Vinegar is commonly used as an effective head lice treatment, but it is actually often misused.
Most people are told that it will remove both adult lice and head lice eggs. We’ll see that it’s not really true. The problem is, people who sell commercial anti-lice products take advantage of this to say that home remedies for head lice such as vinegar don’t work. This isn’t true, either.
What vinegar can do and cannot do for treating head lice
The truth is that vinegar will not kill adult head lice, because it simply lacks the properties to do so. The acid contained in vinegar might kill nymphs, though, which are young lice that cannot lay eggs yet.
However, vinegar can really help getting rid of head lice eggs, called nits. A vinegar lice treatment combined with careful combing is definitely powerful to get rid of head lice eggs.
So just remember:
Vinegar can help you get rid of nits or head lice eggs.
Vinegar can NOT help you get rid of adult head lice.
Why is vinegar effective to remove head lice eggs?
The word vinegar derives from the Old French vin aigre, meaning sour wine. Vinegar is the result of two biochemical processes: alcoholic fermentation, which converts natural sugars into alcohol, and acid fermentation, in which microorganisms present in the air we breathe, convert the alcohol into acetic acid.
This acid has antiseptic or germ killing properties. Vinegar usually has an acetic acid concentration of around 5% and is safe to use for head lice.
The acetic acid contained in vinegar will not dissolve the exoskeleton (the protective shell of nits) of lice eggs and therefore will not kill them.
However, it will help loosen the glue that holds the nits to the hair shaft so that the nits will no longer stick to the hair and will be easy to remove with a good nit comb.
What type of vinegar can we use to treat lice?
You can use different types of vinegar for head lice, such as white vinegar, wine vinegar (red or white), or apple cider vinegar.
1. White vinegar and head lice
White vinegar is distilled vinegar. It is plain acetic acid in water, either as a simple chemical mix (usually very cheap or cleaning grade vinegar) or obtained through fermentation of distilled alcohol. It has usually a 5% acidity level.
This vinegar is harsh and has a sharp flavor. It is cheaper than other types of vinegar, and it can readily be found in most grocery stores.
It may however contain additives and substances that may not be good for our scalp. Please be careful; if you are going to use vinegar on your head or your children’s head, make sure that the product is natural and safe to use.
2. Wine vinegar for head lice
- White Wine Vinegar: this type of vinegar is light flavored and is used for cooking. Its color can vary from white to pale gold and its acidity level varies from 5% to 7%. It is made from the fermentation of real white wine, and thus retains much of its original white wine taste.
- Red Wine Vinegar: it has been used for centuries for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Its color can vary from light rose to deep red and its acidity level also varies from 5% to 7%.
3. Apple cider vinegar
What apple cider vinegar to choose for head lice? Your best bet is to buy an apple cider vinegar which is not filtered, not pasteurized, and made from organic apples. This is because it will most of the time have a 5% acidity level, which is what you want.
A higher concentration would not be so safe to apply to your scalp, and a lower concentration would not be as effective to unglue the nits from your hair.
Is vinegar safe to use?
Vinegar is a natural organic by-product of fruits, vegetables and grains. It is therefore edible and biodegradable.
As long as it has been made naturally, it is perfectly safe for the environment, for family members and around young children. It doesn’t contain harmful toxic chemicals.
But if it has been highly processed and additives or other chemical substances have been used in manufacturing, it may not be safe to use. Please be careful and check with the manufacturer.
Vinegar will sting your eyes if sprayed directly into them, so direct contact with eyes should be avoided.
Warning: if your child has red marks on the scalp or has an irritated scalp (this can happen if the child has been infested for a while or if you have previously used a commercial lice killing shampoo), you want to avoid putting vinegar on the scalp, as it may irritate it too much.
How can you use vinegar to get rid of nits?
- Step #1: use a mixture of vinegar with water (half and half) to unglue the nits from the hairshaft. You should apply this vinegar and water mixture to your child’s hair, especially close to the scalp, behind the ears and in the neck area. Then, wait for a few minutes.
- Step #2: you should now rinse off the vinegar with water. Then, you need to spend time combing all nits out. Click here for more info on How to use a lice comb.
This is a crucial step, so don’t skip it, thinking that the vinegar will do the trick. It will NOT.
- Step #3: repeat this process for two days or more until you can see no head lice eggs anymore and you are sure that all live nits are gone. Nits will hatch within 7 days of being laid, this is why you should really get rid of all live nits within a week from the date of your first vinegar treatment and combing out.