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. I especially hate removing ticks. I’m always afraid that I’ll accidentally squish the tick with tweezers, causing blood to squirt everywhere. To make my life easier, I upgraded to a tick removal tool.
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? Check for ticks after going outdoors. Have a tick removal tool handy so you can get the buggers off immediately.
How NOT to Remove a Tick
Before we get to the best tick removal tools, let’s talk about how not to remove a tick. Every tick season, I see a lot of videos circulating around which show new “better” ways to remove a tick.
For example, there was that viral video of a woman applying peppermint oil to a latched-on tick. In a matter of seconds, the annoyed tick crawls out of her skin.
While this tick-removal method seems to work, it is actually unsafe and should NEVER be used.
As Dr. Neeta Connally, assistant professor of Biology at Western Connecticut State University and Borreliosis and Associated Disease Awareness UK say, this method can irritate the tick and cause it to salivate.
The saliva means increased risk that disease-causing pathogens will get into your body from the tick. So, it is better to never irritate the tick. Instead, you want to get it off your body as quickly as possible, before it has a chance to regurgitate into your skin.
- 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
Also Never Twist Ticks
You might have also 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.
Well, tick’s mouths are not screw-shaped, so unscrewing them isn’t going to work. Rather, ticks have barbs on their mouthparts which allow them to get a damn-good grip on your skin.
Unscrewing a tick just means you’ll pull off its body, leaving the head stuck in your skin. This can result in an infection. Or, as I discovered the time I got a tick head stuck in my skin, a lot of inflammation (here’s how you remove a stuck tick head).
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.
If you are really worried that the tick might contain the Lyme’s disease pathogens, then you can take it to your doctor for testing.
Types of Tick Removal Tools
Tick removal tools can be broken down into three types: twist tools, tweezers, and V-shaped tools. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Twist Tools (Not Recommended)
The CDC says that you should always remove a tick by pulling straight upwards in a clean motion. However, you’ll find a lot of tick removal tools that tell you to twist.
Yes, twisting can make it easier to remove a stuck tick. But it might also increase the chance that the tick head will break off in your skin. Play it safe and abide by the CDC guidelines: avoid twisting tick removal tools!
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.
Look for tweezers which have pointy ends (such as tweezers for ingrown hairs). These will be able to grasp and remove adult ticks as well as tiny nymph ticks. They are also great for removing splinters or debris from wounds. After an incident where my daughter fell onto a prickly bush, I now always carry tweezers in our first aid kit!
You’ll also find a lot of tick keys which have V-shaped slots. These do grasp the tick well and can be used for humans. 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.
Note that V-shaped tools don’t work well on nymph ticks. Those ticks are too small for the tool to grasp the tick well.
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, I also keep a pair of needle-nose tweezers (#2) in my hiking first aid kit. These aren’t practical for everyday carry but do a much better job of removing ticks, including nymphs.
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.
- Best For: Carrying on your keychain
- Cost: About $6 at REI – Buy Here
These tweezers are marketed as a beauty product for removing ingrown hairs. But they are also perfect as a tick removal tool and on par with what the CDC recommends using. They are really well made and the pointy ends line up perfectly. This is what I keep in my hiking first aid kit and they make it easy to grasp the mouthparts of a tick. They even come with a lifetime warranty.
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.
- Best For: Removing nymph ticks as well as adults; also great for removing splinters
- Cost: $ – Buy Here
The CDC recommends using fine-point tweezers as the best method for removing ticks, and these definitely fit the bill.
The tweezers are dual sided. One side has very fine, pointy tips for grasping ticks at the head. I like this tick removal tool because it can also be used for removing tiny splinters, thorns, etc.
The other side of the tool has the V-shaped scoop for removing ticks from pets (or kids who won’t sit still).
- Best For: People who want the option of tweezers or a V tool
- Cost: $ – 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.
- Best For: People who want tweezers and a V tool, and like the thicker handles
- Cost: $ – 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.
- Best For: People with unsteady hands.
- Cost: $ – Buy Here
Yes, these tweezers do seem a bit cheesy. However, they are actually really useful to have on the trail. The pointy tip fits the CDC recommendations for grasping the tick at its head. The magnifying glass makes it easier to see tick heads or remove splinters.
- Best For: People who want magnification when removing ticks.
- Cost: $ – 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 head can still 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.