No matter which head lice treatment method you choose, combing is probably part of it. Many times, parents and hair care professionals choose to use a lice comb, even if their treatment method doesn’t require it. Lice combs are especially helpful for removing nits—which most treatments can’t touch.
But lice combs are not normal combs, and they require a certain technique. If you try to run a lice comb or a nit comb through your hair like you would any other comb, it’s probably going to snag and pull—and it definitely won’t solve a head lice problem.
Using a lice comb effectively means knowing how to use the comb itself, how to do a thorough wet-comb (if you choose to), and how to properly clean your lice comb.
How to Use a Lice Comb
The goal when using a lice comb is to scrape each individual strand of hair. That’s why lice combs have very fine teeth that are extremely tight, and why some of the best are also microgrooved—to grab each individual hair. That means you want to work on one very thin section of hair at a time.
- Holding a small, thin section of hair in one hand and the lice comb in the other, lay the comb flat against the scalp.
- Gently push the teeth of the lice comb through the hair, as close to the scalp as possible, and pull it all the way through the length of the hair. If your comb is microgrooved, you may notice the hair gradually working up toward the handle of the comb.
- Wipe both sides of the comb on a clean cloth.
- Repeat the process on the same section of hair, three more times. You want to comb each section of hair from above, beneath, and the left and right sides.
Combing Out Lice: 6 Steps to a Successful Wet (or Dry) Comb
Combing out lice and nits is not difficult, but it does take careful attention and patience.
1. Set up your space.
Get a tall chair or stool for your child (or whomever the patient is) and make sure they have a book or movie ready—it’s going to be a while. You’ll want a clean towel to wrap around their neck and shoulders, good lighting, and your combs.
You may also want a magnifying glass—lice and nits are visible to the naked eye, but they’re very small. Some people also prefer to wear gloves. Finally, you may want a plastic bag or container to hold any insects you remove.
2. Apply conditioner or oil, if using.
You can comb through dry hair, but some people prefer to use a conditioner to make the hair smooth and easier to comb through. Drape the towel around your child’s shoulders to keep them dry.
You may also want to use a combination of natural and essential oils. Coconut oil, for example, mixed with a bit of tea tree, anise, or rosemary oil has been proven as a very effective, natural treatment for head lice.
3. Smooth with a normal comb.
Use a normal, plastic comb to smooth out any tangles. This can also help the conditioner or oil penetrate deeper into the hair.
4. Divide the hair into sections.
This is especially helpful if you’re working with long hair. First, part the hair down the middle, from front to back. Then, divide each side into three sections, parting each side in front of the ear and again behind the ear. Use a clip to hold each section in place.
5. Use a lice comb, starting at the neckline.
Lice tend to prefer the warmer, dark parts of the scalp along the neckline and behind the ears. Unclip the left or right section at the back of the head and use your finger or the normal comb to separate a thin row of hair along the very bottom. Clip the rest of the section back into place.
Use the lice comb as directed above: four times on the first section of hair, wiping both sides of it clean on the towel after each use. As you pull out dead or live lice, use the lice comb to transfer them to the bag or container that you prepared.
When you’re done with that first piece of hair, unclip the same big section, separate another thin row, and repeat the process.
When you’ve combed through the entire scalp, wash and/or rinse the hair clean, if needed. If you combed through dry hair, of course, this isn’t necessary.
How to Clean Your Lice Comb
A good stainless steel lice comb can be kept indefinitely, as long as it is cleaned properly after each use. Use an old toothbrush to scrape out lice and nits under running water, then sterilize it by soaking the lice comb in hot, soapy water for about 10 minutes. Alternately, you can brush it out and then add it to your dishwasher cycle.
Lice Comb FAQs
Our experts field lots of questions about lice combs and how to use them. Here are a few of the most common:
Can you use a lice comb on dry hair?
Yes. Wet-combing is a popular strategy, but many people find that using a lice comb on dry hair is actually easier. As long as the hair is detangled first, a lice comb will move through most hair types very smoothly. Combing out dry hair requires fewer steps and less cleanup!
(And there are dry-hair lice treatments that make this even easier. See how our dry vapor treatment makes head lice treatments more simple than ever.)
How do you use a lice comb on yourself?
Using a lice comb on your own scalp requires the same process as using it on someone else, which means it’s difficult but possible. Get a couple of mirrors, so you can see the back of your head. You want to make sure you’re working in thin sections of hair and not skipping any pieces.
Can you get rid of lice just by combing?
It is possible to completely treat head lice just by combing, but it’s difficult. If you’re extremely thorough and you repeat the process at least every seven days, for two or three weeks, you could get rid of lice with just a comb.
The benefit of using a lice treatment in conjunction with combing is that the treatment should kill (or at least stun) the lice. This makes them easier to remove, of course, but it’s also a backup for the ones that you miss with the comb.
Additionally, nits are cemented very firmly to hair shafts. Most head lice treatments don’t even claim to kill nits, but a natural treatment that includes vinegar can loosen the nits, making them much easier to comb out before they hatch.
Which lice comb is the best?
We prefer a classic, stainless steel lice comb with rounded tips and microgrooved teeth. Our experts recently reviewed a bunch of lice combs and narrowed the list down to our top five lice combs.
How often should I do a comb-out?
If you’re using a lice comb with another treatment option, see the product’s recommendations. You’ll probably need to comb the hair at least twice: once after each treatment.
If you’re using a lice comb with a natural treatment—or all on its own—complete a thorough comb-out every three to five days, until no more lice are found.
Remember, a lice egg (nit) hatches after seven days. That means that even if you remove all the lice, but miss a few eggs, a new generation of lice could be hatching the very next day … and the day after that, and the day after that, until you comb through the hair again. And a female louse can lay about six eggs per day.
What if the hair is too fine to comb?
If your child’s hair is too fine for a lice comb—or too long to ensure a thorough combing, or too textured to get a lice comb through—you may need another solution. Start looking for head lice treatments that don’t require combing or for head lice salons/clinics in your area.
Head Lice FAQs
A basic understanding of head lice can also help make sure that your treatment is thorough and complete. Here are a few common questions, but you can get the full list on “Lice Removal Myths and Facts.”
How can I tell if it’s lice?
Other small, white flakes on the scalp are easily mistaken for head lice, but it’s not difficult to diagnose head lice when you know what to look for.
- Symptoms of head lice include itching, of course, but many people also notice a “tickling” or “crawling” sensation on the scalp—especially at night when lice are more active. You may also notice small, raised, red bites around the neckline and behind the ears.
- Live lice will scatter when hair is parted to the scalp, preferring to remain out of the light. If the white flakes don’t move and come away from the scalp easily, for example, you’re probably looking at dandruff vs. head lice.
- Lice nits are smaller than a louse but often still visible to the naked eye. They are very firmly adhered to the base of the hair follicle and are only removed by targeted scraping, as with a lice comb or fingernail.
Can head lice live on bedding and hats?
Head lice can live on any surface that the infected hair has touched but only for about 48 hours. If you have a case of head lice in the house, part of a thorough lice treatment is to wash bedding and soft items in hot water and dry on high heat (if possible).
Are head lice attracted to dirty hair?
No. Head lice are not particularly attracted to dirty hair, which also means that clean hair is not immune to head lice. Head lice feed on blood from the human scalp and only need hair shafts to hide in and attach eggs to. Anyone with hair—clean or dirty, thick or thin—can get head lice.
How to Comb Out Lice
Lice combs take a little getting used to, but you can complete a very effective dry or wet comb with a little practice … and you’ll get plenty of practice if you need to comb out your child’s hair after a head lice treatment! Remember to take your time and be thorough: It’s worth it to know that you combed out every louse and nit possible.
And while you can, technically, remove lice with only a lice comb, it’s much, much easier to start with an effective lice treatment first. Live lice move surprisingly fast, so a natural solution that stuns or kills the insects (without exposing your child to dangerous chemicals) ultimately results in fewer combing sessions.
The first step is to make sure that you have a great lice treatment system and comb on-hand when you need it. Novokid is an all-natural, dry vapor lice treatment that has been proven effective against lice and nits. The treatment is simple and easy. See for yourself