This $13 Nit Comb Is the Only Thing That Completely Eradicated My Kids’ Head Lice
Over the summer, my daughters got their fifth case of head lice in as many years. As the all-too-familiar feelings of dread, shame, and disgust crept in, I scrambled to implement the usual treatment strategies, including warning friends and washing clothes and bedding.
Most critically, I shampooed my kids’ heads with an over-the-counter treatment, and then for a week straight, I combed their hair daily using the comb that came with the shampoo (this comb is meant to pull out lice and their eggs, known as nits).
At the end of the week, things got worse. I found live bugs crawling on my kids’ heads just as we arrived to visit family across the country.
It seemed as if we were doomed to a gross, Groundhog Day existence, where my role was to endlessly pick critters from the heads of my children.
Then I finally found the right tool for the job: the Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb.
As the name suggests, this gizmo is a muscular assassin. Its long, closely spaced teeth pulled nits out of my kids’ hair like nothing I’ve tried before—and I’ve used at least a dozen different nit combs.
How the Terminator comb outperforms other lice and nit combs
Most of the combs you’ll find in over-the-counter treatment kits, such as those from Nix or Rid, have smooth, easily bendable teeth, which can be ineffective at grabbing onto nits that stick stubbornly to the hair near the scalp. Instead, the Terminator comb boasts grooved, rigid teeth made of stainless steel, and they help grab onto both nits and nymphs (baby lice).
When I researched removal tools online, I found dozens of Amazon reviews claiming the Terminator comb eradicated chronic lice problems. And I noticed at least one professional lice picker selling this comb in its online store.
I even conducted a test that showed how much better the Terminator comb performs.
On the day I knew the Terminator comb would arrive, I used the Nix treatment kit’s comb on my daughter’s extremely thick, mid-length hair for about 45 minutes. It pulled out nothing.
When the Terminator comb arrived, an hour later, I used it on my daughter’s hair and was amazed/disgusted to see a grimy trail of nits and nymphs as I wiped the comb on a paper towel.
It removed most of them on the first day, and it caught just a few on the second day. By the third day we were lice-free, and the kids could finally see their cousins.
The downside to this comb is that it can pull and break hair strands. This is something I discovered after using it to comb my own curly hair, which turned into a frizz bomb for a few weeks. But that’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind I got from knowing I didn’t have lice. (Even thinking about it makes my head itch.)
How to best use the Terminator comb
Of course, getting the right comb is only part of the battle. If you miss a section of hair while you’re combing, you may leave nits behind to hatch into more egg-laying adult bugs.
I used the combing method shown in this video from the Center for Lice Control, separating the hair into four quadrants with hair clips, and brushing each quadrant in sections and in multiple directions. It took about an hour to comb each kid’s head. The trickiest part was not gouging their scalps with the comb; since the Terminator’s teeth are more rigid than those on other nit combs, they’re more likely to poke into the skin.
To make combing easier, I slathered my kids’ hair with cheap conditioner and let them watch whatever they wanted on our iPad. (For our family, screen time is a must-have distraction during the hours of combing.)
Whether you choose to treat lice and nits with a chemical or non-insecticide treatment, in my experience you’ve also got to comb. The night before I got the Terminator comb, I did shampoo my kids’ hair with another Nix treatment (this time a non-insecticide version). Judging from my combing experiment, however, I’m fairly certain it was the comb that got the job done.
Many of my lice-seasoned friends and fellow Wirecutter parents have also concluded that successfully removing lice requires manual labor. I’ve used chemical treatments (including one over the summer) that claim to kill nits. Yet I’ve still found live lice a few days later—which means the nits did not all die from the shampoo, as promised.
Super lice, which are resistant to insecticides, could be the problem. If you are contending with such mutants, that’s all the more reason to go at them by hand. But even if you’re just dealing with regular lice, combing daily will help catch nits you didn’t get the first time, as well as bugs that may have hopped back into the hair from bedding or clothes.
The case for preventative combing
A rare silver lining of the pandemic was that lice seemed to disappear for a few years. These bugs spread by people’s heads touching, and there wasn’t much of that happening for a while.
Now that schools and camps are back to normal, and kids are hugging and hanging out, the bugs have returned. Last year was the first one since early 2020 that I started getting regular lice notifications from our kids’ elementary school. A friend told me she recently received a note from her kids’ school citing lice as the top health concern, beating out COVID-19 for the first time in three years.
With school back in session, I’ll probably do preventative combing of my kids’ hair every few weeks, just to be sure they haven’t caught any bugs from friends.
Which brings me to my PSA: If we all regularly check our kids and thoroughly comb after an infestation, maybe we can finally get rid of—or at least greatly reduce the recurrence of—these nasty little pests.
Here’s to more hugs—and fewer bugs.
This article was edited by Rose Lorre and Kalee Thompson.