A pink highligher is checking off boxes in a list. The words "Ultimate lice house cleaning checklist" appear over the image.

Ultimate Lice Cleaning Checklist Proven to Get Lice Out of Your House

A young girl carries a load of laundry to her mother who is folding towels.

Dealing with head lice is stressful, and misinformation about house cleaning may have you wanting to burn your house down. If you’ve scoured the Internet looking for concrete answers and are still feeling confused about what to clean and how to clean it, look no further.

Before getting started on house cleaning, let’s address the bigger question that I get asked all the time. 

Why Is It So Hard to Get Rid of Lice? 

Lice have become immune to everything that used to work in the past. Perhaps you remember your mom using a lice treatment and that doing the trick. The new strain of head lice is no longer killed by those treatments, that’s why lice today are termed by people, “super lice.” They are called SUPER LICE, because they can’t be eliminated with treatments that used to work. Lice treatments only kill the weakest lice and these SUPER LICE keep getting stronger and stronger. 

Also, lice treatments don’t kill lice eggs, so if you miss just a few lice eggs on the head then they hatch and lice starts all over again.

That’s why as a lice expert I DO NOT use lice treatments to cure lice. With my technique you can be completely CURED of head lice in ONE DAY. No retreatments required. You can learn more about the technique I use here.

Most people with lice are stuck in what I term the “never-ending lice cycle” that looks like this…

You discover lice, you spend hours treating, nit-picking, house cleaning etc.

You think it’s gone for a few weeks…

But, then it’s back again!

A lot of people think that they’re in this cycle because they’ve missed something in their house cleaning. Let me assure you it’s not because of your house cleaning. It’s because you never really got rid of lice. Lice are immune to lice treatments.

If you want to be confident that you’ve eliminated lice from your life permanently then you should check out my page How to Get Rid of Lice Like a Pro!, before putting your energy and focus into house cleaning.

In this printable, all-inclusive checklist, I have compiled all methods proven to effectively kill head lice on every last item in your home. This checklist provides a quick view and how-to instructions, and for those interested in additional details, there are descriptions of the research behind the time frames, temperatures, and methods in the article located below the checklist itself.

3 Tips Before Getting Started…

A human hand holding up three fingers

Tip #1- Get Rid of the Lice on Your Head 

Scrubbing your house top to bottom will do you no good if any of these bugs or lice eggs stay in your hair.  If you miss just one then you’ll have lice right back again and it’ll have nothing to do with your house cleaning. If you want to get rid of lice quickly then check out the How to Get Rid of Lice Like a Pro!

Tip #2- Think 48 Hours

Focus 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, which makes this the best place to start. 

Tip #3- Do Not Use Lice Sprays

Multiple scientific studies have shown that that almost all lice in the US are resistant to the pesticide found in lice sprays. (This fact is explained in detail in our article, Lice Sprays for Furniture).

STEP ONE: Get Rid of Lice on the Head

Science: The most recent studies show that 98% of lice are resistant to the most “popular” lice treatments.  Before you do any house cleaning, be sure that you’ve actually gotten rid of lice! Check out the technique that I use to get rid of lice in one day here.

If you meticulously clean your home, but neglect to take care of the lice problem on your kid’s head, you will find yourself stuck in the endless lice cycle for potentially months.

Lice House Cleaning 101: Science, Cautious, and Crazy 

This article details the basic concepts and proven methods of house cleaning after lice and offers brief descriptions of the research behind each of the timeframes, temperatures, and methods I’ve included in the checklist above. Some folks will want to clean the bare minimum (highly understandable) while others might feel inclined to go above and beyond what is necessary. Typically, there are three kinds of people when it comes to this kind of stuff (you probably know which kind you are): 

Science: I trust the experts and I want to do what the scientific studies show is sufficient to kill head lice.

Cautious: I want to go “above and beyond” whatever is shown to be sufficient in my cleaning. No point in risking any comebacks!

Crazy: I may be taking my cleaning way too far, but it makes me feel better.

These three personality types can be easily seen when asked this question: What do I need to clean?

Science says: Most lice is passed from direct head to head contact, not from objects. Most re-infestations with head lice do not occur because of inadequately cleaning household items, but more often from using an ineffective lice product and failing to remove all of the lice eggs from your child’s head.

The Cautious say: There is still a possibility of getting lice back from items around the home. You should clean items that have come in contact with the lice-infested person within the last 48 hours.

The Crazy would say: Cleaning every single item in the house is the only way to be sure lice cannot come back.

Two fingers with smiley faces drawn on them.

Generally speaking, lice stick solely to the head--they don’t hang out on your furniture waiting to crawl on you. Lice must feed frequently on your blood in order to survive (I know… Gross, right?). Their stubby, clawed legs are designed to move deftly in hair and hold on tightly (since their lives literally depend on sticking as close to you as possible).

Usually, the only times lice leave a head are if they are switching to another head or they are dying.

If by chance a single bug does fall off your head and onto your furniture, they will not live long. After too long without a bloody meal, they dehydrate and die. In warm, dry climates, lice die within 12-24 hours off the head. However, in more precise temperatures, lice can live up to 2 days. 

Because lice cannot survive off the head for more than a couple days, you may not need to clean every inch of your home, scouring for lice. Instead, you can zero in on where the person with lice has been in the last two days. Where has your child been in the last two days?

Additionally, instead of cleaning every jacket, backpack, and hat, you can ask yourself, What has my child worn in the last two days?

When you use the two day rule as a guide, you will spend your time focusing on the places that count instead of wasting your precious time and energy on areas that don’t.

How Long Should I Keep Things Bagged Up?

Multiple full garbage bags

Science says: 48 hours

The Cautious say: 2 weeks

The Crazy say: More than 2 weeks--maybe I’ll just throw it away (just to be safe). 

The 2 Day rule should also be your guide with how long to keep contaminated items away or sealed in a bag. 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 days. Since lice can’t live without blood for very long, anything that could have lice on it will be safe to use again after 48 hours.

Anyone who has spent time trying to remove lice eggs knows that they are stubbornly stuck on the hair strand. Lice eggs are cemented to the hair and cannot fall off onto your furniture. Even if one of these nits did fall off onto your sofa, it would not be able to hatch. Lice eggs need to have the heat of the head in order to grow and hatch out of the egg (just like chicken eggs need to be incubated in order to hatch). If a lice egg is removed or falls off the head, it’s not going to hatch. There have been studies in which lice eggs were kept in an incubator with precise temperatures and these eggs were able to hatch; however, the temperature of your general environment is not exact enough for this to happen in your living room.

This may lead you to wonder, “Why do some people say to bag up items for 2 weeks?”

Those that bag up items for a full 2 weeks are basing this on the idea that lice eggs ON THE HEAD take 7-10 days to hatch. However, as we’ve discussed, lice eggs cannot grow or hatch when they have been removed from the head. There is no harm in keeping your things bagged up for two weeks, but it isn’t necessary.

How Long Do I Put Things in the Dryer to Kill Lice?

A man placing clothing in a dryer

Science says: The most accurate study on head lice in the dryer showed all lice were dead after 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer.

The Cautious say: Wash in hot water and then dry on high heat for 40 minutes.

The Crazy say: An hour or so will probably do the trick. 

Studies show that lice cannot survive temperatures greater than 130° F for more than 5 minutes. The average dryer gets to 135° F on the high cycle, but just like your oven takes time to preheat, it takes time for your dryer to get to that temperature and to stay there long enough to kill lice, especially with wet clothes in it. One study showed that all lice were dead after 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer. 

eco-dry-picture

One word of caution before you start throwing everything in the dryer: If you have a newer, energy efficient dryer, make sure you turn off the “eco sensor.” The “eco sensor” on dryers is designed to save energy by automatically turning off the dryer once your clothes are dry enough. In a lice situation, most folks care much more about confidently killing lice than saving money on their electric bill. Turn off the “eco-sensor”  and run the cycle for the full 40 minutes on high heat. (Besides, you’ll save money in the long run by not having to keep purchasing lice treatments!)

Can Putting Items in the Washing Machine Get Rid of Lice?

A modern washing machine.

Many people think that washing their items in the washing machine is really important to killing lice, but most washing machine cycles will not kill lice. Lice are used to being washed and soaked in water (you wash your hair, don’t you?). Lice are designed with crab-like claws on the end of each leg that enables them to grip on tightly, even when pelted with water or soap. 

Lice can’t drown either, even on an extra long wash cycle. A study showed that after 8 hours totally immersed in water, 100% of the lice were still alive (even though they “played dead” when submerged). It took 16 hours of lice being completely submerged in water for them to die. Whoa! Clearly, this is not an effective way to kill lice. 

If you want to wash your items, then wash them on the highest temperature (on most washing machines, the hot cycle is 130° F and sanitize is 165° F). If you’re going to wash them, though, make sure to also put them in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat afterward as well.

How Hot Does Water Need to be to Kill Lice?

A faucet releasing hot water, steam is rising from the sink.

Science says: Lice die after 5 minutes at temperatures greater than 130° F

The Cautious say: 10 minutes in water above 135° F

The Crazy say: The temperature of boiling water is 212° F. Plastic’s melting point is also 212° F. If it can melt plastic, it can kill lice, right? 

Very hot water (not boiling) is what is needed to kill head lice. Most hot beverages like coffee and hot chocolate are served at 160° F or hotter, so think “hot coffee” temperature. 

The best way to ruin your items, though, is by boiling them. (I assume if you’re taking the time to clean things, you probably want to keep them.) In order to avoid this, bring your water to a boil and then turn it off once it begins to bubble. Then you can put in the items you want to sanitize. 

How Hot Does the Dishwasher Get, and is that Sufficient to Kill Lice?

The “sanitization” setting of a dishwasher gets to a minimum of 155° F (also called SaniWash, Sanitize, or the Anti-Bacterial cycle). The “Heated Dry” setting of a dishwasher gets to 180° F.  Any of these settings will kill lice.

Can Sani-Wipes Kill Lice?

A container of sani-wipes

I only recommend using Sani-Wipes (such as Lysol wipes or Clorox wipes) if the item you want to clean cannot be bagged for 48 hours, placed in the dryer, vacuumed, or lint rolled. The item also must be something that can be wiped down fairly easily (so not cloth or fabric). In these circumstances, try to use a Sani-Wipe that is alcohol-based, if possible. Alcohol in cleaning products will dehydrate lice. Most other disinfectants have not been tested on lice, so be sure to wipe it down well to manually remove lice from the item.

Things That Do Not Work

A blue lice spray

Do not waste your time, money, or health on traditional pesticide lice sprays or lice bombs. Just like pesticides are an ineffective treatment on the head, they are even more worthless when sprayed in the air or on your couches. 

Additionally, they are EXTREMELY toxic and dangerous to you, your children, and your pets. If they actually killed lice, maybe you could rationalize the risk of breathing problems, sickness, or even cancer, but they don’t actually kill lice! The chemicals in lice sprays and bombs are the same pesticides that 98% of lice are resistant to, so you end up just spraying poison all over your home for no reason.

Summary

The most important thing about getting rid of lice isn’t cleaning your house--it’s making sure you’ve actually gotten rid of lice. If you want to get rid of lice fast then check out my Technique on my How to Get Rid of Lice Like a Pro! article.

Whether you are a science-driven, cautious, or crazy cleaner, this checklist will cover everything in your home. By combining my technique, and this comprehensive house cleaning checklist, you will have lice out of your life (and your home) in no time!

Best of luck on your lice journey! (1)