lice, louse, nits, how to detect lice, how to get rid of lice, a mom's advice on lice,

How To: Detect & Get Rid of Lice

How to Detect and Get Rid of Lice

I  have battled lice twice thus far.  Between my school’s PTO website, the summer camp nurse, and the web, I found a plethora of information both helpful and confusing.  Below is what I found to be successful in eradicating lice.  I hope this helps you in your battle against head lice.

Detecting Lice

First of all, if you suspect your child has been exposed to lice, watch this short video before you begin:

Not sure what to look for?  The easiest thing to spot is small, white, grain-of-sand-sized eggs (nits) that will be “super-glued” to a hair shaft about 1/4 of a inch from the scalp.  If you can flick or blow away the white blob, IT IS NOT LICE EGGS.  You will have to grasp it between two fingers and slide it off the hair shaft if it is a lice egg.    Live eggs or nits are brown or grey in color and the younger the egg, the smaller it is.  Live eggs will be very close to the scalp, about a quarter-inch.  White eggs are dead eggs (i.e. the egg has hatched and the white egg you see is just the husk).  The white eggs can be further down the hair shaft, from a quarter of an inch on down.  Nits, or lice eggs, are about the size of a sesame seed.

TO DO A LICE CHECK. Stand in natural light.  If you are over 40, a magnifying glass is recommended.  Check carefully starting at the hair around the forehead back to the crown of the head.  The white eggs will be the easiest to spot but look carefully for the live eggs.  Next check the hair behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.  These are the most common spots for lice to lay their eggs.  Finally, use hair clips to separate out sections of hair and using a comb, check section by section taking a width of hair no thicker than the width of the comb.  The nurse who helped me thinks this is easiest done with the hair dry.  I find that wet hair is easier to section off and see a contrast of egg against black hair.  Wet or dry, check very carefully.  It takes me about 15-20 minutes a head to check this thoroughly.

The Robi Comb is also great if you’ve learned that your child has been exposed to lice and need to do a lice check yourself.  You run the comb through your child’s hair, and if anything is detected, the comb will stop buzzing.  There are lots of false positives if you hit a hair snarl, but then you know which area to focus on for a manual search.  If there are live lice bugs in your child’s hair, the Robi comb electrocutes them dead, and the bugs will also be stuck on the comb.  If you are going to eradicate lice by solely using the Robi Comb, you need to spend at least 5 minutes a day running the comb through your child’s dry, unknotted hair for 30 days.  This length of time is necessary to break the cycle of lice.  Pragmatic Mom suggests that even if you go the Robi Comb method, you still need to manually check for and remove eggs.

Treating Lice

What happens if you find eggs or lice?  First, Take A Deep Breath.  Yes, lice is totally disgusting but it’s not life threatening!  If you detect lice, the first thing you should do is check everyone in your household including yourself.  You’ll need help to check yourself.

While everyone will recommend a lice shampoo or even a prescription lice shampoo, I opine that since lice shampoo is not 100% effective, it doesn’t make sense to expose your kid to harmful chemicals if it doesn’t actually work.

Robi comb electronic lice zapper comb pragmaticmom pragmatic momIf you see live lice, it can be hard to remove them  as they are pretty fast on the head.  And, it is pretty disgusting to find live lice on your child so I understand the need to kill them as fast as possible.  Try killing live lice using an electronic comb called the Robi Comb.  Most drug store chains don’t carry this, so I  suggest buying it online from Amazon.   Yes, that does mean you have to buy it in advance, just in case.  Some independent drug stores do carry the Robi Comb so call first if you didn’t stock up before your lice outbreak.

The Robi Comb doesn’t really work that well for nits (eggs) because it’s basically a lice comb that zaps anything that gets caught between the tines of the comb.  It works well for lice, but it will also zap a hair snarl or an ear if you accidentally get too close to the ear. My  kids hate getting zapped. I think the eggs are too small to get caught in the tines of the comb, so the lice eggs still need to be meticulously removed.  Please note that the hair HAS TO BE DRY for this comb to work.

If you don’t have a robi comb, I like the Olive Oil Treatment.

For this you will need:

  • olive oil (least expensive kind)
  • metal nit comb (I like The Terminator Comb found online at
  • hair clips
  • disposable shampoo cap plus something to put over cap (she used swim cap or bandana also works)
  • clarifying shampoo

Olive Oil Treatment

The following instructions have been given to parents from The Pediatrics at Newton Wellesley practice, as well as by some professional nitpickers, and have proved to be effective.  It may be messy and time-consuming, but if the directions are followed properly, the lice and nits will be eliminated.

Have the child change into old clothes that can get stained.  Also use an old towel around the child neck to catch any drips.

1. The oil must fully saturate the scalp and coat the hair.  Use a plastic applicator, similar to those used to apply hair color.  Apply in small sections.   Use a large plastic comb to comb the oil thru long or thick hair.  The oil does not need to be dripping, just saturated.

2. Place a shower cap or swim cap around the head to provide an airtight and oil saturated environment.  You could even tie an old bandana around the shower cap, so it won’t move around.  Pragmatic Mom uses a disposable shower camp on the bottom and a swim cap on top.

3. Leave on for at least 8 hours or overnight. It is easier to sleep through this process.  Place an old towel on the child’s pillow, to prevent staining.

4. After at least 8 hours remove the wrapping, but keep the oil in the hair.  Divide the hair into several small sections, and comb thru each section with the metal LICE or NIT comb.  Pay special attention to combing the scalp, and all the way down the hair shaft.  Sometimes the lice will try to move around against the scalp (not all may be smothered, but the rest will be slowed down “a lot” from the oil).  Wipe the lice comb on a white tissue/paper towel, and dispose of in a plastic bag.

5.  Shampoo the hair with a good clarifying or purifying shampoo – this may take a couple of soapings.

6. You must still concentrate on nit removal – using a good NIT comb with small tines.  This is best done on dry hair, in direct sunlight.  For girls with curly hair, you can blow dry or use a straightened to straighten hair, to see them easier.

7. Because nits hatch every 7-10 days, the Harvard School of Public Health recommends that you repeat the oil process on days 1, 2, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21.  These particular days must be followed to get the nit at the proper time in their developmental cycle.  Parents may use olive oil other days, but it must be done on the days outlined above.

Cleaning the House

I know from experience that it’s easy to go overboard here.  Remember that lice need to feed 5 times a day on a host, or they can’t survive.  If the lice are not on a host, they live only about 48 hours.  Lice can’t fly or  walk very well when not on a hair shaft so they have limited mobility.  Focus on the head but do take these precautionary steps in your house:

  • change all bedding for the affected child immediately
  • change pillow cases daily OR vacuum pillows daily for one week
  • vacuum affected child’s room daily for one week
  • wash all clothes and towels child used recently
  • stuffed animals can be treated three ways:  dry for 20 minutes on high in dryer,  wash and dry, or bag up for 2 weeks
  • vacuum any upholstered furniture child sat at (couches, chairs)
  • vacuum entire house on first day of lice detection
  • vacuum car seat and area of car s/he sits in
  • boil any combs, brushes and hair implements OR bag in air-tight bag for two weeks
  • wash hats and coats or dry for 20 minutes in dryer on high heat

Preventing Lice

I think that a few precautions will go a long way in preventing lice from coming into your home.

  • If your child has long hair, keep it tied back.  A pony tail is good but a bun is even better.
  • Don’t share hats or helmets; if your child uses a batting helmet you might want to consider buying your own.   Avoid using shared helmets at activities such as pony rides or batting cages.
  • Don’t try on Halloween costumes at the store,  particularly the masks with fake hair.
  • If your child hangs his or her coat on a hook at school, keep it in a zipped up backpack.
  • Talk to your child about being mindful of not touching heads when hugging or standing close to a friend.
  • If you live somewhere where lice is prevalent, you might want to consider a weekly lice check at home.

Ounce of Prevention worth a Pound of Cure

If  you have dodged the bullet for lice numerous times but know that it’s probably going to happen at some point, getting a lice kit together is a good idea.  Here’s what I stock:

  • Disposable shower caps  (collect them from hotel stays or buy at a drug store)
  • Olive oil (you probably have this anyway in your pantry but stock up on one extra bottle)
  • Buy online:  Terminator lice comb and Robi comb.  Test the robi comb once you  get it to make sure it works.
  • A magnifying glass if you think you’ll need it.

Robi comb electronic lice zapper comb pragmaticmom pragmatic momTerminator best lice comb best electronic lice comb robi comb pragmatic mom how to detect and get rid of lice pragmaticmom

It really isn’t so bad.  The fear of getting lice is much worse than the actual lice itself, I think.  Especially the second time around!

p.s. I was sent samples of Lice Shield Shampoo and Conditioner to review. My 10-year-old daughter, PickyKidPix, offered to test it for me. She had lice twice and would like to avoid it. She liked the scent of both the shampoo and conditioner. It has an herbal essential oil aroma; very pleasant with a mixture of lavender, tea tree oil and I’m not sure exactly what else.

My girls are extremely picky about the scent of shampoos so I am happy that this passed their sniff test. It’s the essential oils of this all natural product that discourages lice from attaching to the person’s hair.

I believe in the power of essential oils and I would probably use this for a month or so after battling lice. I’m not sure if I’d use it year in and year out, though I do know a Mom Friend that is importing a similar product from France for her girls after their lice incident. Still, it’s not much more than regular shampoo and if it gives peace of mind, it’s worth it!
lice prevention, lice shield shampoo and conditioner
Shampoo and Conditioner, $5.80

Leave in Spray, $6.50.

Click on image of any item to view at Amazon.

 lice, louse, nits, how to detect lice, how to get rid of lice, a mom's advice on lice,

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Great advice. Hope I never need it – please let me not need it!

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  3. Tumblemark

    My recommendation for avoiding louse infestations is simple: collect everything you need to deal with one. It has worked for me without exception. Other parents who are unprepared seem always to get infestations; not we. But seriously, when my kid’s friends have gotten lice I’ve used the comb to search for lice and found that the comb works better than the plastic versions insofar as going through fine hair with conditioning is concerned. So far: no lice, but no parent should expect that to persist.

  4. This is the best primer I’ve read for treating lice. Very helpful. Thanks!

  5. Great advice! We just went through lice and learned everything the hard way. You are so right the chemical shampoos don’t work. We used them for three weeks in a row and still we were crawling with lice. So gross!

    What we ended up doing is going to a professional lice/nit combing clinic. It cost a lot of money but was well worth it considering I have three girls with really thick hair and it was impossible to get my husband to comb my hair well. Yes, I got it, too.

    We now use a mint spray everyday, and a weekly combing with the terminator comb to check. We also use a mint shampoo. I have cut down on the amount of days I wash my children’s hair too since lice like really clean hair, and my kids have such thick hair that reducing their hair washing actually helps their hair’s health.
    Rebekah recently posted…The Question More Pediatricians Should Ask ParentsMy Profile

    • Hi Rebekah,
      Lice is such a pain! I also heard that Tea Tree oil products deter lice. I heard some sources of lice to beware of:
      — shared helmets at batting cages, pony rides, or other places.
      — Halloween costumes stores. Beware the fake hair masks. Lots of kids try them on for fun and put them back so it’s easy to spread.
      — Keep coats at school in your backpack if you don’t have individual lockers. One of our grades has coat pegs that are jammed tight when everyone puts their backpacks and coats on the peg. It created a bridge for the lice to walk across.
      — Some moms do a weekly lice check as a preventative measure after the bath. Not a bad idea!

      Sounds like you have it under control and I bet you will never get lice again! 🙂
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Connection Between Exercise and LearningMy Profile

  6. Wanda

    I have had lice for about a year. My granddaughter used my comb and I got it from her. I have tried everything in the market, including lice shield. Nothing has worked. I’ve tried most all of the home remedies (mayo, oil, vinegar, salt, coconut, tea tree, so many I can’t even remember all of them). Washed all the clothes, bedding and vacuumed. Nothing has worked. My granddaughter has gone to a doctor and they gave her a prescription but her mother has still seen them. I don’t want to cut my hair off, but may have to do it. I guess I may try the robi comb.

    • Hi Wanda,
      Lice is tough to get rid of. The key is that you have to stay vigilant for a full cycle which is about a month. The home remedies do work but if you miss even one egg, the cycle starts up again. During that month, there is a precise schedule of when to do the Olive Oil treatments. Also, you have to do the lice checks daily during that entire month. The Robi Comb will help with that. I would also change the pillows daily and vacuum the bed area and rug near the bed if there is one. Good luck!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Earth Day Giveaways for Kids :: 3 Barefoot BooksMy Profile

  7. E.S. Ivy

    We also recently battled lice and I also considered doing a blog post, even though that is not the focus of my blog! You really do feel like you have won a battle when you beat them, don’t you? And I agree the pesticides don’t seem worth it when they are not likely to work. You seem to have come up with a routine that is similar to ours.

    We did some extensive research the first time and found that Vaseline is the only treatment that will kill eggs. Last time it worked with only one treatment and nit picking (just to be sure). So we happily did that again – only to find out that the formula for Dawn dish detergent has changed and we couldn’t wash the Vaseline out of my daughter’s hair! Luckily, a friend knew that the formula for Dawn Direct is different and that worked. So if you have Vaseline in your hair and can’t get it out, get Dawn Direct! Again this time, Vaseline worked with only one treatment and nit picking for several days until we didn’t find any for at least 3 days in a row.

    The olive oil did not work for us, but we didn’t know about adding the swim cap! We might try that next time as it would be easier to wash out.

    The robo comb didn’t work for us, but we really like the Terminator Comb. That and the enzyme mousse that breaks down nit glue worked for my mild infestation. (We had already used the Vaseline on the girls.)

    For bedding, stuffed animals, etc. I put everything I can’t wash in plastic garbage bags and leave them there for 2 – 4 weeks. That seems to have worked both times.

  8. Charity Kountz

    Great detailed post! I love that we’ve both written about this issue at length and shared two different methods. I definitely like mine better! lol But this was good information to have about the lice as well.
    Charity Kountz recently posted…Children’s Book Jason, Lizzy and the Snowman Village Receives Best Book AwardMy Profile

  9. stressed!

    I am so happy I read this!!! I’ve dealt with lice growing up in elementary school but had had it till now,15 years later and two little girls. I feel so devastated when I keep find nits here and there. I’ve been on their hair constantly combing and washing, even nit picking( which I finally understand why they say quit nit picking) lol. I can’t wait to try this out. I hope it works. I’m so paranoid,I feel like they are all over my head even when my comb shows nothing. thank you again for your post!!!I will be pinning this for sure!!!

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