How to Remove a Tick from a Human Without Tweezers

What can you do if a tick has burrowed in your skin but you’ve forgotten the tweezers? In this guide, we show you four ways to remove nature’s most abhorred arachnids from your hide with only soap, a needle, dental floss, or even your fingernails.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Brian Conghalie
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Ticks. The mere mention of the word is enough to send a shiver down the spine of even the most trail-hardened hikers. These tiny parasitic arachnids (yup, they’re spiders!) not only leave an irritating itch, but can transmit to humans a handful of diseases and infections, such as Lyme Disease, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and a whole host of others.

Most of the time, removing a tick is a simple matter of grabbing your pointy tweezers or removal tool and getting the job done. But what if you have neither with you on the trail?

In this guide, we explain four different methods that are every bit as effective but don’t require any specialized tools or tweezers.

Tweezers pulling out a tick on human skin
No tweezers? No problem. Find out what to do instead.

Four Methods for tweezer-free tick removal

Matches? Cigarettes? Petroleum jelly? Nail polish remover? Kind words and a prayer? We’ve heard of many ways to remove a tick without a pair of tweezers or a tick tool. Over the years, however, we’ve found four methods to be the most effective: dental floss, a needle, soap, and old-fashioned fingernails. Below, we explain how to use each method.

Remove Ticks With a Dental Floss or Thread

To use this method, you’ll need a length of floss or fine thread.

  1. Take your floss and loop it around the body of the tick.
  2. Tighten the loop and give the floss a quick, firm tug upward,
  3. Check to ensure the head has been removed from the skin. 
  4. Make sure the tick doesn’t hop onto another part of your skin and bury itself there.
Removing a tick from a human with dental floss
Remember to tug upwards firmly and quickly with the floss.

Remove Ticks With a Sewing Needle

To use this method, all you need is a needle and good eyesight! 

  1. Clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol.
  2. Grab a small sewing needle with a fine tip.
  3. Heat the tip on a stove or with a lighter or match. 
  4. Place the heated needle on the tick. This should force the tick to back out. If not…
  5. Poke the needle into the skin, ensuring you go deep enough to reach the head.
  6. Pull outward with a firm, steady motion.
  7. Check to ensure you have removed the whole tick – often the head (and the mouth parts that transmit diseases) detach from the body. If this happens, use the tip of the needle to dig the head out.
  8. Clean the bite area again to reduce the risk of infection. 
Heating up a needle with a flame
A heated needle tip placed onto the tick itself should disturb it! (©My Open Country®)

Remove Ticks With Soap

For this method, you’ll need some soap, water, and a cotton ball. 

  1. Douse your cotton ball or cotton swab in soap.
  2. Hold the ball against the tick. At this point, the tick should remove itself from your skin.
  3. Squeeze the ball tightly to kill the tick (they’re tough little critters!).
  4. Dispose of the cotton swab or ball responsibly.
Tick on cotton wool
Squeeze tightly to get the dead critter fully out!(Photo by John Tann / CC BY 2.0)

Remove Ticks With Your Fingernails

For this method, you only need a pair of sharp and longish fingernails. 

  1. Place the nails of your thumb and index finger either side of the tick.
  2. In the same motion, gently squeeze with your nails and pull upward.
  3. As with other methods, use rubbing alcohol or antibiotic treatment to prevent infection, inflammation, or a rash.
Removing a tick from a human using fingers
Always remember to squeeze upwards.

How to Avoid Tick Bites

Prevention is always better than cure. Here’s how you can prevent getting a tick bite in the first place:

1. Wear Pants

Ticks most commonly attach to their prey/carriers by way of their legs. If you hike in shorts, therefore, you’re making yourself easy fodder. To avoid this, wear long pants and tuck the bottom of your pants into your socks if hiking through tall grass or other habitats where ticks are likely to be present (more on these below).

Hiker in leggings walking through tall grass in a wooded area
Your best protection against getting ticks is to wear long pants tucked into socks.

2. Stick to the Trail

Ticks typically find their way onto humans by jumping onto their skin or clothing from tall grass, scrub, or leaf litter. This being so, you can reduce your risk of being ‘jumped’ by sticking to the middle of the trail. 

If you have to veer off-trail or cross stretches of trail where any of the above are unavoidable, do as recommended above and tuck your pants into your socks.

3. Use Permethrin

One of the most effective ways to ward off ticks and avoid any common tick-borne disease is to treat your gear with permethrin. Permethrin can be applied to any fabric, including your shoes, clothing, and backpack, and incapacitates ticks upon contact. 

Permethrin needs to be reapplied every so often (every five or six washes), so make sure to keep on top of your gear treatment schedule during tick season! 

We recommend Sawyer Products Permethrin Insect Spray.

4. Do Regular Spot Checks

Wherever you happen to do your hiking, it’s a good idea to stop every so often along the trail to check for ticks. If necessary, get a friend to help out and check areas you can’t see for yourself, like behind the knees, your back, and behind the ears.

How to Remove a Tick from a Human Without Tweezers…

When you get a tick bite, removing the “intruder” (a euphemism, to be sure!) quickly and safely is your best bet for avoiding tick-borne infection. We hope our guide has demonstrated that removing ticks is relatively easy, even if you’ve left the tweezers or tick-removal kit at home to save weight.

If you liked this article or have any questions, let us know in the comments box below And if you’d like to share his post with your friends, please do!

Last update on 2024-02-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Kieran Avatar

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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