How I Successfully Got Rid of Fleas in My Apartment Using Non-Toxic Methods

Updated on May 17, 2019

Every Human's Worst Nightmare—Fleas!

Okay, okay, I know that fleas aren't really every human's worst nightmare, but they're horrible nonetheless. I truly hope you have never had to deal with the horror that is fleas in your living space, but if you're reading this article, I'm afraid you're already in trouble. Non-flea-infested people don't go searching for flea advice, so I will just say: I'm sorry! You have my wholehearted sympathy. On the positive side, you can do this! You can get rid of your fleas with a lot of elbow-grease. And vacuuming. Lots of vacuuming.

When my apartment was overrun with fleas, I read everything I could about how to get rid of them. I clung to other people's success stories for dear life, and they really helped me keep my sanity through this whole ordeal. I hope my story inspires you to win the fight against fleas!


My Flea Story

It all started one fall afternoon. My cat had been scratching with increasing vigor for a few weeks. The thought it could be fleas! crossed my mind a few times, but I hadn't seen a flea, nor was anyone else in the house getting flea bites. I convinced myself that Maggie couldn't possibly have fleas, and I chalked the scratching up to dry skin from the forced air heat. This all changed when I decided to search for skin irritation, and with the cat on my lap, I searched through her fur. My stomach dropped when I saw it... a small, dark shape... and movement! I had never seen a flea before and oh... it was so disgusting. Now I know that fleas can be big or small, but the one I saw was a whopper. I managed to grab it and wash it down the sink with some dish soap. Maybe there was just one flea! I thought to myself optimistically. I was deep in denial, but it was the only way I could mentally handle the idea of a flea on my cat.

My neighbors had recently flea bombed their apartment after a previous tenant moved out. Unbeknownst to them, that otherwise very nice lady had an outdoor cat... with, you guessed it, fleas. After the flea bomb, they had to vacuum every surface and crevice each day for a month to completely eradicate the fleas. How disgusting, I thought smugly, safe in my own flea-free apartment... until that horrible day when the fleas made it over to my house, too.

Never fear, I did eventually succeed in my fight against the fleas... but it was a long, horrifying process and now I know more about fleas than anyone I know. Not that I'm telling anyone, except people on the internet. Read on for scientific information about fleas, tips for combating them, and more personal experience.

Eco-Smart Flea Spray

EcoSMART Flea & Tick Killer for Carpet and Upholstery, 15 oz. Aerosol Spray Can
EcoSMART Flea & Tick Killer for Carpet and Upholstery, 15 oz. Aerosol Spray Can

EcoSmart flea spray is THE BEST! I am positive that I would have lost my mind without it. I used MANY cans of EcoSmart flea spray to get rid of my fleas. I sprayed it all over my bedroom floor (wood), and when I checked after a few minutes, I could see fleas dead on the floor. It's super gross, I know.... but it's worth it! The strong smell is the mint essential oil. It's quite strong, and quite minty, but again, it's worth it!

 

What the Heck Are Fleas?

It took me about three months to get rid of the fleas in my apartment. No, that's not a joke - it's the sad truth! About one month of that time was spent in intensive flea-eradication mode, and the remaining three months dealt with a few resurgences. Yes, fleas are very tenacious creatures!

Fleas are small (1.5 - 3.3 mm long), wingless insects with a hard outer shell. They can jump about 7 inches in a vertical direction, and 13 inches in a horizontal direction. That doesn't seem too far, but considering the size of a flea it's pretty impressive! That doesn't make me like them any more, though. Ugh.

The life-cycle of the flea is the key to killing them. If you can interrupt the feeding and breeding of the fleas, they cannot reproduce and take over your house. Fleas need to eat blood in order to reproduce. As soon as a flea eats blood for the first time, she can reproduce. About a week later, she lays an average of 27 eggs a day. The eggs hatch in a week or two and then the real trouble starts—those fleas begin to bite and reproduce, and their offspring do the same... it's easy to see how the flea population can skyrocket, and fast. They're like the rabbits of the insect world. This also explains why I didn't notice fleas in my house at first... but once we noticed, we were completely overwhelmed. A takeaway point from this is: As soon as you notice your pet scratching, or get bit yourself, take action. Don't wait!

Once the female fleas lays eggs, they develop into pupa and then adult fleas. These fleas remain in their cocoon until an animal or human passes by. This stimulates the adult flea and it hatches, instantly jumping onto you or your pet. The unfortunate part is that fleas can remain healthy in their cocoon for up to five months, so it's very difficult to be sure you've completely gotten rid of them. .

As bad as fleas are—and they're bad—they're also easy to kill if you're willing to put in a lot of hard work.

Fleas are about 1-3 mm in length, and they're really flat. It's hard to kill them unless you vacuum them up or dunk them in soapy water.
Fleas are about 1-3 mm in length, and they're really flat. It's hard to kill them unless you vacuum them up or dunk them in soapy water.

Non-Toxic Flea Removal for Pets

The best method for getting fleas off your pet depends on many things: the length of your pet's hair, your pet's temperament, and your available time. I used a simple but effective method of brushing to get rid of fleas on my cat. I also used Advantage flea drops, which worked well.With a longer-haired animal, or one that doesn't enjoy being brushed, other methods like flea dips might work better than brushing.

I am very cautious about what I give my girl, but I was so desperate that I decided to get out the big guns. Advantage flea drops worked well on my cat, and after I put them on her neck, I started to notice the fleas that I brushed out of her fur were dead. Yeah! It was such a relief.

In addition to flea drops, brushing was a really important part of my flea killing routine. I brushed my cat at least twice a day with a special comb made to catch fleas. The tines of the brush are very close together so fleas get stuck. When you catch a flea on the brush, quickly put the brush into a bowl of soapy water and push the flea into the water. The soap breaks up the surface tension of the water so the fleas cannot jump out. They sink to the bottom and die. It's really disgusting, but also very satisfying to kill fleas this way. When you have a bowl of soapy flea water, just toss it outside, far away from your house.

I continued to brush my cat twice daily while also dealing with fleas in the house. I would estimate that after a week, the flea population in our house had significantly decreased, but it wasn't gone yet. I felt hope at this point, though!

I actually enjoyed brushing my cat twice daily—at least, I did after most of the fleas were gone. I would sit on the bathroom floor near the heating vent (ahhh, warm!) and she would run right into my lap. She purred throughout each 10 minute brushing, and to this day she still stands in the bathroom and meows to be brushed!

Advantage II Flea Prevention

Flea Prevention for Cats Over 9 lbs, 6 Pack, Advantage II
Flea Prevention for Cats Over 9 lbs, 6 Pack, Advantage II

There are many flea drops for sale, but this is the brand that I used on my 12 pound cat. She didn't have any side effects from these drops.

 

How Did You Win the Fight?

How did you get rid of fleas in your house?

See results

Effective Flea Control Ideas

Non-Toxic Flea Treatments for the Home

After reading the side effects on store-bought flea bombs and Raid flea spray, I was wary about spraying it all over my house—because the fleas were everywhere (gag!), the chemicals would be everywhere. I did a ton of research and decided on a two-pronged approach: mechanical killing of fleas with the vacuum, and chemical killing of fleas with non-toxic flea spray.

First, the vacuum. The vacuum is the homeowner's most effective all-natural weapon against fleas. Fleas are attracted to the vibrations of the vacuum and jump right over to it. When they are sucked in, the vacuum tumbles them around and kills them. Yeah! According to the University of Kentucky, vacuuming is a very effective way to get rid of fleas and flea eggs.

The only downside to the vacuum is the time and effort it takes to vacuum... everywhere. Literally every surface could hide fleas: couches, rugs, chairs, behind desks, in cracks in the floor, on the stairs, and in every little nook and cranny in the house. This is why it's so difficult to get rid of fleas. It's extremely strenuous to move furniture back and forth and vacuum... in every room. You also have to use the hose attachment to vacuum where floors and walls meet, and all over any upholstered furniture. During my intensive flea-killing phase, I vacuumed the entire house every day. It took about 2 hours per "mission." It was awful and exhausting, but very effective.

I didn't trust my vacuum to get into every little crack in the floor, particularly when I was getting tired and a little sloppy. I found a non-toxic, safe flea spray at my local grocery store. It's by a brand called EcoSmart. The spray works really well - I sprayed it on a flea and watched it keel over in seconds! The only downside to this spray is that it smells strongly of peppermint from the flea-killing essential oils. Pets can be sensitive to essential oils, so it's wise to use the spray in areas where pets do not typically go, like along the floorboards or in bedrooms where you can shut the pets out.

Fleas can lodge themselves into any fabric, so in addition to vacuuming and using flea spray, you also need to do laundry. Wash bedding (preferably daily) and anything that fleas could cling to, like stuffed animals, pet beds, blankets laid on the couch, etc. Use hot water and a hot dryer. The heat kills fleas as well.

You really have to be diligent about all of the available flea killing methods—brushing pets (and drowning fleas!), vacuuming, spraying, and washing. It's definitely a ton of work. But it works, and if you do everything every day, you should see results very quickly. It takes a while to win the war, but you will feel so much better after a couple days, and that will give you the energy to see it through!

Success! A Summary of My Experience

My total involvement with fleas lasted three months, and maybe even four months. In the beginning I diligently brushed, vacuumed, sprayed and washed... every day for about two weeks. The fleas decreased dramatically and they were almost gone! I was seeing a flea every few days, and getting a bite every few days. Then I went away for Thanksgiving, and when I got back, I had a slight increase. I beat them down, then got a little lazy a few weeks later. Surprise surprise, another comeback for the fleas. After that I really got serious and after New Years, no more fleas, this time for good. It was an awesome feeling, and I'm so glad I did it without toxic chemicals. I could have used a flea bomb and fixed everything in a day, but I would have still had to vacuum every day for a month anyway, so I'm glad I went the natural route.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section and I'll gladly answer them!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 hazelbrown

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      • hazelbrown profile imageAUTHOR

        hazelbrown 

        5 hours ago from Central PA

        Sorry you didn't like the article, Kevin. I'm also sorry you feel the need to call people "morons." I'm sure there is a more respectful way you could have expressed your opinion.

      • profile image

        Kevin 

        14 hours ago

        Really? Exactly which moron alive doesn’t know what a flea is? Know one gives a damn about your “story” write about what is stated in the headline, directly. The rest of the extemporaneous BS. Is just that. No one cares.

      • profile image

        Kristen 

        9 days ago

        Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am currently battling fleas as well. I've never seen a live one in the apartment or been bit, but we did find a couple on the cat around 3 weeks ago. (He is indoors-only... don't know where they came from!) Since then, I've treated him with Bravecto topical flea medicine, and have been vacuuming nearly every day and applying Wondercide flea spray around once a week. I just started to relax, but then I found a dead flea on the cat this morning. I guess the battle's not over... I don't want to use poisonous flea bombs or powders. People tell me that "it's just one flea," but I know that means that there are more hiding elsewhere. It was such a relief to read your story and know that I'm not the only one. Thanks! I'll keep it up!

      • profile image

        Tortured for 3 years 

        3 months ago

        Hi Hazel,

        Thank you for writing this article. It makes me hopeful that there will one day be an end to this mess. I am a non pet-owner who once lived with a roommate with a cat and have since faced recurring flea infestations for the past 3 years. I get that fleas can lay dormant and wait for optimal conditions and obviously I do enough to beat down the full-blown infestation but somehow I just keep losing the ultimate war when they come back in the spring. (Side note, I have moved a lot and I have had new infestations in each place, so I imagine I've somehow carried residual eggs in my stuff. Ugh.)

        Now, I have residual treatment around cracks and crevices in my current place and sprayed a fair amount last summer, but to my great dismay I did discover a live flea two days ago. I was able to kill it since it clearly couldn't jump (perhaps it was immature, or crippled?) and upon further inspection in the dark closet that I assume it came from, I found four dead fleas. Now those were all dead, and the one I killed was clearly not in the best shape. Two of the four were caught in glue traps I had set down, and two were lying next to some plastic bins, but they were dead.

        I'm hopeful that what I'm dealing with is just the residual fleas emerging from their eggs that fell too far out of reach to be reached with insecticide last year. I worked with an exterminator to some extent last summer and he gave me glue traps that I put all over my apartment, so I think that gives some indication of how isolated this is. In addition to the five in and around my dark closet, I found one behind the toilet, which is a few feet away from the closet.

        There were none around my bed thankfully. My questions are 1) should I treat this as a full-blown infestation and go through washing everything that can be washed even if I haven't worn the clothing or touched it in a while 2) do I need to religiously vacuum every other day for two months? Obviously I'm looking for a shortcut, mostly because I'm incredibly exhausted at dealing with this for the 3rd summer in a row, but I'm also studying for my certification exams and it's just unfathomable to handle a full-blown infestation. If I can get away with religious vacuuming for a shorter period and/or not have to wash literally everything and then have to continuously wash clothes, bed-sheets, and towels after one use, that would do a lot for my sanity.

        The closet the four were in does house a lot of clothing and bedding . . . but it would be A LOT to have to wash. I guess in your experience, do you think that dead fleas + crippled/immature flea enough to be on high alert for several months? Oh, I think I may have been bit once on my ankle, but that is it.

      • profile image

        Some Random Girl 

        7 months ago

        I've been dealing with fleas in my home now for almost 3 months, and it's horrible!!! We think we got them from squirrels living in our attic so we set up traps to get rid of them. Everytime I see one I want to cry. We have bug bombed our house and we have gotten treated by the exterminators and washed all of our sheets. And the numbers have reduced dramatically, however I still see one now and then. I am extremely allergic to fleas and so is my dad and my sister, everytime one bites me it will itch so bad and it will not go away for days. I have covered up all of my body except for my head, neck, and hands. I don't remember the last time I haven't worn socks, shorts and short sleeve shirts. (besides from taking showers). I live in fear every day of my life. I'm constantly checking myself and my bed sheets. I have a irrational fear of one jumping in my mouth or in my food. (I saw one jump on my plate once but I flicked it away before it could touch my food). I just want them to go away so bad so I can be happy again. My parents are doing the best they can but, they can only do so much because they work all the time. I hope they go away soon because this whole thing is making me have panic attacks and severe anxiety. My mental health needs to get better and I hope whenever the fleas get taken care of I can finally go back to being normal again. I feel better just by sharing my story and I hope if you have fleas too I hope you will win the war. And If you've never had fleas you are the luckiest person in the world! I would never wish fleas onpon anyone, not even my worst enemy.

      • hazelbrown profile imageAUTHOR

        hazelbrown 

        10 months ago from Central PA

        Oh goodness, sorry the Advantage isn't working. I'd agree with you that the Advantage isn't doing its job if the fleas are still alive. I've heard good things about Revolution, so maybe you can just stick it out for a week and then finally win the battle. Fleas ARE the worst!!

      • profile image

        AmyA37 

        10 months ago

        I've been dealing with fleas for just over three weeks. I don't think we have a huge problem because my roommate and I have not had any bites (and I'm VERY susceptible to flea bites). I gave my cat Advantage three weeks ago and have been vacuuming every inch of the house every single day, but I'm still finding 3-8 fleas on her a day! I'm just wondering if you were still brushing a lot of fleas off after the Advantage. I'm going to give her Revolution next time but I have to wait another week before I can give it to her. Almost every flea I brush off of her is alive so I'm not convinced the Advantage is working. Fleas suck!!!

      • hazelbrown profile imageAUTHOR

        hazelbrown 

        13 months ago from Central PA

        It dries really fast, but I would wait as long as possible before letting pets walk on it. Can you shut the door to the room with the carpet?

      • profile image

        Sweetpea 

        13 months ago

        How long does the eco spray need to dry on carpet before dogs can get on it?

      • hazelbrown profile imageAUTHOR

        hazelbrown 

        20 months ago from Central PA

        Hi Jessica, sorry you're dealing with fleas! It's so stressful. Are you still getting bites? If not, maybe your problem is finally going away. If you can't move the bed, I think you should buy some flea spray and spray the heck out of the carpet under your bed. If you want a non-toxic option, there's a brand called EcoSmart that is awesome. It smells really pepperminty, though. You could spray, and then block off the bed so your cat can't go under there. You could even go sleep in a different room for a few days and keep the door shut. I'd spray every single day for maybe 3 days, and then see what happens. Good luck!!!

      • profile image

        jessicalynv 

        21 months ago

        hello hazel, i’ve been dealing with this problem for months without even knowing.. i started treatment and vacuuming everyday only a week ago but before that i had Diatomacious Earth sprinkled on my carpet and it sat there for a whole week and then i finally vacuumed it. i’ve been so desperate to kill them. i covered my cat in coconut oil and when i combed through (week after flea medicine) i found no fleas. although i found a flea in my hair today and I started crying. :( i’m so emotionally exhausted. do you have any advice about moving beds? I have a gigantic one that is raised above the ground and my whole apartment has carpet and under the bed is carpet and i’ve vacuumed everywhere except under the bed because i can’t move it.

      • profile image

        MT3 

        21 months ago

        Wow, you are right I wouldn’t be on this site if it weren’t for a flea problem. For 9 years o used only holistic flea protection without problem. I have 2 Westies and only go in the backyard and walked around the neighborhood. We started this nightmare two and a half months ago. So now my dogs are using a flea collar(broke my heart but had to be done). I think (hope and pray) we’re on the tail end of this. Exhausting is an understatement. But like you we did spray and vacuum every day (sometimes twice a day) and mopping every other day. I brushed my two dogs every evening in the bathtub with a flea brush and soapy water. Gross and strangely satisfying at the same time. I get it. We even quarantined by dogs to one floor so we can tackle each area without cross-contamination. I have a whole shoe/sock routine with my family. Again to avoid contamination. At about 1.5 months of doing all this we set out “flea traps” to see if we were finally done. [Plate with soapy water with a desk lamp shining on the plate. Flea are attracted to heat from lamp jump and land on plate and die.] We placed them in the “hot-zones”. At first we would have 1-2 fleas every couple of days which meant we continued our insane process. Now another 2-3 weeks later we haven’t seen any in 1 week. I’m afraid to exhale at the same time so ready to be done with this. I appreciate your story because I know it’s not just me being crazy. When people tell me they had 1 flea and it’s fine I can’t believe them. We were never “infested” but clearly we had fleas. In the beginning I would comb out like 15 fleas from each dog. But if you looked around you couldn’t spot them. So people beware. I agree with hazelbrown it can be done but not without a lot of effort. @hazelbrown I hope we never have to deal with this again.

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