Lice and Pools: Does Chlorine Kill Lice?

swimming featured image

Discover if lice can survive and spread in swimming pools. Can swimming in a chlorinated pool can kill head lice? How can you prevent getting lice from a pool?

12 million kids will get head lice this year. Is your child one of them?

Whether you’re wondering if your child can get lice from the pool or if swimming in a chlorinated pool can kill lice, we’ve got you covered.

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

Does Chlorine Kill Lice?

Will Lice Drown in A Pool?

Can You Catch Lice From the Pool?

How to Prevent Getting Lice From A Pool

Super Lice

A super lice bug at high magnification.

Head lice today have grown immune to all of the old treatments that worked in the past. So millions of parents around the world are looking for the best ways to treat and prevent lice. 

If your child has lice and you’ve struggled with it for a while, you should know that it is not your fault. The current strain of head lice is immune to pesticides found in over the counter treatments and most prescriptions.

A 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. 

The studies show that about 98% of lice today have the super lice mutation.

Does Chlorine Kill Lice?

chlorine

Unfortunately, no amount of chlorine or swimming is going to kill head lice. Lice are immune to chlorine, just like they are immune to thousands of other things, including Lysol, hydrogen peroxide, and most household cleaners.

It doesn’t matter how much chlorine is in the pool; you’re not going to kill head lice.

In one study, researchers completely submerged several lice in chlorinated water. 

The chlorine didn’t kill a single lice bug.

How Does Chlorine Affect Lice?

chlorine affect lice

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

As soon as lice come into contact with the water, they’ll close up their breathing holes so they won’t drown, and within a minute, lice go entirely immobile.

After about 10 minutes of being immersed in water, lice will go into a “hibernation- state” and appear dead, but don’t be fooled!

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

Within minutes of being removed from the pool, lice will “resurrect” back to life. 

These lice will be back at full strength and capable of breeding just as they did before being immersed in pool water.

Can Lice Drown In A Pool?

dirty pool

Yes, but it’s going to take a very long time. Some sites say that lice can not survive more than 4 hours immersed in water.

Four hours is simply not true. 

Scientists tested the “Drowning” lice theory in two separate studies. In one study, five hundred head lice were removed from individuals and treated differently. They immersed some lice in water, others in dimethicone oil, and did not immerse the control group 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 after 24 hours, but 50% of lice were alive after being removed from the water.

Even more alarming is that when they submerged lice in water for 24 hours, the lice survived longer than the lice they didn’t submerge at all.

Can You Drown Lice?

featured image drown lice

Yes, you can 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 also tested multiple ways to drown lice. The best way to drown lice is by using dimethicone.

Here are the results of that study:

30 minutes in dimethicone = 100% of lice dead!

How to Drown Lice

cover hair (1)

Lice close off their respiratory system as soon as they come into contact with water and most chemicals. Unlike water, dimethicone penetrates their respiratory system quickly and drowns lice.

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 multiple studies, dimethicone has an average kill rate of 100% of lice bugs with one treatment for most people.

Dimethicone is not a home remedy.

It 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 Don’t Work

Many sites say that lice can hold their breath for no more than 4-8 hours, which is NOT TRUE! As the research above indicates, many 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:

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, about an hour after you rinse out these home remedies, the lice will resurrect back to life and be at full strength. 

Can Lice Become Dislodged in a Pool?

Lice Claws

Lice can become dislodged in a pool, but it is extremely unlikely. It is even less likely for lice to come off in the pool than for them to come off when your hair is dry.

When lice submerge in water, they close their breathing holes and hold on tight. Lice have little crab-like claws on the end of each of their six legs. These claws enable them to grip on to the hair without the risk of falling off. Check out those claws!

Can You Get Lice From a Swimming Pool?

spread lice in pool

You can get lice from another person in a swimming pool, but it is less likely than getting lice outside of a swimming pool for the following reasons:

Lice go immobile in water

lice go immobile

When you expose lice to water, they instinctively close their breathing holes and hold on for dear life. I’m sure this is a survival tactic from over the years, because if they didn’t grip on when the water hit them, then they’d quickly die in the shower. (But they don’t!!)

Additionally, prolonged time in the water makes them less likely to transfer because they go into “hibernation mode,” which means that their little crab-like claws are locked into place on hair and will not be coming off.

Can lice swim?

lice can't swim

If by chance lice came off of someone in the pool lice can not swim over to another head, because lice cannot swim! Instead, head lice would begin to make their way to the bottom of the pool slowly. Since children’s hair isn’t usually brushing the bottom of the pool often and lice cannot swim, and lice will be immobile in hibernation mode, the risk of getting lice this way is slim to none.

Research shows lice don’t transfer in pools

research

Enough people were wondering if lice spread in swimming pools that it was the subject of research. In the study, multiple people with head lice swam in a chlorinated pool for 30 minutes.

No lice came off their heads or transferred to anyone else.

What Can I Do to Prevent Getting Lice in a Pool?

prevent lice

While it is unlikely that you will get head lice from a pool, it’s essential to understand that lice are most often passed directly from one person’s head to another. Some estimate that this “head to head” contact accounts for 90% of head lice cases. The other 10% of lice are transferred from one person to another from inanimate objects that come into frequent contact with hair such as hats, hairbrushes, and clothing.

If you are worried about your child getting head lice in a pool here are a couple of tips:

#1 - Avoid Head-to-Head Contact

head to head

You’d be surprised how often children’s head’s touch. More common times for lice to spread are

  • Hugging when greeting or leaving someone
  • Snuggling on the couch watching a movie
  • Resting your head on someone’s shoulder
  • Whispering close to someone’s ear
  • Sleeping on the same pillow or in the same bed at sleepovers
  • Taking “selfies” and other pictures that require people to get close

While your children won’t be watching a movie together or sleeping on the same pillow in the pool, the same principles apply. If your child can keep her head to herself, that’s the best way to prevent lice.

#2 - Put Your Hair Up in a Tight Bun or Braid

braid

Lice are stealthy in hair, and they use their claws to climb from one hair to another. You can decrease your chances of getting lice by keeping your hair up in a tight bun or braid because the less your hair is available to grab onto, the less likely you are to get lice.

#3 - Wear a Swim Cap

swim cap

Head lice only live on human hair, so if your child’s hair is tucked tightly in a swim cap, then it doesn’t matter how much hugging and playing she’s doing in the pool she has no chance of getting lice.

This might be a good idea anyway to protect your child from the drying and damaging effects of chlorine.

#4 - Don’t Share Towels, Swimming Caps, or Hair Brushes

girl towel

It is much more likely for your child to get head lice outside of the pool than it is for her to get lice in the pool. Lice can be passed by sharing items that come into frequent contact with hair.

Culprit items that you use on your hair after a day in the pool are towels, swimming caps, and hairbrushes. Be sure that your child has their own of each of these things and that she never shares them.

#5 - Spray Your Hair After Swimming

spray hair

Some of the best lice prevention is using a daily lice prevention spray or shampoo every day.

One of the best forms of prevention is making your hair undesirable to lice by using a lice prevention spray or shampoo daily.
You can use lice’s powerful sense of smell against them by putting scents in the hair that repel lice. Scents that deter lice are often called lice repellents. You can make your own lice repellent spray using my DIY tutorial or purchase a lice repellent spray and spray your daughter’s hair every day with it.

Don’t just buy any repellent thinking they’re all good. You can check out my article to find out which ones work to deter lice, or you can buy one of my top picks on Amazon below.

Do Chlorinated Pools Affect Lice Eggs?

Nope, lice eggs have a thick waxy coating on them, making them pretty much impossible to kill. 

Chlorine won’t kill them, and you absolutely can’t drown them!

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

Even dimethicone treatments are not effective at killing lice eggs.

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

Does Salt Water or Sea Water Kill Lice?

ocean water

The same researchers testing chlorinated pool water on head lice also examined the effects of saltwater and seawater on lice and got similar results. Lice submerged in saltwater and seawater for an extended period survived. 

Can My Child Go Swimming With Lice?

Your child should not go swimming or to school, or anywhere until you get the lice problem taken care of. Lice are very contagious. It’s not so much that your child will spread head lice in the pool, but that your child will spread head lice everywhere else they go. Before going to the pool, take care of the head lice problem.

What If Your Child Gets Lice After Swimming?

If your child’s head begins itching after swimming, it may be lice, or it may just be the result of chlorinated pool water irritating their skin. The best thing to do is to check your child for lice. Check out my tutorial How to Check Your Child for Lice to learn how.

scratch head

If your child’s head begins itching soon after swimming and you find that they have head lice, it’s still unlikely your child got lice from the pool.

Itching is one of the later signs of head lice. Most people do not begin itching until they have had head lice for a full month! This is because it is not the lice bugs themselves that make individuals itch; it is an allergic reaction to lice saliva. This allergic reaction to lice saliva usually takes about a month to develop. So, if your child’s head is itching and she has lice, it’s safe to assume that she’s had it for a while.

When choosing a lice treatment, DO NOT go to your local store and buy a popular big name treatment. They don’t work. The best treatments are dimethicone treatments, which kill lice in about 15 minutes. Also, get a Nit Free Terminator comb to get all of the eggs out of the hair. These are some of the best treatments.

Summing It Up…

Chlorinated swimming pools do not kill lice. Swimming in seawater or saltwater does not kill lice either. Lice are also not likely to be spread in a pool, because they become immobile in hibernation-mode and they can not swim. Studies support that lice have not been able to transfer in swimming pools. 

Lice are not likely to drown in 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, over 50% of head lice would still survive! When immersed in water, lice go into hibernation mode, appearing dead, but resurrecting back to life within an hour at full strength. 

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

Unfortunately, nothing drowns or kills lice eggs, including chlorine. Lice eggs must be removed from the head with a good lice comb like the Nit Free Terminator.

If you are worried about getting head lice in the pool, the best principles to follow are to avoid head to head contact, wear your hair in a braid, bun or swim cap, and avoid sharing items such as towels. Spraying your child’s hair with a lice prevention spray every day also helps to prevent lice in or out of the swimming pool.

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