7 Proven Ways to Clean Your Clothes after You’ve Had Head Lice

Discover how long lice can live on your clothes and 7 proven ways to clean your clothes after lice so you don’t get it right back!

Head lice are called head lice for a reason. Generally speaking, head lice stick to the hair and scalp of humans, because they need to feed frequently on human blood to survive.

But, what if lice comes off of the head and onto clothes, then what? 

Before going into the 7 proven ways to clean your clothes after head lice, here are a few frequently asked questions:

Can lice live on clothes?

Yes, lice can live on clothes, but their ultimate goal is to be on your head. If lice come off of your hair and onto your shirt, they will make their way back up to your head. 

How long can lice live on clothes?

48 hours. Lice can not live off the head for more than 2 days. If a shirt was worn by someone with head lice a few hours ago, then yes, there can be lice on it. But, a shirt worn a week ago has no chance of head lice being alive on it. 

How likely is it for head lice to be on clothes? 

It is unlikely to have head lice lingering on clothes, but it is possible. The risk of head lice on clothes of someone with lice lies somewhere between 0-4%. One study examined hats of 1,000 children with head lice and did not find any lice. Another study examined the pillowcases of 48 people with head lice and found 2 live lice on pillowcases- 4%. 

Can clothing transfer lice? 

Head lice transfer from person to person by direct head to head (or hair to hair) contact, not by clothing. However, if people are “swapping” clothes, sharing hats, or jackets, then yes, there is a risk of getting lice through clothing.

Can lice jump on clothes?

Head lice do not jump or fly; they crawl. Lice usually move directly head to head, not from one person’s head to another person’s shirt.

Am I getting lice back from my clothes?

Many people struggle with lice for a very long time. Parents spend hours and hundreds of dollars treating their child and cleaning their homes and clothing, only to discover it is back again in a week or two. In most cases having recurring lice is not a matter of housecleaning, but the use of an ineffective lice treatment. 

Most lice are resistant to the most “popular” lice treatments today. Be sure you are using the right lice treatment. I have a running list of the best lice treatments

7 Proven Ways to Clean Your Clothes after Head Lice

Stop! Remember, lice can’t live off the head for more than 48 hours, so only clean cloths worn in the last 2 days!

#1-Sanitize Cycle

Some people assume that washing clothes in the washing machine will kill lice, but it doesn’t. Lice are regularly submerged in hot water and soap every day (you wash your hair, right?). Most cycles of the washing machine are not hot enough to kill lice. Even the “hot” cycle of a washing machine can vary significantly from washer to washer.

Don’t assume lice will drown in the wash; lice can hold their breath for hours.

They also don’t “fall off” in the wash because they have strong claws that grip clothing.

Is there a way to wash clothes after head lice and kill them?

The only cycle on the washing machine that will kill lice is the sanitize cycle. Lice need to be subjected to temperatures of greater than 130° F to die. The sanitize cycle of most washing machine reaches 165° F, which is more than adequate to kill lice.

Does Dry Cleaning Kill Lice?

There is no evidence that dry cleaning kills lice. If you don’t want to wash/dry your clothes, read Tip #3.

#2- Dryer

Remember lice die at temperatures higher than 130° F. The average dryer gets to 135° F on the high cycle. Still, it takes some time for the dryer to get to that temperature and to stay at that temperature, especially if it is full of wet clothes. 

How long do I put clothes in the dryer to kill lice?

In a study specifically designed to test lice and dryers, all lice were dead after 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer.

eco-dry-picture

TIP: If you have a newer energy-efficient dryer, be sure to turn off the “eco sensor.” The “eco sensor” on dryers is designed to help save energy by automatically turning off the dryer once the clothes are dry enough. In a lice situation, most people care much more about killing lice than about saving money on their electric bill. So, make sure your “eco-sensor” is off, and the stuffed animals go the full 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer.

#3-Lint Roller

For those clothes that you do not want to wash or dry, but you want to wear within 48 hours, I recommend cleaning them with a Scotch Brite Lint Roller. The adhesive of most lint rollers is powerful enough to pull any lice that may be lingering on a special jacket or blouse.

#4- Bag It 

No lice can survive away from a human head for 2 days. If you were to leave all of your dirty clothes untouched and away from your head for 2 days, then any lice that may be lingering on them will die.

#5- Keep Out

Often people get worried because they hang things back up after wearing them instead of cleaning them. Such as a jacket. Can that infest the whole closet with lice? 

No.

But, if you are worried about it, then a straightforward solution is to take out the clothing and jackets you want to wear for the next two days and run them through the dryer. These will be your clean clothes for the next two days.

Then place a sign on the closet that says, “Do not open for two days.” For a dresser, you can tape the drawers shut. After your 48 hours is up, then remove the sign and feel assured that your clothing is free of lice.

#6- Laundry Detergent that Kills Lice

There is a laundry additive that can help kill lice in the washing machine. The one I recommend is Kleen-Free Naturally by Ginesis.

Kleen-Free is an all-purpose cleaner that can be added to your laundry to kill head lice. It uses the power of natural enzymes that break down the exoskeleton of lice and kills them.

I’d still recommend putting items in the dryer even after using this. Think of this enzyme as a “boost” to your lice cleaning, not as a replacement for high heat.

#7- Laundry Detergent that Repels Lice

There are several essential oil scents that lice hate. When those fragrances are on something like your clothes lice, don’t want to be near them. Lauder lice is a detergent booster that has scents that will repel lice. 

The active ingredients in LiceGuards Launder Lice are Tea Tree and Anise. Both of these are fragrances that lice do not like, but not necessarily lice killers. Your clothes will smell like mint and licorice.

Another lice repellent laundry detergent that you can use every day long term is Seventh Generation Blue Eucalyptus and Lavender.

Using this as a long term laundry soap could prevent getting lice again in the future.

Summary

Remember, the chances of getting lice from your clothes is pretty small, most cases of people getting lice back are because they are using a lice treatment that lice are resistant. Check out the article Best Head Lice Treatments to discover the best treatments on the market today.

If your child has lice and you are in “lice cleaning” mode, then your next step is to read the article Ultimate Lice Cleaning Checklist to Get Rid of Lice in Your Home.

Profile-with-Elijah

Theresa is a Registered Nurse and lice expert. She owns a top lice treatment salon where she helps families battling lice every day. Disappointed by the false information about lice and lice treatment on the web, Theresa created MyLiceAdvice.com to empower families to get rid of lice on their own--and fast. Read more about Theresa and her lice journey at “From Cardiac Nurse to Lice Expert”.