If you’ve ever found yourself in the middle of a flea infestation, talk about the heebie-jeebies! When fleas take up residence on dogs and cats, pet parents can often find that the little buggers have moved themselves into their home as well, leaving them in need of a flea treatment for their home.
Wondering how to get rid of fleas in home environments or how to choose a flea killer for home use? Read our easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to learn more—and find out how to evict your new blood-sucking roommates.
Treat Your Pets
The first step in eradicating fleas in your home is to treat your pet with a dog- or cat-appropriate flea treatment, says Dwight Bowman, Ph.D., professor of parasitology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. You can choose topical or a systemic treatment, he says.
Topical treatments include spot-ons and flea collars, both over the counter and veterinarian-prescribed. While some over-the-counter topical products (namely those that contain imidacloprid, fipronil, methoprene or permethrin) stay on the skin and work through fleas and ticks feeding upon the surface, some veterinary-only brands (such as Revolution and others that contain selemectin) are absorbed into the bloodstream.
Meanwhile, systemic flea treatments, as Dr. Bowman explains, are always absorbed into the bloodstream. “Systemic treatments, which can be taken orally, are absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream,” he says. “When a flea or tick feeds, it takes in the chemical.”
Depending on the brand’s formula, the chemicals either kill the adult fleas, kill the larvae, sterilize the eggs or prevent the insects from maturing to adulthood, Dr. Bowman says, with some products (such as Frontline and Advantix) touting the capability to kill all life stages of fleas.
But no matter which you choose, be sure to use your selected flea and tick product consistently and as directed by your veterinary, says Dr. Bowman.
Treat Your Home with OTC Products
Next, you’ll need a flea treatment for your home, because the little buggers like to live and reproduce in cozy, hidden-away spots like carpeting, around pet beds and under furniture, explains Steve Weinberg, DVM, CEO and medical director of 911 VETS in Los Angeles.
“The fight against infestation begins by treating the environment,” he says. “You can first try a natural remedy such as diatomaceous earth or a plant-based spray for carpets and throw rugs. If natural products don’t work, you have to move to an OTC home flea treatment.”
One option featuring plant-based ingredients—Vet’s Best Flea + Tick Home Spray—uses peppermint oil and clove extract to chase away and kill fleas and flea eggs on contact.
Other OTC flea treatments for the home, like Virbac’s Knockout Area Treatment spray, contain ingredients like pyriproxyfen, pyrethrins or permethrins that do the same thing as the topicals do for pets—they kill the fleas at all stages of development and render them unable to reproduce. (Note: Permethrin is very toxic to cats and should never be used on them.)
Other options include spray, powders, such as the highly rated Adams Flea & Tick Carpet Powder, foggers and more.
Give Your Home a Deep Clean
While you’re treating your home with flea killers, you also need to be crazy vigilant about cleaning, says Michael “Dr. Flea” Dryden, a veterinary parasitologist with Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. That means a lot of vacuuming.
Dr. Dryden recommends running the Dyson (or other vacuum of choice) every single day.
“And then take that vacuum bag or bin and dump it in your outside garbage can,” he says. “Every day. A single vacuuming, where you go through the house and move the vacuum back and forth two or three times over an area, will actually remove 40 percent of the flea eggs and 30 percent of the larvae.”
By vacuuming daily like this, you’re decimating the biomass and destroying the cozy environment where the fleas are living and reproducing, Dr. Dryden explains.
“Pet parents also need to pull up the sofa, chair cushions and dog beds, and vacuum under them as well,” he says. “Your pets are sleeping on them, and when those eggs fall off, where do you think they roll? Underneath them.”
Besides vacuuming, Dr. Dryden says to wash pet bedding, blankets, throw rugs, curtains—anything that could be tainted by flea eggs and larvae—with hot water and detergent.
“Quite frankly,” he says, “we’ve found that if pet parents do all that, we rarely have to use environmental insecticides anymore.”
Treat Your Yard
To prevent your pal from picking up hitchhikers when they’re outside romping in the grass or doing their business, you need to clean up your yard and treat the outside with flea killer, too—especially if you live in the southern states where insects thrive outside, says Dr. Dryden.
“We do a lot more environmental control down in the southern states compared to northern states because there’s less of a flea problem up there,” he says. “It varies from place to place. Up in Kansas, for instance, we do minimal outdoor environmental flea control. But you certainly would in Tampa because the outdoor reservoir is dramatically different.”
No matter where you live, you should first spruce up your backyard. Keep your lawn trimmed, rake up fallen leaves and dead weeds, and clean out areas under porches and decks, says Dr. Dryden. Then, apply a commercial yard product, like Advantage Yard & Premise Spray, as indicated.
“Apply it underneath decks, porches, crawl spaces, shrubs and bushes,” he says. “[Don’t bother] spraying the shade trees or expanses of lawn because … data shows the fleas aren’t developing out there.”
Under decks, under porches, under crawl spaces and in thick shrubbery are where the larvae survive and thrive, Dr. Dryden explains.
“It helps initially to clean up and treat the environment, but this is less necessary for inside animals these days,” notes Dr. Bowman. “In most situations, yard fleas are minimal, and the products used will kill the fleas and ticks before they can do much damage or multiply.”
Chase Away Animal Visitors
There’s only so much you can do to prevent neighborhood cats and dogs—not to mention rodents, raccoons, opossums and other wildlife—from sneaking into your yard and sharing their fleas with your pet. You can, however, keep lids on your garbage cans and avoid leaving out food or other temptations for any four-legged passersby.
When to Call in the Experts
“Getting rid of a flea infestation that’s in the house generally takes anywhere from one to three months because you’re treating the adults as well as all the immature stages that are in the environment,” Dr. Dryden says, referencing the flea eggs and larvae just waiting to start the cycle all over again.
So how do you know whether the fleas are gone? Do the white paper test, recommends Jeff Pace of Long’s Pest Control Inc. in Roseburg, Oregon.
“Put a piece of white paper on your carpet and walk around like normal,” Pace says. “If you still have fleas, you’ll see them jump on the paper.”
Bug control experts like Pace know how to kill fleas in home environments. If you have an infestation and simply can’t control it—despite treating your pet, your home and your yard—consider bringing in the professionals who have access to powerful solutions.
While simply changing the locks won’t keep fleas out (we wish it could be that easy!), pet parents can take control of the problem. As Dr. Dryden insists, with diligent treatment over a few months and consistent prevention, you should be able to get a handle on a flea problem in your home and bid those pests good riddance!