How To Check For Lice Step-by-Step

a woman combing her hair with her hands and figuring out how to check for lice

Do you know how to check for lice? If you have ever had a child sent home from school with lice, you probably spent several arduous hours taking all the precautions. Treating the head for lice thoroughly is a long and tedious process on its own, but that only takes care of one part of the problem. Following treatment of the head, the home needs to be eradicated of the infestation. This includes washing all bedding and clothing in the home in addition to treating carpets and furniture. It is possible to put in the time and effort only to find more lice the next week though this is more likely with a severe infestation.

To avoid a severe infestation, lice need to be caught early. Knowing how to check for lice is something everyone should know how to do. Once you know how to check for lice, you’ll want to make sure you have all the tools necessary to treat it and remove nits.

​What Is Head Lice?

close-up photo showing head lice on finger

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Before knowing how to check for lice, it’s important to know what head lice are. Lice are parasites that feed on blood. They are tiny, wingless and extremely contagious. Typically, schoolchildren who have lice can easily spread the parasites. Head lice live on the scalp and are easiest seen near the ears and nape of the neck. Lice eggs are called nits and look like tiny white specks.

​What Are the Symptoms of Head Lice?

​The main symptom of head lice is intense itching. The itching may feel like tingling. Knowing how to check for lice will help you confirm whether white specks on the scalp are dandruff or lice.

​How to Check for Lice

​Because head lice can look a lot like dandruff or dry scalp, knowing how to check for lice properly can stop it from spreading to others. The lice eggs, or nits, are small and oval. They are yellow or white in appearance and can be hard to see without a magnifying glass. The nits are usually found close to the scalp as opposed to the end of the hair shaft.Adult lice are bigger and therefore easier to see. They are white or grayish and have six legs. When learning how to check for lice, it’s important to know they can survive for up to 30 days on a human scalp.

​Causes of Head Lice

woman holding heads

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​Head lice can spread quickly. When you learn how to check for lice, also learn the causes of lice and where they might come from.

​Bodily Contact

​The easiest way that lice are spread is through body contact, either head-to-head or body-to-body. This is why elementary-aged children can easily spread lice to one another.

Shared Items

Toys, hair brushes, headphones, towels, or clothing are all items that could be infected and possibly pass along lice to others.

Contaminated Furniture

Beds, couches, and any kind of furniture with a cloth covering can spread lice.

​Stored Items

​Because lice can live for one or two days off the body, they can attach themselves to stored items like toys, or hooks on coatracks

​Is There a Need for Medical Treatment of Lice?

doctor holding a pen and records and helping to check lice

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​Typically you can take care of lice on your own. There are shampoos made especially for killing lice and their eggs.

​When Should I See a Doctor?

Knowing when to see a doctor is as important as learning how to check for lice. If you cannot get rid of the lice on your own using nonprescription shampoo, it may be time to see a doctor.See a doctor immediately if:

  • You are pregnant
  • You have abrasions or infected skin on the scalp
  • Nonprescription shampoo did not kill the lice

Home Remedies

If nonprescription shampoo doesn’t work to kill the lice, learning how to check for lice and treat the scalp naturally is an alternative you can explore. Some home remedies include:

  •    Tea Tree Oil
  •     Vinegar
  •     Olive Oil
  •     Baking Soda
  •     Mayonnaise
  •     Coconut Oil
  •     Petroleum Jelly

Most of these natural remedies for head lice can be found in your kitchen. Home remedies, or all-natural remedies, are not overseen by the FDA, so they have not tested the effectiveness and safety.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Special shampoos can be found at any drugstore. These shampoos contain pyrethrin or permethrin. Follow all directions closely. These remedies are typically successful in treating lice.

Prescription Remedies

​Your doctor can prescribe you topical or oral medication. Oral medication is usually taken in two doses. Doctors prescribe this medicine when other treatments have failed. Children under 33 pounds cannot take the oral medication.Prescription topical medications work well if the head lice have not responded to at-home treatment. Like the non-prescription shampoo, this medicated topical ointment is applied to the hair and scalp.

​A Step-by-Step Guide to Checking for Lice

fresh flower and oils for head lice

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​Once you know how to check for lice, it is your responsibility to treat the lice to stop it from spreading to anyone else.


​The first step in checking for lice is gathering the proper tools:

  • ​    Comb
  •     Towels (that you don’t mind throwing out)
  •     Hair clips
  •     A timer
  •     Gloves
  •     Disposable shower cap
  •     Magnifying glass (optional)

​Step 1: Check the Scalp for Lice

​To look closely at the scalp, make sure you have a fine-tooth comb. A brush or wide-tooth comb will not allow you to separate the hair well enough to see down to the scalp.Use the hair clips to divide the hair into four sections. Using the magnifying glass (if you’ve chosen to use one), comb through tiny sections of the hair in approximately one to two-inch sections. Lice move quickly, so look for small, yellowish nits. They may look similar to sesame seeds. Check as close to the scalp as possible.

​Step 2: Apply Remedy

​Now that you are certain you’ve seen lice or lice eggs, it’s time to apply the treatment you have chosen. Whether this is nonprescription or prescription shampoo or a home remedy, you’ll want to apply them all the same way.With hair still clipped in four quadrants, use the comb to move hair so that the scalp can be thoroughly saturated with the solution. Continue doing that in sections until it has saturated all four quadrants. Make sure you pay special attention to the areas behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.Use the towels to cover the eyes in case the solutions should run down the forehead. It’s also advisable to wrap a towel around the shoulders so that the solution does not drip onto the clothes or the body. Top the head with the disposable shower cap and set a timer for the proper time (at least ten minutes.)

Step 3: Wash

a man having his hair washed

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After the solution has had enough time to soak into the scalp, it’s time to wash the hair and scalp. Use regular shampoo to clean the hair. It is important that you do not use shampoo with added conditioner and do not use a conditioner after the shampoo. Towel dry the hair, and gently comb it out, putting it again into four quadrants with the hair clips.

​Step 4: Remove Lice

​Once more, comb one section at a time with the small-tooth comb. Each section of hair should be about one or two inches wide. Place the comb as close to the scalp as possible. Comb the hair shaft from scalp to ends in one even motion. Use additional hair clips to pin back hair that has already had the lice and nits removed.Wipe your comb on a paper towel or regular towel between each section combed. Seal the towel in a plastic bag and throw it away when finished. Once more, divide the hair into sections. Using a new, clean comb, go through the hair and check the scalp once more. Discard anything that has touched the hair or lice. Check the hair and scalp again in one week. If lice are still present, repeat these steps or contact a doctor.

​How to Avoid Getting Head Lice

two men sitting on the chair and may be exposed to having head lice

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

​Recognizing and treating lice can be a long process, so it’s best if you learn how to prevent lice as much as possible.

​Avoid Contact

​You or your children should avoid bodily contact as much as possible if there is a known outbreak. Try to avoid physical contact and other activities during play.

​No Sharing

​Along with avoiding physical contact, do not share items such as hats, hairbrushes, headphones, clothing, or toys.

​Avoid Shared Spaces

​While not sharing clothing such as hats and coats, it’s important that your clothing remains in its own separate space instead of a shared space.

​Be Realistic

​It is an unrealistic expectation to think you will eliminate all bodily contact, especially for children who share toys. Siblings are bound to spread lice to one another, no matter how diligent you are.


​Preventing lice can be difficult. Learning how to check for lice and knowing how to treat it is an important skill, especially for those with school-aged children. Non-medicated and medicated shampoos are available, and there is a plethora of information on the web for home remedies. Remember, everyone gets lice at some point, and it is not a reflection of parenting skills or hygiene.© Incomestorage

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