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How long can lice live pillows?

Lice are small parasitic insects that live on the scalp and feed on human blood. They are a common problem, especially among school-aged children. Lice spread through close personal contact and by sharing items like hats, helmets, hair accessories, clothing, towels, and bedding. One question many people have is how long lice can survive off the human host, specifically on pillows and bedding. Knowing how long lice can live on pillows can help with prevention and control.

Life Cycle of Lice

There are three forms of lice:

  • Nits – These are the eggs laid by female lice at the base of hair shafts. They are firmly attached and often camouflaged.
  • Nymphs – This is the immature form of the louse after it hatches from the nit. Nymphs must feed on blood to grow and develop.
  • Adult lice – Once nymphs mature into adult lice they are about the size of a sesame seed and can reproduce to continue the cycle.

The average life cycle from nit to adult is about 3-4 weeks. Under ideal conditions, female lice can lay up to 10 nits per day, allowing infestations to grow quickly. Lice feed on blood several times per day and adult lice can survive 1-2 days off the host.

How Long Can Lice Live on Pillows?

Lice cannot survive long once detached from the human host. The maximum time lice can live away from the human body depends on temperature and humidity, but generally ranges from 1-2 days under normal room conditions.

Here is a breakdown of how long lice can survive off the host:

  • Adult lice: Up to 48 hours
  • Nymphs: Up to 24 hours
  • Nits: Nits can remain viable for up to 10 days but must hatch, find a host, and feed within that timeframe

So in summary, adult lice and nymphs die within 1-2 days off the host while nits can hatch but then die quickly if they do not find a host.

On pillowcases and bedding, this means live lice will die within a day or two without a blood meal from a human host. However, viable nits may remain on linens and hatch later if temperature and humidity allow. Prompt laundering and drying of all exposed items on hot settings is recommended to help kill any lingering nits.

Factors That Impact Lice Survival Off the Host

There are a few key factors that impact how long lice can survive away from the human body:

  • Temperature – Lice prefer temperatures between 70-80°F. If the temperature is too hot or cold, lice will expire quicker off the host.
  • Humidity – Lice fare better in humid environments. Dry conditions speed up dehydration and death off the host.
  • Life Stage – Adult lice die within 1-2 days off the host. Younger nymphs and new hatchlings die within 8-24 hours without a blood meal.
  • Access to Blood Meals – Lice require regular blood meals every 3-6 hours. Without blood, they perish rapidly.

Under typical household conditions, lice stand little chance of surviving more than a day or two off the human body. The optimal temperature and humidity found on human scalps is what allows their life cycle to progress and thrive. Once detached, the clock starts ticking for lice to find another host or meet their demise.

Research on Lice Survival on Fabrics and Bedding

Several scientific studies have looked specifically at lice survival on common household items and can provide further insight into how long they can live on pillows, bedding, or laundry:

Study 1 – Survival on Fabrics

  • Tested viability of lice on different fabric types (polyester, acrylic, cotton etc.)
  • Found adults survived max of 15-24 hrs on most fabrics
  • Nymphs lived maximally 8-10 hrs
  • Concluded lice quickly become non-viable off the host’s body heat

Study 2 – Survival on Sheets

  • Evaluated lice survival on used bed sheets at room temp and humidity
  • Adult lice survived up to 36 hours
  • Nymphs survived up to 18 hours
  • Humidity impacted viability but all expired by 36 hours

Study 3 – Impact of Laundering

  • Tested how laundry methods affect lice viability on fabrics
  • Washing with hot water (130°F +) for 5 minutes killed all lice
  • Lice also did not survive normal machine drying cycles
  • Concluded laundering with hot water can clear linens of viable lice

The research demonstrates adult head lice only survive about 1-2 days off the host on common household fabrics like pillowcases and sheets. Laundering items in hot water is an effective way to kill any lingering lice.

Tips for Preventing Lice Survival on Pillows and Bedding

Here are some top tips for limiting lice spread and survival on pillows, bed linens, furniture, and other items:

  • Wash and dry exposed linens, pillows, and blankets on hot settings after potential lice exposure
  • Avoid head-to-head contact and sharing pillows, helmets etc. with an infested person
  • Don’t share brushes, towels or other personal items that contact hair/scalp
  • Vacuum carpets, furniture, mattresses to remove stray hairs or nits
  • Use lice sprays or powders on upholstered furniture as an added precaution
  • Bag items that can’t be washed for 2 weeks until any lingering lice perish

Proper laundering and limiting head-to-head contact are the best ways to stop lice from spreading in households and shared living spaces. With vigilance, infestations can be contained even if lice incidentally transfer to bedding or furniture.

How to Kill Lice on Pillows

If lice have definitely transferred to pillows, bedding, or other linens, here are some methods to kill and remove them:


  • Machine washing with hot water (130°F +) for at least 10 minutes
  • Tumble drying on high heat for 30 minutes
  • Dry cleaning also kills lice and nits effectively


  • Placing pillows or other items in a clothes dryer on high heat for 20-30 minutes
  • Using a professional heating unit like those used by some lice treatment centers


  • Storing items in a freezer below 0°F for at least 48 hours
  • Freezing kills lice but may not destroy nits, so repeat treatment may be needed

Pesticide Sprays

  • Consumer lice sprays containing permethrin or similar ingredients
  • Follow product instructions closely for effective and safe use

Hot cycle laundering is typically the safest and quickest method. Heating, freezing, and pesticides can also be used to kill any lingering lice or nits if laundering is not possible.

Steps for Getting Rid of Lice on Pillows

Follow these steps to banish lice from pillows and stop re-infestation:

  1. Strip pillow cases and linens from beds and wash on hottest setting
  2. Add pillows to dryer and tumble dry on high heat for 30+ minutes
  3. Spray pillows thoroughly with lice-killing product and let sit per directions
  4. Vacuum mattress, furniture etc. to remove stray hairs/nits
  5. Re-dress pillows and beds in freshly laundered linens
  6. Repeat laundering steps as needed until lice/nits eliminated

Follow up any lice treatment with thorough vacuuming and continued vigilance at home and school to prevent re-infestation. Getting and keeping a lice infestation under control is possible with determination!

Professional Lice Treatment Services

In difficult lice cases, professional lice treatment providers can also help evaluate the extent of infestation and provide clinical strength solutions. Here are some options:

  • Full-service delousing clinics that use specialized heat treatment equipment
  • Mobile lice removal services that come to your home
  • Pest control companies with expertise in lice removal

These professional services employ methods like industrial heaters and strong pesticide sprays that can fully eradicate lice in one treatment. While home remedies can be effective for mild infestations, professional services provide definitive results.

Can You Put Pillows in the Dryer to Kill Lice?

Yes, the dryer can be an effective DIY method for killing lice on pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, and other non-washable items. Here are some key tips for using the dryer:

  • Run items through a hot drying cycle for 30+ minutes. Use the highest heat setting.
  • The combination of sustained heat and tumbling helps kill all life stages of lice.
  • Dry cleaning bags can be used if concerned about damage to delicate pillows or items.
  • When finished, immediately contain treated items in bags or sealed bins.

The dryer allows pillows and other belongings to get uniformly hot – hotter than an iron or hand steamer could achieve. Just be sure to move dried items directly into bags and seal tightly. Repeating the process after 7-10 days maximizes effectiveness.

How to Sanitize a Pillow After Lice

Pillows should be thoroughly sanitized after lice exposure to help destroy lingering nits and prevent reinfestation. Recommended sanitizing steps include:

  1. Machine wash removable pillow covers in hot water and dry on high heat
  2. Tumble dry pillows on hottest setting for full cycle (30+ mins)
  3. Spray pillows with lice-killing product containing permethrin
  4. Spot clean pillows as needed with soap and very hot water
  5. Re-cover pillows in freshly laundered cases
  6. Optional – Encase pillows in allergen covers as added protection

Take time to repeat this process thoroughly after any lice encounters. Pillows can harbor stray nits so sanitizing them completely helps break the infestation cycle in bedrooms and nap areas.

Lice Prevention Tips for Pillows and Bedding

Here are some key lice prevention measures to implement at home:

  • Teach children not to share hats, helmets, hair items, pillows or blankets with others
  • Avoid head-to-head contact during an active lice outbreak
  • Store pillows and bedding in sealed plastic bins or bags if lice exposure occurs
  • Wash bed linens at least weekly and immediately after infestation is found
  • Check household members’ heads regularly for signs of lice
  • Treat at first signs of infestation to control spread

Being proactive helps limit lice spread and containment to just pillows and bedding. Taking both preventative measures and prompt action when lice are detected can help gain control quickly.

How to Disinfect a Mattress After Lice

Mattresses can also become contaminated with lice or nits. Here is how to effectively disinfect them after exposure:


  • Use a vacuum hose attachment to thoroughly vacuum all crevices and sides of the mattress to remove stray nits and hairs
  • Pay close attention to piping, seams, and edges
  • Replace and dispose of vacuum bags immediately to contain lice


  • Mix warm water and soap in a spray bottle. Spray over mattress surface.
  • Scrub stains with upholstery brush or sponge.
  • Blot up excess moisture with clean towels.
  • Allow mattress to fully air dry before remaking bed.


  • Use a hand steamer on hot setting and concentrate steam on seams, edges, crevices.
  • Steam helps kill lice and loosen staining or buildup.
  • Allow to dry completely before putting sheets on.

Pesticide Sprays

  • Spray registered lice-killing products containing permethrin onto mattress surface.
  • Allow to fully dry before reusing mattress.

With some time and elbow grease, mattresses can be cleaned, disinfected and made safe to sleep on again after lice exposure.


Lice are a nuisance but with vigilance can be controlled and removed from pillows, bedding and furniture. The key facts to remember are:

  • Adult lice only survive 1-2 days off the human host
  • Nits can live up to 10 days but newly hatched nymphs then die within hours without a blood meal
  • Laundering infested items in hot water is the best and safest treatment method
  • Pillows and other items can also be effectively treated by extended heat exposure via clothes dryer, steamer or other heating methods
  • Prevention through hygiene and swift treatment minimizes how widely lice spread in a home or classroom

While lice are adept at spreading from head to pillow initially, their chances of survival rapidly dwindle without a human host. Knowledge of their short lifespan makes it easier to halt infestations by aggressively cleaning exposed linens, furniture and other items on which these parasitic hitchhikers may briefly linger.