Identifying Head Lice
Identifying head lice can be a difficult task, as they are teeny tiny and usually very hard to spot. It’s important to thoroughly inspect your home, as head lice can live and spread quickly.
The best way to identify head lice is to part the hair and look for the lice or their eggs. Lice eggs are light-colored and oval-shaped, and they attach to individual strands of hair. If you find any, you should act quickly to eliminate them.
Check for itchy scalp or red bumps
Itchy scalp and red bumps on the scalp or back of the neck are common indicators of an infestation of head lice. Check your children’s scalps closely as it is important to catch a head lice infestation as soon as possible. The most reliable way to diagnose head lice is to look closely for live insects crawling through the hair on the scalp.
However, spotting adult head lice can be difficult since they move quickly and usually congregate where partings in the hair occur, such as behind ears and at the nape of the neck. Non-adult forms (nymphs) are smaller and difficult to spot since they look more like dandruff flakes.
Head lice can spread very quickly throughout a family, school or daycare setting, so it is important to inspect all members of your family who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with an active case of head lice. If you think that a family member may have head lice, it is important to not overlook anyone even if there are no signs or symptoms present, as everyone should be treated simultaneously for any potential spread within the home.
Check hair for nits or lice
When checking hair for lice or nits, use a fine-toothed comb to carefully inspect the scalp and hair for live lice or eggs (nits). Nits will appear as tiny, yellowish-white dots that are firmly attached to the base of each strand of hair. In contrast, adult lice will be visible as grayish-white insects crawling quickly through the hair.
Take your time when conducting your inspection, and remember to check behind the ears, just above the neckline and along any natural parts in the head. If you can’t see any live lice with the naked eye, try parting sections of dry hair that have been combed and move one by one along each section until you find a nit. It is important to note that it can take weeks before actual adult lice are seen in addition to nits being present in the hair.
Once nits or ones have been identified it is paramount that proper treatment be found and administered immediately in order to get rid of these parasites from your household quickly. In mild cases medical treatment might not even be necessary; however, depending on the severity this might change; talk to your doctor about what type of treatment might best suit your situation.
Preparing to Clean
When it comes to cleaning your home after head lice, it is important to take the right steps to ensure that the lice are gone for good.
The first step is to prepare your home for cleaning. This includes:
- washing all clothing, bedding and towels in hot water;
- vacuuming all carpets and furniture; and
- cleaning all hard surfaces with a disinfectant.
This preparation will help to make sure that the lice have been eliminated from your home.
Before you begin the head lice removal process, you will need to gather a few supplies. It’s best to be prepared so you don’t have to take a break and run out to get cleaning tools while trying to keep lice contained. In addition, certain cleaning supplies must be used – anything else is less likely to help reduce the risk of spread or reinfestation.
These are some of the essential items needed for comprehensive head lice management:
- Vacuum cleaner with disposable bag or one-use filter
- Mild detergent and laundry soap for laundering items and linens
- Clothing hardener for delicate fabrics that cannot be laundered
- Plastic bags for containment (regular trash bags work well)
- Screened laundry bags, if available
- Liquid spray insecticide labeled specifically for head lice crawling on surfaces (such as Symptom Solver Pro Lice Killer Spray)
- Nit comb with wide teeth that can loosen small nits from hair shafts
Put on protective clothing
Before beginning a head lice treatment, put on protective clothing to help keep the lice and nits from spreading. Protective clothing includes disposable gloves, long-sleeved shirts, disposable coveralls or aprons, hairnets and masks. Also ensure that any skin not covered by clothes is covered with petroleum jelly, which will help protect it from contact with the lice and nits. Wear this protective clothing while cleaning your home after having a head lice infestation.
Cleaning the Home
A thorough clean of your home is essential to tackle the spread of head lice. Cleaning your home is an important step in making sure that the head lice do not spread to other members of your household.
In this section, we will look at some of the best ways to clean your home to get rid of head lice:
Vacuum carpets and furniture
Vacuuming carpets, furniture and mattresses can help reduce the spread of head lice. First, sweep up any visible lice or eggs from around the edges of carpets and furniture. Then, use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the lice and eggs from the deeper layers of material. Vacuum on both sides of removable cushions and sofas where lice can hide. Vacuums are also vital for getting rid of lice in small cracks, crevices and other areas that may be hard to reach with other methods such as a nit comb or shampoo.
Be sure to bag your vacuum’s contents inside a plastic bag after vacuuming, and place it outside immediately for disposal.
Wash bedding, clothes, and stuffed animals
When dealing with head lice, it’s important to make sure that you get rid of all potential sources of the bug. As such, you will need to wash all bedding, clothing and stuffed animals that have been in contact with your hair or scalp.
It’s usually recommended that you wash items in hot water with a laundry detergent labeled as capable of killing lice and its eggs (these are often referred to as “pediculicidal” detergents). After washing these items, it may also be useful to submerge them in hot water for an additional 10 minutes before drying. Additionally, if possible, dry clean items such as hats or scarves made from delicate materials.
Now that the materials are washed and ready for further treatment, inspect the items for any remaining eggs or bugs. Pay particular attention to seams and other enclosed spaces where lice might hide. Once the inspection is complete, consider placing your soft items in a sealed plastic bag for at least two weeks as a way of ensuring any remaining critters are dead (they cannot survive without a human bloodstream).
Clean hair accessories and combs
To ensure that your home is clear of head lice, it is important to clean your personnel belongings as well. Any combs, hair brushes, and hats should be cleaned thoroughly with hot soapy water for at least 10 minutes. After cleaning these items, put them in a sealed plastic bag for two weeks before using them again. This will ensure any eggs that may not have been removed from the original cleaning process are dead and gone prior to using the items again.
To effectively clean other fabric items such as bedding, blankets and clothing use the hot cycle on your washer followed by drying on a high heat setting for at least 20 minutes. This should kill any lice or eggs that might be present on these fabrics. However, if you are unsure of how to properly clean any fabrics or cloths consult a professional cleaner for advice and assistance in removing head lice from these materials.
Treating the Home
After treating a head lice infestation, it is important to thoroughly clean the home in order to prevent any future infestations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends cleaning soft surfaces such as bedding, curtains, upholstered furniture, carpets and rugs with a product that is registered for use on head lice infestations.
To prevent re-infestation, you’ll need to pay special attention to certain areas of the home where lice eggs, or nits, can be found.
Spray furniture and carpets with insecticide
It is important to take steps to treat the home after discovering head lice on a family member as this will help reduce the risk of re-infestation. Furniture, carpets and soft furnishings should be sprayed with a suitable insecticide that contains pyrethrins or permethrin, according to instructions supplied with the product. Most insecticides are safe for use around children, however, check any labels carefully before applying in areas children come into contact with.
After spraying the product allow it to dry before vacuuming carpets or soft furnishings and make sure that curtains are opened during treatment so that both sides are exposed to the insecticide. It is also beneficial to spray area where pets sleep in order to remove any eggs or nits from household pets.
It can take up to 3 days for all stages of lice and eggs to be killed by insecticides used in the home although it may be necessary to reapply several days later if you find more nits or crawling bugs.
Seal items in plastic bags for two weeks
To prevent lice from hatching, it’s important to seal all items used by the infected person in plastic bags for two weeks. This includes bedding, clothing, toys and any other item that has been in contact with their head. The plastic bag must be tightly sealed and placed in a cool dark location such as a garage or attic but out of direct sunlight.
Once this two week period has elapsed, the items can be removed from the plastic bags and washed or dry-cleaned per manufacturer’s instructions prior to re-use. Any items that are not washable should be treated with an insecticide designed for use on soft fabrics for at least 10 minutes or up to eight hours prior to reuse.
Vacuum again after two weeks
Once you have completed the entire process of cleaning your home to rid it of a potential head lice infestation, it is important to vacuum again after two weeks. Vacuuming should be done weekly regardless of if you know of an infestation or not. If two weeks have passed since the initial cleaning, vacuuming again will help to remove any eggs or adult lice missed during the first go-around.
When vacuuming again after two weeks, pay attention to some areas that may have been missed such as wood floors, window sills and baseboards. Carpets in high traffic areas should also be thoroughly vacuumed again in order to make sure all pests are removed from these areas. Vacuum under furniture and other hard-to-reach places where lice may have initially been present and left behind eggs that can possibly still hatch and multiply.
Some items such as furniture cannot be vacuumed but instead need to be wiped down with a damp cloth which has been soaked in rubbing alcohol or white vinegar. If possible, items that are too bulky should be put outdoors in direct sunlight for at least 48 hours in order to kill any potential lice or eggs left behind on the fabric surface. Mattresses and pillows should also be washed so any remnants of an infestation can be eliminated completely from your home environment.
Once you have successfully removed all lice and eggs, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent re-infestation. Cleaning your home is the best way to ensure that no lice or eggs will be left behind after the treatment.
It is important to understand what needs to be done to keep your home free of lice and other pests. In this section we will discuss different methods for cleaning your home to ensure that head lice will not return:
Wash bedding and clothes in hot water
It’s important to properly clean after a head lice infestation to ensure that no lice or eggs (called nits) remain behind. It is recommended to soak items for at least 15 minutes in hot water (at least 130°F/54°C). This will effectively kill any remaining lice and/or eggs.
If washing the items at home, launder bedding, blankets, sheets and pillowcases in hot water using laundry detergent then drying on the highest heat setting. Also place stuffed animals and other soft toys that can’t be machine-washed in a garment bag or pillowcase and hang them outside in the sun.
Any clothing and hair accessories used in the past few days should also be washed with hot water. After washing, dry all fabrics on high heat for one hour to make sure any remaining lice and nits have been eliminated. Any combs, brushes or other hair accessories should also be soaked in hot soapy water for 15 minutes or more before being washed off with shampoo or soap by hand.
Vacuum furniture and carpets regularly
Vacuuming carpets and upholstered furniture is an important strategy for managing head lice infestations and preventing their re-infestation. Vacuuming effectively traps lice, eggs, and nits from carpeting and other surfaces in your home. To maximize the effectiveness of vacuuming, it is important to vacuum regularly, particularly if someone in your family has been treated for head lice.
While cleaning your home regularly is helpful for preventing re-infestation, special care should be taken when vacuuming rooms where someone has been recently treated for head lice. Thoroughly vacuum all upholstered furniture and carpets, paying special attention to any cracks or crevices that may contain lice or eggs. Vacuum on a regular basis and discard or seal the vacuum bag between each cleaning to ensure no insects escape into your home once again after being sucked in.
Vacuums with steel heads (such as those with a carpet power nozzle) can help break up egg masses under rugs and carpets more easily than plastic heads do. In addition to general vacuuming throughout the house, pay particular attention to any area where someone with head lice may have been sitting or lying down such as beds, sofas, chairs or car seats. Make sure the vacuum you use is an upright model with two engines rather than canister vacs which may not be powerful enough to capture all of the debris caused by head lice treatments such as gels or sprays that might also be present on carpeted surfaces in these places.
Check for lice and nits regularly
Checking for lice and nits regularly is an important part of preventing re-infestation. To check for lice, you will need a bright light and a hand-held or magnifying lens. Check your entire family’s hair, starting at the crown working in slow circles covering the whole head. Look particularly near the ears, at the back of the neck, and behind the hairline at the back of your head.
Examine each strand of hair thoroughly looking for tiny adult lice and their eggs (nits). Move slowly so that no head lice are missed!
Wash all items such as blankets, stuffed animals, hats, combs and brushes with hot water to kill any lice or nits that may be present on them. This will help ensure that any potential re-infestation is prevented.
Finally, discreetly use a louse comb to remove live adult lice and nits from your friends’ and family’s heads daily for seven to nine days after an infestation has been noticed.