Lawn & Garden

How to Remove a Tick Safely

The best way to get rid of ticks requires having perseverance, using the right tools, and knowing what to do each step of the way.
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close up of a deer tick on human skin

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Discovering a tick in one’s hair or stuck to another place on the body is distressing. Unfortunately, there are several unhelpful or dangerous myths about how to remove a tick. Methods involving nail polish, petroleum jelly, soapy cotton balls, fire, or freezing temperatures can cause a tick to burrow deeper into skin, possibly spreading more disease or causing an infection.

These pesky parasites—which, unlike bed bugs, are eight-legged arachnids—feed on warm-blooded animals, including humans. While around 90 species of ticks live in wooded or grassy areas waiting for their next host to walk by, ticks can also make their way indoors. Most ticks do not carry disease, but some can transmit Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever, Powassan virus, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever to humans. That’s why removing a tick within 24 to 48 hours after it attaches to your skin is critical. Here’s how to remove a tick the right way.

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A tick on a tick comb next to tweezers and a tick removal tool

Before diving into this process, gather all supplies including eyeglasses if necessary. Remember to stay calm and patient, since it might take some time and a steady hand to remove a tick from skin. It is also helpful to work on the removal in a lit location, so either turn on a light or go outside into the natural light. Remember to wash your hands before and after the process of tick removal on humans and animals.

RELATED: 9 Types of Ticks to Watch Out for This Year

STEP 1: Clean the skin and extract the tick with sterilized tweezers or a tick removal tool. 

removing a tick from human skin

To start removing a tick, first clean the area of the skin around the tick and sterilize a pair of tweezers or a specially made tick removal tool like this highly rated option available at Amazon with rubbing alcohol. Hold the tweezers sideways next to the skin surface and grasp the tick by its head as close to the skin as possible.

STEP 2: Carefully pull out the tick.

Hand using instrument to remove tick from head

While grasping the tick with the tool, pull upward slowly with firm, even pressure. Be careful not to twist, crush, rock from side to side, or pull the tick too quickly because that could lead to the tick’s head or mouth parts breaking off and remaining attached to the skin. Maintain a steady pressure until the tick releases its grip. Other safe methods to get rid of an embedded tick include looping a piece of thread around the tick’s jaws or pushing a needle between the jaws for traction.

STEP 3: Check to see if the tick head or mouth fell off.

close up of tick just pulled out of human skin

It is not uncommon that in the midst of trying to remove a tick attached to the skin, the head or mouth will remain affixed to the person. To remove a tick head stuck in skin, steadily grasp it with tweezers or use a sterilized needle to uncover the head and scrape it off. If this does not work, many experts say not to worry. The rest of the tick will slowly shed, and the skin will start to heal. However, it may be wise to contact a physician for assistance.

STEP 4: Clean and sterilize the bite area.

cotton pad on tick bite

It is a relief when the tick removal is a success. Take the time at this stage to thoroughly clean your hands with soap and water and to wipe the skin at the bite area with rubbing alcohol. Do not skip this step because it helps prevent catching any diseases that the tick may have carried. It is also recommended to apply some antibiotic ointment to the bite location.

STEP 5: Safely dispose of the tick or save it to show a doctor.

close up of ticks in a test tube

Once the embedded tick removal process is complete, dispose of the tick, which may possibly still be alive, by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed plastic bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never try to handle or crush it with your fingers. For those who may be concerned about diseases a removed tick might be carrying, it is advised to store the tick in a sealed container or jar to take to a doctor if symptoms do arise.

It is also possible to get the tick tested to determine if it indeed was carrying any harmful diseases. Some state agencies do tick testing, but if you are not sure where to send the tick, ask your doctor.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Defend Yourself Against Tick Bites This Summer

Final Thoughts

Tick bites usually do not hurt or itch, which makes them challenging to spot. Once the tick is removed, the small bump should go away in a couple of days. Once you remove a tick, keep an eye out for possible symptoms for the next few days and for up to 4 weeks. Call the doctor or make an appointment if the following symptoms occur: chills, fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, stomach upset, or rash, especially a red-ringed rash or skin that’s red and irritated. Bring the tick with you if you kept it, and let the doctor know how long ago the bite happened and where the tick likely came from.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to avoid getting a tick in the first place. First, know when tick season typically occurs in your region. Peak season is usually May through August when temperatures are consistently between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Treat the yard with safe sprays that target ticks, and keep landscaping trimmed to eliminate places for ticks to shelter around your home.

Other ways to get rid of ticks include removing plants that deer love, adding plants that ticks do not care for, mowing the grass often, and deterring small host animals. Check pets when they return from walks or play in possible tick-prone areas. Avoid tall grasses, shrubs, and leaf litter where you walk or children play. When venturing out in nature, wear long sleeves, pants, high socks, and shoes. Finally, consider using a natural bug spray when outside, and be sure to thoroughly check for ticks on your clothing and body after spending time outdoors.