In the outdoors, I’m not afraid of snakes or bears and definitely not insects. But I’ll admit it: ticks absolutely freak me out. Because ticks can transmit so many diseases, I started carrying a tick removal tool with me at all times.
Yes, the type of tick removal tool you use actually does matter when it comes to safely removing a tick. Here’s what you need to know about tick removal tools and some of the best options for humans.
Get the Tick Patrol Tool to put on your keychain so you’ll always have a tick removal tool with you. But also get the Majestic Pointed-Tip Tweezers or TickEase Tool to put in your first aid kit. These tools aren’t great for everyday carry but do a better job of removing nymph ticks as well as splinters.
Why You Need to Remove Ticks ASAP
In addition to Lyme disease, ticks can transmit many other diseases. The CDC website currently lists 16 different tick-borne illnesses. Scary, right?
The good news is that ticks usually don’t start to feed right away. It usually takes 12-24 hours for the tick to start feeding on you. So, if you are able to remove the tick within 24 hours, there is very little chance of contracting Lyme disease or one of the other tick-borne illnesses.
The takeaway? Always have a tick removal tool handy so you can get any ticks off immediately.
How to Remove a Tick
The CDC says that the best way to remove a tick is to:
- Grab it using fine-tipped tweezers. Flat-tipped tweezers don’t work well for tick removal.
- Grasp as close to the head as possible.
- Pull straight upwards. Do not twist or jerk the tick.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with alcohol, iodine, or soap and water.
- Dispose of the live tick by soaking it in alcohol or sealing it in a bag and throwing it away. Never crush a live tick with your fingers. This could release pathogens.
The methods below can irritate the tick and increase the chances of pathogens entering your body. Never try to remove a tick by:
- Touch the tick with hot match/fire
- Use peppermint oil or any other essential oils
- Apply petroleum jelly
- Submerse the tick in alcohol
- Try to suffocate the tick
- Squeeze the tick’s body
- Twist the tick
Types of Tick Removal Tools
Tick removal tools can be broken down into five types: tweezers, V-shaped tools, tick keys, twist tools, and tick lassos. Some are much more effective than others. Here’s what you need to know.
Tweezers are what experts recommend for removing ticks. However, not all tweezers work well for removing ticks. Tweezers which are designed for plucking eyebrows usually have wide, straight ends. These make it hard to grasp the tick at its head, especially when the tick is embedded deep into soft skin. It is also nearly impossible to properly remove nymph ticks with normal tweezers.
Instead, look for tweezers which have pointy ends (such as tweezers for ingrown hairs or “precision tweezers”). These will be able to grasp and remove adult ticks as well as tiny nymph ticks.
V-shaped tick tools are very easy to use and do a good job of grasping ticks at their mouthparts. They are especially useful for removing ticks from little kids who won’t sit still. Just make sure you are pulling upwards and not off to the side.
However, V-shaped tools don’t work well on nymph ticks. Those ticks are too small for the tool to grasp the tick well.
Tick keys are essentially V-tools which have been put on a keychain. This makes it very convenient to carry the tool with you at all times.
Twist Tools (Not Recommended)
You might have read that you can grab a tick’s body and “unscrew it.” The idea is that the twisting motion will cause the tick’s jaws to unlatch. Many popular tick removal tools (such as the O’Tom Tick Twister) are based on this idea. However, tick’s mouths are not screw-shaped. You cannot unscrew them. Rather, ticks have barbs on their mouthparts which allow them to get a damn-good grip on your skin.
As warned about here, “Twisting off the head should be avoided, because this may cause the tick’s potentially infectious body fluids to escape.” Further, studies show that twisting increases the likelihood that the mouth parts will break off in the skin.
The CDC says that you should always remove a tick by pulling straight upwards in a clean motion. So avoid using any tick removal tools which work by twisting.
Tick Lassos (Not Recommended)
These tools have a little string “lasso” which you put around the tick. Then you pull the lasso around the tick mouth parts and pull. These tools make it easy to remove ticks in difficult places, such as on top of the head. They also make it easy to remove ticks from squirmy children.
The problem is that tick lasso tools don’t pull straight upwards, so there is an increased chance of the tick head remaining in the skin. Lasso tools also don’t seem to work as well on tiny nymph ticks or ticks which aren’t engorged yet.
The Best Tick Removal Tools
Here are some of the best tick removal tools that are actually safe for human use. Remember, a tick removal tool only works if you have it with you. For that reason, my #1 pick is Tick Patrol because it can be carried on your keychain or in your wallet. However, it won’t remove nymph ticks so I also keep a pair of needle-nose tweezers (#2 or #3) in my hiking first aid kit. These tweezers aren’t practical for everyday carry but do a much better job of removing tiny ticks safely.
The reason I like this tick removal tool is because it can be attached to your keychain, which means you are more likely to actually have it on you when you notice a tick bite. It’s wide design makes it easy to hold. The shape is suitable for ticks on humans or pets.
- Pros: Can carry it on your keychain; easy to use; works on humans and animals
- Cons: Doesn’t remove nymph ticks well
- Buy Here at REI or here at Amazon
These tweezers are wha I keep in my hiking first aid kit. Even though they are marketed for removing ingrown hairs, they are perfect for removing ticks as well as splinters. The pointy end makes it very easy to grasp ticks near their mouthparts. You can even grasp nymph ticks without a problem.
The only real downside with using these tweezers for tick removal is that they are SHARP. They do come with a cap and a little tube that you can use for storage. Make sure you don’t lose the cap or the tweezers will poke a hole in your first aid kit.
- Pros: Removes nymph ticks as well as adults; also great for removing splinters
- Cons: Large; easy to lose cap; can’t carry on keychain
- Buy Here
This tick removal tool is double sided. One side has very fine, pointy tips for grasping ticks at the head. You can even get nymph ticks with them. The other side of the tool has the V-shaped scoop for removing adult or engorged ticks easier. This makes it the perfect tool if you have pets or squirmy kids. The tool comes with a cap but, like with most pointy tweezers, they are hard to carry with you on the go.
- Pros: Can use on adult or nymph ticks; V tool makes removal easier
- Cons: Large, easy to lose cap; can’t carry on keychain
- Buy Here
This is a set of two tick removal tools: one fine-point tweezer and a V-shaped tool. They come in a handy carrying case and also comes with a tick identification card. The handles on the tools are wider, so it does make it slightly easier to hold the tool.
- Pros: Two tools in set; carrying case, thick handles for good grip
- Cons: Bulky to carry around with you
- Buy Here
5. Tick Nipper
This tick removal tool has a slot that you use to grab the tick. Just pull upwards to remove the tick, head and all. The scoop will catch the tick, so you don’t risk dropping it.
The good thing about this tool is that it allows you to securely grasp the tick at the right spot without risk of cutting off the head by mistake. It also has a built-in magnifying glass which you can use to look for ticks on your body or make sure you got all of the tick out.
- Pros: Good for people with unsteady hands; magnifying glass
- Cons: Doesn’t work very well on nymph ticks
- Buy Here
6. Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper
These tweezers are great because they have a nice pointy end for grasping ticks. The lid cover means they also are suitable for EDC (everyday carry). While I still find it easier to use the Majestic Tweezers above, these are way easier to carry with you.
- Pros: Good for adult and nymph ticks; has cap, can put on keychain
- Cons: Pointy end not very precise
- Buy Here
7. Mini Tweezer Set
Because I don’t always have my first aid kit with me, I got a pair of these miniature pointed-tip tweezers and keep them in my wallet (they come in a set; the flat-tipped ones aren’t suitable for removing ticks). This way I always have a pair of tweezers on me. They are cheap and admittedly kind of crappy, but the ends line up well enough and they get the job done.
- Pros: Only 2.5 inches long; fit in a wallet; good for adult and nymph ticks
- Cons: No cap; not as precise as some larger tweezers
- Buy Here
What If the Head Gets Stuck in the Skin?
If you use the tick removal tool properly, the head should come out of the bite point. However, even when pulled out properly, the tick head can still break off and get stuck in your skin.
To remove a stuck tick head, you can try to dig it out like you would a splinter (you’ve got a safety pin in your camping first aid kit, right?) However, this is actually a lot harder than you’d think. The little barbs on the tick mouth parts get deeply embedded into the skin.
I recently had a tick head get stuck in my skin. It caused a surprising amount of inflammation around the bite site. The tick head eventually came out on its own, but it took two weeks.
Read about how to remove a stuck tick head here.
Keep a Watch for Lyme’s Disease
In 70-80% of cases of Lyme’s disease, people will develop a rash on the site of the tick bite. The rash usually occurs an average of 7 days after the bite, but can be as soon as 3 days or as late as 30 days.
Note that the rash isn’t always a bull’s eye shape. Be on the lookout for any rash, especially a rash which is spreading. When I got Lyme disease, it was not in a bull’s-eye shape. See pictures of Lyme disease rashes here.
It is important that you pay attention to this sign so you can get treatment right away. Also be on the lookout for any other symptom of Lyme’s disease. You can read more about the symptoms here at the CDC.
Preventing Lyme Disease After Being Bit
Unless you send each tick which bites you off for testing, you won’t know for sure whether you might have gotten Lyme disease. Basically you have to wait, watch for a rash (which not everyone gets), and hope you don’t get sick.
The one protective action you can take is to use an extractor tool. Basically, you put the extractor over the bite spot (after removing the tick) and it sucks out fluids. They are mostly used for snake bites, scorpion bites, and bee stings, but many people use them after getting bit by a tick.
Sawyer makes a good extraction tool. It currently costs $17 at REI. Get it here.