Beth is a mother of four children and grandmother of three and has used this tried-and-true method to eliminate lice in her household.
What You'll Find in This Article:
- My Family's Struggle with Ineffective Lice Treatments
- Our Lice-Free Success Story!
- How to Know if You Have Head Lice
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Naturally Getting Rid of Lice at Home
- Eliminating Lice Around the Household
- Tips for Preventing (Re-)Infestation
- Important Facts to Remember
My Family's Struggle with Ineffective Lice Treatments
Until our youngest children were in junior high school, I had thankfully counted myself among folks who have only heard about the frustration of head lice. My family had used prescription head lice treatment as a preventative measure when an infestation hit the school system, and administrators were asking every parent to use these medications on all school-enrolled children. But, it wasn't until our youngest daughter entered the eighth grade that we actually encountered head lice for ourselves.
It happened, as it so often does, with yet another outbreak in the schools. As soon as we knew about it, we obtained the required prescription from our family doctor. However, days after using the treatment, our daughter started complaining of an itchy scalp. Upon examination, we found the nasty little culprits.
Prescription lice treatments had little to no effect.
Our family physician prescribed a secondary medication. We followed all of the instructions for this one, along with the tedious combing and other tiring tasks that are required to banish head lice. We washed and dried every article of clothing, bedding, and other washables our daughter had come into contact with in high heat. We replaced her pillow. We encased the mattress in plastic. We disposed of and replaced her hair clips, bows, and other accessories. We got her a new hairbrush. We chemically bug-bombed the entire house. We sprayed insecticide inside the family vehicle. Done and done, we thought.
A couple of days passed and more lice showed up—now on our youngest son, my husband and myself. Back to the doctor we went, getting more prescriptions and repeating all the time-consuming chores. However, the medication had no effects on the head lice, and it wasn't long before the horrid beasts made their way back to our little girl.
Rubbing alcohol and tea tree oil killed the lice but didn't remove the dead nits.
My eldest daughter, who lives in her own home, had several keen suggestions for banishing the enemy horde, including rubbing alcohol and tea tree oil. Being the sweetheart that our eldest is, she came over and doused our scalps and hair with rubbing alcohol and combed each and every head with patient diligence until all the lice eggs (nits) were removed. The exception to this was my husband, who just decided to shave his entire scalp. I added tea tree oil to our laundry, and it seemed that these treatments worked! For a few weeks, we saw no trace of head lice at all.
A few weeks later, there was another outbreak at school. The administrators barred every affected child from classes until they came back with a doctor's slip AND the labeled box from the prescribed treatment. My daughter was once more victimized. We went back to the physician and got more prescriptions, yet again. We used them along with the rubbing alcohol and tea tree oil. The mature lice died, but now the batch of nits attached to our hair could simply not be removed with a fine-tooth comb. Knowing she had no live infestation, we sent our daughter back to school, but her teacher demanded we come pick her up. Our daughter, who had already been through so much, was quite upset by this time. It only worsened matters that the school sent us a threatening letter complaining that our daughter had missed so many days when they were the ones sending all the affected children home!
Having dead nits is not the same as having a live infestation.
This doctor's visit, our regular doctor wasn't in, but another physician was filling in. After examining my daughter's scalp and mine, this doctor declared all the adult lice were dead; only the dead nits remained cemented to the hair. To remove these, she recommended using mayonnaise or vegetable oil as these things were traditionally used to smother the lice. This doctor was born in Yugoslavia (her own father was a physician), and she recounted to me a lice infestation incident from her own childhood—one of cruelty from schoolmates and teachers who had called her foreign-born family "dirty". The doctor grew visibly upset as she told me this story, angry enough that she wrote a rather snitty letter to my daughter's teacher explaining there was a huge difference between adult lice and dead nits, and that a person should not resort to shaming children or their parents just because that person is too ignorant to know the difference.
Mayonnaise and cooking oil help restore moisture and shine but did not remove the dead nits.
The doctor's note brought a half-hearted apology from my daughter's teacher. It was nearly winter break, and over the holidays, my daughter and I tried the mayonnaise and cooking oil to get rid of the nits. We first tried the cooking oil, saturating our hair entirely, then wrapping towels on top of our heads and letting the oil sit for more than two hours. Then, we washed and dried our hair, and attempted to "un-glue" the nits with a metal comb. No luck. The following day, we performed the same treatment using mayonnaise instead. When this was all done and finished, we discovered our hair now had a glossy sheen, but the dead nits remained.
Our Lice-Free Success Story!
Fortunately, my eldest daughter had spoken with friends who had gone through very similar battles against head lice and their eggs. These friends suggested the application of coconut oil to remove the cemented dead nits. At the same time, I found an article online which extolled the virtues of vinegar for removing nits. I decided to try both.
I sought out shampoos and conditioners containing a high percentage of coconut oil and settled on "Tropical Coconut" from the Suave brand of hair products. I also bought a large jug of white vinegar and a brand new fine-toothed steel comb as I figured flexible combs might prove ineffective. My younger daughter and I set to work.
Vinegar breaks down dead nits, and coconut-based shampoo and conditioner wash out the remains.
Suspecting the vinegar to be the more aggressive of the combatants, I filled tall jars with the stuff so a long comb could be dipped in. I combed the vinegar through my daughter's hair, and almost immediately, I began to notice the nits softening and taking a gelatinous appearance. By the time her hair was saturated, I was able to comb out a great many of the gooey nit remains. I allowed the vinegar to remain in her hair for 15 minutes. Then, I sent her to shampoo and condition with the Suave products. While she did this, I washed the spent nits down the kitchen sink and cleaned the cup and comb. When she was finished in the shower, I combed her hair with vinegar again. To be on the safe side, she decided to shampoo and condition a second time. After this, her hair was completely free of nits!
I followed the same process on my own hair and was rewarded with just as happy a result. My daughter and I were naturally relieved! A few weeks later, our son came home with the familiar warning notice that there was another outbreak in the schools. We quickly performed a search of his scalp. Yep, lice. Although I didn't know how the vinegar and coconut oil worked against live lice, I gave it a try anyway.
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Success! The vinegar acted on the live mature lice just as well as it had on the nits by turning them into little, jellied masses. We followed the same combing and shampooing routine, and the result was the satisfying absence of any lice or nits.
Vinegar and coconut-based conditioner can also be used to clean lice from laundry and household items.
Of course, there was still his clothing, bedding, and backpack to contend with. I washed the clothing and bedding in vinegar and then used the coconut conditioner as a liquid softener. Since the backpack was non-washable, I filled a spray bottle with vinegar and simply doused it in the spray and set it out to dry in the sun.
Our son was now louse-free and the timely actions prevented anyone else from being infested.
Now, our only dilemma was procuring some evidence of the prescribed treatment that would satisfy school officials. Since there was no need to return to the doctor's office, we got a refill on an older prescription and sent our son to school with the label. The school officials never questioned that our son was remedied not by harsh chemical insecticides, but a much gentler method. They never found lice on him again!
Vinegar and coconut-based hair products work as preventative measures.
Although the school has since had many more outbreaks, our family has been spared the frustrating, costly and time-consuming battles of fighting lice. It has become routine to wash our hair every week or so with vinegar, and we use the "Tropical Coconut" products regularly.
The experience left me with the firm belief that through evolutionary mutation, head lice can and often do build up immunity to man-made insecticides. On the other hand, I feel natural substances are more effective weapons against the pesky vermin. The quick dismissal of natural remedies by the modern medical world and public school systems is profitable for the pharmaceutical industry. But as too many of us already know, this smug attitude makes headaches for the victim and their family.
How to Know if You Have Head Lice
Having an itchy scalp does not necessarily mean you have lice. Dandruff and dry scalp may also cause itching. If you or your child are experiencing itchiness, you can check for lice by a simple examination:
- Carefully pull a lock of hair away from the scalp and look for signs of insects at the roots. Head lice prefer being close to the scalp, where they can feed on the blood of their host.
- Inspect your brush or comb, as head lice often come out and look for places to spread while their host grooms.
- Look thoroughly—it may take multiple examinations to observe the vermin.
- While mature lice will try to hide from exposure, observing nits (eggs) is much easier. They are distributed on hair strands where the larvae develop.
- After hatching, the nits remain on the hair shaft until time or effort removes the dried remains. Larvae that have died in their nits will likewise remain attached unless removed.
- Nits are generally white or pale yellow in color and often appear similar to hardened globules of hairspray clinging to individual hair strands.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Naturally Getting Rid of Lice at Home
Here is the lice-ridding method that worked for us!
You Will Need:
- a large bottle of white vinegar
- coconut-based shampoo and conditioner (I recommend Suave's "Tropical Coconut" although a variety of brands have their own offerings)
- a long-handled, fine-toothed, non-flexible or steel comb
- a tall jar or glass
- Fill the jar or glass with vinegar.
- Dip the comb into the vinegar and apply to head and hair, starting with the scalp.
- When the hair is thoroughly saturated with vinegar, wrap the hair in a towel and allow the vinegar to sit for 15–20 minutes. Comb again to remove as many lice and nits as possible.
- Dip the comb frequently into the vinegar to continue removing the vermin.
- Don't be surprised by the jelly-blob consistency of the vinegar-soaked lice!
- Rinse the hair with warm water.
- Apply the coconut shampoo, lather and let sit for 10–20 minutes.
- Rinse, re-apply shampoo, and rinse again.
- Apply the coconut conditioner generously and let sit for 15 minutes.
- Rinse thoroughly, pulling your fingers loosely through hair while doing so.
- Using a clean comb and fresh vinegar, continue to comb out remaining lice or nits from hair.
- Wash and condition hair once more. The coconut oils will provide moisture to the hair.
- Dry and style hair as usual.
Eliminating Lice Around the Household
- Keep hair pulled back and away from the shoulders.
- Wash all bedding, clothing, and other washables that may be infested in vinegar. During the washing machine's rinse cycle, add a 1/4–1/2 cup of coconut conditioner. Dry machine-dryable items on the appropriate heat setting.
- For non-washable items, use vinegar and a spray bottle to spray down and let dry. Don't use vinegar to wipe down surfaces such as wood, vinyl or any material that can be damaged by vinegar. For these areas, I suggest manufacturer-recommended cleaners or oils.
Tips to Prevent (Re-)Infestation
- Rinse hair at least once a week with vinegar.
- Use coconut shampoo and conditioner frequently.
- Clean your brush and combs with vinegar before each use.
- Never share hats, caps, headbands, hoodies, head scarves, hair accessories, combs or brushes.
Other Possible Methods
- Tea tree oil, although not suggested as a treatment to get rid of lice, may serve as a pre-infestation repellent.
- I have heard many women comment that hair dye kills lice. If this is a route you want to try, please use extreme care when using any dyes on children! The harsh chemicals of hair dyes can irritate skin and even cause blindness.
- Rubbing alcohol or even grain alcohol may kill mature lice. The use of these on cemented nits, however, is negligible. Use rubbing alcohol with extreme care! Never use near flames and never, ever use it near the eyes! If rubbing alcohol comes in contact with eyes, flush immediately with water and contact your nurse or physician immediately.
- It is my experience that cooking oils and mayonnaise may make for shiny hair, and perhaps they do smother mature lice, but neither proved successful in loosening cemented nits. Not to mention, these treatments are excessively messy!
Facts To Remember About Head Lice
- Anyone can get head lice, and infestations are not reflective of a person's cleanliness.
- Prescription and OTC medications may successfully treat some cases of head lice, especially in regions without a history of re-occurring outbreaks. However, no insecticide works as a repellent against infestation or re-infestation.
- Head lice have been known to take up residence in eyebrows and eyelashes. Never use vinegar or other products close to the eyes! Instead, seek physician advice in the treatment of these sensitive areas.
- Always use your own brush or comb.
- Any mammal can be victimized by most varieties of lice. If you suspect your pet has lice, treat them and their bedding immediately. A veterinarian friend of mine suggests bathing pets in pure coconut oil after their baths to rid and prevent infestations.
- If you or a family member has a known allergy to vinegar or any other ingredient in a shampoo or conditioning product, do not use it. Instead, seek an alternative product.
- Dead nits that are stubbornly cemented to the hair are not indicative of active infestations. Anyone that deliberately embarrasses a child for having leftover nits should be reminded of this fact.
- While head lice are not known to carry diseases, their bites can cause an allergic reaction in certain individuals. Likewise, an infection caused by frequent scratching of bite areas is common, particularly among young children.
- Lice are parasites that thrive on blood. Anyone that tells you to ignore these parasites with a live-and-let-live attitude is utterly indifferent to the suffering lice cause humans and other mammals. It is far healthier for you and yours to say goodbye to these vermin and in the most confrontational way possible!
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.
Dianna Mendez on October 02, 2017:
Vinegar has so many uses so I am not surprised it will help eliminate lice and nits. I found your story interesting and very informative.
Leah Kennedy-Jangraw from Massachusetts on September 20, 2017:
My daughter is not in school yet but I have heard horror stories like yours about trying to get rid of lice. What an ordeal! Thank you for this article. I have heard from others as well that natural products work better than the prescription stuff. I am taking notes! Thank you for this informative guide.
WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on September 17, 2017:
I never thought of using vinegar, but it is an acid so great idea! We had our own fun with head lice years ago in Kentucky.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 17, 2017:
Informative and well-researched on this unique topic.