By Cassie Johnston
Share this post:
It happens to me more often than I’d like—I feel an itch somewhere on my body, reach down to scratch, and feel a little lump that wasn’t there before—uh-oh, I’ve got a tick bite! What do I do? How do I remove the tick safely? How do I treat the bite site? In this post, I’m going to walk you through the exact protocol I use when I find a tick on myself or someone in my family.
Before we get started though, an important note: I am not a healthcare professional and have absolutely zero hours of healthcare training (I have a fine arts degree, thankyouverymuch). This protocol for removing a tick is based on what works for us in our own home and was developed from lots of research and trial-and-error. As with all content on Wholefully, this is presented for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of your healthcare professional. You can read our full disclosures document here.
The very first thing I do when I find a tick is take a deep breath. Seriously, I take one long deep breath. I want to do this tick removal thing properly, and I can’t do that if I’m freaking out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Secondly, I ask myself the question: is the tick latched on or just crawling around? If it’s just crawling around, I pick that jerk off and either flush it down the toilet or smash it with my foot. I’m normally more of a catch-and-release kinda gal, but not with ticks. Kill. Kill. Kill. And yay! I didn’t get a tick bite! I’m done. Woohoo!
If it is latched on, it’s time to get that guy packing. I grab my tick kit. (You do have a tick kit, don’t you? Nope? Well, you can learn how to make one at this post).
This is the stuff I use from my tick kit for tick removal:
It is easier and more affordable to test for tickborne illnesses in ticks than in humans. So I save every tick that bites a member of my family for possible later testing. Before I remove the tick, I take a sticky note and write the date, the person the tick was attached to, and where it was attached (right wrist, behind left ear, etc.).
There are two things I keep in mind when removing a tick: (1) I want to get every piece out and (2) I want to try not to squeeze the body of the tick. By squeezing the body, it just squirts the pathogen soup from the tick back into my body. That is why a tick key is so good—it removes the tick at the head without squeezing the body at all. Just pull the skin taut, slide the tick key around the tick, and then firmly pull until it is removed. (I had to Photoshop ticks into these photos because we’ve reduced our tick population so much, they are hard to find now!)
If I don’t have my tick key around, tweezers will also work. Tweezers are also the better option when there is a lot of hair in the way (like on the scalp). They have specific tick removal tweezers out there, but I haven’t found them any better than my regular ole CoverGirl pink tweezers.
Again, I pull the skin taut, and place the tweezers right against the skin where the head is connected. Squeeze around the tick’s head, and then firmly pull to remove it. I try not to squeeze the body—I really try to make sure the touchpoint of the tweezers is right on the place where the tick connects to the person’s body.
The tweezer method tends to sometimes leave remnants behind (parts of the legs or head)—especially when working with smaller ticks—so I just use the tweezers to get the remainder out. If the tick has been embedded for a long time, the area might be very swollen, and it can be hard to get everything out. A drawing salve can help with this, but another option is to mix up some bentonite clay with water and place it on the tick bite for a few hours—this will reduce the swelling and help draw out the tick parts.
If I still cannot get all the parts out, then I pack up and take a trip to the doctor or urgent care center. They can numb the area and make sure the entire tick is removed and sterile.
Most people throw out a tick after removal, but as we talked about above, I save every tick that bites my family. I place the tick on the sticky note I created and tape it down with a piece of scotch tape. Then I place it in a zip-top bag in my freezer.
The bare minimum I’d feel comfortable with is keeping the tick for a month, but we tend to keep an entire season of ticks in the freezer at a time. We just keep them in the same bag in the door.
Once the tick is out, I then clean the area well with soap and water. Antiseptic spray or cleaner could also be used here. Then, I like to do a bit of prophylactic treatment and use herbal antibiotics on the bite site. Two ways I’ve done this in the past: I cover the spot liberally in Andrographis tincture and stop there if it’s a hairy spot, but if it’s bare skin, I then put a big glob of bentonite clay mixed with water over it. The Andrographis boosts immunity and is naturally antimicrobial. The bentonite clay helps to draw pathogens (and the itchiness!) out of the skin. I then cover the whole thing with a big ole bandage.
Another option I am now using is to cover the tick bites with my Antimicrobial Black Drawing Salve and then just covering the whole thing in a bandage. If it’s a hairy spot, I stick to just the Andrographis tincture still.
I’ve also used a traditional antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) in a pinch as well. Either way, I leave it on for 24 hours before removing. I then let the bite live in open air or cover it up with a fresh dressing—whichever feels more comfortable. A word of warning: tick bites can be incredibly itchy for weeks. It’s the worst.
Since I live in non-Lyme-endemic area, I keep a close eye on the bite location. I look out for any strange markings (like the traditional bullseye pattern of Lyme disease) or strange reactions. I also keep an eye out for any abnormal symptoms elsewhere in the body over the next few weeks—fevers, joint pain, flu-like symptoms.
If anything weird pops up, I call my healthcare professional, and then immediately send the tick off to be tested through TickReport.com—a non-profit service from the University of Massachusetts. It does run a base of $50 for a tick test (although there are some federal and state subsidies that TickReport offers depending on your location), but that is wayyyyy more affordable than the $800-$1000 out-of-pocket for a high quality Lyme test for humans. And they get me the results within three business days! I usually get my tick results back before I even get into my appointment with my health care professional.
An important reminder about tick testing: it can only test your possible exposure to tickborne pathogens, not if you’re actually infected with the illnesses. We use tick testing as a first line of information. Basically, if it comes back negative, we can assume we haven’t been exposed (at least with that particular tick). If it comes back positive, we move forward with our health care professionals for more robust methods of testing and diagnosis.
If you do live in a Lyme-endemic area, it’s worth talking with your health care professional about potential prophylactic treatment through herbal or pharmaceutical antibiotics. Some areas of the country are so endemic that any tick is automatically considered to be carrying Lyme or other tickborne illnesses. If you live in one of those areas, chances are your healthcare professional will have dealt with this many times and be able to offer recommendations on the next steps.
And that’s it. We move on with our lives and try hard not to scratch the bite site! I hope this helps you navigate the world of tick removal more confidently. As always, if you have any questions about this or any other medical issues, please contact your healthcare professional. And of course, prevention is the best medicine—here’s how we’re keeping ticks away (mostly) naturally!
Subscribers get first access to new content, exclusive recipes, giveaways, tons of freebies, behind-the-scenes updates, and a totally free eBook just for signing up!
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Will kaolin clay work as well as bentonite?
I’ve never worked with kaolin clay, so I can’t say. Sorry!
Great information, thank you for sharing what you’ve learned. I hope I never need to use this information but I’m saving a copy.
At Wholefully, we believe
vibrant, glowing health
is your birthright.
The free Living Wholefully Starter Guide is packed full of tips, tricks, recipes, and a 14-day meal plan to get you started on the road to vibrant health.
Welcome to Wholefully! Our goal is to empower you to take control of your own health. Let us show you the holistic wellness tools you need to nourish your body and uplift your mind.
In this totally free (yup!) digital book, I share with you everything you need to get started living the Wholefully life—clean eating, green beauty, natural home, self-care, mental health—we cover it all!
Many outgoing links on Wholefully are affiliate links. If you purchase a product after clicking an affiliate link, I receive a small percentage of the sale for referring you, at no extra cost to you. Wholefully/Back to Her Roots, LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
Any specific health claim or nutritional claims or information provided on the website are for informational purposes only. Nothing on the website is offered is intended to be a substitute for professional medical, health, or nutritional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See full disclosures »
We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website.
You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in settings.
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.