a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Sep, 2011

Lousy lice: prevention and treatment.

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting

I hope you appreciate this parenting PSA, because just THINKING about lice makes me itchy. :)

We’re thoroughly entrenched in a brand new school year. That means a few things for us: homework, lunch duty, battles with coughs and colds, and LICE PATROL. Ack. We’ve grappled with lice here at Casa Fishbowl before – in the interest of privacy I won’t name any names –  but I need to state for the record that I really really don’t want to see a louse in my house EVER AGAIN. Whether you’ve gone through this or not, you can probably sympathize with (a) how much hair we have around here and (b) how miserable a process this is, right?

I am just waiting for The Note to come home from school. You know the one I mean. It’s inevitable. It ALWAYS comes this time of year, letting us know that someone in the class has a case of head lice. I’ve written about lice before but I think it needs to be revisited.

Take preventative measures

Remind your kids that lice don’t jump or fly, they crawl from one hairy home to another. I’m sorry to be a killjoy, but sharing pillows at sleepovers, hats (including costume-related head gear and accessories), helmets, hairbrushes, hair bands, must be verboten. For girls it helps to keep hair closer to the head in tight braids and buns.

Sidebar: If your kids still insist on wearing costume hats from a strange tickle trunk, how about showing them a picture of a louse in order to make your point. (I’m only half-kidding. And I urge you not to click that link.) *shiver*

Every once in awhile we spritz hair with a leave-in conditioner that contains tea-tree oil. We use one called “Daily Tonic” that we received as a sample from EcoKid once upon a time. (They make other related products too, but I can’t easily link to them on their website. Sorry.)

The little buggers are supposed to hate the smell of tea-tree oil and stay away. I hope this is true, and I understand why because I also don’t like the smell of the stuff. You can make your own by diluting a bit of conditioner into some warm water in a clean spray bottle and adding a few drops of tea-tree oil (you can generally find it at health food stores).

If your kid has been complaining of an itchy head, take it seriously and do not assume it’s a blackfly or mosquito bite. (Trust me on this.) Telltale signs include red areas behind the ears as a result of the scratching.

Our school does the occasional lice check, which is great, but it doesn’t totally replace lice checks at home, so every once in awhile we take a closer look at their scalps. This works best after your kid has had a bath or shower and the hair is wet and tangle-free. Early detection is pretty important. Use the pointy end of a fine comb or a bamboo skewer to part the hair. Hot spots are behind the ears and the nape of the neck.

Gah. I found a louse, now what.

1) Go shopping. Here’s what you need to buy:

  • A chemical lice treatment recommended by your pharmacist (I’m not convinced anything else will work). It will be behind the counter. Follow the instructions carefully!
  • A big stack of comic books (for the kid who is going to be enduring regular lice checks for the next while). Reading is a better thing to get them to do (rather than watching a movie or TV for example) because their heads are titled downward and at a better angle for you to work with.
  • A flea comb… because those little plastic combs that come with the lice kits are crap. A flea comb has a proper/comfortable handle and the tines are very close together. Just don’t tell your kid you’re using a flea comb in order to avoid further embarrassment and/or trauma.
  • A really nice bottle of wine or two. This is for you.

Sit your kid down under a bright lamp or sunny window, pour yourself a tall glass of wine, and get started. More on technique in a bit.

2) You will also need to wash their bed sheets and pillow cases. Hot water wash followed by a hot dry, for at least 20 minutes. I changed the sheets every day or so. It also helps to give blankets and comforters and good run in a hot dryer every day. ETA: the drying part is especially important because lice are amazingly hardy creatures who can actually survive underwater for a very long time.

3) Grab all they teddy bears and soft toys and put them in a garbage bag. Tie it tight. Put it away in the basement and don’t touch it for a few weeks few days. If there’s a louse in there you want it DEAD.

4) Vacuum attack the couch and any other soft places your kid might be regularly sitting or playing. ETA: It’s important to note that lice can’t survive over 48 hours if they’re not on a scalp.

5) Check the rest of the family for lice, including yourself. Don’t share hairbrushes!

Learn your lice lingo and know your nits

Hey! It’s a science project!

An egg is called a nit, and they are light or dark coloured depending on what point it’s at in the life cycle. Nits are stuck like glue to the hair shaft, only 1 or 2 cm from the scalp. It looks like a tiny oval-shaped drop stuck on one side of a single hair. They’re not easy to dislodge. It’s helpful to have a really good pair of tweezers for this purpose. Alternately, you can snip that one hair off and flush it (it pulls less that way).

Lice reproduce quickly, so if you find one louse there are likely to be more. Females can lay 3 to 8 eggs per day. New lice are SMALL. They are hard to spot with the naked eye, which is why you need the comb, and you have to be diligent about checking.

We treated with lice bomb and went through all the hair, one section at a time, with the flea comb. If there’s a lot of hair involved it helps to have a bunch of hair clips at the ready. After every sweep or two through the hair we swished the comb out in a bowl of water and wiped it on a paper towel. We did this for about two weeks straight. Oh, and we always soaked the brushes, comb, and clips in superhot water after every time.

Be discreet, but let others know
If your kid has lice, please please notify their school and the parents of their playmates. It’s the right thing to do. Other parents have the right to know and take their own preventative measures.

That’s all I got about lice! If you have any good tips or stories to add, do share. I’ll read them after I stop scratching. :)

13 Responses to "Lousy lice: prevention and treatment."

1 | Hellcat13

September 16th, 2011 at 1:19 pm


I clicked. WHY DID I CLICK? I don’t even have kids. Pardon me, I’ll be in the corning twitching for the rest of the day.

2 | Hellcat13

September 16th, 2011 at 1:20 pm


*corner* Sheesh. I was twitching so hard my fingers hit the wrong keys.

3 | Javamom

September 16th, 2011 at 1:33 pm




That’s my reaction. To this post and to the note that already came home. The boy has thick, long hair that he’s been wanting to cut into a brush cut because his various helmets (t-ball, hockey, bike) are causing him to sweat yet we haven’t taken him. (Who has time for a hair cut in the first week of school?)

So. Thanks. Hope I won’t have to go back to this post.

But that idea with the tea tree oil (which I have in the house) is a great one!!

4 | Jennifer

September 16th, 2011 at 1:34 pm


Have you ever heard the song “Lice Twice”? We were singing that alot this summer as we had visits from these nasty little beasts!!! I am now vigilant about checking. You’ll be happy to know that when we realized what it was I referenced your old post on the topic for what to do!!! NO MORE SHARING HATS.

5 | Giulia

September 16th, 2011 at 1:50 pm


I remember having them as a kid once and the shampoo being super stinky. It’s important to tell the school and other parents or else you’ll never get rid of them, they’ll just go back and forth…

6 | Ginger

September 16th, 2011 at 2:13 pm


I still have my mom or Nathan check my hair if I am feeling itchy. And when I taught school I always had the school nurse check me if there was an outbreak at school.

I am paranoid about lice ever since I had a super horrible case in middle school. I have really thick hair and it was a horrible process and I felt so dirty and gross. I remember just crying and crying as my mom and dad took turns combing out my hair.

Here’s to hoping you all stay lice free this school year!

7 | TorontoMom

September 16th, 2011 at 2:22 pm


Best advice I got was after the treatment, and before using the comb (a good comb is ESSENTIAL) is to put loads of conditioner in the hair. Then you comb and swipe the conditioner off the comb on a clean towel, rotating the towel so you are always wiping off on a clean spot. The conditioner makes it more pleasant for the kid and its REALLY satisying to see those nits in the towel. Once I caught a live one this way-insert shriek – so gross :(

8 | neeroc

September 16th, 2011 at 2:29 pm


I hadn’t thought about lice until the day before school and my friend discovered both her sons had lice (and the pharmacist told her there was a particularly bad outbreak round these parts right now). I dread V getting lice what with her super curly, waist length hair.

9 | Finola

September 16th, 2011 at 8:26 pm


I successfully got rid of lice in both of our daughters this spring, and then again later in the summer, using just the combing method. Since the chemical treatments are reallly only good for killing the live bugs and are useless against the nits, if you do the full combing with a good comb twice a day, you get rid of both at the same time. It takes time and patience, but I learned something odd about myself…picking out nits is unbelievably satisfying. My DH was not surprised ;)

10 | Binki

September 16th, 2011 at 8:28 pm


Don’t forget a magnifying glass for checking the comb. Much easier.

11 | Nadine

September 16th, 2011 at 11:27 pm


Ooooh, I went through this when mine was 4 and in a daycare with 15 other children… I hope that I NEVER have to relive this nightmare again! I remember too well how we parted with the critters and also a ton of hair in the process (I had bought the “hardcore” comb, which was quite efficient!). Afterwards I ended up using a rosemary essence shampoo (something about the smell that repells them), it really worked and we have had a happy life since !

12 | Nat

September 18th, 2011 at 10:49 am


Just as an aside tea tree oil is also really good for treating dandruff. But hell on chemically treated hair… did a number on my dye job.

My only other advice, which goes against the point of this post, is to double check the schools handywork if the kids are sent home with lice. A lot of time sand, conditioner bits and the like are mistaken for lice. Happened to us, and I know of at least three other families this has happened to.

13 | Harry Nowell

September 21st, 2011 at 12:44 pm


I read in Wakefield News (local email newsgroup) that a weekly vinegar rinse, yes, plain old vinegar, can combat lice and prevent lice.

Anyone else heard this?

comment form:


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


Connect with me at these places too!

On the nightstand

All hail the mighty Twitter