How to Clean and Care for Laundry Infested With Lice

Combing out head lice from a girl's hair

Letizia Le Fur / Getty Images

Head lice are very common in schools, daycares, and playgroups. Children share hats, hairbrushes, and hair accessories spreading the lice through head-to-head contact. Infestation can also happen from shared bedding, stuffed toys, and clothing.

The first hint of head lice may be a note sent home from school that another student is infected or your child complaining about head itching or a tickling feeling of something moving in their hair. Upon closer examination of the scalp, you may find many tiny white dots clinging to the hair shafts (nits or lice eggs), moving gray nymphs or adult lice that are also grayish and about the size of a sesame seed.

To prevent transmission to others or re-infestation, you must wash your child's personal items thoroughly, in addition to vacuuming the floor and furniture in those areas of your home where your child usually sits or plays. Head lice can be stubborn, so you might need to take precautions for several weeks to be sure that you have gotten rid of every single one.

How to Wash Clothes Infested With Lice
Detergent Regular
Water Temperature Hot (130 degrees F)
Cycle Type Regular
Drying Cycle Type High heat
Special Treatments None
Iron Settings Varies based on garment
get rid of lice on laundry
The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Project Metrics

You don't need to boil any clothing to get rid of lice—simply washing the items in hot water and drying them at a high temperature should get rid of the critters.

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: 1 1/2 hours

Skill level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

Instructions

  1. Gather Affected Items

    All items that were worn or came into contact with a person who has lice during the two days before the first treatment begins need to be washed. Don't forget to wash coats, towels, fabric hair accessories, pillowcases, and fabric bags. Two days is the longest amount of time that adult lice can live on fabric without a food source, but most will die off within about 24 hours.

  2. Sort the Items

    Sort the items like you would when doing laundry normally. Make sure to put delicate items in a separate pile.

  3. Load the Washing Machine

    Put a single load of clothing—but not the delicates—in the washing machine. Add the laundry detergent, and set the machine to use hot water. Start the washing machine.

  4. Soak the Delicates

    Delicate items shouldn't be exposed to hot water or high heat to kill the lice without risk to the garment. Soak these items in warm water with plenty of laundry detergent for several hours to kill the lice, and then wash them on the delicate cycle in the machine.

  5. Dry the Clothing and Linens

    Move the load of regular laundry to the dryer. Set it on a high-heat drying cycle, and start the machine. Let the delicates air-dry.

  6. Repeat With Remaining Laundry

Wash and dry each load of laundry on the same hot-water and high-heat cycles. The lifespan of an adult louse on a host ranges up to 30 days. During this time, each female can deposit about 90 eggs. After incubating for seven to 10 days, the nits hatch and, after another 10 days, mature into adult head lice and the cycle begins again.

Off the host, adult head lice can live about two to four days at 74 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and one to two days at 86 degrees. Nits will remain alive off the host for up to 10 days; they will not hatch at or below an average room temperature of 68 degrees F.

You will need to be diligent about laundry and cleaning for several weeks.

Tips for Washing Clothes Infested With Lice

  • Take dry-clean-only items to a professional, but mention that the item has been exposed to lice.
  • If a fabric item cannot be washed or taken to a dry cleaner, seal it in a plastic bag and store it for two weeks. Once you return to the items, the lice will have died. Take the bag outside and shake out the enclosed item, then vacuum well to remove any dead lice.
  • Alternatively, you can bag an item and put it in a 0 degree F freezer for at least four hours. If the item is dense, it will take longer for the internal temperature to reach 0 degrees. When you take it out of the freezer, vacuum the item to remove the dead lice and then dispose of the vacuum bag immediately.
  • Be patient, as you will likely have to rewash the same clothes more than one time. In particular, you should change the bedding every single day until your house is free from lice. If even just a few nits (which are the eggs of lice) remain alive, a re-infestation can occur.