Sanitation is crucial to getting rid of lice and preventing a reinfestation.

How to Delouse Your Home

by Renee Miller

Head lice have shared a close, if not exactly friendly, relationship with humans for millions of years. In short, these annoying parasites are tough to annihilate. The good news is that you don’t need chemicals to delouse your home. You don’t need to drive yourself crazy with cleaning, either. Properly delousing your home requires basic sanitation of only the items with which the infested person has been in contact.

1. Individual Treatment

The first step in delousing your home is removing lice from the hair of those who are infested. If you find nits only -- which are the lice eggs -- and no live bugs, simply comb the eggs from the hair. The eggs resemble tiny, brownish grains of rice that are attached to individual strands of hair, typically close to the root. Nit combs are available at drug stores to remove both live bugs and their eggs. Comb the hair as close to the scalp as possible and pull the comb outward to the ends of the hair. Rinse the comb in hot water between each pass. Lice-killing hair rinses or shampoos are also available at drug stores, but these do not kill the eggs, so combing is still necessary. If you choose to use chemical treatments, follow the label directions exactly. Usually a second treatment of lice-killing shampoo is necessary about 10 days after the first.

2. Laundry

Head lice can survive about six to 26 hours away from a human host. The eggs can be viable for about a week as long as they’re attached to hair. They die quickly without a food source. This means it's not necessary to wash every item of clothing and bedding in your home. Washing only the items worn or used by the infested person affected in the previous 24 to 48 hours is typically sufficient. Use hot, soapy water when washing infested items, then dry them for about 20 to 30 minutes in your clothes dryer. Items that aren’t washable can be dry-cleaned, but you can save money by bagging or isolating these items for a few days to ensure any live bugs or eggs have died.

3. Toys and Nonfabric Items

Hair that contains lice eggs may fall out and become attached to stuffed toys, but they are not a breeding ground for lice. Just as with clothing, the eggs and bugs on these items will die within a few days because they do not have a food source. Place stuffed toys in the dryer on its hottest setting for about 30 minutes to kill any live lice and eggs. Toys that cannot be placed in the dryer can be vacuumed as well, but the simplest solution is to place the toys in a sealed garbage bag to isolate them for a few days. Nonfabric items may also contain hair with nits attached, but there is no need to disinfect with strong cleaners or treat with insecticides. Soak brushes, combs, hair accessories and other nonfabric items in hot water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 to 10 minutes. Clean all hair from brushes and combs to ensure that all lice eggs have been removed.

4. Furniture and Flooring

When lice have infested your home, it’s tempting to spray everything with insecticide, but this is unnecessary and provides only psychological relief. Instead, vacuum mattresses, upholstery and carpeting to pick up stray lice. Hard surfaces such as wood or vinyl need only be swept and mopped with hot water to clear away any live bugs and detached hairs that may contain eggs.

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