Can lice be transmitted via bedding? The answer is yes and no, because there are several different species of lice that attach themselves to humans:
- Head lice: No
- Crabs: No
- Body lice: Yes
In practice, there is therefore no need to wash bedding and do extra cleaning if you have head lice or crabs.
Body lice, on the other hand, should be controlled by washing bedding and all other textiles in the home, and extra cleaning is also recommended. Read more about lice control here.
When you get lice in Denmark and most other Western countries, it's almost always head lice.
Lice survival in bedding
The lice species that live on humans can only survive for a limited time when not on a host:
- Head lice - which is the most common lice species in Denmark - can survive for a maximum of 24 hours in bedding. Therefore, the likelihood of them finding their way to new hosts is extremely low and transmission via bedding is not considered a real route of transmission.
- Aphid can also only survive for 24 hours in the bedding and the likelihood of infection via the bedding is therefore also extremely limited.
- Body lice can survive for up to 7 days and can therefore easily find its way to new hosts via bedding.
The difference between the three lice species' ability to survive in the environment is related to their normal way of life; head lice and crabs live on the human body and therefore need body heat and regular blood intake. Body lice, on the other hand, live in our clothes and are therefore more robust.
Body lice in bedding
Body lice usually live in the host's clothing. They are mainly found in the seams and folds of the clothing, and mostly in places where the clothing tightens against the body.
Therefore, they are sometimes also found in bedding that has been used by infected people. This can allow the lice to settle in the clothes of new hosts.
There are 3 ways to combat hookworms in your bedding:
- Freeze bedding for 8 days
- Put bedding away for 2 weeks (in sealed plastic bags)
- Wash the bedding (at minimum 60°C) and tumble dry it
The above works because lice can survive for a maximum of 7 days when not on their hosts. The rule of thumb of freezing for 8 days and storing for 2 weeks is used to make sure the lice do not survive. Washing and tumble drying works because lice cannot tolerate hot water (above 55°C) or hot, dry air.
When should the bedding be changed?
Bedding should be changed as soon as possible after discovering body lice. This also applies to all other textiles, including clothing worn on the body. Afterwards, you should either wash it, freeze it or put it away as described above.
Fighting lice is basically about maintaining general hygiene - i.e. changing into clean clothes and showering every day. In addition, bedding etc. should also be changed regularly.
What's not working?
Keep in mind that the following will not kill or remove lice from bedding:
- Wash in cold water
- Air drying
- Outdoor or indoor hanging (e.g. in a drying rack)
- Shaking or banging the bedding
Old home remedies using alcohol, vinegar, oil, etc. should also not be used (neither on the body nor in bedding).