Will Rubbing Alcohol Kill Lice?

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During a lice outbreak, many people who don’t want to use strong pesticide shampoos on their children’s’ heads turn to “proven” home remedies. One such home remedy is rubbing alcohol.

So, will rubbing alcohol kill lice or is this just another old wives’ tale?

In this article, we’ll examine and dispel the myth around the home remedy of using rubbing alcohol to kill head lice.

What is rubbing alcohol?

The term “rubbing alcohol” is also used to refer to products based on “isopropyl alcohol” or “ethanol.”  Outside of the U.S., rubbing alcohol is also called “surgical spirit.”

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Due to its extremely high alcohol content, rubbing alcohol is not suitable for consumption. It’s also highly volatile and flammable, so should not be used close to a naked flame or a flash heat source such as an electric mosquito swatter.

What’s rubbing alcohol used for?

Rubbing alcohol is reputedly the world’s most widely used solvent. It’s a multipurpose chemical that has a variety of applications and uses across a number of industries:

  • Rubbing alcohol can be used as an antibacterial agent in hand sanitizers, antiseptic wipes, etc. Many homes have a bottle of rubbing alcohol in their medicine cabinet for use in treating minor cuts and scrapes. 
  • Rubbing alcohol is also contained in many household cleaning products, especially glass cleaners. That’s because alcohol evaporates extremely quickly, leaving behind no streaks or residue. 
  • Rubbing alcohol is very astringent. Astringents cause the body’s pores and skin to tighten, and for this reason, rubbing alcohol is often included in skin toning products. It’s the astringent quality of rubbing alcohol that makes it effective in stopping bleeding from minor injuries.

Rubbing alcohol is also used in windshield deicer, paint stripper, as a dehydration agent, and as a preservative.

However, one important fact to note is that rubbing alcohol is not marketed as an insect killer, pesticide, or insect repellant.

Can rubbing alcohol be used to kill head lice?

The short answer to this question is, no, absolutely not!

Many over-the-counter lice treatments do contain rubbing alcohol as an ingredient, but they are also formulated with one or more synthetic pesticides in a carefully balanced, safe-to-use mix.

So, although it’s true to say that adult head lice would probably die if you were to douse them in rubbing alcohol, the chemical should never be used on the scalp or hair, especially of young children.

Using rubbing alcohol on the skin can cause irritation, inflammation, and serious allergic reactions in some people. The chemical will also severely dry your scalp, leading to flaking. Lice shampoos contain ingredients that counteract the drying effects of rubbing alcohol, so using them won’t damage your skin or hair.

If anyone in your household has a head lice infestation, you must use a proven, medically approved lice treatment or shampoo to treat the parasites. Check out the recommendations in our article for suitable products or consult your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

Using rubbing alcohol to sanitize nit combs and hair brushes

Although it should never be used directly on your scalp or hair, rubbing alcohol can safely be used to sanitize nit combs and brushes.

  • Make up a solution of rubbing alcohol and hot water in a shallow glass bowl. Use a ratio of roughly one cup of water to ½ cup rubbing alcohol so that there’s enough liquid to cover your nit combs and brushes.
  • Immerse your combs and brushes in the rubbing alcohol solution, and allow them to soak for at least one hour.
  • Rinse the brushes and combs thoroughly in clean, warm water, and dry them on a clean cloth or piece of kitchen towel.

To be sure that no nits are left clinging to your combs and brushes after you’ve used them on an infected person, repeat the above before you use them again.

Never allow members of your family to share brushes, combs, hats, scarves, and hair ornaments, especially during a lice outbreak. That’s a sure way of spreading the infestation right through your household!

Wrapping it up:

So, will rubbing alcohol kill lice? Yes, it will, and it is included in some brands of lice-killing products. But rubbing alcohol should never be used directly on your hair or scalp.

A solution of rubbing alcohol and water can be used to sanitize nit combs and brushes, preventing the potential spread of nits and lice to other members of your family.

Instead of resorting to home remedies, always use an approved lice-killing shampoo.