Hen housing (cage or cage-free) did not impact overall abundances of northern fowl mites, Ornithonyssus sylviarum (Canestrini & Fanzago) (Acari: Macronyssidae), or chicken body lice, Menacanthus stramineus (Nitzsch) (Phthiraptera: Menoponidae). Cage-free hens received a dustbox with sand plus diatomaceous earth (DE), kaolin clay or sulphur. Weekly use varied from none to 100% of hens; 73% of hens used the dustbox at least once. Ectoparasite populations on dustbathing hens (users) were compared with those on non-user cage-free and caged hens. All materials reduced ectoparasites on user hens by 80-100% after 1 week of dustbox use. Diatomaceous earth and kaolin failed to reduce ectoparasites on non-user hens, and ectoparasites on user hens recovered after dustbox removal. A sulphur dustbox eliminated mites from all hens (including non-users) within 2-4 weeks. Residual sulphur controlled mites until the end of the experiment (up to 9 weeks), even after the dustbox was removed. Louse populations on hens using the sulphur dustbox were reduced in 1-2 weeks. Residual sulphur effects were less evident in lice, but the use of a sulphur dustbox by a higher proportion of hens extended louse control to all hens. This is the first experimental study to show that bird dustbathing in naturally and widely available dust materials (particularly kaolin) can suppress ectoparasites and thus the behaviour is probably adaptive.