Head lice are every parent’s nightmare. And in the U.S., it’s reckoned that around 12 million preschoolers and kids up to 11 years of age suffer from attack by these biting, insect parasites. It’s not only kids that get head lice. Often, close contact with children sees lice migrating to parents and caregivers too.
Although they are undoubtedly very effective, lice-killing shampoos and other treatments can be expensive, and beleaguered parents often look for a cheaper alternative. Now, you may have read that you can use bleach to kill head lice. But is that true?
Read on for the low-down on using bleach to kill head lice …
Will bleach kill lice?
In a nutshell, the answer to this question is, yes, bleach will kill adult head lice. In fact, hydrogen peroxide, a form of bleach that’s used in certain hair dyes is known to kill adult lice.
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However, becoming platinum blonde will not necessarily get rid of your lice problem. Head lice eggs (nits) are protected by a hard, impenetrable shell, making them immune to the effects of many chemicals, including bleach.
The head louse life cycle
The head louse life cycle has evolved to make these creatures remarkably resilient and difficult to eradicate.
The whole life cycle of the head louse lasts from 38 to 45 days. Eggs (nits) take from one week to 12 days to mature and hatch. The newborn nymphs attach themselves to your scalp and feed on your blood until they reach adulthood and can begin to reproduce. Adult head lice lay their eggs on the bottom of the hair shafts, close to the scalp where the temperature and humidity are perfect for the developing nits. And so the cycle begins all over again.
So, what about using household bleach to kill lice?
Household bleach should NEVER be used to kill lice and nits that are in your hair or on your scalp!
Here’s why …
- Household bleach is a very harsh chemical that can be extremely damaging to your scalp and hair, especially if the skin is already broken due to you scratching your lice bites.
- Bleach can cause chemical burns, leading to open sores that may become infected.
- Bleach can cause your hair to become dry and brittle, potentially leading to hair loss.
- Your body can absorb harmful chemicals through your skin, which could cause damage to your organs.
Also, bleach will not remove nits from your hair. The eggs, whether viable or non-viable, will remain firmly glued to the hair shafts as your hair grows.
Can swimming pool water kill lice?
Swimming pool water is treated with chlorine. Chlorine is a form of bleach that’s widely used in pool water in small quantities to kill waterborne bacteria.
Unfortunately, taking a prolonged dip in the chlorinated water of your local pool won’t get rid of head lice or nits.
Dilute chlorine certainly won’t kill the lice, and they probably won’t be washed out of the hair either. Head lice have a claw on each leg that they use to grip tightly onto the hair shaft, making them almost impossible to shift. Nits are glued to the hair so firmly that the only way to remove them is with a very fine-toothed nit comb.
So, if any lice do end up in the water, can they be passed to other swimmers?
Lice can’t swim, although if someone is in close contact with another individual in the pool, lice can crawl from one head to another, even if the hair is wet.
Will bleach kill lice on hair brushes and combs?
Yes, household bleach can kill lice on hair brushes. However, a cheaper and safer alternative is to immerse your brushes, combs, and hair ornaments in boiling water and household dish soap for up to an hour. This method will also get rid of nits.
However, to be extra-sure that the lice and nits have been destroyed, you should use a specially formulated lice-killing shampoo to wash your brushes and combs.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to rinse everything with clean, warm water after soaking.
Wrapping it up:
- Bleach will kill adult head lice and nymphs, but it won’t necessarily spell the end for nits.
- You should NEVER use household bleach or neat chlorine on your head or hair in an attempt to kill lice. Doing so could be extremely dangerous!
- Taking a trip your local swimming pool won’t kill lice, as the chlorine in the pool water is too dilute to harm them.
- Certain types of hair dye that contain hydrogen peroxide as a bleaching agent will kill adult lice and nymphs, but it won’t kill nits. You’ll also suffer a reinfestation thanks to the lice life cycle.
The bottom line: using a lice-killing shampoo in conjunction with a nit comb is the best way to get rid of head lice.