Head lice are tiny parasites that live on a person’s scalp and hair. Some people believe that head lice prefer clean hair, but research suggests this may not be the case.

Head lice live close to a person’s scalp for warmth and feed on blood several times a day.

They do not fly, hop, or jump but can crawl quickly. These parasites mainly transmit directly from one person’s head to another. Children commonly engage in this type of contact at home and in settings such as:

  • schools
  • playgrounds
  • sleepovers
  • camps
  • sports activities

This article discusses whether lice like clean hair and how to prevent people from getting them. It also answers some common questions about lice.

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Anybody can get lice, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that lice are not related to a person’s cleanliness or the cleanliness of their environment. However, some research indicates that certain people may be at a higher risk of getting lice due to their activities and circumstances.

For example, one 2015 study on primary school children in Iran found that children from families who share combs, do not have access to a bathroom in their home, and do not bathe frequently are more prone to getting lice. The researchers also found that children from larger families are more likely to get lice.

Similarly, the authors of a 2019 study observed that participants who shared combs with family members were more likely to get lice. They also found that people are at a higher risk of getting lice if a higher number of other people in their homes have lice.

The researchers of a 2016 literature review suggested that vulnerable groups are almost exclusively affected by head lice in middle- and high-income countries. These groups include:

  • school children
  • people experiencing homelessness
  • people in challenging living situations
  • refugees

The authors of the review also found that girls tend to get head lice more often than boys because they tend to group together more closely. The researchers also suggested that lice and nits may be more challenging to detect and treat in long hair.

Learn more about what causes head lice.

People may be able to prevent and manage lice by:

  • Avoiding head-to-head contact during play and other activities where close contact frequently occurs.
  • Refraining from sharing clothing such as coats, scarves, uniforms, and hats.
  • Refraining from sharing personal items such as combs and brushes.
  • Disinfecting combs and brushes someone with lice has used by soaking them in at least 130°F (54.4°C) water for 5–10 minutes.
  • Avoiding lying on furniture or items that have recently been in contact with a person with lice. These include beds, couches, pillows, and stuffed toys.
  • Washing all washable items that a person with lice has used in the past 2 days before treatment using a 130°F (54.4°C) laundry cycle and high heat dry cycle. These items may include clothing and bed sheets.
  • Drycleaning any nonwashable items that a person with lice has used in the past 2 days before lice treatment or sealing these items in a plastic bag for 2 weeks.
  • Vacuuming all the areas a person with lice has sat or laid on, including the floor and furniture.
  • Refraining from using fumigant fogs or sprays. These substances can be toxic for people and are not necessary to manage lice.

Read more about effective ways to get rid of lice.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about lice.

What are lice attracted to?

Head lice can only live on human scalps and hair. The scalp provides moisture and warmth for lice, as well as blood, which they feed on several times a day.

Lice can affect anyone. They are not an indication of a person’s cleanliness or the cleanliness of their environment.

Do certain hair types attract lice?

Head lice do not prefer a specific type, color, or hair thickness. However, in the United States, head lice are less common among African Americans. This may be because the claws of common head lice in the U.S. are better suited for gripping some types of hair but not others.

Learn more about head lice and coily hair.

Are some people immune to lice?

No one is immune to head lice. However, in the U.S., head lice are less common among African American people.

Head lice do not prefer clean hair, and getting lice is not an indication of someone’s cleanliness or the cleanliness of their environment. However, some research suggests that some people may be more prone to lice than others.

While anyone can get head lice, a person can take measures to help manage them and avoid others from getting them. Individuals can speak with a healthcare professional for further information about preventing and treating lice.