How to Smother Head Lice

Girl With Hair in Towel
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When my daughter was infested with head lice one summer, she had bugs so hardy that pesticide shampoo did little to stop them. What did help? Covering her hair with slimy substances that smothered the lice and made the nits easier to comb out. It's messy and slippery and greasy, but if you can make that seem like fun rather than a bother, it may be a safe and inexpensive alternative for killing those critters.


  • Olive oil, petroleum jelly, or real mayonnaise
  • Plastic wrap
  • Plastic shower cap
  • Towel
  • A video, special dessert, or other treat for you child
  • Baby shampoo or another gentle shampoo
  • Nit comb
  • Mixing bowl


  1. Explain to your child what you're going to do. Depending on his or her particular personality, you can talk about how gross and disgusting it's going to be; make a big deal about choking the bad bad bugs; or act like it's a glamorous beauty treatment.
  2. Put a towel around your child's shoulders and have him or her sit somewhere that mess won't matter.
  3. Apply a liberal amount of olive oil, petroleum jelly or mayonnaise all over your child's head and work it through the hair.
  4. Pile longer hair atop the head and then wrap the head in plastic wrap, trying to tuck all strands in.
  5. Cover the goop- and plastic-wrap-covered head with a plastic shower cap.
  6. Wrap the towel as tightly as possible around your child's head so that nothing can leak out, tucking the top of the towel in so that it won't fall off.
  1. Phew! That's done. Give your child a reward for tolerating the application.
  2. The application needs to stay on overnight. Cover your child's pillow with a towel, too.
  3. The next day, once again seat your child somewhere that mess won't matter. Remove the towel and place it back around your child's shoulders. Remove the shower cap and plastic wrap.
  1. Comb your child's hair, using a bowl to catch the goop as it comes off. Continue until as much of the surface stuff as possible is off, and if your child can tolerate beyond that, keep combing to remove as many nits as possible.
  2. Wash your child's hair to remove most traces of the substance. This may require repeated attempts, so use a gentle shampoo.
  3. Repeat the treatment as needed and as tolerated to eliminate all lice and nits.


  • Olive oil is easier to wash out but may be messier to apply and keep on. Petroleum jelly stays put but can take forever to wash off. Mayonnaise is somewhere in between but may get a little icky by morning.
  • You know best whether your child can safely tolerate and sleep in this get-up. If there is ANY risk of your child getting into the goop overnight or pulling the shower cap over his or her face or otherwise finding a way to make this dangerous, find another solution.