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How To Treat A Mattress For Lice

How To Treat A Mattress For Lice

Some tips for cleaning your home and controlling risk factors after a lice infection.

Let’s be real, head lice can be a huge headache but if you take the proper steps and are proactive, you can beat an infection pretty quickly and easily. Understanding how and why lice spread, as well as how to care for your hair and your home in the unfortunate event of a lice infestation can really help you nip the problem in the…bug (get it?).

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Treating Mattress Lice

Head lice is an extremely common occurrence, especially among children aged 3-13, and though it can be an incredibly itchy nuisance, it isn’t something to lose your head over. A few simple steps can help eliminate the infection and ensure that your child’s head remains bug-free going forward. Included in this guide in the removal of lice, we will also provide countermeasures to prevent lice from returning.

Just to be clear, we here at the Slumber Yard are, by no means, medical professionals, nor are we experts on the topic of head lice (although my mom might as well have been back in the summer of ‘06. Thanks for digging through my hair, mom!) What we do know is that sleep is pivotal and head lice can become a stressful and time-consuming issue to deal with. When treating head lice, it can be easy to worry that your entire house—including the large items you’ve invested a lot of money into, like your mattress or your couch—might be infested. We totally understand the worry, so we’ve compiled this guide to help you deal with lice head-on and get back to sleeping soundly.

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The Life Cycle Of Lice

Understanding the biology of lice, what their life stages are, and how long they live, can be really helpful in beating an infection. Lice are only “contagious” at the fully-grown, egg-laying stage. Mature female lice can spread from head to head and will lay their eggs, or nits, along the hair shaft. These eggs are usually smaller than a poppy seed and appear off-white or yellowish in color, they are also coated in a sticky substance that the female louse uses to attach them securely to the hair shaft where they will stay safe and warm against the scalp. Nits cannot be killed using most over-the-counter lice treatments, instead they should be removed by hand using a special lice comb. This is a long and tedious process but is one of the most effective ways to control and get rid of a lice problem quickly. 

It takes about a week to ten days for the lice eggs to hatch. Newly hatched lice are called nymphs and spend the subsequent ten days or so in a stage of molting and growth. Nymph lice are not yet capable of reproduction and are extremely vulnerable outside of their shells. Treatment shampoos and other treatment methods work really well to suffocate or attack the lice at this stage. There are several chemical and natural treatment options on the market and some slightly hair-brained DIY treatments as well. For example, when I had lice as a child, my mom coated my hair in mayonnaise for three nights to try to suffocate the lice. I have no idea how well this solution worked but I do know that my pillow smelled like a BLT for the next few weeks. Another reputable method would be the use of food-grade diatomaceous earth. From bed bugs to the varieties of lice that can contaminate a mattress, food-grade diatomaceous earth suffocates insects and arthropods in their tracks.

Once the lice have reached reproductive maturity they really start to become a pain in the neck. Fully-grown lice are fast and they feast on blood from the scalp. The itchiness associated with head lice comes from an allergic reaction to the lice saliva that is imparted on the scalp when lice feed. Mature female lice can lay 6 to 10 eggs per day and live for twenty to thirty days after reaching maturity, so it is extremely important to frequently conduct nit-picking sessions on your child’s head to remove these eggs and prevent more adult lice from joining the carnival on their cranium. Lice are wingless creatures and they prefer to stay close to their food source, so they don’t often venture off of their host’s head. They do, however, sometimes get stuck to hair follicles and can be spread on loose hair in hair brushes or hats. They can also spread through head to head contact, like hugs. 

Care For Your Hair

There are some steps that you can take, even before you hear of a lice outbreak, in order to ensure your child’s head, and you home, stay lice-free zones. The primary way that lice are spread is through hair to hair, or head to head contact. If your child has long hair, it is a good idea to keep their hair up or tied back to prevent exposure. You should also make sure that they know not to share hair brushes, hair accessories, hats or any other item that comes into close contact with another person’s head. 

Conducting a routine lice check on your child’s head is also a really good idea. Even if they have not been exposed to someone with lice, scoping out your child’s scalp on a weekly basis is a good way to ensure they do not get infected and, if they do, you can catch it and treat it quickly. Pay special attention to the base of the hair shaft, especially behind the ears and close to the nape of the neck.

There is a lot of stigma associated with lice, but in reality, contracting a lice infection does not mean you are dirty or have poor hygiene. Lice can spread to anybody, they like hair of all lengths, textures, colors and cleanliness levels. That being said, there are a few steps that you can add to your child’s hygiene routine to increase their defense against lice. Certain essential oils, when added to shampoos or diluted into water and sprayed on items that come into close contact with your head can act as a natural lice deterrent. The oils and fragrances typically believed to repel lice include peppermint, tea tree, coconut, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary and lemongrass. Using these lice deterrents does not totally guarantee immunity to lice, but they should be helpful. It is also convenient that these all smell quite nice (much better than mayonnaise, at least). 

House Cleaning Tips: Oust The Louse

When you are dealing with lice, it might make you feel like everything is infested. Rest assured, there is no need to throw away everything you own or burn down your house: your head is infected, but your home is NOT. 

It is true that lice can sometimes fall off of their host’s head, but it is pretty uncommon for lice to leave their food source. Lice also will not lay their eggs on your couch or in the fibers of your clothes. They want to keep their eggs as warm and safe as possible, so lice only lay their eggs on human hair follicles. 

If you do experience a lice infestation, there are a few steps that you can take to make sure all surfaces that have come into contact with the infected head are cleaned and rid of any possible stray lice. 

Start by removing any stray hair from items that have come into direct contact with the hair. This includes hair brushes and combs, barrettes and hair accessories, towels, hats, scarves, jackets, and backpacks. Soak these items in boiling hot water or run them through the dryer on high heat for several minutes. Any items that cannot fit in the dryer, or shouldn’t get wet, like helmets and wigs can be placed in the freezer overnight and then cleaned out with a rag or a lint roller. Any large household items, like rugs and couches should be safe after a thorough vacuuming to remove any stray hairs. Don’t forget about the car, as well, vacuuming car seats and headrests should do the trick.

There is no need to hire a maid service or shave everybody’s hair in your home if you are dealing with lice. It is just a matter of cleaning anything that might have come into direct contact with the lice and being proactive about preventing further infection. Focus on the infected head first though, this is where the infection is, and your house can never be free of lice if your hair is not.

How Long Can Lice Live On A Mattress?

The short answer is, they can’t. Lice really cannot live apart from a food source for more than 24 to 48 hours and, unlike fleas and bedbugs, they don’t like to live separately from their host, returning only to feast. Lice require close proximity to their host. If they leave their host, it is only because they traverse fabric in search of more skin due to the sweat and oils deposited in your mattress that behaves as a lure. Sometimes, you may even find lice on the side of your bed or in your hamper because they were transferred there. If you wake up feeling itchy or have seen bugs running around on your mattress, it might be bed bugs. In which case, check out some of the tips and tricks that we have found to deal with these pesky bedfellows here.

Mattress Treatment Tips

If you are still worried about the cleanliness of your mattress when you are dealing with lice, there are a few things that you can do. 

First and foremost, strip all sheets and blankets from the bed and wash them on high heat. The heat should kill any lice that may be alive. Also pay special attention to any blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals that your child has a tendency to lay their head on—yep, their lovies have to take a ride through the washing machine too. Anything that can’t go in the washing machine, like pillows, can be treated in the freezer for several hours.

Once your mattress has been stripped and all your linens cleaned, you can give it a thorough vacuuming and spray it down with a lice deterrent essential oil, I recommend a blend of peppermint and lavender as these oils have also been seen to help you sleep better. 

For a more intense removal, food-grade diatomaceous earth is a remarkably effective insecticide. You may dust the mattress with the diatomaceous earth and then vacuum the dust to remove it. Be sure to purchase food-grade diatomaceous earth from a fresh water source, as other grades may bear toxic compounds that are not suitable for breathing or contact, especially with dogs and children.

Beyond this just continue to be vigilant about treating the source of the lice issue: the head. Check the heads of all people who live in your household and inform anybody who has had close contact with the infected individual that they should conduct a lice check as well. Yep, this includes informing your child’s school. Check your school’s lice policy because different districts have different rules about lice reporting and treatment. 

Head lice can be a real bugger of an issue, but if you stay patient, persistent, and level-headed throughout the treatment process, you will be sleeping soundly, not scratchily, in no time.

(Bonus points if you count the number of head lice related puns in this article.)

Steps To Get Rid Of Lice

An experience with lice is never pleasant. However, all hope isn’t lost! There are effective countermeasures you can take to prevent lice from inconveniencing your life, as well as steps to rid them for good.

Essential Oils

Essential oils will prevent any insects from finding your bedding, or household, a suitable place to infest. Lavender oil and peppermint oil is noxious to arthropods, including insects, so using the both of them can be quite effective. Consider using lavender on bedding and areas your skin will come into contact with. Peppermint oil can be harsh when it is rubbed on your eyes, so you’re better off putting this type of oil on places like your car’s headrest or car seat, beanies, hats, or any area that your hair regularly brushes on.

Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth

Want to asphyxiate the lice right where they are? Food-grade diatomaceous earth is an insecticide, effective enough even for lice. Best thing about it? Food-grade diatomaceous earth is non-toxic. The worst that could happen is some sneezing while using it. Be sure it is food-grade, not from saltwater sources. Generally, food-grade diatomaceous earth comes from a freshwater source although this does not absolutely determine whether or not the item is food-grade. Be sure to double-check!

Drastic Exposure To Temperature

For your bedding the solution is simple. Hot water washing and high-heat drying will boil the water inside any organism, causing the steam to burst their cellular structure. Steam cleaners also work well for your carpet, though, you should not use this method on your mattress as this can enable mold growth later on. For pillows and other items that can’t be washed, consider storing them in your freezer overnight, or for at least seven hours. Freezing the water inside the lice will cause the water to expand and, like heat, rupture their cellular structure.

Care For Your Hair

There are some steps that you can take, even before you hear of a lice outbreak, in order to ensure your child’s head, and your home, stay lice-free zones. The primary way that lice are spread is through hair to hair, or head to head contact. If your child has long hair, it is a good idea to keep their hair up or tied back to prevent exposure. An alternative to prevent exposure is using lavender oils that are hair-friendly. Lavender oil will prevent most insects from even considering a great head of hair, so regular use of lavender oil can prove to be a useful countermeasure for lice. You should also make sure that they know not to share hair brushes, hair accessories, hats or any other item that comes into close contact with another person’s head. A common method to transferring lice is sharing clothes, so it is best to keep this to an absolute minimum, or to avoid sharing clothes entirely. 

Conducting a routine lice check on your child’s head is also a really good idea. Even if they have not been exposed to someone with lice, scoping out your child’s scalp on a weekly basis is a good way to ensure they do not get infected and, if they do, you can catch it and treat it quickly. Pay special attention to the base of the hair shaft, especially behind the ears and close to the nape of the neck.

There is a lot of stigma associated with lice, but in reality, contracting a lice infection does not mean you are dirty or have poor hygiene. Lice can spread to anybody, they like hair of all lengths, textures, colors and cleanliness levels. That being said, there are a few steps that you can add to your child’s hygiene routine to increase their defense against lice. Certain essential oils, when added to shampoos or diluted into water and sprayed on items that come into close contact with your head can act as a natural lice deterrent. The oils and fragrances typically believed to repel lice include peppermint, tea tree, coconut, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary and lemongrass. Using these lice deterrents does not totally guarantee immunity to lice, but they should be helpful. It is also convenient that these all smell quite nice (much better than mayonnaise, at least). 

House Cleaning 

When you are dealing with lice, it might make you feel like everything is infested. Rest assured, there is no need to throw away everything you own or burn down your house: your head is infected, but your home is NOT. 

It is true that lice can sometimes fall off of their host’s head, but it is pretty uncommon for lice to leave their food source as they don’t deliberately leave their host’s hair follicles. Lice also will not lay their eggs on your couch or in the fibers of your clothes. They want to keep their eggs as warm and safe as possible, so lice only lay their eggs on human hair follicles. 

If you do experience a lice infestation, there are a few steps that you can take to make sure all surfaces that have come into contact with the infected head are cleaned and rid of any possible stray lice.

Start by removing any stray hair from items that have come into direct contact with the hair. This includes hair brushes and combs, barrettes and hair accessories, towels, hats, scarves, jackets, and backpacks. Soak these items in boiling hot water or run them through the dryer on high heat for several minutes. Any items that cannot fit in the dryer, or shouldn’t get wet, like helmets and wigs can be placed in the freezer overnight and then cleaned out with a rag or a lint roller. Any large household items, like rugs and couches should be safe after a thorough vacuuming to remove any stray hairs. If you can wet vacuum and steam clean, that can also help in eliminating all stages of the lice’s life cycle. Don’t forget about the car, as well, vacuuming car seats and headrests should do the trick. A little peppermint oil on the headrests can assist in preventing any further contamination, especially with a household full of social kids that come in and out.

There is no need to hire a maid service or shave everybody’s hair in your home if you are dealing with lice. It is just a matter of cleaning anything that might have come into direct contact with the lice and being proactive about preventing further infection. Focus on the infected head first though, this is where the infection is, and your house can never be free of lice if your hair is not.

Wash Bedding

You’ve washed your hair with treatment and you still have lice showing up on your scalp. Odds are that your bedding needs a heavy cleaning. Pillow covers and bed sheets should be washed on the hottest hot water wash setting possible. When drying, place it on the highest dryer heat setting. Constant exposure to intense heat will rupture the cellular structure of lice and bed bugs alike. Once your mattress is bare, consider getting some food-grade diatomaceous earth and dusting your mattress all over, even beneath. Sure, this process may be dusty, but you will be inhibiting the health of both lice and bed bugs alike. Consider getting a mattress topper as well as an extra step. 

Final Thoughts

While finding out that you or a member of your household has lice can be frustrating, there are many remedies to the issue. If you discover lice, be sure to act quickly. Wash and dry your bedsheets and pillowcases on high heat. Be sure to thoroughly treat the hair and scalp. To get rid of nits, comb through your hair with a special type of lice comb. To get rid of hatched lice, use treatment shampoo or other methods such as food-grade diatomaceous earth. Once lice has been discovered, be sure to avoid sharing any clothing articles, including hats and hair ties.