This article is also posted on our sister site, Food Safety Superhero.
At one time or another, your kid is gonna come home from school with a letter letting you know head lice or scabies have invaded the school. Don’t you just hate these little pesky varmints?
Even if your kid didn’t come home with them, just the thought of it can put any parent into a tailspin. As adults, we tend to freak out when we learn our kid has either one. Usually, the first thought is, “Crap! Now I have to clean the house and wash everything”.
When I was 14 years old I was the unfortunate recipient of an unwelcome invasion of scabies. To this day, I don’t have a clue as to who I caught it from, but I always thought I got it from playing flashlight (the ’70s version of hide-and-go-seek) in the woods with my friends.
I remember my mom freaking out and reaching for her Prozac while trying to figure out what to do. Back in the ’70s, most doctors weren’t as smart as they are today. Thank heavens for the internet. Back then I was diagnosed with “winter itch”.
The doctor said, “Buy some Keri Lotion”, then sent us on our way.
After walking around for what seemed like an eternity with these bumpy, itchy hitchhikers, I was finally diagnosed with scabies. During this time, my family also became infected. Why? Aside from the misdiagnosis, my mother didn’t think to clean the bedding in hot water. She was all about saving money and only washed our clothes in cold water.
You see, cold water isn’t going to kill a scabies mite.
Facts about scabies mites
According to the CDC, Scabies is caused by an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite. They burrow into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays their eggs. The scabies mite usually is spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies.
Scabies doesn’t survive for more than 2-to-3 days away from their human host. They’ll live for 2 days on towels, bedding, clothes, and even fabric chairs and couches.
Transmission of scabies
People get scabies when the mite burrows into the skin. You can get the mite on your skin through direct skin-to-skin contact or with an infected object such as a towel, sheets, plush toys, or upholstered furniture.
Now, this is what I don’t quite understand and I couldn’t find any research from a scholarly source, so what I’m about to say may or may not be accurate. When I had scabies, (I’m getting itchy just thinking about them), they were mostly all over my hands. I remember I was in home-ec making something and used my bare bumpy scabies-infested hands. I don’t recall anyone getting scabies from me touching the food.
Now I’m not saying if you have it you should go out and cook your friends a hand-tossed pizza or anything like that, but I’m now thinking, my classmates, ate scabies since I used my bare hands to cook. GROSS!!
Hey, don’t judge. I was a kid and didn’t know any better. Aside from that, I was misdiagnosed.
Dogs, cats & other furry friends
There is a distinct possibility your pet will become infected with the scabies mite. If this happens, you’ll want to consult with your vet to seek medical treatment. Scabies mites prefer to jump onto immunocompromised dogs and cats than healthy ones.
It’s crazy how they know if your pets are healthy or not. Maybe they’re like little psychics of the parasite community.
How to properly clean your house for scabies.
- Scabicide (Kwell, or any other scabies-killing medication your physician prescribed)
- Your favorite cleaning supplies
- Disposable gloves
- Trash bags or large vacuumed sealed bags
- Vacuum cleaner (if your house is carpeted)
- Steam cleaner (optional)
- Mop & bucket
- Laundry detergent
- Household bleach or borax
Due to the fact, that extremely high heat will kill a scabies mite, all blankets, towels, sheets, fabric shower curtains, and any clothing items that were touched must be put in the washing machine under the hot water cycle. Follow using the dryer on the highest heat setting for a minimum of 20 minutes.
You’ll want to wash all the clothes everyone in the household wore for the past 5 days. By doing this, you are stifling reinfestation.
Make sure you use disposable gloves when you’re doing the laundry. To minimize the risk of having a reinfestation, do the bulk of the laundry after the treatment has been completed. Regardless if you do the laundry before, after, or during treatment, there is always a possibility of re-infestation.
If you have items that aren’t able to be machine washed, place them in a sealed bag for a week. If the items are large, like couch cushions, you may want to use the large-sized vacuum-sealed bags you can buy from the dollar store.
If you don’t want to go that route, put them in big trash bags, and remove the air before sealing them up. All items must be kept sealed for a minimum of 72 hours if it’s really hot outside and 5-to-10 days if it’s not. The best place to keep these bags are either the garage, outside shed, patio, carport, or any other area outside of your house
Items to isolate
I would store these items in an
- Bedspreads, blankets, comforters, dust ruffles, duvet covers
- Coats and jackets
- Stuffed toys
Mattress and box-spring
There are two things you can do for disinfecting and cleaning your mattress and box spring.
- Vacuum them thoroughly (although the mattress pad must be washed)
- Spray the entire mattress and box spring with Lysol ®. Personally, I would get the industrial strength, but the ones you can get at the big box stores will do just fine.
I had a cat that was scared if someone sneezed. She would hide inside the box spring. Yep, that scaredy-cat ripped a huge hole in the bottom of the box spring so she could hide from everything. If you have a cat and it ripped to shreds your boxspring, just spray the inside with a few cans of Lysol®, call it a day, and evict the cat from the bedrooms.
If you feel the need to do so, you can fumigate; however, it’s not really needed since the scabies mites will just die if they’re not attached to a human.
Although some may still be alive on your flooring, you’ll want to vacuum your home to ensure you suck up those tiny little bastards. Don’t just vacuum the floor. If you have fabric seating such as couches, living room chairs, dining room chairs, etc… it’s time to pull out those vacuum attachments you rarely use.
This is just me, but I’d also vacuum the intake grates on the air-conditioner unit and throw away the filter, as some may have gotten sucked in before they died.
To ensure the scabies mites are out of your home and gone for good, you’ll want to use either rubbing alcohol or Lysol ® spray or wipes on hard services such as but not limited to your kitchen counters and tables.
Naturally, you’ll want to clean the bedroom of whoever is infected; however, if they went into the bedrooms of other family members, you’ll want to clean their rooms as well.
The bathroom is typically overlooked with regards to cleaning during a scabies infestation; however, it needs to be cleaned down with Lysol ®.
Fortunately, when my boys were younger we never experienced head lice in our family. I always told them if they were to get it, I’d just shave their head. I thought that’s all you had to do and they’d be gone, but as I aged, I realized there’s more to it.
Facts about head lice
Head lice are insects that feed on human blood. Although they’re not like their other blood-sucking counterpart the mosquito, lice feed only on the blood from the human scalp; whereas a mosquito is an equal-opportunity annoyance.
Having head lice doesn’t mean you or your child are dirty and lack personal hygiene. Lice don’t care if your hair is clean or dirty, they just need something to hang onto while feasting on your child’s head.
Did you know by washing your hair every day won’t stop the lice from seeking refuge in your locks?
Lice are sort of like those annoying and pesky bar-hoppers who like to latch onto who is available at the moment and willing to buy them a drink.
Lice also don’t carry bacterial or viral infectious diseases, although lately it has been toated they can spread the bubonic plague. Don’t go getting your panties in a wad and freak out about this if your kid comes home with lice. The chance is slim to none, so, no need to worry.
Worry about other stuff, like if you accidentally tossed your red blouse in with your husband’s white work shirts.
Transmission of lice
Head lice can’t jump or fly, so that leaves less of a chance of you or your child getting them, but they do crawl. Transmission happens through person-to-person contact. The majority of lice cases are often noted within a family or among children who have close contact with other children. This is why most times school-aged children are more prone to getting head lice.
Not only are they picking up knowledge at school, but they’re also picking up head lice.
Dogs, cats, and other furry and finned friends
The good news here is, that although pets can get lice, the lice that feed off of human blood, do not feed off the blood of your family pet, and vice versa.
How to properly clean your house for lice
Since lice can’t live long without a human host, they can fall off the head and live in clothes, such as but not limited to: coats, scarves, blankets, sheets, mattresses, carpets, pillows, and plush toys.
Since there is no guarantee the lice didn’t fall off your or your child’s head, you’re going to have to thoroughly disinfect the house, especially in the bedrooms of those infected.
- Large plastic bags that are sealable
- Lice spray if you have any (there are many different ones on Amazon to choose from. I’ve never used them, so I can’t recommend one for you).
- Steamer mop (optional)
- Floor cleaner
The good news is, that hot water will kill lice. Put all personal belongings including hair bows, hair ties, bedding, plush toys, or anything else that may have come in contact with the “host” in the washing machine.
Wash all items that are able to fit in the washing machine on the hot cycle with a hot rinse. Dry on the hottest setting for a minimum of 20 minutes.
If the items can not be washed and dried, you can place them in a sealed bag for 3 weeks or you can take them to be dry-cleaned. I don’t know how I feel about that, unless you have a vendetta against your dry cleaner, then go for it. Seriously, the lice are probably dead by the time you take them to the dry cleaner, but why subject a stranger to the possibility of lice with super-human strength latching on to Uncle Trevor’s pea coat?
Your home is going to be needed a very thorough cleaning and disinfection in order to get rid of all the residual lice that may be lurking around your house on upholstered couches, chairs, plush toys, carpets, etc…
If you do purchase some lice spray, follow the directions on the packaging
- Vacuum the floor and carpets, in the bedrooms, and throughout the house.
- Mop the floors with your favorite cleaner.
- If you have a steamer mop, I’d go over all the tile and hardwood floors with the steamer mop after vacuuming and moping.
Mattresses and boxsprings
You’ll need to vacuum the mattress and box spring. It shouldn’t be difficult with the hose attachment, although it will be rather time-consuming. While vacuuming, pay special attention to the seams of the mattress and all the quilted crevices that may be present. Don’t rush this process.
Vacuum all plush or upholstered furniture. Remove the cushions and vacuum along with the zippers (if removable), under the armrests, and along the cracks and crevices in the couch. If you can launder the outside of the cushions in the washing machine, put them through a cycle after vacuuming.
You already know to launder the clothing; however, if your child has lice and the coat or jacket they wore is next to yours on a hook in the mudroom or worse, the coat closet, all of the coats and jackets must either be washed or placed in a sealed bag until they can be cleaned. The reason for this is, as I mentioned above, lice can crawl.
Gather up all of your brushes, hair combs, hair ribbons, hair ties, headbands, hats, etc.. soak them in scalding hot water for 15 minutes. You can also put them in a pot on the stove and once the water reaches a rolling boil, keep the items soaking in the pot for 15 minutes.
Cars, car seats, and assorted other household items
9-out-of-10 times, when the school called you to pick up your child because they found lice on him or her, you’re going to be picking them up in your car. If that happens to be you, you’re going to have to vacuum the entire car. Pay special attention to the headrests.
If your child still needs to ride in a car seat, or if you have another child in a car seat, you are going to need to clean and vacuum it.
As a helpful hint, after vacuuming the inside of the car, run a lint roller over the headrest to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
Cleaning out your vacuum after cleaning your house for scabies and lice
As soon as you’re done vacuuming, remove the bag or HEPA filter from the body of the vacuum and empty all of the contents into a large plastic trash bag. Don’t do this while you’re still in the house, as there may be a possibility that one scabies mite or lice have the strength of Hulk and didn’t die the first time around. You don’t want them coming back into the house to infest your family again.
I really hope this article has helped you. I know since you’re reading this, someone in your family has been infected with either scabies or lice. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this extra cleaning.
How do you clean your house after scabies or lice infestation?
I would love to hear from you and hear about your cleaning process with scabies or lice. Did this article help you learn more about how to clean your house after scabies and lice? Share in a comment below
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