Fact Check

Should You Use Liquid Soap to Remove Ticks?

Swabbing liquid soap on ticks may sometimes help remove them, but it isn't a recommended, effective method for tick removal.

Published July 3, 2006

Swabbing ticks with liquid soap is a recommended and effective method for removing them.
What's True

Swabbing liquid soap on ticks may sometimes help remove them.

What's False

Using liquid soap to remove ticks is not a effective method of tick removal recommended by experts.

In addition to their being repulsive-looking bugs that survive by latching onto warm-blooded victims to suck blood from them, there is another reason to regard ticks with horror: they can deliver a deadly payload of disease to those they are making a meal of. These arachnids feed by burrowing their heads into skin, a method that introduces their body fluids into their victims. If those fluids are disease-laden, those microbes will be passed to the ones being dined upon. However, it generally takes at least 12 to 24 hours of feeding before an infected tick can spread disease to its host, so speedy removal of these parasites is therefore key to avoiding tick-borne illness, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichia.

Household lore is replete with tick removal suggestions that involve covering or coating the embedded arachnid with a substance it will find objectionable. Other long-lived suggestions for removing ticks include touching a lit match or hot needle to the tick's rear, swabbing the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, and tickling the tick's underside in an effort to persuade it to release its bite:

A School Nurse has written the info below — good enough to share — And it really works!!

"I had a pediatrician tell me what she believes is the best way to remove a tick. This is great, because it works in those places where it's some times difficult to get to with tweezers: between toes, in the middle of a head full of dark hair, etc.

Apply a glob of liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover the tick with the soap-soaked cotton ball and swab it for a few seconds (15-20), the tick will come out on it's own and be stuck to the cotton ball when you lift it away.

This technique has worked every time I've used it (and that was frequently), and it's much less traumatic for the patient and easier for me.

Unless someone is allergic to soap, I can't see that this would be damaging in any way. I even had my doctor's wife call me for advice because she had one stuck to her back and she couldn't reach it with tweezers. She used this method and immediately called me back to say, 'It worked!'"

Although these home remedies are effective in some cases, however, those in the know about tick removal warn against them. Countermeasures of such nature don't always work to encourage ticks to detach from skin promptly (if at all), and even if such measures do seemingly aid the process of removing the critters, they may also make matters worse by stimulating the creatures to release additional saliva or regurgitate their gut contents, acts that increase the chance of their transmitting pathogens to their hosts. A 2006 journal article review of published literature on tick removal methods reported that:

One study compared several different techniques for removing ticks. Application of petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, 70% isopropyl alcohol, or a hot kitchen match failed to induce detachment of adult American dog ticks.

Experimental evidence suggests that chemical irritants are ineffective at persuading ticks to detach, and risk triggering injection of salivary fluids and possible transmission of disease-causing microbes. In addition, suffocating ticks by smothering them with petroleum jelly is an ineffective method of killing them because they have such a low respiratory rate (only requiring 3-15 breaths per hour) that by the time they die, there may have been sufficient time for pathogens to be transmitted.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) likewise advises readers to "Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible — not wait for it to detach."

Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions:

If a tick is removed within 24 hours, the chances of it transmitting Lyme disease or other infections are much less. Use fine-point tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull gently. Avoid squeezing the body of the tick. Clean the site of the bite, your hands and the tweezers with disinfectant. You may want to wear protective gloves.

You also may want to place the tick in a small container, like a pill container, and bring it to your vet for identification. Never use a burned match, petroleum jelly, or nail polish to try to remove ticks. These methods are ineffective.

A list of "DO NOTS" in a Medline Plus article about tick removal similarly warned:

Do NOT try to burn the tick with a match or other hot object.
Do NOT twist the tick when pulling it out.
Do NOT try to kill, smother, or lubricate the tick with oil, alcohol, vaseline, or similar material.

The recommended procedure for removing ticks is:

  • Grasp the tick close to its head or mouth with tweezers. Do not use your bare fingers. If needed, use a tissue or paper towel.

  • Pull it straight out with a slow and steady motion. Avoid squeezing or crushing the tick. Be careful not to leave the head embedded in the skin.

  • Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water. Also wash your hands thoroughly.

  • Save the tick in a jar and watch carefully for the next week or two for signs of Lyme disease.

  • If all parts of the tick cannot be removed, get medical help. Bring the tick in the jar to your doctor's appointment.

To reduce your chances of becoming a tick's dinner:

  • Avoid tick-prone areas whenever possible.

  • When in areas where ticks may be present, wear clothing that covers the arms and legs, with cuffs fastened and pants tucked into boots and socks.

  • Use a tick repellent that contains DEET and reapply it every 1-2 hours for maximum protection.

After any outdoor excursion into areas where ticks are commonly found, adults should check themselves and their children. Your four-legged friends should be checked for ticks too, because dogs and cats can also be felled by the diseases spread by these blood-sucking creatures.


Fite, Amanda.   "Once Bitten; Summer Pests Pack More Than an Itch."     Tulsa World.   25 July 2001.

The Washington Post.   "Tick Bites."     23 July 2002   (p. F2).