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Best Ways to Suffocate Lice

Best Ways to Suffocate Lice
Created on 
November 21, 2019
Updated on 
February 10, 2021

To suffocate something would be to kill it by limiting, or eliminating, its ability to breathe. Due to the increasing resistance head lice continues to develop against over the counter and prescription lice treatments, families are continuing to search for treatment options that will kill lice with one hundred percent effectiveness. Suffocation is fatal, but what is the best way to suffocate head lice?

Can Lice Be Suffocated?

Can lice suffocate? Since head lice breathe air, it is possible to suffocate head lice. Lice bugs (not the lice eggs, also known as nits) breathe air through the sides of their body through openings called spiracles. In order to kill head lice by suffocation, you have to completely plug up the spiracles so that air can no longer pass through.

However, this is not as straightforward as it seems. Consider that head lice can live for several hours without taking a breath, so you would have to keep whatever method you choose to suffocate head lice on your hair for many hours.

How Long Does It Take to Suffocate Lice?

To be exact, head lice can hold their breath anywhere from six to eight hours before they need to exhale and try to breathe in again. This means that whatever method you have chosen to suffocate head lice to their death needs to be constantly present and maintain the ability for the entire six to eight hours.

Best Lice Suffocation Method

The efficacy of whatever suffocation product you choose to use depends on the thoroughness of the application, and the time spent on each treatment. This means that the application of the product needs to be thorough, reaching all of the live bugs on a person’s head in such a way that the louse is covered sufficiently enough to ensure the spiracles are blocked completely. Since the spiracles cannot be seen by the naked eye, it is hard to know whether they are getting plugged with the product or not.

Be aware if you do choose a suffocation treatment for head lice, you will need something viscous, or thick enough, that will entirely plug up the breathing apparatus without a shadow of a doubt. There are many home remedies we have known to be recommended for this process and they include conditioner, olive oil, coconut oil, and mayonnaise. We will tell you the best ways to suffocate lice and what to stay away from.

Does Conditioner Suffocate Head Lice?

Conditioner Suffocate Lice

One of the most basic things that most people have readily available in their household is a hair conditioner. But can you suffocate head lice with conditioner?

Maybe, but most likely not. To explain why you will need to be familiar with the ingredients in your particular conditioner. In most cases, the first ingredient on that list is aqua or water. Keep in mind that, in order for head lice to suffocate, the spiracles need to be completely saturated and blocked for at least six to eight hours. For hair to air dry, it typically takes anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. Even though there may be other ingredients that, on their own would be thick enough to work, the areas covering the louse’s airway will not remain blocked. As soon as the water dries up, that dry spot will allow the louse to regain the ability to breathe and will continue on, unphased at your attempt to suffocate it.

Does Olive Oil Suffocate Lice?

Olive Oil Suffocate Lice

Another basic item that is readily to most households is olive oil. This is a treatment that some families use to treat head lice. We know it to be safe and effective for the purpose of suffocating head lice and this is the lice suffocation method that we advocate. The key to suffocating lice with olive oil lies in your ability to thoroughly coat the hair. When doing this you will need to apply a generous amount of oil to the hair – and, we mean it. Add more. Make sure you are using real olive oil – 100% and that it is not cut with any other vegetable oils or essence of lemon or lime.

As you apply the olive oil be sure to comb it through so as to coat every single strand of hair, massage it into the scalp. This application of olive oil traps, or slows down, the bugs on the head while coating the airway of the bugs thoroughly. The oil is thin enough that it is easy to apply and use to thoroughly coat the area, and it will not dry out quickly.

Conversely, it is thick enough to actually suffocate the bugs. As long as the hair remains in the olive oil for a full 8 hours, the lice will be dead. It would be scientifically impossible for a louse to survive if this is completed correctly. This is the ideal medium when used properly.

Suffocating Lice with Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil Suffocate Lice

Coconut oil is having its day to shine. Not only is this oil potentially good for you, but it may also be effective at killing head lice by suffocating them. You can use a liquid form of coconut oil or the standard solid form. The solid form of coconut oil appears white and may be a little more difficult to work with than olive oil or liquid coconut oil.

However, liquid coconut oil tends to be more expensive than solid, and (interesting fact) solid coconut oil tends to be more expensive than your standard pure olive oil. There may be people who have an allergy to coconut so there is some risk there,

If you choose coconut oil, be sure to saturate the hair completely. If using the solid form of coconut oil, you will likely need to work with it some, but it will eventually be liquid enough for you to work with when it reaches a warm enough temperature, which is usually between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Follow the same principles as with olive oil. Make sure the hair and scalp are completely saturated with the oil and keep it that way for at least 8 hours. This may be an effective way to suffocate head lice, however, our preference is with olive oil because it is more cost-effective, easier to work with, and topical allergies to olive oil are very, very rare.

Does Mayonnaise Suffocate Head Lice?

Mayonnaise Suffocate Lice

Mayonnaise used to be the go-to home remedy for head lice, but it seems like we hear less and less about families using mayonnaise to get rid of a lice infestation in their family. If you are wondering if mayonnaise is able to suffocate head lice, the answer is yes.

However, we think we know why families are not turning to this remedy anymore. If you have ever had this treatment performed on you, you likely know why. It is messy, hard to work with, difficult to wash out, and it smells!

Another negative of this medium is that it dries on the head quickly which prevents a comb from going through the strands. This causes frustration and makes it very difficult to remove nits from the hair. The mayonnaise is thick enough to coat the spiracles, or airway, of lice and keep it that way.

But how long does it take to suffocate lice with mayonnaise? If you are wondering how long it will be before you can wash the smelly mess out of your hair, the answer is the same as with olive and coconut oils – 8 hours.

Will a Shower Cap Suffocate Lice?

Natural Lice Treatment

Let it be perfectly clear: do not use a shower cap to suffocate lice as it is dangerous for children. If you are trying to use a shower cap for this purpose, however, think again. Plenty of air gets through the area under and around the shower cap, so the tiny lungs of a louse will not even notice the shower cap on your head – in fact, perhaps it might welcome the warmer, humid climate that would come with your use of a shower cap.

Sometimes, we hear from clients who have used one of the above methods of suffocating head lice, and they put a shower cap on their head thinking it will help. We can assure you that this is not the case. While a shower cap might help to make things a bit less messy, it is not doing anything that will affect the breathing of a louse. We reiterate our words of caution here, if you are using a shower cap along with a home remedy head lice treatment, we urge you no to due to the suffocation risk that it poses to your children. We recommend, if you want to keep things neat and tidy, that you lay a thin towel over the top of the pillow case – not too thick because it may pull off some of the oil allowing a dry spot to form where a bug may survive.

Want an All-Natural Treatment That Is Effective?

Suffocating the live bugs on a person’s head is just the start of getting rid of lice. While oils may be efficient at killing the bugs, they will not affect the eggs, and in moderate to severe infestations, there may be hundreds of eggs remaining in the hair that must come out.

At LiceDoctors, our treatment involves a multi-faceted approach using oil combing and handpicking to remove the bugs and eggs and we leave you with a simple follow up plan to make sure head lice do not return. Call us at 800-224-2537 or check out our treatment plan to learn more. The lice will be gone – we guarantee it!



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