When my daughter’s head started to itch, we assumed it was merely the winter weather and the dry air. We tried Scalpicin, Head and Shoulders, and even T-Gel shampoo. These would help my daughter briefly but then she’d be itching again. We checked for lice but couldn’t didn’t really see anything. My wife asked the school to do a follow up just to rule it out. Surely our daughter, with her middle class upbringing in a normally clean household couldn’t have head lice. Right? Wrong. Like all parents, we immediately freaked out, with visions of scrubbing our house from top to bottom for weeks, bug bombing my daughter’s head, and combing and picking for weeks. The reality is slightly different. So what do you need to do to rid your house and your child of lice? Read on.
WHAT TO PURCHASE
The key to getting rid of head lice is getting them and their nits (eggs) off of the heads of every affected person in your household. In order to do this, you’re going to need to purchase several items if you don’t already have them at home.
- RID Complete Kit or generic equivalent. The RID Complete Kit provides you with lice killing shampoo, a gel for easier combing out of nits and lice, a lice comb, and an insecticide spray for items you can’t wash. Be sure you have enough shampoo and spray for the hair and items you need to clean. We purchased a generic kit at Wal-Mart for about $16.
- Large Trash Bags. These are necessary for storing items your child uses that can’t be sprayed or washed.
- A lice comb. The ones provided in most lice shampoo kits are worthless. You need a good fine toothed comb to pull the nits and dead lice out of your hair. A decent lice comb will set you back about $10 at your local drug store.
- A Robi Comb. This battery operated comb helps detect lice and kill them in your child’s head. I finally found a Robi Comb at Walgreen’s for $29.99. (Read a review of the Robi Comb)
- Vacuum bags (if you have a bagged vacuum and don’t have replacements at home).
- Laundry detergent. You’ll be washing a LOT of clothing, probably more than once.
TREATING YOUR CHILD’S HEAD
The first thing you should do is use the RID shampoo to kill the lice on your child’s hair. Be sure to follow the directions exactly and do not leave the shampoo on your hair any longer than indicated, thinking it will help kill more. It won’t. Be sure to rinse the solution out of your child’s head thoroughly. NOTE: Many parents feel that RID is not safe for their child. You can still rid yourself of lice simply by using the methods below, but you will not get the head start that the shampoo provides.
Next, use the combing gel included in your RID Complete Kit with your lice comb. This solution helps make the hair slippery and helps capture the nits and bugs as you comb them out. Be sure that you go over your child’s entire head thoroughly, working from the scalp up. Note that removing lice and their eggs could take several hours to complete, especially if your child’s hair is thick and long. Be sure to find a comfortable seat for both you and your child and provide them with something to do while you’re picking lice and nits from their head. Be sure to find a location with good lighting. We found it easiest to do it outside under sun light. You may want to use tweezers and or scissors to make it easier to free the nits (which cement themselves to hair) from the head. Pay attention to the neck and ears, as lice prefer these locations the best.
After using the gel, you may want to wash and dry your child’s hair thoroughly and then run through the hair with the Robi Comb. The Robi Comb, when run through completely dry hair, identifies potential lice in your childs hair and simultaneously shocks lice to death. The Robi Comb made daily checking of my daughter’s hair far easier than a normal comb or visual inspection would.
It is vitally important that you thoroughly inspect your child’s hair every day for at least two weeks to remove nits and hatched lice. The most important step of eliminating a lice infestation is removing the lice from their food source, your child’s head. Even one or two eggs left on your child’s head could lead to a new infestation. It is also important that EVERY person in the house be checked for lice and nits and treated for the same period of time. And don’t forget that second dose of RID shampoo exactly 10 days after the first to help kill any lice that may have hatched since the first treatment.
CLEANING YOUR HOUSE
The original focus of many parents when I was a child in the 70’s was a vigorous cleaning of their house from top to bottom. While this is not a bad idea, many websites now indicate that the time you spend cleaning could be better spent on your child’s hair. Lice do not survive more than a few days off of your child’s scalp, so the most important things to address are the areas and items of your house where your child’s head frequently comes in contact, including clothing, beds, pillows, sheets, stuffed animals, carpets, couches, chairs and floors.
It is recommended that all washable clothing and bedding be placed in the hottest water possible to kill the lice. Of course, hot water will shrink most clothing, so this is not always possible. In my house, we stripped all the beds and washed all sheets, blankets and pillows in hot water. For those items you cannot wash in hot water, you can throw them in the dryer for 30 minutes or more and have the same effect, or stash them in the trash bags (see below). I would be sure to wash all sheets and pillow cases daily to make sure that any lice that may transfer there do not transfer back the next day.
Vacuum all of your carpets, furniture and mattresses thoroughly. If you have a bagged vacuum, be sure to get rid of the bag immediately after you are done in an outside garbage container, to make sure that the lice inside do not remain in the house. If you have a bagless vacuum, be sure to dump the container in something that you can immediately dispose of. Clean out your vacuum’s filters and compartments with hot water if possible.
For furniture and car interiors of cars that your child rides in, you can use the lice killing spray that came with your lice kit. Be sure to check that the surface is not stained by the spray before using. If you do not wish to use this spray, it is important to vacuum and clean these surfaces thoroughly.
For everything that your child uses that you cannot easily wash, including headphones, stuffed animals, throw pillows, comforters (if you don’t wish to have them dry cleaned), and other items, you should use the large trashbags. Put everything into the bags and tie them off so that they are as airtight as possible. You should keep these items in the bag for at least 10 days to two weeks to ensure that any lice and eggs on these items die off.
For items that you use on your child’s hair, such as curling irons, flat irons, brushes, and combs, you can either throw them away, put them in trash bags for a couple of weeks, or soak them in rubbing alcohol for an hour or more.
Note: While the possibility exists that lice could be on your dog or cat due to transfer from your child or a surface, lice do not live or thrive on these animals, so it is not necessary to wash or delouse them. These lice will die within a few days.
PREVENTING FUTURE INFESTATIONS
The most important thing to help prevent future lice infestations is to periodically check your child’s head as part of your normal daily or weekly routine. If you catch them early, it is easier to kill the existing lice bugs and prevent them from depositing nits on your child’s hair.
If your child didn’t know already, make sure it is clear to them that sharing combs, hats, clothes, and other items with their friends can spread lice. Chances are the misery of daily lice checks will make this point clear to them.
Although a lice infestation can be create turmoil in your house, do not stress yourself out over it. With a little bit of effort, you will be able to rid your house once and for all of lice and be prepared for dealing with it in the future.