Does Alcohol Kill Lice?

rubbing alcohol

Is alcohol a good alternative to lice treatment? Does rubbing alcohol kill lice?

Anyone struggling with lice today knows that it is extremely difficult. Most lice are resistant to over the counter treatments, so many people are turning to home remedies for relief.

You may have heard that alcohol kills lice, is it true? Before we begin you should know that using alcohol to kill lice is EXTREMELY dangerous and can result in serious injury or death.

This article answers the following:

Does Alcohol Kill Lice?

Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Lice?

Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Lice?

Does Beer, Wine, or Vodka Kill Lice?

Does Alcohol in Mouthwash Kill Lice?

Does Alcohol Kill Lice Eggs?

Super Lice

A super lice bug at high magnification.

First, you should know that if you have struggled with head lice, you are not alone, and it is not your fault. The current strain of head lice is immune to pesticides found in over the counter treatments and most prescriptions.

An over-the-counter 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. 

A recent study shows that about 98% of lice today have the super lice mutation.

Does Alcohol Kill Lice?

First, you should know that there are hundreds of different types of alcohol. The 3 most common are:

Benzyl Alcohol

Isopropyl Alcohol

Ethanol Alcohol

These types of alcohol are entirely different from each other.

Second, you should know that using alcohol to kill lice is incredibly dangerous and can result in serious injury or death.

Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Lice?

rubbing alcohol (1)

Rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol. It’s commonly used for cleaning out scrapes and other wounds.

Isopropyl alcohol is in aftershave, lotions, and cosmetics.

Scientists studied the effectiveness of Isopropyl alcohol against head lice. In the study, participants saturated their hair with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) for a full 8 hours. After 8 hours of being soaked in alcohol, they examined the lice.

Rubbing alcohol only kills 10% of head lice, actually performing as one of the very worst home remedies.

Here are how the other home remedies did in comparison to rubbing alcohol:

home remedies rubbing alcohol infographic

Best Treatment: Dimethicone

Dimethicone is not a home remedy, it’s not a prescription, and you can’t find it at your local drug store.

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 studies, dimethicone has an average kill rate of 98% for lice bugs with one treatment.

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 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. Ladibugs 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.

Best Home Remedy: Coconut Oil

coconut featured

If you prefer using a home remedy to smother lice, then coconut oil is your best choice. 

Coconut oil is one of the more effective home remedies. 

Two studies indicate that coconut oil kills about 80% of head lice if left on the head for extended periods. 

I recommend leaving it on the head for at least 8 hours. 

Coconut oil will be more effective if combined with an essential oil like tea tree oil.

Unfortunately, coconut oil has little to no effect on lice eggs. It neither kills lice eggs nor prevents them from hatching. 

Complete removal of lice eggs from the head or several repeated treatments over 3 weeks are necessary for coconut oil to get rid of head lice effectively. Read the full article and tutorial at the article Coconut Oil For Head Lice Tutorial.

Do Beer, Wine, or Vodka Kill Lice?

alcohol beverages

The only ingestible alcohol is ethanol alcohol. All alcoholic beverages contain ethanol in them in varying degrees.

Scientists tested ethanol’s effectiveness against lice. Using a 100% ethanol solution can kill lice, but anything less than that is not promising. The study testing 70% ethanol alcohol showed 

“A low proportion of lice were the 10-min exposure test, but recovered completely after 5 min

Different proportions of lice were affected between 2 and 7 hours after immersion in ethanol... However, a high proportion of lice recovered after 22 hours.

Beer is 4.5% ethanol, and wine is 11% ethanol, and Vodka is 40% ethanol, none of which has shown to be effective at killing head lice.

Can Lice Get Drunk?

What alcohol can do is make lice immobile and go into a “coma-type” state for a while. 

When you submerge lice in liquid, they automatically close up their “breathing holes” so that nothing can penetrate them.

lice face

Lice submerged for long periods go into a “hibernation- state” to conserve energy. One study terms this as “playing dead.” 

When people use alcohol on the head for prolonged periods, they see lice in hibernation-mode and assume that lice are dead.

A lice quickly crawling through a woman's blond hair.

The studies show that lice usually remain in this hibernation state after removed from the liquid.

But lice “resurrect” back to life within a few hours of being rinsed. 

Lice are soon at full strength and capable of breeding just as they did before the treatment.

Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Lice?

hand sanitizer

Ethanol alcohol is a common ingredient in hand sanitizer (the same as liquor). Most hand sanitizer is about 65% ethanol alcohol, much higher than an alcoholic beverage.  

Hand sanitizer is more likely to kill head lice than rubbing alcohol or liquor, but even in the study of lice immersed in 70% ethanol, alcohol lice recovered after a few hours.

Does the Alcohol in Mouthwash Kill Lice?


Most mouthwashes contain menthol (mint) or methyl salicylate (wintergreen), and alcohol.

Mint and wintergreen deter lice but don’t kill lice, so the only thing left to kill lice in mouthwash is alcohol.

Most mouthwashes have somewhere between 15-25% alcohol in them. Listerine contains about 26.9% ethanol alcohol

So, the same studies cited for alcoholic beverages apply to Listerine…

study of 100% ethanol showed that ethanol alcohol could penetrate lice in about 30 minutes.

But, in another study immersing lice in 70% ethanol alcohol, they did not see the same results...

“A low proportion of lice were the 10-min exposure test, but recovered completely after 5 min

Different proportions of lice were affected between 2 and 7 hours after immersion in ethanol... However, a high proportion of lice recovered after 22 hours.”

So, some lice may be “affected” by Listerine going into their “hibernation-mode” and appearing dead, but they will recover in a few hours.

Only Type Of Alcohol That Kills Lice

benzyl alcohol (2)

Perhaps the reason why people believe that alcohol kills head lice is that there is one type of alcohol that does!

Benzyl alcohol is the only type of alcohol proven to kill head lice if used in a precise way.

You can find benzyl alcohol in some deodorants, cosmetics and shaving creams, but not in doses high enough to kill head lice.

In a study of the effects of benzyl alcohol on head lice, there was a series of three tests. The third test had a precise amount of benzyl alcohol and was the most successful at killing head lice.

The only benzyl alcohol lice treatment in the US is a prescription treatment Ulesfia™. You can only get this through your doctor.

The prescription Benzyl alcohol Ulesfia™ kills lice because it freezes their “breathing holes” open and drowns them.

One bottle of Ulesfia™ can cost upwards of $500 Ulesfia is very effective at killing head lice, but the question is...does it kill lice eggs as well?

Does Alcohol Kill Lice Eggs and Nits?

Severe head lice infestation commons, no rights reserved

Alcohol in all of it’s forms has little to no effect on killing lice eggs or preventing them from hatching. In the study of rubbing alcohol, lice eggs were exposed to isopropyl alcohol for 10 days straight.


Even the prescription form of benzyl alcohol lotion (Ulesfia™ ), which kills head lice, does not kill lice eggs or prevent them from hatching. That’s why Ulesfia™ requires multiple treatments to get rid of head lice effectively.

The Trouble With Lice Eggs

An up close image of a hatched lice egg (nit) attached to the side of a blond hairstrand. The lice egg (nit) appears to be white/transparent in color.

Lice eggs have a thick, waxy coating that protects them from just about everything. It is next to impossible to kill them with any chemical.

The very best way to kill lice eggs is to remove them from the head.

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

I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve tried lice combs, and they don’t work.”

That’s because you’re using a lousy comb.

The very best lice comb out there is the Nit-Free Terminator Comb, and you can’t find it at the drugstore.

The Terminator 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 Combing with Rubbing Alcohol Kill Lice?

Checking with comb

Those with limited lice knowledge may advise you to dip your lice comb in rubbing alcohol and comb through the hair.


Combing through the hair with a professional lice comb like the Nit Free Terminator and rinsing lice down the drain will kill lice. But that has NOTHING to do with rubbing alcohol.

Lice that are removed from the head and rinsed down the sink will die within 48 hours from starvation, regardless of if you dip your comb in rubbing alcohol or not.

If you want to get rid of lice using a lice comb, then instead of dipping it into alcohol between each sweep, just clean out the comb in running water.

The Whole Head Must Be Covered

cover hair (1)

The other significant error with the “combing with rubbing alcohol” theory is that even if you used benzyl alcohol to comb with, it would not be effective at killing lice.

In the study testing, benzyl alcohol as a lice treatment, the only way lice died was covering the ENTIRE head in benzyl alcohol. Benzyl alcohol that only partially covered the hair was not effective at killing head lice.

Risks of Alcohol as a Lice Treatment

If you go ahead and decide to put mouthwash, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, or whatever type of alcohol on your child’s head, you should know there are some serious risks. 

Eye Injuries/Blindness

red eye

Putting a liquid form of alcohol on your child is very likely to end up in their eyes. Have you ever gotten hand sanitizer in your eye? Ouch!!

In addition to being very painful, getting ethanol in your eye is very dangerous.

study of ethanol’s effects if it gets in the eyes reports it, 

“can cause corneal abrasions and scarring... thereby cause loss of vision and increase the risk for ocular [eye] infections.”

Considering ethanol doesn’t even kill lice, I am not going to take the risk of blindness for my child!

Alcohol Poisoning


Isopropyl alcohol is toxic to humans and is very absorbent through the skin. The body can usually fight off and excrete small doses of rubbing alcohol, but in large doses, it can lead to poisoning.

Your scalp is one of the most absorbent areas of the body. Saturating the scalp with isopropyl alcohol puts your child at risk of poisoning, which can lead to dizziness, vomiting, liver damage, and coma.

Children are at exceptionally high risk because their scalp is even more absorbent than adults.

Chemical Burn

skin burn

Rubbing alcohol has been reported to cause severe chemical burns on the very young. 

study reporting burns on a baby related to isopropyl alcohol states, 

“toxic for infants and children” should appear on mass consumption products containing isopropyl alcohol. Moreover, health workers may individually inform parents about the possible hazards of poisoning through skin absorption.”

Catching on Fire!

Isopropyl alcohol and ethanol alcohol are extremely flammable. If your child has alcohol on their body and exposure to any spark, they will go up in flames. 

As evidenced in a news story involving an 11-year-old boy and rubbing alcohol, it can be tragic.

on fire

“An 11-year-old North Georgia boy is recovering after an accident sent him to the hospital with severe burns on 30 percent of his body…

“No one thinks that the rubbing alcohol in your medicine cabinet could possibly take the life of your child,” Clint Eller told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.”

“Ray is now in the burn intensive care unit at Grady Memorial Hospital.”

Summing it Up…

Rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, mouthwash, and alcoholic beverages will not kill head lice. They can do a lot more harm than good. The only type of alcohol that kills head lice is benzyl alcohol at a precise dosage. 

If you’re dead-set on killing head lice with benzyl alcohol, then you’ll want to ask your doctor for a prescription of Ulesfia™. 

If you’re looking for an effective home remedy, then my top pick is Coconut Oil with Tea Tree for 8 hours. Check out my Coconut Oil or Tea Tree Oil tutorials.

But, if you want to get rid of lice even faster, go with a dimethicone treatment such as the Ladibugs Kit or Lice Clinics Kit.

Best of luck on your lice journey! (1)

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