Can you use conditioner to smother lice?

Quick Answer

Yes, you can use conditioner to help smother and eliminate head lice. Conditioner makes it harder for lice to grip the hair shaft, causing them to lose their hold and fall off. Conditioner also helps coat and smother lice, blocking their air supply. While using conditioner alone may not fully eliminate an infestation, it can be an effective part of an overall lice treatment regimen when combined with combing, medicated shampoos, heating tools, and thorough cleaning.

How Does Conditioner Help Get Rid of Lice?

There are a few ways that conditioner can be useful for treating lice:

Makes Lice Slippery

Conditioner helps coat the hair shaft with slippery conditioning agents and oils. This makes it harder for lice to get a firm grip with their claw-like legs and crawl freely through the hair. The slippery coating causes lice to lose their hold and fall out of the hair more easily.

Smothers Lice

Applying a thick layer of conditioner can help smother lice. Conditioner helps block their air supply through the spiracles on their abdomens. Depriving lice of air eventually leads to asphyxiation. The thick conditioner coating also obstructs lice’s movements and makes it hard for them to travel to the scalp to feed.

Stuns Lice

Some experts believe the oils and emollients in conditioner may stun and immobilize lice. This could make them easier to mechanically remove with a lice comb. However, there is limited research on whether conditioner actually has a toxic or paralyzing effect.

Loosens Nits

Conditioner may help loosen the adhesive that attaches nits (lice eggs) to the hair shaft. This allows many nits to slide out with the conditioner when it is rinsed off. The conditioner coating also helps suffocate nits and prevent new hatchlings from emerging.

How to Use Conditioner to Treat Lice

If you want to use conditioner to help tackle a lice problem, here are some tips:

Choose a Thick Conditioner

Look for a thicker, creamy conditioner rather than light or rinse-out formulas. The thicker the conditioner, the better it will coat each strand and smother lice. Conditioners with natural oils like coconut oil, olive oil, or shea butter may also help immobilize lice.

Apply Generously

Work the conditioner thoroughly into the hair and scalp, saturating every strand from root to tip. Pile hair on top of the head and wrap with a shower cap or towel. Leave on for at least 15-30 minutes, or ideally overnight. The longer the conditioner is left on, the more it can work to smother lice.

Comb Out Lice

Use a fine-tooth lice comb to systematically comb through small sections of the conditioned hair from scalp to ends. Wipe the conditioner-coated lice off the comb between each stroke. This will mechanically remove many of the lice trapped in the conditioner.

Rinse Out and Repeat

Rinse the conditioner out over a sink rather than in the shower to contain lice. Follow up with a second round of conditioner or medicated lice shampoo. Repeating the conditioning and combing process helps ensure more lice are removed.

Heat Style Hair

After conditioning the hair, use a hairdryer on a hot setting to heat style sections of hair. The concentrated heat can help kill lice and dry out nits glued to the hair shaft. Take care not to burn the scalp.

Other Ways to Use Conditioner for Lice

In addition to coating the hair, here are a couple other techniques for using conditioner to combat lice:

Conditioner and Comb Soak

Soak combs and brushes used on infested hair in a bowl of conditioner. This can help remove clinging lice and nits and prevent reinfestation when cleaning grooming tools. Let tools soak for 10+ minutes before scrubbing clean.

Nix Pre-Conditioning

Apply conditioner before using a medicated lice treatment like permethrin (Nix). Conditioning first may allow the product to penetrate hair more effectively for better lice control. Just be sure to rinse out conditioner thoroughly before applying the medicated product.

Effectiveness of Using Conditioner for Lice

Using conditioner alone will likely not eliminate a full-blown lice infestation. However, it can be a useful addition to a comprehensive lice treatment plan. Here is an overview of using conditioner to control lice:


  • Helps remove and kill some active lice
  • Aids in removal of nits
  • Non-toxic method suitable for repeated use
  • Readily available and inexpensive
  • May enhance other treatments when used together


  • Does not kill all lice and nits
  • May not prevent reinfestation
  • Requires thorough combing out of conditioner
  • Can leave hair greasy if overused

While not a standalone solution, conditioner can be a helpful supplementary treatment for managing lice when part of a regimented lice control plan.

The Takeaway

Here are some key tips to remember:

  • Generously coat hair with thick, creamy conditioner and let sit before rinsing out
  • Meticulously comb out conditioner to remove stunned lice and loosened nits
  • Follow up with repeated conditioning treatments and use of pediculicides
  • Combine conditioning with heating tools like blow dryers for added lice elimination
  • Soak combs and brushes in conditioner solution to disinfect
  • Use conditioner with other proven lice remedies for best results

While not guaranteed to fully eradicate a lice infestation on its own, using conditioner can be a safe, non-toxic part of your lice removal strategy. Conditioning gives other lice treatments like medicated shampoos, nit combs, and heating tools an added boost. Along with diligent cleaning of the home environment, conditioning and combing out lice can help gain control over an itchy lice problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should you leave conditioner in hair to kill lice?

For best results, leave conditioning treatments on for at least 15-30 minutes. Overnight conditioning treatments allow the product maximum time to coat, smother, and immobilize lice.

Does conditioner suffocate lice?

Yes, thick conditioner can essentially suffocate head lice by obstructing the openings they use to breathe. Depriving lice of air eventually leads to asphyxiation.

Is it better to put conditioner or oil in hair first?

It’s generally recommended to apply conditioner to the hair before any oils when using them together against lice. Conditioner helps smooth the hair cuticle so that oils like olive, coconut, or tea tree can better penetrate the hair shaft and smother lice.

What kind of conditioner kills lice?

There is no specific conditioner proven to “kill” lice. The application method is more important than the actual product. Any thick, creamy conditioner left on for an extended time can help remove and eliminate head lice through smothering and combing out.

Does conditioner remove nits?

Conditioner can help loosen the adhesive attaching nits to the hair shaft, allowing many of them to slide out when rinsed off. However, some nits may remain tightly glued in place. Conditioning along with nit combing helps remove the most nits possible.

The Bottom Line

While it should not be the only tactic used against lice, adding regular conditioning treatments into your lice removal regiment can provide a helpful boost. The conditioning agents coat the hair to immobilize lice and block their air supply while also lubricating hair for easier nit combing and removal. Along with medicated shampoos, thorough combing, heating, and environmental cleaning, conditioner can be one more weapon in your arsenal for gaining the upper hand against frustrating head lice.


  • Conditioner coats hair to smother lice and loosen their grip
  • Generous, thick conditioner helps block lice’s breathing and movements
  • Combing out conditioner removes stunned lice and detached nits
  • Repeat conditioning treatments for best results
  • Use conditioner together with pediculicides, combs, and heating tools
  • While not a standalone solution, conditioning is a useful addition to a comprehensive lice regimen


Using conditioner is an age-old, non-toxic home remedy for managing lice. While not guaranteed to fully eliminate an infestation on its own, conditioning treatments can provide a safe complement to proven medicated and mechanical lice removal methods. The main benefit of conditioner is helping strip lice’s grip on the hair so they can be combed or washed out. Repeated conditioning also aids in smothering and asphyxiating lice. For best results, apply generous amounts of thick conditioner and let it soak on the hair and scalp before rinsing and nit combing. Conditioner boosts other lice treatments and control steps for more effective results. Although tedious, diligently using conditioner and combing out lice can help gain control of an irritating infestation and provide some relief when used as part of a comprehensive lice removal plan.

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