Bringing up children through three decades and a variety of different locations, I have encountered my share of lice. It didn’t matter where we lived - downtown London, a community of frequently unkempt international hippies in Spain, a middle-sized town in Germany, travelling in Peru - lice were to be found in all those places. I learned to deal with them naturally, without any chemicals, and I will share my experiences with you here.
The one most important utensil you need to combat lice without any dangerous chemicals is a nit comb. Go for a metal one - they are far superior to the plastic ones. This is what a good metal nit comb looks like:
There are also combs with a plastic grip and metal teeth, which are fine, too. The all metal one has the added advantage, though, that it can be boiled for disinfection.
Other helpful ingredients are gauze, shampoo and conditioner. Wash hair with shampoo and conditioner, so that hair becomes well-combable. While hair is wet, first comb with normal comb. Use a comb that you can clean easily. Then use nit comb. The trick is that you stick a bit of gauze into the teeth of the comb, at the bottom of the teeth, which you take out and replace with new gauze as needed while you are combing. That removes all lice from the comb and keeps the comb clean. This trick makes using a nit comb so much easier. Here’s a picture of how to insert the gauze in the nit comb:
If you comb as described every day, within a few days you typically see no lice anymore. If you are desperate to get rid of them, comb twice a day - it goes even faster. Very important: even when you see no lice anymore, there might still be nits as they take about 6-9 days to hatch, i.e. for them to become lice. And also, it is easy to miss out on a louse. So keep combing, even when you think there are none anymore. When you see none anymore, you can reduce combing to maybe every second or third day. Keep going for at least ten days. After that still comb once a week for some weeks, just to make sure.
If you want an even faster method that kills them off, but is completely natural: use neem oil. Smother your scalp and hair in it, leave in as long as you can tolerate it, e.g. a few hours or even overnight. If you leave it on overnight, cover your pillow with an old towel. Neem oil has a strong smell that many people find somewhat unpleasant. Then wash your hair. Apply shampoo first before water or you won't get out the oil, then wash also with water. Afterwards use conditioner. Then comb with nit comb, using above method, as you want to remove the dead lice. Keep combing every two to three days. Not all nits might be killed. So either apply neem oil again after ten days or just keep combing.
Another interesting treatment option is essential oils. There are different ways of how to apply them. Some people mix the essential oils into the neem oil for an added effect and to make the neem oil smell less unpleasant. You can also instead of pure neem oil use a mixture of neem with a good coconut or olive oil or just coconut or olive oil and add essential oils into it. An amount of as little as 5 or 10% of neem in olive or coconut oil can still have a good effect. Generous amounts of essential oils are commonly used in the carrier oils to combat lice, e.g. 50-75 drops of essential oil in 100ml of carrier oil. Much less can still have a nice additional effect to the combing method. Essential oils that are often used against lice are geranium, teatree, lavender, cinnamon leaf, oregano, eucalyptus.
Another way of administering the essential oils is by adding as little as 2 drops of essential oil or more to 50ml apple cider vinegar and 50ml water as a last rinse after washing the hair.
Essential oils work twofold: directly against the lice and nits in the hair. And they also discourage lice on other people’s heads to climb on one’s own head, as one does not smell good to them. If lice are going around, you can for example as a protective measure spray your and your children’s head with a spray bottle with just some water or water/vinegar mix and a bit of essential oils inside.
When using essential oils, ever only use therapeutic grade good quality pure ones. Some good companies include Primavera, DoTerra, YoungLiving. An interesting article further exploring the topic of headlice and essential oils can be found here: http://www.wingedseed.com/Agora/Lice_page.htm
Another protective measure is wearing a headscarf tied around one’s head or at least tie up one’s hair. This protects oneself from other people’s lice. And if one has lice oneself, it protects other people from one’s own lice.
If anyone family member has lice, check everybody in the family, also the adults! Tell all your friends, too, in case they got them from you or you from them. Ideally, stay at home for a few days with your kids to make sure the lice in your family and your friends’ families are under control before you start socializing again.
I've never bothered with particular cleaning methods of bedlinen etc. Just changed the bedlinen, pillow and duvet cases when I discovered lice and put them into the washing machine or not even that, like when I did not have a washing machine when living with the hippies in Spain. Nits are glued to the hair at the bottom of the hair and lice hold onto their host very well. They don't usually let go, unless they can crawl into somebody else's hair. So you don't need to worry about bedlinen, furniture, carpets etc. It probably is still a good idea to wash the bedlinen, just in case, but don't get too worried about that part. Concentrate on the heads and combing daily the affected people.
Here's another method used by a nursery teacher I personally know, in case you want to try it out. She uses it on herself. I have not tried it out yet, but she swears by it and being a nursery teacher, she gets exposed to lice frequently. She puts all her hair and scalp into water while in the bathtub for 20 minutes. She says it works like a charm and kills them all by drowning. Obviously this method is more suitable for an older child or grown-up. But maybe it could be explained as a kind of game or challenge to a younger child. If you try it out, let me know whether it worked. And also keep in mind that it probably won’t kill nits. So keep combing anyways.
And feel free to share with me what worked and what didn’t for you!