Ultimate Lice Cleaning Checklist Proven to Get Lice Out of Your House
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.
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…
Tip #1- Get Rid of the Lice on Your Head
Make sure to use an effective lice treatment and remove all lice eggs from the head with a professional quality lice comb. Scrubbing your house top to bottom will do you no good if any of these bugs stay in your hair. (Remember, 98% of lice are totally resistant to traditional over-the-counter products. If you need some suggestions on quality lice treatments, you can check out my article here.)
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). The only lice sprays that work for killing lice are enzyme lice sprays like LiceLogic Clear & Free All Purpose Spray.
HOUSE CLEANING CHECKLIST
- Remove all linens from the bed of the person who had lice. Put these linens in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat.
- Put pillows separately through the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat.
- Vacuum the mattress with its detachable hose OR use a sticky lint roller and roll the mattress.
- Place any “fuzzy” items (like stuffed animals) either in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat or temporarily seal them in a garbage bag for 48 hours (so the remaining lice will die). Store this bag somewhere it won’t be disturbed.
- Either remove rugs and put in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat or vacuum them or place them in a garbage bag for 48 hours. As above, keep this garbage bag somewhere it won’t accidentally be opened.
- Vacuum the floor if it is carpeted. (For more, read our article Lice and Carpets.)
- Only launder dirty clothing! You DO NOT need to wash every item in your house. Put items that have been worn in the last 48 hours by the person who had lice through the dryer on high heat for 40 minutes or seal them in a bag (and store it away from everyone) for 48 hours. Don’t forget to include any jackets, scarves, or hats.
- Remove any towels used in the last 48 hours and dry them in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat.
- Ensure all hair accessories/combs/etc. are removed from the shower and cleaned per the below instructions, “Hair Brushes and Hair Accessories.”
Hair Brushes and Hair Accessories
- Remove as much hair from brushes as you can and flush hair down the toilet or seal it in a trash bag.
- Soak hair brushes, 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 10 minutes. (I do not recommend boiling brushes and combs, however, because they will melt.)
- You may also place the brushes on the top rack of the dishwasher, then run a cycle on either the Sanitize or Heated Dry settings.
- For more details on cleaning brushes specifically, read our article, 5 Best Ways to Clean Your Hair Brushes After Head Lice.
- Remove all pillows from the couches and chairs. Throw them in the dryer on high heat for 40 minutes. If they cannot go through the dryer, either vacuum them with your hose attachment or roll them with a sticky lint roller.
- If your couch is cloth, vacuum it with the hose attachment or roll with a sticky lint roller.
- If your couch is leather, wipe it down with Sani-Wipe (alcohol based preferred).
- Remove any rugs you can and either dry them in the dryer on high heat for 40 minutes, vacuum them, or seal them in a garbage bag for 48 hours.
- Vacuum the floor if carpeted.
- For chairs with cloth backing, vacuum with a hose attachment or roll with sticky lint roller.
- For chairs with leather backing, wipe down with Sani-Wipes (alcohol based preferred).
Backpacks and Bags
- If the backpack can go through the dryer, then empty it of its contents and put it in the dryer on high heat for 40 minutes OR if your child can go without a backpack for a couple days, place the backpack in a garbage and store it out of sight for 48 hours.
- If the backpack cannot go through the dryer, wipe both the inside and outside of the bag with Sani-Wipes (alcohol based preferred).
- If your car has a cloth interior, vacuum or lint roll all the seats and headrests of whichever vehicle(s) the infested person has been in within the last 48 hours.
- If your car has a leather interior, wipe everything down with Sani-Wipes.
Child Car Seat
- Vacuum or lint roll car seats, including all the crevices OR remove the car seat cover and place in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat.
- Place all helmets (e.g. bicycle, sports, etc.) in a bag and do not use for 48 hours OR wipe down the inside and outside of helmets with Sani-Wipes (alcohol based preferred).
- Wipe down the sides of eyeglasses and sunglasses with a Sani-Wipe (alcohol based preferred).
Headphones and Headgear
- Seal headphones and/or headgear in a bag and do not use them for 48 hours. Alternatively, you may wipe them down with Sani-Wipes (alcohol based preferred).
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 housecleaning, be sure that you’ve used an effective lice product and have removed every last lice egg from your child’s head. Check out the articles Best Lice Shampoos and Best Lice Combs in order to make sure you have effectively killed lice and removed lice eggs from your child’s head.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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
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.
Lice Sprays I Recommend
(A quick disclosure: these are affiliate links, and I do earn a commission from qualifying purchases; however, all of my reviews are based on the quality of the product and the decision to purchase through these links is entirely up to you.)
There is only one household spray that I have found actually kills lice: the LiceLogic Clear & Free All Purpose Spray.
LiceLogic’s spray is different than others because the solution actually contains enzymes (not pesticides) that break down the exoskeleton of lice and kills them. Lice cannot become immune to these enzymes because the process is actually a chemical reaction. This spray will even leave your house smelling like peppermint.
Using this spray isn’t necessary to clean your house, but if you are determined to use a spray, this is both the safest and most effective one you can find.
There are lots of other household lice sprays out there that claim to kill lice, but they don’t. They may repel lice, but do nothing more. They contain certain essential oil scents that lice hate. When those fragrances are sprayed on furniture, lice flee from the smell, but they don’t actually die. The best repellant spray I have found is this one: Lice Clinics of America Lice Prevention Household Spray, Pure Repel.
Unlike other repellent sprays, this spray is completely honest about what it actually does, which is repel (NOT kill) lice! It is made with pure essential oils, peppermint being the strongest. It’ll leave your home smelling like candy canes. Remember, though, this will NOT kill lice.
The most important thing about getting rid of lice isn’t cleaning your house--it’s making sure you use an effective lice treatment and remove all lice eggs from the head. If you haven’t already checked out our articles Best Lice Treatment Shampoos for Head Lice and Super Lice and Best Lice Combs, do that now to make sure you eradicate your lice for good.
Whether you are a science-driven, cautious, or crazy cleaner, this checklist will cover everything in your home. By combining an effective lice treatment, high quality lice comb, and this comprehensive house cleaning checklist, you will have lice out of your life (and your home) in no time!