How to Get Rid of Fleas in the House
While many veterinarians suggest methods to kill or prevent fleas using chemicals and medication, there are also several DIY ways to rid your pet and your home of the pesky parasites.
If you have a pet in your home, chances are you’ve dealt with fleas in the house at some point. The dark-colored parasitic insects measure 1 to 2 millimeters in length and can be hard to spot, but that doesn’t mean you won’t know they are there. The pesky bugs can jump up to 2 feet in the air, making it easy for your four-legged friend to pick them up during a walk with a pet sitter or rolling around in the backyard.
Fleas thrive in environments with warm temperatures and higher humidity levels, so warm-weather climates like Florida and the southeast have some of the highest flea populations in the U.S., says Susan Nelson, a clinical professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University. But hot weather regions aren’t the only place fleas can be found. Nelson says that fleas, which don’t like sunlight, can also survive long past several freezes during the winter when they take up residence under porches and crawl spaces and in shaded areas of the yard. When your pet walks in these areas, fleas hop on and hitch a ride on their new meal source.
“An adult female flea can lay 20 to 30 eggs per day, meaning that just a few fleas can become many fleas in a short period of time,” Nelson says.
So if you have a flea problem, here are the best store-bought and do-it-yourself remedies for removing fleas from your home.
Try These Steps First
In addition to your pet’s coat, fleas like to burrow themselves in the corners of couches, rugs and carpet and other dark, warm areas in the home where they can multiply. If you notice your pet has fleas and you’re getting bites while inside the house, you may have a flea infestation on your hands. The majority of fleas do not live on your pet but rather in the environment around your pet. This makes it even more important to properly remove the bugs from your home. The following step-by-step recommendations will help you get rid of fleas in the house:
Vacuum everything. Be sure to vacuum all floors and upholstered furniture, including underneath the furniture where fleas are more likely to hide. Use the attachment tool on your vacuum for a thorough cleaning. Pay special attention to corners, thresholds and baseboards where fleas can tend to burrow. Do this at least once a week—or more often for severe infestations.
Empty the vacuum bag outside. Go outside and empty the contents of the vacuum into a trash bag to avoid the fleas jumping back into the house. Seal the bag and toss it out.
Wash everything in hot water. Wash all bedding, curtains, blankets, dog beds and plush toys, clothing, leashes and other fabric items in the washing machine in hot, soapy water. Pay attention to the washing instructions on each item’s label. In some cases, you may need to use a professional upholstery cleaning machine or hire a company as to not ruin any of your furniture or linens.
If all else fails, ask a pro. If the infestation is severe, have your carpets professionally steam-cleaned to kill adults and larvae in the deeper areas of the carpet. It is possible it may take more than one cleaning.
Try More Intense Methods
If you’ve exhausted all of the above methods and the infestation persists, consider a chemical treatment for your home such as a flea bomb or fogger. These treatments can be purchased from your local pet store, but they may not be safe for children and pets, so be sure to follow the instructions on the label to determine when it is safe to re-enter your home.
You may also consider hiring a pest extermination company to remove fleas from your home. If you hire a professional, ask about eco-friendly treatment options that are safe for pets and kids.
Julie Reck, a veterinarian at Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that chemical treatments should be a last resort for pet owners. For heavy infestations, she says it can take up to 12 weeks to remove fleas from the home.
“If it was my house, I would try and wait out that three months before bringing in pesticides and flea bombs,” says Reck, who also recommends continuing to follow the steps above, like frequent vacuuming of the floors and underneath furniture.
Nelson endorses direct flea sprays over flea bombs and foggers because a spray allows you to target a specific area of the home, such as under the couch cushions or furniture where fleas are more likely to be.
Try DIY Flea Removal
You probably have ingredients for DIY flea removal in your pantry. Here are a few ways to try and resolve the flea infestation yourself.
To avoid harsh, store-bought chemicals, make your own spray by filling a spray bottle up halfway with apple cider vinegar and filling it the rest of the way with water. Shake the bottle well to mix. This spray will not kill the fleas, but it will create a less-than-pleasant environment for them, decreasing their chances of survival.
You can also give your pet a vinegar bath. As mentioned above, vinegar will not kill the fleas but it will pungent liquid will create an undesirable habitat for them. Vinegar is also known to soothe itchy skin. Shampoo and condition your dog as you normally would. You can supplement the bath by rinsing your pet with a mix of one part white vinegar and five parts warm water. Avoid the eye area.
Additionally, before you vacuum, liberally sprinkle baking soda on your carpets, rugs, and upholstered furniture. Let the powder sit for at least four hours, and then thoroughly vacuum it up. While baking soda won’t kill live fleas, it is known to dry out flea eggs and can eliminate the parasites from further invading your home.
“Even when everything is done correctly, it can take three to four months before all the immature stages emerge and can be eliminated,” Nelson says. “So realistic expectations are that it can take several months to eradicate a severe infestation.”
Always Remember to Remove Fleas From Your Pet
In addition to removing fleas from your home, you also need to remove them from your pet.
Use a flea comb. Run the grooming tool through your pet’s fur, paying special attention to the neck and tail, as well as underneath their arms and leg, for fleas and flea dirt. Remember, fleas like dark places and crevices.
Dip the comb in hot water with soap. The fleas should get stuck in the small teeth of the comb. Quickly dip the comb in a mix of warm water and liquid dish soap before the fleas have a chance to jump off.
Repeat. Do this as often and for as long as your pet will allow.
Bathe the dog with flea shampoo. You can also bathe your dog with a vet-approved flea shampoo using warm or cool water. Typically, flea shampoos must be left on your pet for at least 10 minutes to work properly. Rinse well. For best results, follow the instructions on the back of the shampoo bottle.
Follow with a calming shampoo. If your pet’s skin is irritated due to flea bites, follow up with a soothing anti-itch aloe or oatmeal-based conditioner to help reduce the redness. Follow the instructions on the back of the bottle.
Many groomers also offer flea baths. If you have a cat with a very bad flea infestation, it might be a wise idea to leave bathtime to a professional. Talk to your veterinarian about the best bathing options to rid your pet of fleas.
Take Preventative Measures
Preventative methods like monthly flea treatments can keep fleas at bay. These precautionary treatment methods often come in the form of a chewable pill and include brands like Trifexis, NexGard, or Comfortis. Consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any flea medication.
“Because you can’t control all environments where your pet goes, it is important to have your pet on a good flea preventive to kill any fleas that do hop on your pet so your home does not get infested,” says Nelson, who owns three indoor cats and is a big proponent of year-round flea preventatives. “It is much easier to prevent a flea infestation, especially with many of the new products on the market, than it is to get an existing infestation under control.”
Pet aren’t the only ones who can bring in fleas from the outside. Humans can, too. Which is why Reck recommends making sure the outside of the home is taken care of.
“Make sure that the first 100 feet around the home is well-manicured,” Reck says. “The grass should be trimmed closely, keep shrubs and other plants away from windows and doors and make sure that your greenery is clipped back and not free-flowing throughout the yard.”
When you see fleas on your pet or find fleas in your home, talk to your vet about placing all of the pets in your home on a pill or topical treatment.
“All of the pets in the home need to be treated, not just the pet with the most fleas,” Reck says. “If anything bites or jumps on those pets that are protected, the fleas will be killed and will not lay more eggs. This will not eliminate the fleas living in your home environment but is a step in the right direction to removing them from your home.”
As always, you should discuss with your pet’s veterinarian the best ways to combat a flea infestation in the home. They are most knowledgeable about your individual pet and can provide a proper solution for your situation. Keep all flea treatment products away from children and pets.