If you’re a pet owner, there’s a high probability that you’ll end up dealing with fleas at some point—even the cleanest pets in the cleanest homes face this reality. Flea bites cause severe itching on both animals and people, and can even cause serious skin diseases like flea allergy dermatitis. Even if you don’t have pets, you could still be susceptible to a flea infestation in your home due to animals walking through your yard and bringing fleas with them.
Here’s how to identify fleas, the best ways to get rid of them, and tips on how to keep them out of your home.
Fleas—These ovular flightless insects are 3 mm long and are multiple shades of brown. They travel by using powerful hind legs that allow them to leap up to 50 times their body length. Fleas are most prevalent in the summer and in warmer, humid climates. They live by consuming blood from other living creatures, and prefer other mammals to humans.
Mites—These arthropods are tiny—only 0.25–1 mm long—and have an unsegmented body. Most mites have four pairs of legs for eight total and appear velvety. Mites live in a wide variety of habitats including in soil, on plants, or as parasites feeding on other animals. Mites are often not visible to the naked eye, but their presence can be identified by the skin rash they cause, known as scabies.
Ticks—In the same order (Parasitiformes) and subclass (Acari) as mites, ticks are external parasites that live by feeding on the blood of mammals and birds. As adults, ticks are pear-shaped or ovular and are roughly the size of a sesame seed, about 2–3 mm. Ticks are the carriers of at least 12 known diseases that affect humans and animals.
Bed bugs—The common bed bug is 4–5 mm long and cannot fly or jump. They’re reddish-brown in color and have flat, seed-shaped bodies and are found most often in beds, upholstered furniture, and blankets. Bed bugs survive by feeding on human blood. They aren’t exclusively nocturnal by nature but do feed primarily on humans—often without detection—at night.
How to get rid of fleas in your home
If you spot a flea in your home or on your pet, take action immediately to prevent further problems.
Begin by treating your pet for fleas
The primary objective is to get rid of fleas on your pet to relieve any itching or discomfort and prevent the population from growing.
Wash—Give your pet a thorough bath using lukewarm water and a pet shampoo with natural insecticides. Follow the instructions carefully—many pet shampoos require a waiting period of 5–10 minutes. Dry your pet with a towel.
Clean—In addition to washing your pet, you’ll need to wash any toys or bedding to remove any flea eggs. Place all toys, bedding, and towels used to dry your pet into the washer and run it using the hot/cold cycle with ample laundry detergent.
Brush—After bathing your pet, use a fine-tooth flea comb to brush your pet’s fur and dislodge any remaining fleas. Remove the fleas from the comb promptly and dispose of them in soapy water.
Apply spot treatment—Use prescription-strength spot treatments or similar products to treat emerging adult fleas and prevent future infestations from occurring. Products to consider:
Once-a-month topical creams (consult your veterinarian for recommendations)
To exterminate fleas and clear your home of eggs, larvae, and pupa, try these easy solutions:
Vacuum floors—Remove items from the floor and vacuum all surfaces—carpets and bare floors. Vacuuming is a fast solution to get rid of fleas and will get rid of a majority of flea eggs and adult fleas. If you’ve found a flea on your pet or in the home, vacuum once a week for at least one month.
Do laundry—Wash your sheets, clothes, and towels. Even if you spotted only a single flea, consider washing all clothes and linens. You don’t want to risk missing items that contain fleas or larvae.
Set out liquid dish detergent—Make a simple toxic solution that will kill fleas instantly. Add 5–10 drops of liquid dish detergent to a bowl of water. Mix the solution for 10–15 seconds with a finger or a spoon. Place the bowl on the ground under lamplight. The light will attract fleas to the bowl, and the toxic solution will kill fleas instantly.
Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth—Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder that contains microscopic remains of algae. Sprinkle over areas you suspect there are fleas. Fleas have an exoskeleton that will be cut by the sharp edges of the microscopic diatom causing them to dry out and die. If you decide to use this product purchase the food-grade option to ensure safety for yourself and your pets.
Deploy flea foggers—A chemical product, flea foggers should be used only as a last resort. Flea foggers disperse toxic gas in large open rooms. It is critical that the instructions are followed. Advanced planning is required, as your family and your pets will need to be out of your home while the fogger is deployed. Prior to use, turn off your electricity at the breaker box, put away all kitchen tools, utensils, and countertop appliances, close all cabinets, cover your furniture, open all interior doors, and close all the windows.
Add herbal plants to your home—Once clean and pest-free, consider adding plants like sage, rosemary, and lemon balm to your home. These house plants secrete essential oils that deter fleas from entering a home and prevent them from laying eggs.
Clean your yard to get rid of and prevent fleas
Fleas can also live outside of your home. A simple test to determine if fleas are present in your yard is to wear high, white socks or long, white pants and walk slowly around your yard. Fleas will stand out against the white material.
Should you spot any fleas, here are three simple tips to remove fleas from your yard and prevent them from entering your home:
Do yard work—Remove any debris piles or downed trees. Trim hedges and shrubbery. Cut away any low-hanging tree branches. Take steps to ensure your yard receives as much direct sunlight as possible as fleas prefer shaded areas.
Consider chemical solutions—Use insecticide or growth regulators to kill any remaining fleas. Follow instructions carefully, as many chemical solutions are toxic to pets, children, and adults. Consult a veterinarian if you’re uncertain about certain chemical remedies.