The author is here to share their experience with using non-toxic methods to eliminate fleas.
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.
What 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 lay 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.
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
How Did You Win the Fight?
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 of 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.
© 2015 hazelbrown
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on August 25, 2020:
Ha, good question. I'm not sure where they go! Thinking about that's a little gross, right? If you're not seeing live ones, I'd just assume that you're vacuuming them up. There may not have been too many to begin with, so they're probably gone. Good work!
Laura on August 24, 2020:
Thanks for your reply, Hazel. Follow up question - vet gave cat Bravecto (prescription), and two days later, I find no fleas (I comb her every day with a flea comb). I also have been meticulous about looking around and vacuuming, and see no fleas, dead fleas. My question is, what happens to the fleas when they die? Wouldn't they fall off - and I would see them? I have white carpets, and light floors - wear all white every day. Not one dead flea anywhere. So... crazy - where do dead flies go when they die?? ha
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on August 23, 2020:
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on August 23, 2020:
Hi Laura, I don't think you have to launder the clothes in the closet. I think the fleas are attracted to pets and humans, but they'd have no reason to wander into the closet. (Says me... but I'm not a flea so who knows! Fingers crossed though!)
Laura on August 22, 2020:
PS to my post from a moment ago - I have white carpets and have been wearing white clothes for the past few days. No sign of fleas on me or my clothes, and no flea dirt anymore. Thanks!
Laura on August 22, 2020:
I adopted a rescue from a family 2 months ago.I didn't know I had fleas until I saw black spots around two weeks ago, and found out they are flea dirt (poop). I then found one live flea on my -indoor -cat. I used Frontline and vet recommended Knockout ES, which has very good reviews online, and sprayed everywhere. But realize I did not actually get everywhere (mirror leaning on wall...file cabinet with a one inch space between floor and cabinet, etc). No more flea dirt, but found 8 fleas on cat. Vet said Frontline has been around for years and fleas have become resistant; she gave the cat Bravecto yesterday. Now the task of vacuuming and using Knockout ES again. Question: I live in a new apartment. I keep my closet doors closed at all times (fewer hiding places for cat), but the closet is carpeted. I will spray the floor of the closets. My biggest question - and fear - do I need to launder all my hanging clothes? I have to dress for work and need to dress up for work events, so have a LOT of clothes, including formal, which need to be dry cleaned. I have shoes, shoes, shoes, from sneakers to formal.
I am hoping against hope that since I keep the closet doors closed, if I spraying the floor - and the shoes - will be enough. I can't imagine having to launder and dry clean this amount of clothes.
Tami on July 26, 2020:
I used regular table salt in my unfinished basement. I had to sprinkle it everywhere. Then in a couple weeks i vaccuum. Then all over again for about 2 months. I also bathed the cats and dogs in baby shampoo and dish soap about 1time a week. This works really well for carpets too. I wont use chemicals again.
halley on July 15, 2020:
I am battleling fleas at this moment im still having trouble getting them gone even called exterminator and still having issues!!
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on July 03, 2020:
Oh no, I'm so sorry! Do you rent or own? If you rent, you should call your landlord right away. If he/she is not good about getting back to you, keep trying and then possibly take it to the next level by telling them you'll be calling the police. I did that once about a heating issue, and when I said "police," it was addressed in a day. You probably need an exterminator at this point. Are you vacuuming every day, or twice a day? Every inch of the house and furniture? It should take about 45 minutes to vacuum thoroughly enough. Do your neighbors have fleas? I wonder if you also need to treat the outside area. Maybe there are outdoor cats with fleas. That happened to me before.
Again, so sorry. Fleas are awful. Let me know if I can do anything else to help. If you let me know where you live (generally), maybe I could help you find some resources.
Lorraine on July 01, 2020:
I have flea's for 7 months igot rid of my 2 inside cats 5 months ago and still have flea's PLEASE HELP
Bernie on June 10, 2020:
I had vacuumed everyday for a month and of course didn’t sleep in my bed. The traps in every room and find nothing in the flea traps I bought an liba pest light. It works. I have it in my bedroom I’m sleeping on the bed not in the bed. This month I am now vacuuming every other day. I gave the cat aids a flea spray once a week and a dog a flea bath once a week. I also bought in encasements for my beds. I also put bug spray on my legs and feet and ankles before I go to sleep. My problem is I’m catching them with the test light I bought around one or two a day only in my bedroom I don’t understand why the other rooms seem to be fine do you have an answer for that thank you
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on October 10, 2019:
Good question - the cat stopped scratching, and I stopped getting bites.
Annie on October 09, 2019:
How did you know it was truly over?
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on October 06, 2019:
Hi Manu, sorry to hear you're struggling with fleas. Are there outdoor cats in your neighborhood? They could be bringing fleas near your house, and then onto you as you walk by. It's possible that the exterminator could spray outside, too, but I'm not sure about that.
If you can do laundry every day, I would. Wash things like bedding and blankets (from the couch, for example) with hot water, and dry on high. You can also put the kids' toys into the dryer.
If the exterminator came twice and the problem isn't solved, I think you need a new exterminator. See if you can find one with a guarantee.
Manu on October 06, 2019:
Thank you for your story. It gives me hope that I’ll finally be able to get rid of them.
I have two cats but they are indoor besides the balcony.
We treated the cats with drops and pills.
We have two newborns and a toddler and we had the exterminator coming twice.
That helped but I still saw few of them jumping around my bed.
We vacuumed and I brushed the cats but maybe not enough.
It’s really hard to battle fleas infestation while taking care of twins newborn and a 4 years old! Should we do laundry everyday?
Will try to vacuum twice a day.
Any positive thoughts? I don’t sleep in my bed anymore and I’m exhausted!!!
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on September 20, 2019:
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.
Kevin on September 19, 2019:
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.
Kristen on September 10, 2019:
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!
Tortured for 3 years on June 14, 2019:
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.
Some Random Girl on February 13, 2019:
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 (author) from Central PA on November 04, 2018:
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!!
AmyA37 on November 03, 2018:
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 (author) from Central PA on August 23, 2018:
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?
Sweetpea on August 22, 2018:
How long does the eco spray need to dry on carpet before dogs can get on it?
hazelbrown (author) from Central PA on December 29, 2017:
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!!!
jessicalynv on December 28, 2017:
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.
MT3 on December 22, 2017:
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.