How to Get Rid of Fleas. What works, what doesn’t.
First of all… Are you sure they’re fleas? If you are, grab a beer and skip the next two paragraphs.
If you’re not sure, you are not alone. I struggled with this at first; I had NEVER seen a flea, and most image searches online bring up something that looks like this monstrous brown creature with hind legs that rival a member of the German Women’s Shot Put team. Pretty freakish looking, isn’t she? Unfortunately to the naked eye, the images that come up look NOTHING like a flea. If you don’t have any bites on yourself, or you have bites but don’t have any pets, you may not even realize you have them until the problem is out of control.
My son started getting some weird bites on his legs this past summer. They looked very much like mosquito bites, but they itched FAR worse, and unfortunately, they weren’t healing like mosquito bites do. I took him to three different pediatricians, an allergist and a dermatologist. ALL of them diagnosed him as having a hypersensitivity to mosquito bites. None of the other members of the house had as much as a spot on them. Yes, we had a cat, but she was strictly an INDOOR cat. We went from doctor to doctor getting the same diagnosis. Meanwhile my seven year old son was absolutely miserable. I felt like a horrible parent.
If I had only known we had fleas. I tell you all this because I feel it’s important to be informed.
Just because one member of the family has bites and the rest don’t does not mean you don’t have fleas.
Just because you have an indoor pet who NEVER gets out does not mean you don’t have fleas.
Just because you don’t have a pet does not mean you don’t have fleas.
The easiest way to confirm the presence of fleas is to do a light trap. Take some dinner plates (it helps if the plate is white, but it’s not necessary) and place them throughout the house. Put some water in them, maybe a half inch if you can. Place a tea light or other candle on the plate. Put a few drops of dish soap in the water to break the water tension. Light the candle, and turn down the lights. I know this should go without saying, but don’t put the traps anywhere near something flammable. You could also put them under a nightlight if it makes you feel safer. Check the plates in the morning. Do you have what looks like black specks floating in them? If they’re wingless, they’re probably fleas. I use these every night for several nights after attempting a treatment.
So what does a flea look like? Think of a flake of course black pepper, that’s there one second and gone the next and that pretty much hits the nail on the head. They are small (1/16 of an inch up to 1/8 of an inch), wingless, dark brown to black in color, and laterally compressed (they look flat from side to side). This was the strangest thing to me about their appearance. When they’re upright, they literally look like a flake of pepper. When lying on their side (dead fleas, YAY!) they appear much larger, you can even make out their back jumping legs.
If you’ve determined that you do indeed have fleas, read on. If you’ve ruled out fleas but want to see how miserable they can make you, read on.
I should probably insert a little disclaimer here. I’m not a professional. Everything I’ve learned about fleas I’ve learned through personal experience (the last couple of months) or through the internet. If you try something I wrote about and you end up blowing up your house or something, don’t sue me. Read all directions completely, things like turning off your pilot lights isn’t a step you should choose to ignore. Then again, hey, if your house blows up at least the flea problem is over with. No guarantees here, your mileage may vary.
Ridding yourself of fleas is serious business that requires commitment. It requires vigilance. It requires time. Please don’t be like me. Don’t waste time on quick fixes. Quick fixes like foggers and bombers don’t work when used alone. Flea powders and sprays don’t work when used alone. (I’ll go into why shortly.)
I’m speaking from experience here. I’m deadly serious.
To understand why the quick fixes don’t work (at least not on their own), you have to understand the life cycle of a flea. I’ll try to break it down and not dwell too long on it, because basically it bores the hell out of me.
Fleas have four stages to their life cycle. Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Adult.
Egg: The eggs are not sticky, and they usually fall off of the animal/bed/human/etc into the carpet, bedding, floorboards, and soil. When the flea egg hatches varies -- anywhere from two days to several months, depending on environmental conditions. These little bastards rank right up there with cockroaches; they’ll survive a nuclear blast. The one thing that will take care of the eggs is a chemical with an IGR (Insect Growth Regulator). IGR’s prevent Eggs, Larva, and Pupa from developing into Adults.
Larva: About ¼ inch long, and white. They actively move. They eat the feces of adult fleas (mostly dried blood, yuuuum), within a few days to a few weeks they spin a cocoon and become Pupa.
Pupa: This is the last stage before they turn into blood sucking adults. They can stay in their nice comfy warm cocoon for as short as a few days up to *gulp* a year. (Even longer if you believe what some say.)
Adults: The easiest stage to kill. Bombs work wonders on this stage (Unfortunately, this is the ONLY stage bombs, sprays and foggers work on). Adults feed off of their blood hosts (Spot the Dog, Princess the Kitty, and any random human unfortunate enough to be in the presence of them). Once they get their blood meal they can lay up to fifty eggs a day.Think of it this way, every day that you don’t attack these things the problem gets worse. It’s not going to just go away… So what do you do? What don’t you do?
Get out your trusty old vacuum. Get prepared to spend a lot of time together. Buy extra vacuum bags. You don’t have carpeting and thus, no vacuum? Borrow one. I’m serious; you’re going to need a vacuum cleaner and extra bags.
- Buy garbage bags. A lot of them. When I finally got serious about my flea issue I bought three boxes with 40 bags each. A little overkill, but hey, it’s not like you wont use them eventually, right?
- Buy a ton of extra laundry detergent. You are going to be doing a
- Get out the mop, bucket, your floor cleaner of choice, some rags, paper towels, glass cleaner, and other assorted cleaning supplies. Your house may have fleas in it right now, but it’s about to become as clean as it’s EVER been.
- If you’d like to go a more non toxic route, go to a nursery (of the plant variety vs. where the babies are) and buy the biggest bag of Diatomaceous Earth (the food type, not the stuff for your pool filter) that you can find. I went to Lowe’s and got a bag for $7.00. Some folks suggest Borax, which I used to a smaller degree, but I had better luck with the Diatomaceous Earth. Instructions for DE are down near the bottom of this post. It’s also possible to give your cat a non-toxic flea dip using household items, but I have to warn you, when I did this my cat got so angry she bit through my thumb nail, splitting it open. It wasn’t pretty. I’ll post the directions after the info about DE down below.
- Get out the yellow pages; find a local exterminator who sells Precor. Precor is specifically for killing fleas and contains an IGR that works for seven months. The exterminator I found sold us a bottle of Precor, an insecticide, and a sprayer for 40 bucks. You can find it cheaper online. Considerably cheaper. One 1 ounce bottle of Precor will treat 1500 square feet. Get enough to treat your house and then some. Make sure if you buy your Precor online that you also purchase or borrow an insecticide sprayer.
- Buy some tea lights and an extra bottle of dish detergent. This sounds insane, but I promise you, you’ll thank me later.
- Buy a package of bug bombs, the type that fog. They’re not all the same. Some require you to turn off your pilot lights, and they are very clear on this. READ THE PACKAGING. I know this is difficult for some, but you don’t want these foggers to turn into napalm. It doesn’t matter how bad the fleas are. We used Raid blue cans and Hot Shot blue cans.
- Buy a six pack of Bud Light. Buy a case if your flea problem is particularly bad.
Things NOT to do:
- Do not get rid of the kitty or the dog and believe this will take care of the flea problem. On top of being a little cruel, once you remove the pet, the fleas don’t have anything else to bite but you. Or your wife/husband, or your children.
- Do not set off a few flea bombs and assume your flea problems will be over. Particularly if you or a member of your family is getting bitten.
- Do not spray and assume that the fleas will just die. Regardless of what the can says.
- Do not vacuum and leave the bag in the vacuum cleaner in the house. Fleas will find a way to get out. Trust me on this. Take the frickin’ vacuum cleaner outside and dispose of the bag properly. Burn it. Or at least put it directly into a garbage bag (aren’t you glad you bought extra?) that you tie tightly and then put into another garbage bag that you tie tightly. Leave that bag outside. Or just burn it. If your vacuum bags are particularly expensive, get some gallon sized Ziploc bags, take the vacuum cleaner outside, and put the bag into a Ziploc bag. Put the Ziploc bag into the freezer. Rinse and repeat.
This is what I did. I had a pretty hefty infestation AND a seven year old who was . (Pardon the language.) being tortured by these little fuckers. I also had a semi-cluttered house. Not dirty, just cluttered. So take all that into account.
Unless you live in a McMansion or a seriously cluttered or just dirty home, a majority of the following can be done in one day.
First things first, get any pets and kids out of the house (Take the pets to the vet to get a flea treatment if you plan on keeping them, or surrender them to the Humane Society if you can’t or are too emotionally fried from the whole experience). I know it sounds cruel, but this is war. Then buy everything in the list I posted earlier.
You must give your house the cleaning of its life. A spotless GLEAMING house from floor to ceiling is a good start.
Take down any fabric window coverings and put them into a garbage bag. Pick up any clothing, stuffed animals, fabric covered toys, pillows, bedding etc. Stuff them into garbage bags, tie them tightly. You might have to make some sacrifices in this department. I have two children and an UNGODLY amount of stuffed animals, most of which the kids don’t particularly care about. Some of which cannot be washed. My rule when going through this was to be heartless. If it hadn’t been touched in two months it got pitched. If it couldn’t be washed, it got pitched. If I couldn’t guarantee that there were no fleas in it, it got pitched. I pitched a basket with probably a thousand crayons and markers in it just because it sat on a table where the cat liked to lounge. I tossed a bunch of couch pillows, some old bedding – I was brutal. I figured if I threw it out I didn’t have to clean it.
If you plan on keeping your pet (I’m sorry if this sounds heartless, I know how a pet is a member of the family), make sure you bag up all of the bedding for the pet. I would suggest pitching any litter boxes (they’re cheap, go buy another one) as well as any opened food and litter.
Once we decluttered, we dusted every surface we could. All of the places that get neglected from time to time, like the back of your entertainment center, the top of your TV, your windowsills… Then we broom swept the entire house. After we broom swept we vacuumed. We ran that Hoover over EVERYTHING. We got all of the cracks and crevices, all of the floor boards, all of the furniture, the mattresses, under cushions, in the zipper pulls on anything that’s upholstered. We pulled the stove and fridge away from the walls and cleaned behind them. We hoover’d all of the intake vents, particularly the one for the fridge. You’d be shocked where fleas can lay eggs.
An often forgotten spot to vacuum and spray would be your car. While you’re cleaning have a helper drive your car to the local carwash and give it the vacuum of its life. When you get it back to your house, give it a good spray down with the Precor mixture. Leave the windows up, and get back to the house, you have a lot of work to do.
Any clothes in your house that you can do without wearing for the next couple of days go into garbage bags that you then tie VERY tightly. Store these bags in a garage. Or some out of the way place. While you are cleaning (and this is VERY important. Get a change of clothes for you and ever member of the family, and run them through the washer on the hottest setting you can. Dry them on the hottest setting the dryer has. When they’re done put them directly into a garbage bag and tie it tightly. You’re going to have a lot of garbage bags around with clothing in them, mark this one in some way so you know your clean (flea free) clothes are in them. Maybe just throw them in the car.
I know that no one enjoys vacuuming, but think of this as sucking up thousands of flea eggs. Instant death. When you’re convinced you’ve vacuumed every surface in your house that could hide a flea egg, take the vacuum cleaner outside and remove the bag. Burn it preferably, but at the very least take that vacuum cleaner outside and dispose of the bag. Put the vacuum bag into a garbage bag and tie it. Then put that garbage bag into a trashcan far away from your house. I actually double bagged it. Can’t be too safe J Or at the very least take it outside, remove the bag, stuff it into a Ziploc bag, make sure you don’t have any live fleas on you, put the Ziploc bag into a freezer.
Now, get ready to spray.
Be prepared to be out of the house for awhile, they told us 4-6 hours. If I would have had the extra money at this point I would have just booked a hotel. Make sure that all pets are long gone, birds are particularly vulnerable to some of these chemicals. If you have fish, pay close attention to the instructions on the fogger boxes. If you’re following my advice, you’ll be spraying the Precor on ever surface in the house, and as you’re leaving, you’ll be setting off flea bombs to kill any adults.
Spray as much of your house as you can. Pay close attention to upholstered furniture, under cushions, window sills, all of your molding on the floor, all of those little cracks and crevices. Also, pay particularly close attention to your pets living areas… Those places your pet frequents. I also sprayed all of the carpeting in my one carpeted room, all of the mattresses in the house… I would have bathed my house in this stuff if I could have.
I understand that some people think that bombing on top of this is overkill, but I had a kid who was suffering. I was willing to do anything up to and including burning my house down. If you’re planning on bombing/fogging, make sure that any opened food (like fruit sitting out) is covered. I just threw mine out, I didn’t want to take any chances. Leave all of your drawers and cabinets open. Read the directions on the back of that fogger/bomber and follow them to the letter. Make sure you have enough to cover your entire house. Lay some newspaper down under each bomb. Set them off, and run like hell out of your house.
Say goodbye to the little bastards. You might even wave while you’re pulling away from your house. Or be like me and give them the finger.
At this point you need to go somewhere (I went to my mom’s house) shower and change your clothes. What you have on could possibly have fleas on it. As soon as you change your clothes, put them directly into a garbage bag, tie it tightly, or if you’re fortunate to be somewhere with a washer and dryer, just toss them into the laundry on the hottest setting available. Aren’t you glad I told you to pack a change of clothes?
After 4-6 hours (we waited five and were fine), go back home. The foggers leave a little bit of a lingering smell, open your windows to air it out. The Precor leaves no scent. Clean up the fogger/bomber mess (basically the cans and the newspaper). Crack open a beer and relax for a bit. If you still have it in you, go ahead and so some more vacuuming and sweeping. If you had even a moderate flea issue there’s bound to be a ton of dead fleas everywhere.
If you come across a few live fleas, DON’T PANIC! We were told by the exterminators that sold us the Precor that seeing some minor activity would be normal for 7-10 days. We didn’t see any for a few days, but after three or four we would see a flea a day for another week. I set out light traps every night but never caught more than a flea a night. Considering the fact that I found close to twenty fleas one night in one trap, I wasn’t completely freaking out.
If you find yourself freaking out, and you are confident that you saturated your home including those hiding places I talked about, you might consider reapplying the Precor in a few days.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
I wasn’t completely freaking out, so I chose to go a more environmentally friendly route. Here is where the diatomaceous earth (DE) or the borax comes into play. But I’m warning you, it may be cheaper, it may be non toxic, but it’s messy. Here’s another warning, DE is the consistency of baby powder and is irritating to the lungs. They suggest that you wear a mask when laying down DE. I didn’t use it, and had no problems with it, but once again, your milage may vary. Better to be safe, wear the mask.
Find yourself a yogurt container, or some other container that you can poke holes into the bottom of. Put the DE in it and sprinkle it over the floors. I had wood floors and it was an amazing mess. Put it under cushions in your furniture, sprinkle it on your sills, throw some behind your fridge and stove, basically, act like a child and make a phenomenal mess with it. If you have wood floors like I do, pay close attention to the cracks, crevices and molding of your floor. Use a broom and really work it into those spaces. If you have carpeting, use the broom to work it down into the carpet fibers. Be prepared to be covered in the stuff for awhile. Depending on who you believe you leave it down for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. I left it down the first time (Before I tried the Precor plus foggers) for three days. After getting sick of being covered in dust I HAD to sweep it up. You’ll be amazed what you sweep up after a few days of leaving this stuff down. Countless fleas. Dead dead dead.
Unfortunately when used on its own (without the Precor) this stuff didn’t completely do the trick for me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t leave it down long enough, maybe because it doesn’t work on eggs. I’m not sure, either way, I definitely put a dent in the activity in my house, but didn’t completely take care of the problem. The cons include the mess it makes, and the fact that it dries out EVERYTHING it touches. My daughter’s hair (She’s two) had to be washed twice a day, and it made our skin pretty dry. But it *DID* work to a point. Maybe if I had carpeting and it hadn’t been so noticeable it would have worked better for us.
Non-Toxic flea bath for your pet.
The quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get rid of fleas on your pet is to give them a bath, then move them immediately to a non-flea infested area. Preferably far far away. This can be extremely difficult if you have a cat with claws who hates water.
I found an easier solution to the bath issue with my cat (after losing a thumbnail to a nasty bite she gave me) by doing the following. Get the cat into the bathroom. This can be difficult enough if your cat has been bathed before and hated it.
Cats apparently have VERY long memories.
Once you have your pet trapped in the bathroom, get out some Dawn blue dish detergent. Draw a ring around their neck to prevent the little bastards from traveling to higher ground. At this point wrap them in the biggest beach towel you can find… This way you are protected at the very least from any claws. It also makes them infinitely easier to control. There’s NOTHING worse than being trapped in a small bathroom with a soaking wet cat covered in soap who has turned into a rabid wolverine.
Douse the towel in dish soap and submerge your pet up to their neck in the water. This will no doubt piss your pet off to no end. You need to keep them submerged for a few minutes… If they can handle five minutes, you’re golden. Five minutes is an eternity when you’re doing this, pass the time by imagining the screams of fleas as they drown. Whistle a happy tune. (I know, I’m sick.)
Once a few minutes have passed, start to wash the soap out. The good news is you’ll see some dead fleas floating, and believe it or not your pet will be considerably more happy. Get a comb out that you don’t mind sacrificing to the cause and comb your pet. If you see fleas on the comb, dunk it in the soapy water. I did this once a week (I was afraid the stress was going to kill my cat or I would have done it more.)
It’s not fun, but if you have a pet who is sensitive to flea treatments, or you want to go a more environmental route, this is the way to go.
Well, that’s it. That’s all the advice I have. Having fleas is a nightmare, but you can get through it. You can even get through it without hiring an expensive exterminator. YOU CAN DO IT! Be vigilant, be brutal, and be persistent. Hang in there, and feel free to ask me anything, I’ll get back to you quickly, I promise.