How Long Can Lice Live on Bedding?

woman removing white bedsheets from washer

Getting a case of head lice is definitely not fun. They are difficult and costly to get rid of. Fortunately, lice do not survive long off of a host.

Can Lice Live in Your Bedding?

Even though it seems like lice are difficult to get rid of, and you hear stories of people living with the infestation for months on end, in reality, lice can only survive one or two days away from a host. As the Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes, lice survive at most for 48 hours once they fall off of the scalp. This is true regardless of where they fall off, and it does not matter what type of sheets or bedding you have. In other words, lice don't cling more closely to Jersey knit than they do to silk.

Getting Lice Off Your Bedding

Since lice can only live up to 48 hours off of the host, if you use the right strategies, getting lice out of your bed is possible.

  1. Use a multi-faceted approach that treats your home, bedding and individual hosts with the goal of permanently removing lice and nits. One brand to try is Nix shampoo, which is available at your local drug store. If you don't want to start with a chemical, try using Vaseline or mayonnaise.
  2. Wash your bedding in hot water and dry on high heat. That's it - you do not need to spend all of your spare time scrubbing your house from top to bottom, notes the CDC. Even research from James Cook University shares that because lice don't live long off of heads, the actual reinfestation rate from bedding is pretty low.
  3. If you have bedding that cannot be washed, like large pillows, you can simply not use them for three days after you treat for lice. If it's easier, put them in a plastic bag. However, as the research from James Cook University suggests, you can simply change your pillowcase.

Controlling Lice

There's no need to go crazy cleaning everything in sight to control lice. It's important to understand that lice live on heads, not in your bedding. On top of that, lice cling tightly to the hair shaft and don't come off easily. With that said, some common sense measures such as washing your bedding in hot water and drying it in high heat seems to do the trick in keeping lice out of your bed.

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How Long Can Lice Live on Bedding?