How to Clean and Care for Laundry Infested With Lice

Infographic for how to get rid of lice on laundry

The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Head lice are very common in schools, day cares, and playgroups where children are in close quarters with one another. Infestation can also happen from shared bedding, stuffed toys, and clothing.

To prevent transmission of lice to others or re-infestation, you must wash your child's personal items thoroughly and vacuum the floor and furniture in the areas of your home where your child usually sits, plays, and sleeps. You don't need to boil 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.

How Often to Clean Laundry Infested With Lice

Be patient, as you will likely have to rewash the same clothes and bedding more than once. In particular, you should change the bedding every single day until your house is free from lice. If even just a few nits remain alive, a re-infestation can occur.

When an adult louse lives on a human host, it can live for up to 30 days. During this time, each adult female can lay up to six eggs a day, causing the lice to multiply. After incubating for seven to 10 days, the nits hatch, and, after another 10 days, they mature into adult head lice, and the cycle begins again. When an adult louse doesn't have a human host, it doesn't have a food source (blood from the scalp) and can live between two to four days at 74 degrees or one to two days at 86 degrees.

Nits have a hard time living without a human host, because they'll have lost the warmth and nourishment of the hair and scalp. If removed from the hair shaft, they could remain alive for up to 10 days. But, the good news is that they won't hatch at or below an average room temperature of 68 degrees.

Head lice can be stubborn. Even though they don't fly, it's easy for them to transfer from one person to another. So you might need to take precautions for several weeks to be sure that you've gotten rid of every single one.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer

Materials

  • Laundry detergent

Instructions

A washing machine and a container for detergent

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

How to Wash Clothes Infested With Lice
Detergent Regular
Water Temperature Hot (130°)
Cycle Type Regular
Drying Cycle Type High heat
Special Treatments None
Iron Settings Varies by garment
  1. Gather Affected Items

    You need to wash all items that were worn or came into contact with a person who has lice during the two days before the first treatment begins. Don't forget to wash coats, towels, fabric hair accessories, pillowcases, and fabric bags.

    A pile of laundry

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  2. Sort the Items

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

    Someone sorting laundry into piles

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  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.

    A basket of laundry near a washer

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  4. Soak the Delicates

    Delicate items shouldn't be exposed to hot water or high heat to kill the lice; doing so would risk damaging 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.

    Clothing soaking in a container full of water

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  5. Dry the Clothing and Linens

    Move the load of regular laundry to the dryer. Set it on a high-heat drying cycle, start the machine, and let it run for a minimum of 40 minutes. Let the delicates air-dry.

    Someone adding laundry to a dryer

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  6. Repeat With Remaining Laundry

    Wash and dry each load of laundry on the same hot-water and high-heat cycles.

    Piles of folded laundry on a bed

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Storing Laundry Infested With 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 the area, if possible, to remove any dead lice.

Tips for Washing Laundry Infested With Lice

  • Take dry-clean-only items to a professional, but mention that the item has been exposed to lice.
  • If you have a newer energy-efficient dryer, turn off all energy-saving or eco-sensor settings or else the dryer will turn off prematurely before the lice are dead.
  • Another way to kill lice is to bag an item and put it in a zero degree freezer for at least four hours. If the item is dense, it'll take longer for the internal temperature to reach zero 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.
  • Remember to wash or treat throw pillows that may have been exposed to lice.
  • Human head lice can't spread to pets and pets don't spread lice, so you don't need to worry about washing and fumigating pet bedding.