does chlorine kill lice

Debunking the Myth: Does Chlorine Kill Lice?


In this article, we aim to uncover the truth behind the popular belief that swimming in a chlorinated pool can effectively eliminate lice. Lice, parasitic insects that infest the scalp, rely on human blood for sustenance, but they do not transmit diseases. With their survival limited to 24 hours without a host, lice commonly affect children. However, the notion that chlorine can eradicate these pests requires closer examination.

Lice and Chlorinated Water: Understanding the Risks

Spread in the Pool

Lice cannot fly or jump; their mode of transportation is crawling. Direct contact with an infested person or sharing personal items like towels, hairbrushes, and hats facilitates lice transmission. But what about the effect of swimming on lice?

The Role of Chlorinated Water

Research indicates that lice can endure in chlorinated pool water. A study conducted on submerged lice in chlorinated water for 20 minutes revealed that although the lice were temporarily immobilized, they fully recovered within a minute of being removed from the water.

Contrary to popular belief, chlorine cannot exterminate head lice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm that swimming in a chlorinated pool does not eliminate lice. Not only can lice survive in pool water, but they also tightly grip human hair when submerged.

Chlorine as a Lice Treatment

It is important to note that no scientific studies support the effectiveness of home remedies in eradicating head lice.

Risks Associated with Chlorine Use for Lice Treatment

Using a stronger chlorine solution on the head or your child’s head to combat lice is ill-advised. Higher concentrations of chlorine do not kill the insects and may lead to severe side effects, including:

  • Burns and blisters on the skin
  • Eye damage or blindness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest tightness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Pain, redness, and burning sensation in the nose and throat
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness

Can Lice Spread in Pools?

Contrary to popular misconceptions, head lice do not spread from person to person in a pool. A study involving four individuals with head lice swimming alongside non-infested individuals confirmed that while the lice survived, they did not transmit to those not already infected. Since lice cling tightly to the hair and do not move into the water, the likelihood of spreading to others is low.

However, as noted by the CDC, sharing personal items associated with swimming, such as towels, hats, combs, and other objects in contact with the head, can facilitate lice transmission.

Effective Treatment for Lice

Multiple treatment options are available for head lice, typically involving the application of creams, lotions, or liquids to the scalp. Over-the-counter medications like pyrethrins and permethrin lotion, as well as prescription medications such as benzyl alcohol lotion and malathion lotion, can be effective. Supplementary treatments include using nit combs to remove lice, employing electric combs to kill lice, and washing all clothing and personal items belonging to the infested individual. Items that cannot be washed can be sealed in plastic bags for two weeks.

Home remedies such as chlorine, mayonnaise, olive oil, butter, petroleum jelly, kerosene, and gasoline should be avoided as they are not proven to be effective and may pose risks.

Does Chlorine Interfere with Lice Treatment?

While chlorine cannot eliminate head lice, it can interfere with some lice treatments. It is crucial to refrain from swimming or washing the hair for 24 to 48 hours after applying certain lice treatments to the scalp. For instance, exposure to chlorine in a pool may compromise the effectiveness of Nix treatment. Always consult the medication instructions and your doctor for guidance.

In general, it is advisable to avoid washing the hair with any liquid for one to two days when using lice treatments, as it may impact their efficacy.

The Verdict: Chlorine and Lice

In conclusion, swimming in a chlorinated pool does not eradicate head lice. Similarly, the transmission of lice from one person to another in a pool is unlikely. Consult your doctor for appropriate lice treatments and steer clear of unproven home remedies. Prevention is possible by educating children to avoid close contact with infested individuals and refrain from sharing personal items such as hairbrushes or hats.