9 Best Ways to Treat Head Lice on Your Mattress, Bed, Pillow and Sheets

A messy bed with two pillows.

After treating everyone for lice, the last thing you want is to get it right back from your bedding! These 7 proven ways will have lice out of your house (and your bed) in no time.

Can head lice live on pillows, sheets, mattresses, and other bedding?

Yes, absolutely. Of all of the items in your home, your bed is among the most important to clean. One experiment looked at the pillowcases of 48 people with head lice after a night’s rest. Two of the pillowcases (4%) had live head lice on them. While 4% is a small chance, that’s not a risk most people are willing to take.

Washing and drying every item in the house is not necessary to get rid of lice. However, when it comes to bedding, you should clean everything. Since bedding comes in contact with your head much longer than other furniture in the house, it is the most likely place for lice to be in your home.

(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.)

# 1 - Do Not Use Lice Sprays for Your Bed or Mattress

A spray can with a red circle and line through it.

If you’re looking for a lice spray that you spray on your bed and it kills all lice, you will not find it. Many companies will try to sell you the lie that their spray works like that, but multiple lab tests show that lice today are resistant to all pesticides in lice sprays, including the ones that come in the kits. (For more details read the article Lice Sprays for Furniture). 

A quick but important side note, these same pesticides are inmost over-the-counter and prescription lice treatments. 98% of lice in the US are resistant to them. When people keep getting reinfested with head lice, it is rarely a result of poor house cleaning; it’s because they are using ineffective pesticide treatments like these. Be sure you’re using an effective lice treatment, so you don’t get stuck in the endless cycle of lice as well.

#2 - Sanitize Cycle (Best for Pillowcases, Sheets, and Bedding)

A washing machine

Most people assume that simply putting their blankets, pillows, and sheets in the washing machine kills lice, but it doesn’t. Lice are used to being washed and soaked in water (you wash your hair, right?). Their crab-like claws grip fabric tightly, so they won’t “rinse-off” of your bedding in the washing machine.

Lice can’t be drowned, even on an extra-long wash cycle. A study showed that after 8 hours immersed in water, 100% of lice were still alive (even though they “played dead” when submerged in water). 

The only real promise of killing lice in the washing machine is if your washing machine has a sanitize cycle. Lice die after 5 minutes of temperatures greater than 130° F. The sanitize cycle is usually around 165° F, which will kill lice. What if you don’t have a sanitize cycle? That brings us to tip #3, using the dryer.

#3 - Dryer (Best for Pillows & Down Comforters, Sheets and Bedding)

I recommend putting everything through the dryer, but especially those items that can not go through the sanitize cycle of the washing machine; this is especially true of pillows and down comforters.

The average dryer gets to 135° F on the high cycle (remember lice die at 130° F). But be aware that it takes some time for the dryer to get to that temperature and to stay at that temperature, especially with wet clothes in it. A study showed that all lice were dead after 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer, so that’s the timeframe I recommend. 

eco-dry-picture

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 items go the full 40 minutes on high heat in the dryer.

#4 - Enzyme Lice Laundry Detergent (Best for Pillowcases, Sheets, and Blankets)

A special detergent is not necessary to kill lice on bedding. But, if you are looking for something to kill lice in the washing machine, I recommend Kleen-Free Naturally by Ginesis.

Kleen-Free Naturally is an all-purpose cleaner that can be added to your laundry to kill head lice. It uses the power of natural enzymes that break down the exoskeleton of lice and kills them.

I’d still recommend putting items in the dryer even after using this. Think of this enzyme as a “boost” to your lice cleaning, not as a replacement for high heat.

#5 - Vacuum (Best for Mattress and Headboard)

A vacuum head

Lice sprays on the mattress and headboards are not effective at killing head lice. Additionally, they are very toxic, and if you spray them on your bed, you will be inhaling those chemicals every night for weeks. The best way to clean your mattress is to vacuum it with a handheld vacuum or the hand attachment of your vacuum.

#6 - Sticky Lint Roller (Best for Mattress and Headboard)

For those that don’t have a handheld vacuum or hose attachment, you can adequately clean your mattress and headboard with a sticky tape lint roller like these Scotch Brite lint rollers

I have tested cleaning up head lice with lint rollers like this several times in my lice center, and it is one of my preferred methods. Just be sure to change out the sheets when they lose their stickiness.

#7 - Bag It Up (Best for Decorative Pillows)

Clothing, bedding, and decorative pillows bagged up.

In the case of decorative bedding that you don’t sleep on (like decorative pillows), bagging the items in a garbage bag is sufficient. Bagging items and keeping them away from you for 2 days is adequate to kill any lice. Lice can not live off of a human head for more than 48 hours.

#8- Preventative Lice Laundry Detergent (Best for Pillowcases, Sheets, and Blankets)

There are certain scents that lice hate. Using a detergent booster with some of those scents with your laundry can make your bedding less appealing to lice. Launder lice is one of those laundry additives.

The active ingredients in LiceGuards Launder Lice are Tea Tree and Anise. Both of these are fragrances that lice do not like, but not necessarily lice killers. It’ll leave your laundry smelling like tea tree and black licorice.

Another lice repellent laundry detergent that you could use every day long term is Seventh Generation Blue Eucalyptus and Lavender.

#9- Repelling Lice Spray for Mattress and Bedding

If you want a spray for your bedding or mattress, then my top pick for repellent lice sprays for mattresses is Lice Clinics of America Lice Prevention Household Spray, Pure Repel.

Pure Repel with pure essential oils that keep lice away, peppermint being the strongest.

3 white pillows stacked on each other.

Here’s a quick summary of what to clean and how to clean it, followed by the most frequently asked questions about head lice specific cleaning for bedding, mattresses, and pillows.

Quick Summary

Head Board: Vacuum or Sticky Tape Lint Roll

Mattress: Vacuum or Sticky Tape Lint Roll

Pillows: Dry for 40 minutes on high heat

Sheets: Sanitize Wash and/or Dry for 40 minutes on high heat

Blankets: Sanitize Wash and/or Dry for 40 minutes on high heat

Decorative Pillows: Bag up for 48 hours

Frequently Asked Questions About Bedding

A hotel room

How long can head lice live on pillows, sheets, mattresses, and other bedding?

48 hours. In warm-dry climates, lice die within 12-24 hours off the head. However, when studied in precise temperatures, the longest lice can survive is 2 days.

What’s the best lice spray for bedding?

All of the lice sprays for bedding are made with pesticides that don’t work on lice. I do not recommend any of them. Instead, I recommend adding an enzyme laundry detergent like Kleen-Free Naturally by Ginesis. If you want something to spray on your mattress than a repelling spray like Lice Clinics of America Pure Repel is a good one.

Can you get head lice from a hotel bed?

It’s possible but unlikely. Any reputable hotel changes its bed linens in between each new patron. Washing and drying bed linens on high heat kill head lice.

Does regular laundry detergent kill lice?

No, a study showed head lice could survive regular laundry detergent. 

Summary

There is about a 4% chance of head lice being on your bedding. Using one of these 9 proven methods will ensure that you will not get lice back from your bed, pillows, or mattress. You should not use any pesticide lice sprays on your bedding or mattress, because they are toxic and do not kill lice. A better alternative is an enzyme louse laundry detergent to kill lice or a laundry detergent that repels lice with fragrances.

Remember, when people keep getting reinfested with lice, it is seldom a result of getting it back from their home. In most cases, it is because they are using an ineffective lice treatment. Read the article Best Lice Treatment Shampoos for  Head Lice and Super Lice to be sure that you are using an effective treatment.

If you’re in “lice cleaning mode,” you should check out the Ultimate Lice Checklist article next. It outlines exactly what you need to clean and how to clean it.