Head lice are parasitic wingless insects that feed on human blood and are commonly found in the hair and on the scalp. They’re very common and spread either by head-to-head contact or by sharing hats, brushes, or combs. There are up to 12 million lice infestations in the United States each year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Female adult lice lay eggs (called nits) on the hair shaft (as many as six eggs a day) and these eggs stick to the hair almost like glue because of secretions from the female louse. Because they are so small and hard to spot, and because the eggs are so sticky, lice are very hard to kill, and will need to be thoroughly combed out of the hair using a nit comb once they’re killed.

Salt, however, has shown no scientifically backed promise at killing lice or nits. There are other remedies that are more effective.

Saltwater may kill lice, but it depends on the type of salt that’s used. Table salt does not work effectively to kill lice or nits. Kosher salt and sea salt could potentially work, but they are not likely to dissolve enough to be effective. Epsom salt is the best salt for killing lice and it works by dehydrating them, but it’s not a guarantee. Swimming in the ocean may also kill lice, but there is very little research on this topic.

Epsom salt for lice

There is anecdotal evidence claiming that Epsom salt can kill lice. The thought is that the mix of salt and water essentially dries out the lice and nits. But there is no scientific proof that this method works.

Does vinegar and salt work on lice?

A 2004 study found that among six alternative remedies for lice, vinegar was the least effective (and salt was not one of the tested remedies). In fact, the only alternative remedy that seemed at all promising was using petroleum jelly on the scalp and hair, which can be messy and hard to remove.

It’s best to skip the salt and vinegar for lice in favor of a more reputable lice treatment.

Salt is generally pretty safe to have on your head, but not effective at killing lice or nits. It can burn and sting if it gets in the eyes, so make sure to have children tightly close their eyes, especially when rinsing the saltwater. If the saltwater mixture doesn’t work, you also run the risk that lice will spread even more.

There are some home remedies that may effectively kill lice and nits. Below are three promising home remedies for getting rid of lice.


Wet-combing involves covering the hair and scalp in a white-colored conditioner, which may help brown or black lice stand out against the hair if the hair is dark. Using a nit comb, brush through the hair section by section removing all lice and nits, and throwing them immediately down the drain. You may need to repeat this process several times until you see no trace of lice. Using a magnifying glass or reading glasses can make it a bit easier.

Essential oils

There are several essential oils that seem to be promising when it comes to treating lice. Always make sure to dilute an essential oil with a carrier oil before applying it to the hair, as otherwise it may burn. Essential oils that may effectively kill lice and nits include:

To use this method, combine 2 ounces of olive oil or 4 ounces of rubbing alcohol with 15 to 20 drops of the essential oil. Saturate the scalp and hair with the mix using gloves or spray bottle, and leave it on for at least 12 hours. Comb it out thoroughly, then shampoo, rinse, and repeat. Note that the rubbing alcohol may be drying to the hair.

Smothering the lice

This method relies on a thorough combing to truly get rid of the lice; when you “smother” lice, they’re really just stunned so they won’t move around and can be more easily removed.

To smother, wash the hair with warm water, then separate it into small sections and thoroughly cover each section with olive, almond, or coconut oil. Diligently use a fine-toothed comb to comb the nits and lice out section by section. If you aren’t careful and you miss some, you risk getting a second lice infestation.

After smothering the lice, wash all towels and clothes that were in the room immediately, and soak the comb in bleach.

There are many over-the-counter treatments that kill lice quickly and effectively. Most over-the-counter treatments contain an insecticide that kills lice and nits. After leaving on for a set period of time, the treatment will need to be thoroughly rinsed, and the lice and nits will need to be combed from the hair. Common over-the-counter treatments for head lice include Rid and Nix.

If you are not having success with alternative remedies or over-the-counter treatments, you should talk to a doctor, who may prescribe a medication for head lice. Your doctor may prescribe:

If you or your child get lice, you’ll want to kill the nits and lice as soon as possible to prevent the infestation from further spreading. There is no evidence that Epsom salt, kosher salt, or table salt work at all for this purpose.

There are other, more effective ways of killing lice. In addition to treating the hair, don’t forget to wash all bedding, clothing, and towels that have come into contact with the person who had lice.