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House Cleaning When a Case of Head Lice is Found

Need to clean the home when head lice found?

I received a call late a couple of nights ago from a woman who had found adult lice on her child’s head and had been “shopping” the local professional head lice removal services.  I was happy to schedule a technician to come to her but she first wanted to know if she’d have to clean her house if she used our service.

I paused for a second and then thought maybe she was asking if WE would clean her house.  So I started to say that we provided her with a checklist of what she had to do to her home and car, that it wasn’t all that bad and that it would only need to be done just  one time if Elimilice was treating.  However, she stopped me and told me the other service said she didn’t need to clean her home at all, but that didn’t “sound right” to her so she was calling for clarification.

I paused again because I couldn’t understand how that type of inaccurate information could have come from a head lice professional.  Yes, if you’ve found bugs (adult lice or maturing bugs – also known as nymphs), you do need to clean your home.  See below for specifics.

Need to turn the house over or use an outside head lice service to clean the home when head lice found?

Today, I received a call from the director of a daycare center we’d helped in the past.  She had a child with a recurring case of head lice so she’d questioned the parents as to their cleaning methods.  The director suggested the family bag everything for a couple of weeks and engage in other heroic cleaning methods.  The family was in the process of contracting with another local lice service who not only would perform head lice removal but would clean the home (for several hundred dollars EXTRA.)  I advised her that a. Cleaning the home is necessary while a case of head lice exists but it is not that onerous and b. I feel that head lice services that charge significant sums to clean clients’ homes are taking advantage of a situation and a family’s vulnerability during a short-term challenging time.

Specifically, there are several steps that must be adhered to when a case of head lice is found.  If using a professional  head lice service that guarantees complete head lice removal in one visit like Elimilice, the cleaning need only occur one time (preferably during or immediately after treatment.)  If a family is self-treating, the cleaning should occur as long as evidence of head lice is being detected.  Many of our clients call in their standard cleaning services/housekeepers and provide them with the details below as to exactly what needs to be done.

House and car cleaning when a case of head lice is identified:
(NOTE:  The general “look-back” and “look ahead” for cleaning when you’re using a professional service for lice removal is 24-48 hours but when you’re handling the head lice removal for yourself/your child on your own, the cleaning/quarantine period can be up to two weeks as you continue to work on the case.)

  • Change the sheets of the person who was affected and any other bed s/he has been in.  Wash the sheets you’re removing in hot water and if possible, dry on hot too.   Sheets (top and flat) and pillowcases only.  No need to do mattress pads, bed pillows (otherwise covered by protectors/pillowcases) or dust ruffles.  Head lice ARE NOT bed bugs and they don’t burrow.  They also cannot live off the human head for more than 24 – 48 hours and do not easily reattach once they’re off the head.  Nits (eggs) off the head ostensibly pose no risk at all as they need the warmth of the human head to incubate and hatch.
  • Duvet covers should be washed in hot water too (and dried if possible.)  This holds true as well for comforters that are not down filled.  The down comforters that are protected by a duvet cover need not be washed.  However, if a down comforter is being used NOT in a cover and it cannot be washed (which down generally cannot be – see the tag on the down duvet), quarantine in a garbage bag for two days (if using a professional service or for up to two weeks if you’re managing the treatment yourself) and shake outside after that time.  Again, head lice cannot live for more than two days off the human head so there is no need to quarantine for longer.  (We’d suggest the use of commercial sized washers at a local laundromat when you’re washing several sets of sheets/comforters so that you can manage it simultaneously.)
  • Wash the clothes and towels worn/used in the past 48 hours.  You don’t have to go through closets or off-season clothes bins, etc.   Again, look at a 48-hour window with respect to a bug that might have fallen off the head (and they don’t do so easily) and don’t worry about clothes that you/your child have not worn for longer than that period.
  • You have to wash combs, brushes, ponytail holders, etc. (with your favorite cleaner and hot or boiling water) or quarantine them or put them in the freezer for two days.   I personally like to just clean out the hair in them (and you can dispose of the hair and any bugs/nits you find in a regular garbage can/bag – no “hazmat” efforts necessary) and put the combs or brushes in the dishwasher on a full hot cycle.  (Of course, don’t do this if you have good horsehair brushes.  Quarantine those.)
  • Vacuum the house and the sofa/chairs where the affected person has been.  You can also put a clean sheet over a sofa AFTER a person is lice free, leave it there for two days and after you pull the sheet to wash it, just vacuum the sofa lightly (for any head lice “carcasses.”)
  • Vacuum or sticky lint roll your car(s) and carseats, if applicable.
  • Wash and/or place in hot dryer (for 30 minutes or so) any stuffed animals/personal blankets a child may have had near his/her head in the past 48 hours.  No need to worry about the pile of stuffed animals in a child’s room that s/he has not been around in weeks.  If you can’t wash and/or dry it, quarantine it for 48 hours.
  • If it can’t be washed or frozen, quarantine it (in a Ziploc-type bag or garbage bag, placed on your back deck or in your basement) for two days.  After the two day quarantine, shake item(s) outside before returning to original location.
  • If you can leave your home for two days after a case of head lice is detected and completely eliminated, the cleaning can be significantly reduced because any lice remaining in the house when you return would be dead.  We’ve had clients who we’ve finished treating and then they check into a local  hotel room for two nights.  It’s probably “overkill,” but if there is a delay in getting your cleaning service in and/or you just don’t want to deal with any real cleaning, this is an option.

Effective head lice removal is truly about “the heads” to the greatest extent and “the home” to a lesser extent, and the greatest efforts really need to relate to eliminating all the bugs, nymphs and nits from an affected person’s hair as quickly as possible.  Nevertheless, you need to clean when there’s a case of head lice, but it’s not much more than a standard cleaning and sheet changing.  And you don’t need to go crazy or pay an outside head lice service exorbitant sums to do the cleaning.

Please feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance.