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Does Bleach Really Kill Lice?

Does Bleach Really Kill Lice?
Updated on 
January 19, 2021

Due to the rise of chemical-resistant strains of lice in the United States (you may have heard them referred to as “super lice”) parents will often start with over-the-counter lice treatments, then find them to be ineffective. After a few failed treatments and home remedies, parents start to get creative (read: desperate) and try all kinds of things of questionable value and safety in an attempt to just kill the darned lice already. One such option is bleach (as in all kinds of bleach). Sound familiar? Sound tempting? We will explore below the answer to the question: “Does bleach kill head lice?”

Can Bleaching Your Hair With Special Products Kill Lice?

can bleaching your hair kill lice

Hair bleach and permanent hair dyes contain ammonia to strip the hair of color and lift the cuticle of the hair to allow permanent color to tint the hair more deeply so the permanent hair color lasts longer.

In other words, hair bleach has to damage the hair somewhat to achieve lightening, since it opens the hair cuticle and leaves the hair more porous. So if you’re trying to avoid hair damage by using hair bleach instead of lice shampoo, you’re not really going to achieve your goal. Despite the inevitable damage, hair bleach is considered safe enough to apply to the hair for up to about 45 minutes (depending on different factors you should definitely talk to your hairstylist about). But when used to lighten the hair, does bleach kill lice as a fringe benefit? As your hairstylist will tell you, hair bleach is not designed to go directly on the scalp skin. Most people will feel discomfort if hair bleach or permanent hair dye is allowed to sit on the skin for any amount of time, and many people will eventually develop irritation and even sores or burns with continued exposure.

Can Hair Bleach Kill Lice?

Pop quiz time: considering that head lice are parasites that bite humans to drink their blood (kind of like mosquitoes) and need to bite human skin frequently so as not to starve to death, where are they most likely to be hanging out at any given time?

A. On or near the scalp

B. Somewhere between the root and the ends of the hair

C. In the bed

D. At the beach

Yes, we knew you’d ace that one. And the answer is indeed A. Lice can't suck blood through the hair like a straw; they need to be right up near the scalp most of the time. Coating the hair in hair bleach may weaken and, over time, perhaps even kill any lice that it happens to touch, but how many is that going to be, if most of the lice are on or near the scalp?

So, can bleaching your hair kill lice? The answer is, not very effectively, if you’re using the hair bleach as intended in a safe way. Many people who ask does hair bleach kill lice are considering going to the salon for their monthly root touch up as an excuse to skip lice treatment. Not only will this not work, but it’s a big no-no. Hair stylists who work at hair salons are mandated by their licensing agencies to stop service at the first sign of lice.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that your hairstylist is a lice expert, so if you’ve been exposed to lice and are wondering if you contracted it, it’s not a good plan to just go get your hair done and see what the hairdresser says (it is very easy to overlook an early case of head lice if you don’t know to look for it). If you find out that you may have had an early case of lice last time you went to the beauty parlor, it’s best to inform your stylist so they can take the precaution to be checked themselves, since they don’t want to risk exposing their other clients.

Does bleaching your hair kill lice eggs? Lice lay their eggs on the shafts of human hairs very near the scalp. As the hair grows out, the nit will get farther from the scalp because the hair it’s attached to is growing. So it’s possible to safely coat the hair in dye or bleach, and have it touching the nits (some of them, but not all of them, since they’re all going to be at different distances from the scalp since they were laid at different times) without burning the scalp. At first this seems like great news, but not so fast.

Nits have such a tough outer eggshell that the ammonia in the hair dye cannot penetrate it. In fact, no chemical including prescription lice treatment, over-the-counter lice shampoo, home remedies, or chlorine will kill the nits effectively, because there is nothing that can effectively penetrate the eggshell that the baby louse is sleeping safely inside. Even if you use hair bleach or permanent hair dye in a way it’s not intended or safe to use, you still will not eliminate the lice infestation, since the lice eggs will survive to hatch later on.

Bleach As Chlorine In The Pool

woman in a swimming pool with chlorine

The chlorine used to sanitize swimming pools is different from household bleach or hair bleach. Swimming in a pool that is chlorinated won’t harm head lice or their eggs any more than it harms you. Lice are skilled at holding their breath underwater, and will use their claws to hang onto the hair while you swim, then go about their business when you’re done.

Can I Use Real Bleach To Kill Lice?

can you use real bleach to kill lice

NO. Bleach is an extremely dangerous chemical, and will cause severe skin burning and even blindness if used directly on the hair or scalp. NEVER put household bleach on your skin or hair.

Does bleach kill head lice on laundry? Using bleach to kill head lice in laundry is overkill, and will be more likely to damage your laundry than help with a head lice problem. Remember, lice are a human parasite that will die very shortly after being removed from a human. If there is a risk that there are lice in the laundry, simply leave the laundry in the hamper for a couple days before or after washing. Any items that haven’t touched a human for over a day and a half cannot possibly have living lice on them.

Ok, so it’s not necessary, but can bleach kill lice? Technically, the live insects will probably die from being exposed to undiluted bleach, as household bleach like Clorox is a very strong base that can harm any living thing. But will bleach kill lice if it is added to water? Bleach that is diluted enough to be safe to put on laundry probably won’t have much of an effect on head lice, since they can close down their breathing pores to keep the bleach-water from getting in, and can hold their breath this way for up to 8 hours.

Will bleach kill lice on household surfaces? When dealing with lice in the house, we think it’s both easier and more effective to wait them out than to clean them out. Most cleaners, including cleaners containing bleach, will do little to kill the lice, if there even are any lice in the house, which is highly unlikely. Remember, as an obligate parasite, head lice are 100% dependent on humans for their food, shelter, and reproduction. They literally drop dead after just a few hours off of a human, since they need food and warmth to survive.

Head lice are only able to move around with their specially adapted claws, using the head hair like a jungle gym or a flying trapeze. They don’t walk or run very fast if they fall off the hair and land on, for instance, the bathroom countertop. Because it’s a big, scary world out there for a tiny bug who can’t run, jump, or fly, head lice would never deliberately crawl off the head to hang out in your living room. They’d no sooner voluntarily get off a human than you would decide to get dropped off in the middle of the Sahara desert to wander around the scorching sand dunes.

If a louse accidentally falls off of a human and onto a surface, it will start to starve within 24 hours. It’s suspected that almost all lice would be dead after about a day off of a human, and even the fattest, heartiest lice will be dead after 36 hours of no access to humans. LiceDoctors’ special secret weapon is using this timeline to your advantage, and teaching you how to keep your family safe as the lice die off by themselves. Our aftercare process is very simple, and just involves using oil hair masques in a specific, medically-proven way.

Think of it this way... would you rather spend the next several hours scrubbing every surface and washing mountains of laundry, or enjoying your favorite beverage while soaking in a soothing hair masque that leaves your hair shinier? If you think the second option sounds like more fun (we sure do), you’ll be delighted to know that it is also the more effective way to get rid of lice in your home. Coupled with our all-natural lice removal service, our exclusive aftercare plan makes our lice treatment successful 99.6% of the time. That’s the highest success rate of any option in the lice treatment industry.

Will Bleach Kill Lice On Hair Brushes And Combs?

can bleach on hair combs kill lice

Probably, but again, in the concentration you’d need to quickly kill lice, you’re more likely to damage your brush or accidentally hurt yourself before the lice die. A simple alternative is to just toss your hairbrush in the freezer overnight. Freezing will effectively kill lice and nits, and is far less likely to damage your hair tools. Or remember, any inanimate object will decontaminate itself from lice if kept away from humans for 36 hours, so there is no need to go through every drawer and cabinet finding every hair styling item that’s been used since the lice started and cleaning them all now... the lice that may have been on those have already died by now.

woman with a hair dryer

Will hair bleach kill lice on combs and brushes that my hairstylist uses on me at the salon? First of all, your stylist probably isn’t applying hair bleach to your hair with the same comb they’re going to use to style your hair. Second, there are more effective sanitizers that most stylists will use to sterilize their tools between customers. Third, to repeat, if stylists finds lice on their clients, they are not supposed to style the hair at all, but are supposed to ask them to leave and not return until the lice are treated.

That being said, if a stylist uses the same brush to do hairstyles on multiple clients back-to-back, without effectively sanitizing the brush in-between, and one client has a very early case of lice that the stylist doesn’t notice, it is possible to transmit a louse to another client that way. This is uncommon, but the best way to set your mind at ease would probably be to ask your stylist questions about how he or she keeps salon clients lice-free.

Conclusion

Do not try bleach. The only way to truly get rid of a lice infestation is to safely eliminate all lice and nits from all the heads in the household and do a reliable aftercare to ensure that the case is gone for good. With our lice treatments, all other surfaces and belongings will clear themselves of lice within about a day, and since your child’s head is protected by our aftercare, he or she can’t catch lice from those objects in the meantime. Call LiceDoctors for help getting rid of the lice infestation today without bleach or any potentially harmful substances.

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