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A Flea Success Story: How I Got Rid of Fleas in My Apartment Using Non-Toxic Methods

Every Human's Worst Nightmare - Fleas!

Okay, okay, I know that fleas aren't really 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'll will just say: I'm sorry! When my apartment was overrun with fleas, I read everything I could about how to get rid of them. I clung to 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!

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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.

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.

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 flea 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. This article from the University of Texas has a very good summary of the flea's life cycle.

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.

Cats go everywhere... which means you need to be diligent about brushing them multiple times per day to catch every flea.
Cats go everywhere... which means you need to be diligent about brushing them multiple times per day to catch every flea.

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 killing 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 tablets worked well on my cat, and after I put the drops on her neck, I started to notice the fleas in her fur were dead. Yeah! It was such a relief.

I didn't completely trust the drops, so I also brushed her 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. 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 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!

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 homeowners 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 an Ohio State research study, the vacuum kills fleas between 96 and 100 percent of the time.

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!

Effective Flea Control Ideas

How Did You Win the Fight?

How did you get rid of fleas in your house?

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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!

© 2015 hazelbrown

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