won't work just on its own. You need to physically remove the nits and lice with a nit comb, and this is where the conditioner comes in. If you are very thorough, you can rid hair of nits and lice in a couple of weeks, but sometimes it can take longer. Just one pregnant louse can start the whole cycle again. That is why, even when you think that the lice are gone, you should keep checking every few days to make sure. Don't worry. It is a very common problem.

SIMAR on February 11, 2017:

can i use simple vinegar nd plz tell the conditioner name

munmun bakshi on February 10, 2017:

hello. can we use a simple vinegar?? and will it really work?? i am worried!! how long will take to get rid of them?

Suzie Armstrong (author) on January 19, 2017:

I hope it works for you!

armeen on January 19, 2017:

Thankyou so much ! I will surely do it as i think the best way to smoothen hair before combing which us the main problem as my comb usually gets stuck.i will soon put the results, thanks again.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on January 18, 2017:

@armeen Hello, I understand how much harder it can be to rid very thick hair of lice. My suggestion would be to lather your hair in conditioner under the shower twice a week, and systematically comb through from the scalp to the tips of the hair, making sure you comb over your whole scalp. After each comb, rinse the comb out under the water. The conditioner will make the nit comb glide through quickly and easily. Doing this will not remove all the nits, but it will eventually remove all the live lice as the nits hatch before they can lay again. This will effectively break the life cycle so the lice and nits will be gone. It must be done at least twice a week or you will give the lice a good chance to reproduce and the cycle will begin again. If you see nothing in the comb for three weeks, you can be pretty confident that they are gone. Good luck!

armeen on January 18, 2017:

Hello i am a 15 year old girl and have this problem for quite a time i and my mother have tried many treatment but the nits won't be treated.my hair are really thick so i find it really difficult to clean i have a lot of burden of studies so no one has time to pinch out every nit and take it out.i find your solution quite easy but I'm afraid what if it doesn't work out and can you tell me something that i could easily comb into my thick hair ? Hope to end this cycle because i want to get rid of it because teenage ssometimes comes out an embarrassing age.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on December 08, 2016:

Great to hear!

farace on December 06, 2016:

I have tried this on my daughter's nanny, and i should say 98% (thousands) of lice and nits were removed. Thank God I have found this blog. I have really done thorough research for remedies, luckily this first attempt of getting rid of lice and nits really, really worked! Thumbs up! Proven and tested! I have verbally shared it with friends, neighbors and officemates, am amazed with the wonders of white vinegar! Hahaa...

Suzie Armstrong (author) on November 25, 2016:

If you comb all your hair from the roots to the tips really carefully with the special nit comb, you'll remove all visible lice and nits. This will save the embarrassment of having the school nurse find them! Keep up with the combing and eventually you'll also remove all nits and lice from your hair. It does take longer with long hair. If you have lots of hair, comb out any tangles with the conditioner before using the nit comb, as that will make it easier. Good luck!

Thishi on November 22, 2016:

I've got lice and I'm sooooo embarrassed to even go to school. I have quite long hair and that's even worse. I don't know what to do. Sometimes our school nurses check all kids for lice. And I'm so scared. In how long do you think this will work?oh I'm a girl by the way.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on November 07, 2016:

No, not in one day. The only way to remove lice and nits in one day is to have an expensive salon treatment, and even that doesn't always work. Chemicals will kill the lice, but will not kill unhatched nits. If done carefully and properly, this natural treatment will remove most of the lice and nits in your hair, but you need to continue to comb out your hair with the nit comb every couple of days for at least two weeks to make sure you catch all the tiny lice and stubborn nits. Otherwise, any missed nits will hatch and the baby lice will grow and start the cycle all over again. However, the first time you do this you will feel a lot better, as most of the lice and nits will be gone. The rest of the time you are only catching the "strays".

vaibhavi on November 07, 2016:

by following this method can we remove lice and nits in one day????

please......reply.....its urgent

Suzie Armstrong (author) on October 28, 2016:

Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree with you that no-one should feel crazy in this situation. Lice and the resulting nits are nothing to be ashamed about. They are spread very, very easily and are extremely common. Washing everything excessively is not really necessary, as lice don't live very long without a host. However, it made me feel better doing it, so if you want to, go ahead.

Someone's Mom on October 28, 2016:

I have been doing excessive laundry lately because of this; bedding, clothing, couch cover, pillows, etc. My daughter, who has long hair has had success with a mixture of white vinegar and sea salt as a 10 minute pre-shampoo rinse. And anyone who feels crazy in this situation shouldn't.

Suzie Armstrong (author) on October 23, 2016:

Hi Chole, Yes, if you follow the directions and you really take the time to comb out the lice and nits, it will work. The only way lice and nits can stay in your hair is if you leave them in there. Remove the lice before they have a chance to lay more eggs, and you will solve the problem.

Chole on October 22, 2016:

hi i am a 13 year old girl recently i just got head lice and i have nits like crazy i feel like shaving my head do u really think your advice will work thank you

Suzie Armstrong (author) on October 19, 2016:

Hi Nayely, Yes, this method definitely does work. Don't hurt yourself getting out the lice. You just need to make sure you comb all your hair from the scalp to the tips to make sure you are removing the nits and any new hatching lice. I combed my daughter's hair in the shower and washed the lice away, and over the bathroom sink or bath. That way you can simply wash any lice or nits straight down the drain. Another way is to have someone else comb your hair out in the sunlight, as they will be able to see the nits more clearly to remove them. There could be some lice or nits already in your house, but they don't live too long without a host. If you are thorough, even if one or two find your hair, you will remove them again. One more thing - if you wear your hair down on Monday, I suggest when you get home you comb it out that day, as it is easier to get reinfected when your hair is down. Good luck, and have fun at twin day.

Bbg.slat on October 19, 2016:

HI my name is Nayely I have lice and curly hair if I try to take out the lice it hurts my hair does your method really work I got lice from this new girl at school and Monday is twin day and I really want to take my hair down also if I take out all the lice and nits how do I take them out of the house???? Please answer I will be waiting for you xoxo

Suzie Armstrong (author) on October 19, 2016:

Hi Esmeralda, You will need to comb your hair thoroughly with a proper nit comb every three days for two weeks. After that, you should see that there are no nits or lice coming out in the comb. The vinegar will definitely loosen the nits, but sometimes they are too small or too stuck to get out of your hair and will hatch. I would only use the vinegar once as if there are no new nits being laid, using it more often would probably be a waste of time. If you just comb really carefully every three days to remove anything that is there, you should be able to catch any new lice as they grow and before they get big enough to lay their own nits. You could also try using a hair straightener as this will squash a lot of the nits and kill them before they can hatch. However, the only sure way to get them all is to keep combing for two weeks. Good luck!