A lice comb can help you detect lice and remove both the lice and their nits (eggs).

When you find lice, prompt treatment is key to removing them and preventing them from spreading to others. While it is time consuming, using a lice comb is one of the best options.

Lice combs help you see adult lice and their eggs. Also, combing can injure and kill lice.

One 2019 study found that the weight of plasma combs was effective in killing lice. While you don’t necessarily need a plasma comb, researchers believe that physical efforts during the combing process are key to killing lice.

A 2021 study also supports the effectiveness of physical lice removal. However, the authors noted that physical removal was even more effective when combined with medication or carrier oils.

To properly use a lice comb, follow the wet-combing method:

  1. Make sure the person’s hair is wet. This makes it easier to see the lice and makes their removal more effective. You can have the person shampoo and condition their hair, or you can use a spray bottle and wet their hair as you go.
  2. Run a regular wide-toothed comb through wet hair. This will help detangle and straighten it to prepare for using the wet-combing method for lice.
  3. Have the person sit in a chair, preferably under bright lighting to help you see better. You may also consider having a flashlight or magnifying glass on hand.
  4. Separate their hair with the lice comb. Slowly comb outward from the scalp in 1-inch sections of hair, ensuring that the teeth of the comb touch the scalp and roots of the hair.
  5. Wipe the teeth of the comb with a tissue or paper towel after you finish each section to remove any lice or nits. Place the tissues in a disposable bag for discarding.
  6. Repeat the process at least twice to make sure you’ve thoroughly combed every section. Rinse the hair with plain water (unless you’re also using a medicated lice treatment).
  7. Once you’re done using the comb, soak it in hot water (130°F or warmer) for 10 minutes.

With over-the-counter product

If you decide to use an over-the-counter (OTC) lice treatment product, follow all directions carefully. Avoid washing your hair for 2 days after applying the product to allow the medication to work, but continue using a lice comb daily.

You’ll also need to determine whether any questionable area is infested with lice or nits or whether there’s something else in your hair.

Lice look like sesame seeds and will try to move away quickly. Nits are yellow to tan seed-like eggs that are stuck on the hair shaft near the scalp.

During lice combing, you may come across other substances, such as dandruff, dirt, or buildup. The key is that, unlike lice or nits, these come out easily with the comb.

While you can check for lice and nits when your hair is dry, wet-combing is far more effective when you’re trying to treat an active infestation. This is because wet hair:

  • is easier to part in sections
  • makes it easier to comb without tangles and damage to your hair
  • makes it easier to see lice and nits
  • prevents lice from moving away

You can use lice combs as often as necessary to look for lice.

However, for an active infestation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using lice combs 8 to 12 hours after treatment to remove lice and their nits, as well as every 2 to 3 days after treatment.

To ensure that treatment has worked and there aren’t any new infestations, you should also comb for lice at least every couple of days for 2 to 3 weeks.

The American Academy of Dermatology also recommends using a lice comb daily for 2 weeks, even if treatment seems to have worked. Do this for at least 7 to 9 days after the initial treatment.

You should also consider using a lice comb to check other members of your household for lice. Check daily with a comb for 10 to 15 days.

OTC or prescription treatments for lice usually come with combs you can use to remove lice and nits.

If you’re looking for a stand-alone comb, choose one with fine teeth (spaced 0.2 to 0.3 millimeters apart) so that it may effectively latch on to lice as you run it through your scalp and hair. You can also use a clean flea comb.

While you may be able to effectively treat lice at home with combing and OTC medications, contact a doctor if you or another member of your household experiences reinfestation. They may recommend a prescription product instead, which is available for children as young as 6 months old.

You should also consider speaking with a doctor before using home remedies for lice. Kitchen items such as olive oil, butter, and mayonnaise may temporarily make lice less active, but research on their effectiveness to kill lice is lacking.

Lice combs, especially when combined with wet-combing methods, are considered effective in detecting and treating lice and nits. If you have concerns about this process or suspect a case of reinfestation, consider reaching out to a doctor.