How Long Lice Live on Stuffed Animals and 5 Proven Ways to Treat Them

Discover how long lice can live on stuffed animals, if there is any risk of getting lice back from stuffed animals, and 5 proven ways to treat stuffed animals for lice.

Head lice are called head lice for a reason. Generally speaking, head lice stick to the hair and scalp of humans. Lice are built to hold on to hair as if their life depended on it (because it does).

But, what if lice does come off your child's head and onto their favorite stuffed animal, then what? 

How long can lice live on stuffed animals?

Think 48 hours or 2 days. Most lice die within 24 hours of being off the head away from a human. However, under exact temperatures, the longest lice can live is 2 days without a human head. So, when you think about how long to "quarantine" things, the 2-day rule ensures all lice will be dead.

How likely is it that lice will be on stuffed animals?

It is unlikely to have lice lingering on stuffed animals, but it is possible. The risk for lice being on stuffed animals lies somewhere between 0-4%. One study examined the classroom floors of children with head lice after a full day of school and did not find any lice on the floors in the school. Another study examined the pillowcases of 48 people with head lice after a night's rest and found 2 live lice on the pillowcases (4%). 

If your child has a particularly loved and snuggled stuffed animal, then the risk of their being head lice on it is probably closer to 4%, but if you're talking about stuffed animals in the closet or on the floor, then the risk is closer to 0%.

How do you treat stuffed animals for lice?

#1- Dryer (for the favorites)

If your child has a million stuffed animals, then you're not going to want to put them all in the dryer, but for the favorite stuffed animals putting them through the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat is the ideal treatment. They'll have their stuffies back in no time.

Lice die in temperatures higher than 130° F. The average dryer gets to 135° F on the high cycle, but it does take some time for the dryer to get to that temperature and to stay at that temperature. In a study, all lice were dead after 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer, so that's the timeframe I recommend.

One word of caution before you put things in the dryer. If you have a newer energy-efficient dryer, be sure to turn off the "eco sensor." The "eco sensor" on dryers is designed to help save energy by automatically turning off the dryer once the clothes are dry enough. In a lice situation, most people care much more about killing lice than about saving money on their energy bills. So, make sure your "eco-sensor" is off, and the stuffed animals go the full 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer.

#2- Sticky Tape Lint Roller

Another alternative for your child's favorite toy is to use a Scotch Brite Lint Roller to clean it. The adhesive on most lint rollers is strong enough to pick up any lice that may be on stuffed animals. Just be sure to replace the sheets of the lint roller as they pick up debris and become less sticky.

#3- Bag Them

For the one million other stuffed animals that are hanging out in your child's closet or floor, the likelihood of them having any lice on them is close to 0%. For those that want to be very cautious, you can put those stuffed animals and toys in a large bag and keep them away from your child's head for 2 days. After 2 days, they are safe to return to your child.

#4- Sanitize

If stuffed animals could use a "bath" anyway, then you can put them in the washing machine. But, be aware that most cycles in the washing machine are not adequate to kill lice. Many people assume that lice will drown or wash out in the water, neither of which is true. Lice can not drown, and lice do not "wash off" of items. The only cycle on the washing machine that will kill lice is the sanitize cycle because it reaches temperatures high enough to kill lice. 

#5- Lice Repellent Spray

Can I use a lice spray that comes in a lice kit on stuffed animals?

DO NOT use a pesticide lice spray to spray on stuffed animals! Lice are resistant to these sprays, so if there are any lice on them, it will not kill them. And, these pesticide sprays are very toxic to children and pets. 

While pesticide sprays are not a good idea, I do recommend lice repellent sprays. 

There are certain essential oil scents that lice hate. When you spray one of these fragrances on items, lice will leave the area. These sprays do not KILL lice, but they are useful as a boost to keep lice away. 

My top pick for a lice repellent is Lice Clinics of America Lice Prevention Household Spray, Pure Repel. It uses pure essential oils; peppermint is the strongest. It'll leave your stuffed animals smelling like candy canes.

Summary

Lice can only live off the head for up to 48 hours. The chance of getting lice back from stuffed animals is relatively low. But placing things in the dryer, lint rolling them, bagging them, and sanitizing them will bring that risk down to zero. For added protection, use a lice repellent spray on your child's favorite toy.

If you are in the midst of house cleaning after lice, then you need to go to Ultimate Lice Cleaning Checklist to Get Rid of Lice in Your House. That article covers precisely what you need to clean and how to clean it to get rid of lice in your house.

If you've been down this lice road for a while and you can't figure out why you are still struggling with lice, you should know that it has nothing to do with your house. Many people are stuck in the endless cycle of lice (discovering lice, then painstakingly trying to kill it, only to discover it again a few weeks later) because they are using an ineffective lice product. 

Just like lice are resistant to pesticide sprays, they are also resistant to most lice treatment products. Don't worry; you can find all of the details about which lice treatments work and which ones to avoid in my article in our article Best Lice Treatment Shampoos for  Head Lice and Super Lice.

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Theresa is a Registered Nurse and lice expert. She owns a top lice treatment salon where she helps families battling lice every day. Disappointed by the false information about lice and lice treatment on the web, Theresa created MyLiceAdvice.com to empower families to get rid of lice on their own--and fast. Read more about Theresa and her lice journey at “From Cardiac Nurse to Lice Expert”.