Don’t use washing up liquid to remove ticks

14 June 2021
What was claimed

A safe, and easy way to remove ticks is to apply a small amount of liquid soap on a cotton ball and blot it onto the tick.

Our verdict

Although this technique may sometimes work, the NHS recommends an alternative method which could help to reduce the risk of contracting a disease from a tick.

A social media post from 2014 which is still being shared has suggested that a safe and easy way to remove ticks is to apply a cotton wool ball soaked in washing-up liquid to the tick. The post claims this will cause the tick to detach. 

The washing-up liquid technique has circulated for some time, as have other approaches such as covering the tick with petroleum or touching it with a lit match or hot needle. However, NHS advice is to remove ticks by an alternative method. It suggests that you should: 

  1. "Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool. You can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops.
  2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  3. Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick. Dispose of it when you have removed it.
  4. Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water."

Although other techniques may work, they risk either causing the tick to release more saliva or regurgitate gut contents. This may increase the transmission of pathogens (disease-causing organisms). Similarly, techniques that cause suffocation (for example petroleum jelly), may kill the tick more slowly, increasing the time for transmission of pathogens to occur. 

A similar post has been shared previously, and was debunked by fact checking organisations Snopes in 2006 and Politifact in 2019. 

Why do I need to remove a tick?

Ticks are small, spider-like creatures that feed on the blood of animals and people. During this process, they can spread pathogens. The most well known of these is Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease

The longer that a tick remains attached, the more likely it may be to transmit any disease.

For advice around how to prevent tick bites go to the NHS Lyme disease webpage, which also includes information about tick bite prevention and management. 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context because although cotton wool balls soaked in washing up liquid can be used to remove ticks, there are other methods that are advised, which may reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.