How to Get Rid of Scabies: 15 Steps That Worked for Us
What we thought was a simple rash was actually an all-out invasion—an attack on our home, our bodies, and our life. This irritating, itchy rash was so much more than just a rash. It was an unknown and formidable enemy. Was. Now, we know so much about it that we can easily defeat it. I've compiled 15 steps for getting rid of and preventing an infestation of mites that cause this condition. My hope is that you can take away some useful information—even a little bit—to help you beat the infestation.
What Causes Scabies? An Unknown Enemy Uncovered
Our enemy has a name: the scabies mite. That was all I knew. The doctor explained that this skin mite would be difficult to get rid of once it found a host and created a nest to lay eggs. A nest is easily recognizable as red, pimple-sized, blister-like bumps that eventually turn into pus-filled blisters.
Once the eggs hatch, the new mites burrow further to create new nests. These tunnel-like burrows show as a silvery trail connecting the pimply dots. They breed, hatch, burrow, breed, hatch, and burrow again and again. Unlike a mosquito or spider, these little critters are practically invisible. They are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. What causes the itchy reaction is the feces they leave in the burrows. YUCK! The rash and the itching are pretty much the only symptoms.
The itching sensation is practically non-stop. By the time it was bad enough for us to seek relief, we were literally digging at the rash—constantly scratching to get rid of the itch. At night, my husband would scratch so much that I would get up and sleep in the guest room across the hall. We mistook his rash for shingles, so the itching was an expected side effect.
After doing some research and talking with my doctor, I now know that with scabies, scratching is the last thing you want to do. Scratching allows the mites to get under your nails and be transferred to other parts of your body—or to other persons! We sleep spooned together on our left sides with his right hand on my waist. I soon broke out first on the right side of my waist. This comes as no surprise now that we know how it transfers.
Permethrin Cream 5%
We were prescribed 5% permethrin cream to treat scabies. It is only found in this strength with a prescription. At $85 per tube, it was quite expensive but worth every penny. My husband's case was so severe that the doctor prescribed four tubes for him; I was prescribed two tubes.
Our doctor said it would take at least two treatments, seven days apart, to get us anywhere near mite free. She also explained that we would have to apply it to our entire body—from the chin down—for a minimum of twelve hours. After this, we would need to rinse it off and begin our mite attack! We purchased two tubes to begin with. We found that one tube was enough to cover both of us, completely and generously. Two tubes gave each of us two full treatments.
In addition to their life under our skins, these little critters can survive several days on fabric—in mattresses and blankets. Our entire life was cushioned, padded and blanketed! We had experienced an unusually early cold spell, and I had already put blankets and comforters on the beds. We also had fabric covered furniture in every room! UGGH! We would need to be very thorough in order to be successful—this was going to be a major project!
Our 15-Step Plan to Eradicate Scabies
If you only read one part of this entire article, this is the part to read. We knew we had to be thorough and borderline obsessive, but we didn't know if any of this would work. I was willing to try anything. The following is a mix of tips I found while researching and what I thought would work.
- Gather supplies. This is everything we purchased:
- 2 gallons of bleach
- Clorox wipes
- Lice spray
- 3 bottles of antibacterial spray
- 3 containers of laundry detergent with an antibacterial agent
- Hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle
- Paper plates and plastic silverware
- Enough microwavable meals for a week
- Plastic tarps big enough to wrap each mattress
- Duct tape
- Plastic gloves
- Vacuum cleaner bags and garbage bags
- Coconut oil
- Epsom salt
- Clorox wipes
- Nail clippers
- Toothbrushes and hairbrushes
- Antibacterial hand soap
- Find the source.
- Where did it come from? My husband is a city bus driver. When we called his boss to let him know my husband had been infected and the bus needed to be treated, his boss told us that a substitute driver had let him know that he was also infected a couple of months earlier. My husband must have been infected via the seat. The mites were most likely living on the seat and infected my husband weeks before anyone could find out. Source found.
- His boss assured us the seat would be treated, but while I'm sure he wasn't lying, I left nothing to chance. I sent my husband to work each day with a package Clorox wipes to disinfect the vinyl seat anyway.
- Strip the house of all possible points of reinfestation.
- That means everything. We worked nonstop all day and night to rid our home of any possible points of reinfestation.
- My office was the designated clean area. We had been busy with family events and had not been anywhere near my office for the past two weeks. It is my understanding that the mite's life cycle is approximately 3-5 days.
- We would only place clean items there and only when we were clean ourselves. Every load of laundry went in this room after being in the dryer. Nothing was taken from this room until we had bathed or showered. Items were sorted by his, mine and linens; he never touched my laundry, and I never touched his laundry. We only got towels after bathing so that we were clean enough to be in there. We wore clean socks to enter the room and used gloves to handle the linens before using them.
- Have a system and be organized. (It helps to make a chart.)
- Once all the laundry was clean, we needed some way of making sure things were consistently clean. On even days, we would wear light colors and wash dark colors; on odd days, we would wear dark colors and wash light colors. Reds were worn only on Fridays (I'm a military mom) and comfy clothes on weekends.
- I sorted every item of clothing we had worn over the past few weeks into piles by color. It didn't matter if it had been washed already. It was going to be washed again.
- I stripped the beds and started the laundry with the mattress pads. Every load was washed with a full cup of soap, a 1/2-cup of salt, and a 1/2-cup of hydrogen peroxide. I've read that salt dries up the mites, and I've done my laundry with hydrogen peroxide to kill germs before. It works for that, why not for this. I don't know if it made a difference, but I am reporting everything I actually did. The second load was bath towels. We were going to need clean towels for drying off from our shower before applying the cream.
- We didn't apply the cream until we had a clean environment.
- Quarantine all bedding.
- We put all our pillows into garbage bags, sprayed them with lice spray, and sealed them up tight. We did this for blankets and comforters from each bed as well. We put them in the guest room. No guests would be here until this was gone, so it was the best place!
- We sprayed the mattresses with lice spray and wrapped them up with the tarps. We sealed them with duct tape.
- Throw away old personal hygiene products.
- We threw away our hairbrushes, deodorant, and toothbrushes because they regularly touched our bodies.
- I also threw away the bath sponges, scrubbers, and anything we handled while doing dishes.
- We used only the paper and plastic disposable utensils along with microwavable foods for a whole week. I didn't want to spread anything through handling. We were cleaning every inch of the house, so I had no desire to cook.
- Clean the car too.
- While I worked on the house, my husband worked on our cars.
- He removed the seat covers, placed them in garbage bags, sprayed lice spray into them. and sealed them tight. They went into the trunk of his car.
- He also sprayed the seats, carpet, and head lining, waited an hour, and then vacuumed everything. He used a shop vac for this, so he also ran some hot bleach water through the vac.
- Following that, he swept and sprayed the steps and porches and doormats with bleach water. Just in case!
- Clean the bathroom(s) with bleach.
- We cleaned the bathroom—every inch of it—with bleach water. I placed rugs into garbage bags and placed an antibacterial spray bottle next to the toilet.
- Any surface that we touched got a spray—every time we touched it. Door knobs, faucet handles, toilet seats, light switches, and chairs were sprayed every time we touched them. The same applied to every room in the house. I started using a tissue to flip a light switch so I didn't have to clean it—I could just throw away the tissue!
- Clean all of your shoes.
- I sprayed hydrogen peroxide inside the shoes we had worn over the past three days, wiped the outside down, and bagged them up for the first two days. It's a good thing that I am a shoe lover—I had plenty of shoes to choose from! My husband, on the other hand, only had a few, so I lined up his shoes and had him rotate wearing them. Each time he removed them, we sprayed the insides.
- Clean all furniture.
- I sprayed the cushions in the living room. They were too big for the garbage bags, so I sprayed them with the lice spray, waited an hour or so, vacuumed them, then took them to the guest room. I placed them on a plastic picnic tablecloth and left them for two whole weeks. No room for error with me.
- I sprayed the furniture frames, which are also covered with fabric. I left the spray on them for a couple of hours before vacuuming them. I hoped this would kill off any mites present. After vacuuming them, I sprayed them again, just in case.
- Now, we would need something to sit on since these were off limits. I had my husband pull in the metal outdoor rockers. We wiped them down with bleach and set them in place of the sofa. For the next two weeks, we only sat in these rockers. I sprayed and wiped them down every time we sat in them for the first three days, then daily after that.
- Clean anything left that's made of fabric.
- I worked top to bottom, front to back, and cleared out anything fabric. I removed pillows, blankets, rugs, even curtains from the main rooms. I sprayed and then sealed off the extra rooms; there was no sense in working in them until we did our initial treatment. We could shut them down and keep out of them, if necessary.
- We used a carpet cleaner in the living room. I prayed it would dry fast enough for us to sleep in there. We had no luck on the first night, but we were able to make it work after that.
- Plan out a sleeping arrangement.
- We needed a plan for sleeping. Since I had slept in the guest room, it was contaminated as was our bed and bedroom. These were going to be off-limits for at least a week.
- We got out the sleeping bag and made a blanket pallet on the floor. The first night, we slept on the kitchen floor since the carpet in the living room was still damp. The following nights, we slept on the living room floor.
- In an effort to keep the carpet as clean as possible, I also put down a flannel backed plastic tablecloth, plastic side down, under the sleeping bag. I layered it tablecloth, sleeping bag, sheet, and then quilt.
- One important thing I did was fold a sheet in half for each of us to wrap up in. This prevented us from spreading anything between us.
- Last but not least, every single day I got up, I put every bit of our makeshift bed into the dryer (3 loads) and ran it on high heat for at least 15 minutes to kill any live mites. If we so much as took a 10-minute nap, in the dryer it went. I did it immediately after getting up so that there were no opportunities for the mites to migrate elsewhere.
- Performing the 5% permethrin cream treatment.
- We trimmed our fingernails and toenails to eliminate any possible hiding place for the mites.
- We then took a nice, warm shower to open up our pores. We dried with freshly washed and dried towels.
- Next, we rubbed a generous layer of the permethrin cream over our entire bodies, from the chin down, including the soles of our feet. It was important to cover every inch as any unprotected spot could become a nesting place.
- We put on clean clothes that had not been worn for weeks and had gone through the 15 minutes of high heat in the dryer. We covered up arms, legs, feet and only handled linens with gloved hands.
- The instructions for the cream said it should be left on between 8-14 hours. I went with 14 hours, after which we each showered and put on yet another set of clean and "power-dried" clothes.
- The clothes we removed were immediately washed and dried. They did not have a chance to contaminate anything else. We repeated the treatment on day 7 and began all over again.
- Be thorough with your laundry.
- The clothing that I could not wash in hot water or throw in the dryer wet were hung up to dry in the guest room, and once dry, they were placed in the 15-minute cycle of high heat. It was a complete and thorough changeover of our clothing.
- Once I got all the original laundry washed, I set out clothing for an entire week. That way I didn't handle the laundry any more than necessary—I even did this for our shoes. In addition, I got rid of clothes that we rarely wore. Why wash clothes we weren't going to wear?
- Be obsessive—you can never be too safe.
- Every single day, I put our sleeping pallet into the dryer. Every day, I wiped down every inch of the bathroom, utility room, and kitchen. Every day I sprayed the living room floor, waited an hour, vacuumed the floor and threw away the vacuum bag. Every day my husband and I sprayed doorknobs, faucets, and light switches.
- The first three days, we sprayed with bleach water, then we changed to a hydrogen peroxide spray.
We stuck to our methodology faithfully—almost obsessively. To be honest, we were going insane in our obsession with cleaning and sanitizing. We were completely exhausted. We both worked full time and kept our distance from touching other people and each other. In addition, we wiped down and sprayed seats, handles, doorknobs, and anything we handled at work.
It was by far the most stressful, consuming thing we have ever experienced. We didn't do anything except clean, bathe, and sleep. There wasn't time for anything else. By week three, we began to show signs of improvement. We began to spray daily instead of after every time we touched something. We began to breathe. We began to believe that somehow, all of this insanity was working.
Signs of Improvement and Aftercare
Effects (and Side Effects) of Permethrin Cream, 5%
The cream was beginning to work. The itching was less severe and the pimply rash stopped spreading. We experienced a prickly sensation while the cream was on our skin, but it subsided when the cream was washed off. One side effect is mild confusion, and we both experienced this. I, myself, had some trouble finishing a thought—I couldn't think of the words I needed to finish some sentences. I also had trouble remembering what I was working on and where I had put things. My husband would walk into the room, look at me, then walk out. Five minutes later he would return looking for something. It was relatively minor. None of the incidents were significant enough to warrant concern. However, as I am sharing our experience, it would only be appropriate to share this part as well. The confusion lessened a few days after washing off the cream. When we reapplied the cream, it returned. Once again, it seemed to disappear by the end of the next week.
Our Skin Began to Peel
The mites had created burrows underneath the skin. This left a layer of dead, dry, and flaky skin on top that produced its own irritating feeling. The skin was also beginning to push out the dead mites and the gunk they left behind. This was a natural sloughing off, but it was irritating. We found that coconut oil gave quick relief while maintaining a sanitary skin environment. Coconut oil is gentle and holds some natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Its acidic quality also acts as a deterrent for the mites.
Benefits of Diluted Bleach Baths
Not only did these give me the feeling that my skin was clean, it actually made my skin feel softer and healthier. I waited 24 hours after washing off the cream before I soaked in a full tub of warm water with a 1/2 cup of bleach added. The prickly sensation I experienced following the baths reminded me of the sensation I experienced following the 5% permethrin cream. It made me feel as if it was working on driving the mites away. This was the only additional treatment for my skin: bleach baths followed by a complete lather of coconut oil.
Epsom Salt and Hydrogen Peroxide to Can Help Heal and Prevent Infections
My husband had a more severe case of scabies. Much of his skin was covered with blister pockets. It was all over his groin, back, stomach, sides, arms, and hands. He also used the coconut oil, but I discouraged him from using the bleach baths until the blisters healed some more. We tried some Epsom salt baths and hydrogen peroxide on the areas he had scratched to the point of bleeding. I figured it would keep them from getting infected.
It has been four months since the rashes appeared. He now had only a small bit of damaged areas around his waist that were still giving him trouble. As a driver, that area continued rubbing on the seatbelt, which made heal slower. We applied Mentholatum ointment to help the area heal more thoroughly. It is irritating but happily mite free!
Like any blister or sore, we had some scarring that would take days to weeks to heal. Scarring is a constant reminder that one little mite can cause utter chaos, but we can overcome it.
I'll be honest, it cost us about $400 and took almost two months of relentless, obsessive cleaning. This may have been an extreme approach to remove the mites, but it worked. At the two month mark, I removed the tarp from the mattress, vacuumed it, threw away the vacuum bag, sprayed it again then put a mattress cover, a fitted sheet, and continued with our separate sheet system to prevent any cross-contamination. We were stressed by the continued separation and cleaning. Being able to sleep in the same bed again was good for us. The separation had taken a toll on our relationship, although we had actually gained a lot from our teamwork efforts. All in all, it was an even swap, but being close again was a definite improvement!
This chapter is officially closed for us—for now. However, I have heard that we will now be more susceptible to getting scabies again in the future. That scares me. We worked ourselves into the ground getting things clean. We still live a clean life. There is no visible dirt or trash on the floor, but the mites made me more aware of the unseen "dirt" in our lives—things like the dead skin cells in the mattress that kept the mites alive waiting for us to return.
Keeping them at bay is a permanent part of my life moving forward. I realize that if I work consistently, it will pay off consistently as well. I have adopted a weekly routine of the deep cleaning, spraying, and vacuuming all surfaces of the house. This includes deep cleaning of the furniture, carpet, and mattresses.
Avoiding reinfestation is the first step in avoiding the return of the insane itching and damaged skin. It can be done. We have done it for almost 6 months now. We did it and you can too. I clean the carpet and wash the curtains, rugs, and throws once a month. I put coats in the dryer on high heat every few days and wash them when we don't need to wear them! I rotate our pillows out every month—I have three sets of them, and that means we will use them one month and they will be bagged and isolated for two months. I still add bleach to all my baths! My skin is soft, healthier than ever, and most importantly, mite free! It is good—very good.
I hope this gives you hope. Good luck and God bless!
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Debbie Carey