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How to Kill a Tick

South Shore teen tackles project on how to kill ticks for science fair. State officials interested in teen's research.

Braintree High School sophomore Jacqueline Flynn has completed a research project on blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) that has caught the attention of state officials. Her science fair project "Hot Tips to Kill Ticks" will be presented this week

Department of Conservation & Recreation State Parks Director Priscilla Geigis joined DCR's Director of Forest Stewardship Peter Church in recognizing the public health importance of the research. Blacklegged ticks are abundant in woodlands and brushy habitat in the South Shore, Cape and Island and throughout Massachusetts.   Lyme disease is transmitted through tick bites.

Jackie Flynn's research into clearing ticks from clothing uncovered a lack of data on the effectiveness of a clothes dryer on killing ticks. Studies had concluded that ticks frequently survive a clothes washer cycle. Ticks are difficult to drown.  Unless the arachnid is dislodged and washed down the drain, ticks can emerge alive on clothes removed from a washer. Placing clothes in a dryer cycle for a full hour was known to kill ticks.

Jackie asked the following question: because most people dry clothes for less than one hour, how long do clothes need to tumble in a clothes dryer to assure that blacklegged ticks are killed? Ticks require consistent humidy so Jackie suspected that a clothes dryer would kill ticks quickly.

Jackie captured ticks in the field using ticks drags – sections of white felt pulled through brush and woodlands. Ticks were place in white mesh bags and put through dryer cycles, with and without wet clothing. 

The research exposed the tick's extreme sensitivity to heat and/or dessication in a dryer. After repeated trials, all blacklegged ticks were killed in only five minutes on a low heat cycle. Ticks survived fluff cycles, but quickly succumbed when heat was applied. Although a washing machine is ineffective in cleaning ticks from clothing, the use of a clothes dryer can quickly and thoroughly assure that clothing is free of the common pests.

Jackie sent the results of her research to the DCR officials who replied with great interest in the project. Directors Geigis and Chuch plan to disseminate the results of the research to field staff throughout the agency.

–Patrick Flynn, Chair of the Braintree Conservation Commission

Phyllis Mervine February 15, 2013 at 03:02 AM
Good for you, Jackie! And I hope you checked yourself for ticks for several days after your collection activities. Ticks have been known to get through protective clothing. Phyllis Mervine LymeDisease.org
William Waterway February 17, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Great to know of the relatively thorough "kill rate" of ticks in the clothes dryer. Best way to kill ticks pulled from your clothes, body, pet, wherever - is to place the ticks in a jar that contains about a half inch to inch of dish soap. The leg waving tick will surely sink and drown within minutes. Once the tick jar gets too densely filled with drowned ticks - just chuck the contents into the woods or pour down the drain and refill with dish soap. Most islanders and people on farms always keep a tick jar handy.
BarbaraB February 20, 2013 at 12:52 AM
Duct tape
Robert Bastille February 20, 2013 at 03:57 AM
I don't know if it's 'the best' way, but popping them with a blow torch gets the job done.
Aron Levy February 20, 2013 at 03:07 PM
That's a good idea, Robert! I personally like cutting them in half with my pocket knife. Does that make me sadistic? I hope not!
Christine Lorentzen February 27, 2013 at 03:46 AM
I think one very helpful element that has not been mentioned here is temperature. I have used many different dryers over the years and electric and gas models and I find that the low temperature cycle is not the same temperature across the board. I'd be more interested in knowing what specific temperature needs to be reached and the duration at the temp to kill ticks, as well as variations on that.

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