Apple Cider Vinegar for Lice: Does Vinegar Kill Lice or Loosen Nits?

apple cider vinegar

Is vinegar a good way to treat head lice? Discover if vinegar affects lice and lice eggs.

If you or your child are struggling to get rid of lice, know that you are not alone.

Most lice today are resistant to over the counter and prescription pesticide treatments, so many people are turning to home remedies for relief.

You may have heard that vinegar can get rid of lice. Is it true?

This article answers the following:

Does Vinegar Kill Lice?

Does Vinegar Kill Lice Eggs or Prevent Them From Hatching?

The Experiment: Does Vinegar Loosen Lice Eggs?

How to Get Rid of Lice With Vinegar

Super Lice

A super lice bug at high magnification.

First, you should know that if you have struggled with head lice for a while, you are not alone, and it is not your fault. The current strain of head lice is immune to pesticides found in over the counter treatments and most prescriptions. So those treatments won’t kill lice, no matter how long you leave them on.

Lice today are called “super lice” because they have genetic mutations that make them immune to most treatments and VERY difficult to kill.

A recent study shows that almost all lice today have the super lice mutation.

Does Vinegar Kill Lice?

vinegar variety

In an attempt to find a natural solution to head lice, some are turning to home remedies, including vinegar.

Vinegar was tested alongside other popular home remedies to test its effectiveness against head lice. How did it do?

Hair was saturated in vinegar and left for 8 hours. 

Here is how vinegar did in comparison to other home remedies and treatments in various studies:

home remedies rubbing alcohol infographic

Vinegar killed 2% of head lice after being in the hair for 8 hours. I’m not impressed, are you?

Better Than Vinegar Lice Treatment: Dimethicone

cover hair (1)

Dimethicone is not a home remedy, it’s not a prescription, and you can’t find it at your local drug store.

Dimethicone is an entirely safe, non-toxic oil that suffocates and kills all lice in about 15 minutes! It outperforms everything else in killing lice. 

In studies, dimethicone has an average kill rate of 98% for lice bugs with one treatment.

For years, the only places you could get dimethicone were at a professional lice center, but a few lice centers have started selling their products online, and you can purchase them through Amazon. Here are the two best on the market:

 (A quick disclosure: these are affiliate links, and I earn a commission from qualifying purchases; however, I base all of my reviews on the quality of the products)

Best Over All Kit

The Ladibugs Lice Elimination Kit comes with a serum that kills both lice and super lice. It also comes with an enzyme mousse that helps loosen lice eggs, making them much easier to remove. Ladibugs is a one-and-done kit, which means you have everything you need for one person in one kit. The enzyme mousse can be used multiple times over several days to remove lice eggs.

Easiest to Use Lice Killer

Lice Clinics Lice Remover Kit comes with an easy dispenser and is probably the easiest treatment to use. It kills all lice within 20 minutes. You’ll need to retreat in about 10 days.

Best Home Remedy: Coconut Oil

coconut featured

If you still want to use a home remedy to smother lice, then coconut oil is your best choice. 

Coconut oil is one of the more effective home remedies. 

Two studies indicate that coconut oil kills about 80% of head lice if left on the head for extended periods. 

I recommend leaving it on the head for at least 8 hours. 

Coconut oil will be more effective if combined with an essential oil like tea tree oil.

Unfortunately, coconut oil has little to no effect on lice eggs. It neither kills lice eggs nor prevents them from hatching. 

Complete removal of lice eggs from the head or several repeated treatments over 3 weeks are necessary for coconut oil to get rid of head lice effectively. Read the full article and tutorial at the article Coconut Oil For Head Lice Tutorial.

Petroleum Jelly For Head Lice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Petroleum Jelly and Vaseline are significantly better at killing lice than vinegar (killed 62%). It also has more effect on helping lice eggs not hatch than vinegar.

But I don’t recommend it.

It is nasty, and it is difficult to get out of the hair. You’ll be spending a full week just trying to rinse it out. I do not recommend it. But, if you’re still interested in it, then read my article Petroleum Jelly and Vaseline for Head Lice.

Does Vinegar Kill Lice Eggs?

Egg of the head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) on a hair. The picture was taken after an anti-lice treatment  (Oxyphthirine - a substance based on Triglycerid producing a kind of film at the surface of the eggs and lice that induce asphyxia).  This egg is therefore dead and its aspect can be slightly different from an alive egg. It seems to be slightly deshydrated.  Scale : egg length= 0.57 mm  Technical settings :  - focus stack of 42 images - microscope objective (Nikon achromatic 10x 160/0.25) on bellow (160 mm extension)

If you are new to lice, you should know that nits and lice eggs are the same things. I will use the two words, interchangeably.

Researchers tested vinegar’s effectiveness at killing lice eggs, and it’s ability to prevent them from hatching. In the study lice eggs were immersed in vinegar for a full 10 days! Here’s what the study found:

Almost every single lice egg drenched in vinegar hatched!

The eggs soaked in vinegar were more likely to hatch than those not! Here are the results:

Lice Eggs in Vinegar: 94% hatched

Lice Eggs Normal: 87% hatched.

Is it possible that vinegar makes lice eggs more likely to hatch? It’s possible...

Does Vinegar Loosen Lice Eggs? The Experiment

vinegar vs lice experiment

As with every home remedy out there, there are a few online claims that vinegar is “magical” and makes lice eggs fall off the hair strand.

The untested claim is that the high acidity of vinegar breaks down the glue that holds lice eggs in place on the hair strand.

Because I have my own lice center, I have seen hundreds of children whose parents have tried using vinegar to loosen lice eggs and failed, so I was pretty sure I already know the answer.

But, before publishing this article, I wanted to be sure. And, I’m in a perfect position to experiment on this kind of thing because I help kids with lice every day and can easily snag some lice eggs to test in vinegar.

3 vinegars

I placed several hairs in 3 types of vinegar: Apple Cider Vinegar, White Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar.

Each hair had 1-2 nits on it. Because different people have encouraged leaving vinegar in the hair for different periods, I checked the lice eggs at three-time intervals:

15 minutes ---1 hour---12 hours

At each time interval, I removed the hairs from the jars and attempted to remove the lice eggs on them to determine if they were any easier to remove.

Apple Cider Vinegar for Lice

apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is the most commonly claimed “miracle” at loosening lice eggs.
I did not experience any “miracle” in my experiment, even after leaving the nits in vinegar for 12 hours.
None of the nits “fell off” the hair strands, and I had to drag them down the entire hair strand using two fingers.
I thought maybe there was a slight difference on two of the nits in the apple cider vinegar after an hour, but that’s not enough to even make a small dent when it comes to removing lice eggs.

If you’re hoping that lice eggs will be easier to remove after soaking the hair in vinegar you’ll be very disappointed. Lice eggs are difficult to remove regardless of if you use vinegar or not. But, there are much better ways to remove lice eggs.

Better Ways to Loosen Lice Eggs

Here are 3 better ways to loosen and remove lice eggs. These are tried and true and will help loosen lice eggs significantly more than vinegar.

(These are affiliate links, and I do earn a small commission from qualifying purchases, but I only recommend the best).

#1- Get the Best Lice Comb

There are only a few good lice combs on the market, and you can not buy them at your local drug store. Most lice combs are a complete joke, sometimes even breaking off in hair. What you need is a professional grade lice comb as they use in lice centers. 

The Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb is hands down the VERY BEST lice comb on the market. Forget about getting some expensive comb! The Terminator is the lice comb that almost every lice professional on the market use.

This is the comb that I use in my professional lice center every day.

The teeth of this comb are spaced tightly together, but the real secret is that these teeth have small spirals, creating a “barbed wire” effect on lice and nits, catching them and dragging them down the entire hair strand and out of your child’s hair.

#2- Try an Enzyme Based Shampoo

There are a few well-designed lice products out there that loosen nits from the hair strand. These shampoos and mousses contain an enzyme that breaks down the glue holding the lice egg in place.

The Ladibugs Lice Kit comes with an enzyme mousse to break down lice eggs, which is why it is my top pick for lice kits.

Another great product is LiceLogic Clear & Free Shampoo. Licelogic is a full 8 oz bottle, so it is enough for at least 16 applications.

Enzyme products like this work best if you use them multiple times because the more opportunities they have to eat away at the glue, the better.

#3- Try Combing With Conditioner or Oil

combing hair

One thing that is proven to ease combing out lice eggs is to saturate the hair in conditioner or another kind of oil. Conditioner helps the comb to slide through the hair and lice eggs to slide off the hair strand.

How to Get Rid of Lice With Vinegar

If you still want to give vinegar a try, here are the instructions so you’ll have the most luck. Remember vinegar does not kill lice, so you must kill lice first. Also, vinegar does not kill lice eggs or prevent them from hatching. Vinegar does not loosen nits so much that they just “fall off” either. So, you must remove them from the head, or else they will hatch.

Step 1- Use an effective, non-toxic lice treatment (like dimethicone) or a home remedy (like coconut oil/tea tree) that actually works on head lice. Click here for my coconut oil tutorial or purchase one of these treatments below.

Step 2- Wash the treatment from the hair. Apply apple cider vinegar to the hair and let it sit for at least 1 hour. 

Step 3- Remove lice eggs using a Nit-Free Terminator Comb.

Step 4- Check Back Regularly and Retreat if Necessary

Checking with comb

Keep combing through the hair every few days for a full two weeks. Make sure you’re not finding any lice in the hair. After 2 weeks of finding no lice, you’re in the clear.

Step 5 - Clean your home using the following principles:

dryer

Don’t go insane with the house cleaning; this is the easiest step.

Clean your house using the following principles as a guide (or check out the article Lice Cleaning Checklist to Get Rid of Lice in Your Home):

Think 48 Hours
Focus your attention on cleaning items that have been in contact with the lice-infested individual within the last 48 hours. Lice cannot live longer than 48 hours on household items.

Do Not Use Lice Sprays, Vacuum Instead.
Lice sprays do not work on lice at all, and they are hazardous. Vacuuming surfaces such as couches and mattresses are more effective at killing lice than sprays.

Clean Your Brushes
Soak hairbrushes, combs, and hair accessories (such as hairbands, clips, and headbands) used by the person with lice in hot water (135° F or greater) for at least ten minutes. (I do not recommend boiling brushes and combs, however, because they will melt.)

Items in the Dryer
Put items in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat.

Bag Items for 2 Days
Lice can’t live without blood for very long, so anything that could have lice on it will be safe to use again after 48 hours. If an item is something that you cannot run through the dryer, like a favorite stuffed toy or delicate clothing, you can seal it away in a bag for a couple of days.

Don’t Forget Carseats
Vacuum the car seats of the infested individuals.

Summing It Up…

Vinegar is not a “miracle” cure for lice. It performs the very worst of all of the home remedies tested. Vinegar does not kill lice, and it may increase the chances of lice eggs hatching in the hair. Apple cider vinegar may help loosen some lice eggs, but not enough to make a difference. And in studies, vinegar made lice eggs more likely to hatch.

A better route for loosening lice eggs is using an enzyme shampoo or mousse to break down the nit glue such as the Ladibugs kit or LiceLogic Free & Clear Shampoo. But the most critical tool for removing lice eggs is to get a professional level lice comb like the Nit Free Terminator Comb.

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