Pets bring many joys into our lives. They give us unconditional love, keep us active and provide hours of adorable YouTube videos. They don’t judge us when we eat ice cream for dinner or decide to watch reruns of the Real Housewives of Orange County instead of the annual State of the Union address. However, for all of the great things our dogs and cats give us, there are a few “gifts” we’d rather not receive. While we can tolerate the occasional “accident” on the rug, a bout with fleas can test any pet owner’s patience.
Once fleas have entered your home, getting them out can be difficult. A flea’s first choice of residence is always on the body of an animal or human. If that’s not available, they will look for other places to live, such as inside carpeting and fabric and in between floorboards. Although these tiny pests can quickly wreak havoc on your home, don’t get discouraged. By following a few easy steps, you can ensure that both your home and your pets will soon be free of fleas.
Stages of Flea Growth
Adult. Adult fleas are wingless creatures with six pairs of legs which give them powerful jumping ability. They are about a 1/8-inch long, hard-bodied, shiny and dark in color.
Larvae. Flea larvae are white worm-like creatures that are typically around ¼-inch long. They have tiny hairs and actively crawl around searching for food. The larval stage usually lasts five to 18 days.
Pupae. During the pupal stage, the flea lives in a cocoon while it develops into an adult. The pupal stage can last as little as three days or as long as a year.
Eggs. Flea eggs are tiny white or opaque ovals. Unlike some parasites, flea eggs are not sticky, so they can easily fall off your pet and land on the carpet or furniture. Depending on their environment, eggs can take anywhere between two days and several weeks to hatch.
In order to successfully eliminate fleas and prevent reinfestation, you must treat your pets and home at the same time. The sooner fleas are discovered and treatment is initiated, the less chance they will spread to other areas and the faster your home will again be flea-free.
Steps for Ridding Your Home of Fleas
Treat all of your pets for fleas. If you have fleas in your home, there is a good chance they were brought inside by riding on Fido or Fluffy. Since your pets are the most likely source of the fleas, it is important that you isolate your furry friends from the rest of the house (and other pets, if the fleas haven’t already found them) and initiate a pet flea treatment. For information on how to rid your pets of these blood-sucking menaces, check out How to Get Rid of Fleas or How to Get Rid of Fleas on Dogs.
Wash or throw out all bedding, brushes, toys and clothing used by your pet. You can’t fully rid your pet and your home of fleas unless you treat the pet’s environment as well. All bedding—including pet beds, blankets and pillows—used by your pet both indoors and outdoors should be either thrown away or washed in hot, soapy water and dried on high heat to kill fleas. Don’t forget to include bedding used in kennels, carriers and dog houses. And if your pet sleeps on your bed or pillows, they should be washed or dry-cleaned, too. The same goes for other materials used by your pet, including rope or fabric-covered toys, brushes and combs, and even those adorable little doggie sweaters.
Vacuum every nook and cranny daily. Fleas aren’t very smart (they have tiny little flea brains, after all), so once they enter a home they often confuse the fabric of carpeting or furniture for an animal’s fur. Although they can only survive for a few days without an actual living host, fleas of all stages can live in carpets and furniture. Thoroughly vacuum every inch of your carpet, paying close attention to corners, spots covered by furniture and areas frequented by pets. You should also use a handheld vacuum or vacuum nozzle to suck the little fleas off of furniture. When vacuuming furniture, be sure to go deep into the corners and crevices where fleas like to hide. To better your chances of picking up the fleas, you should vacuum every day for at least two weeks.
Dispose of the vacuum bag carefully and immediately.Vacuuming can suck up the fleas and their eggs, but it might not kill them. Fleas can continue to live inside the vacuum bag or chamber and potentially cause reinfestation if not properly disposed. After vacuuming, you should immediately take out the vacuum bag (or the contents of the vacuum chamber, if you use a bagless vacuum) and seal it in an air-tight garbage bag. Toss the bag in an outside trash can, and definitely keep it away from your pets. You should do this each time you vacuum until you are sure the fleas are gone.
Treat your home with a flea-killing insecticide. When choosing an insecticide, be sure to look for one labeled “for indoor use,” since outdoor products often contain harsher chemicals that may be hazardous to humans and pets. Effective low-toxicity options include silica gel and diatomaceous earth. However, they are only successful at killing fleas in the larval stage, not the pupae or adult stages. Boric acid or other borates can be sprinkled onto carpets and furniture to kill both larvae and adults. Another good option is to look for products that contain “insect growth regulators” (IGRs), such as methoprene or nylar, which kill fleas by disrupting their life cycle. Well-reviewed products include Raid Flea Killer, Harris Flea & Tick Killer and Precor IGR. As always, carefully follow the insecticide’s instructions and keep family members and pets away from the areas as they are being treated.
Natural Ways to Eliminate Fleas
Baking soda. Liberally sprinkle baking soda on your furniture and carpet, and then rub it in using a broom or brush. Let it sit for 48 hours before vacuuming.
Lemon water. Cut a lemon into thin slices and add it to a pint of water. Heat the water until it boils. Then turn off the stove and let the pot sit for approximately 12 hours. Pour the lemon-water into a spray bottle and spray it in the areas where you suspect the fleas are living.
Salt. Sprinkle a generous amount of finely ground table salt over your carpet. Use a brush or broom to rub it in. Let it sit for 12 to 48 hours (leaving it on too long could result in a wet carpet, since salt attracts moisture) before vacuuming.
Flea Control Takes Time, Patience
Unfortunately, there is no immediate remedy when it comes to getting fleas out of your house. For most flea-infested homes, it takes about two weeks of daily vacuuming and cleaning to be completely flea-free. If you suspect you have an extremely large flea infestation—or if usual treatments such as vacuuming, washing and indoor insecticides don’t seem to work—you may want to consider hiring outside help. Though often costly, an exterminator can come in and treat your home with a professional-grade flea killer. Another option is hiring a carpet cleaning business or renting a high-powered carpet steamer to thoroughly clean your flea-infested carpets. When trying to rid your home of fleas, it’s important to remain patient and diligent—it won’t be long until your flea infestation is a distant memory.