Can You Drown Lice?

featured image drown lice

Is drowning lice a good alternative lice treatment? Can you drown lice?

Anyone struggling with lice today knows that it is extremely difficult. Most lice are resistant to over the counter treatments, so many people are turning to home remedies for relief.

This article answers the following (feel free to click a link):

Can Lice Drown?

How Long Does It Take to Drown Lice?

How To Drown Lice

Super Lice

A super lice bug at high magnification.

First, you should know that if you have struggled with head lice, 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.

An over-the-counter pesticide treatment won’t kill lice, no matter how long you leave it on.

Lice these days are called “super lice” because they have genetic mutations that make them extremely difficult to kill. 

A recent study shows that about 98% of lice today have the super lice mutation.

So, is drowning lice a good alternative?

Can Lice Drown?

drown lice featured image

Yes, you can drown lice, but not usually in water (keep reading to find out what drowns lice).

When you submerge lice in water, this is what you’ll usually see…

Water is not toxic to head lice, but lice have developed ways to survive prolonged periods in water.

As soon as lice come into contact with water, they close up their breathing holes so they won’t drown, and within a minute, lice go completely immobile and appear to be dead.

lice face

After about 10 minutes of being immersed in water, lice will go into a “hibernation- state.”

This “hibernation- state” protects lice, making it so that they can conserve energy, and no water will penetrate their breathing holes. This is a common phenomenon, often termed as “playing dead” by researchers.

When people attempt to drown lice for prolonged periods, they are likely to see lice in hibernation-mode and assume that lice are dead.

A lice quickly crawling through a woman's blond hair.

But, most of them are not….

Within an hour of being removed from water, most lice “resurrect” back to life.

When lice resurrect, they are at full strength and capable of breeding just as they did before being immersed in water.

How Long Does it Take To Drown Lice in Water?


Some sites say that lice can not survive more than 6 hours immersed in water.

This is not true. 

Researchers tested “Drowning” lice in two separate studies. In one study, five hundred head lice were removed from individuals and treated differently. Some immersed in water, others in dimethicone oil, and others not immersed in anything. Of the lice immersed in water here are the results:

6 hours in water = 100% of lice survived
24 hours in water = 50% of lice survived

The lice were initially in “hibernation mode” when removed from the water, but 50% of lice were alive and active within an hour of being removed from the water.

Even more alarming is that the submerged lice survived longer than the lice not submerged in water!

Can You Drown Lice?

lice can't swim

Yes, you can absolutely drown lice! But it does not involve water. Once you immerse lice in water, they close up their breathing holes and become very difficult to kill. That same study that tested water tested multiple other ways to drown lice. The best thing at drowning lice is dimethicone.

Here are the results of that study:

30 minutes in dimethicone = 100% of lice dead!

How to Drown Lice

cover hair (1)

Unlike water, where lice can close off their respiratory system, dimethicone penetrates their system quickly and drowns them.

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 100% of lice bugs with one treatment for most people.

Dimethicone is not a home remedy.

Dimethicone is not a prescription

But it’s not usually found at your local drug store.

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 dimethicone 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. This 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.

Other Suffocation Methods Won’t Work

Many sites say that lice can hold their breath for no more than 6-8 hours, which is NOT TRUE! As shown in the previous research, lice can hold their breath for more than 24 hours! So, trying to “suffocate” lice with just any oil will not work. 

Common “suffocation” methods that do not kill lice are olive oil and mayonnaise.

Some claim that if you leave olive oil or mayonnaise on the head for 8 hours, it will drown lice. That is not true. Here are the stats for how many lice were killed by common “suffocation” methods in a study of home remedies. Subjects left each of these home remedies on the head for 8 hours; here are the results:

suffocation home remedies infographic (1)

If you use a “suffocation” method like this, you’ll see lice go into “hibernation-mode” like they do when you immerse them in water. And, you rinse the home remedy out of your kid’s hair, the lice will resurrect back to life and be at full strength. 

Better Home Remedies

Dimethicone treatments kill head lice, which is why I recommend dimethicone treatments over home remedies. But, if you want to do a home remedy instead then here are the best ones:

Coconut Oil

coconut featured

If you have to use a home remedy, then coconut oil is your best choice, especially if you add tea tree oil to it. 

In studies, coconut oil alone killed 80% of head lice, but combined with essential oils, its success rate increased. Essential oils that may increase coconut oil success are tea tree oil, anise, and ylang-ylang. 

Unfortunately, coconut oil has little to no effect on lice eggs. It neither kills lice eggs nor prevents them from hatching, so make sure you get a good lice comb like the Nit Free Terminator.

Complete removal of lice eggs from the head or several repeated treatments 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.

Tea Tree Oil

essential oils coconut

In one study of highly concentrated tea tree and lavender essential oils were compared to traditional pesticide treatments. Tea tree oil killed most lice, whereas the pesticide treatments only killed about 25% of lice.

Applying tea tree oil directly to the scalp can cause severe reactions. So, you should dilute tea tree with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, olive oil, argan oil, etc. I recommend coconut oil because coconut oil kills lice, whereas olive oil does not. 

Tea tree shampoo at your local salon will not kill head lice. Tea tree must be used in high concentrations to kill lice, and the concentrations in tea tree shampoo are not adequate.

The major disadvantage of tea tree oil is that it has little to no effect on lice eggs. Lice eggs WILL hatch after a tea tree treatment unless you remove the eggs from the head, so get a good lice comb and remove the lice eggs.

I outline exactly how to kill lice with tea tree oil in my article Tea Tree Oil For Lice: How to Kill and Prevent Lice Using Tea Tree Oil.

Can You Drown Lice Eggs?

No, lice eggs have a thick waxy coating on them, making them pretty much impossible to kill. You absolutely can’t drown them!

In a study, lice eggs 87% of lice eggs submerged in water still hatched.

The fastest, easiest, and most effective way to get rid of lice eggs is with a professional-level head lice comb. 

I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve tried lice combs, and they don’t work.” 

That’s because you’re using a lousy comb.

The very best lice comb out there is the Nit-Free Terminator Comb, and you can’t find it at the drugstore.

This is the comb I use every day in my lice center. If you ask any lice professional, they will almost certainly tell you this is the comb they use. 

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. 

Summing It Up…

Lice can not be drowned with water because when lice come into contact with water, they can hold their breath for a very long time. Even if you were to soak your head in water for 24 hours, many head lice would still survive! When you immerse lice in water, they go into hibernation mode, appearing dead, but resurrecting back to life within an hour at full strength. 

You can drown lice is dimethicone, a non-toxic oil in some products found online. Dimethicone can penetrate the breathing holes of lice and drown them. In studies, dimethicone kills lice quickly, usually within 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, nothing drowns lice eggs, even the best home remedies, and dimethicone treatments. Lice eggs must be removed from the head with a good lice comb like the Nit Free Terminator.

If you want my advice, I say skip soaking your head in water, grab a dimethicone treatment and a good lice comb and get rid of lice.

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