Fleas are one of the most irritating pests to deal with – they’re stubborn, resilient and can frustratingly survive (and multiply) without a pet as a host.
If you have a four-legged companion, you will likely have come across fleas – but what can you do when a common case of fleas turns into a fully-fledged infestation?
Debbie Woodliffe, Head of Content & Outreach at Affinity Agency shares how to eradicate the little pests for good and get back in control of your home:
How to tell if you have a flea infestation in your home
One of the most common misconceptions about fleas is that they need an animal host to survive – they can actually survive for a significant amount of time on their own. Some variables affect this period, such as whether your home is carpeted or not, how often you clean and how many animals you have.
Do fleas live on humans?
Thankfully – they do not. Animals are the ideal hosts for fleas providing lots of fur and hair mass to hide within. So, whilst you may suffer some bites, fleas need blood and dense hairy areas to thrive! If you haven’t got an animal in your home, fleas can survive on the organic matter in carpets and rugs.
Do fleas bite humans?
Yes, fleas can bite humans – especially in the absence of an animal/pet host – and the bites are usually found on your lower legs and feet. Flea bites look like small, red bumps and will probably be itchy.
Flea bites on their own don’t normally cause harm, but they can become infected, so avoid itching if you can to prevent bacterial infections and scarring. Instead, wash the bite with warm soapy water. If the itching gets worse, you might want to consult your doctor for further advice.
What do fleas look like?
The easiest way to identify a flea is by whether they jump around or not. Fleas are very small insects, measuring just 2.5mm. They’re wingless, with a red-or brown tinge, and can easily be mistaken for specks of dirt. If you have a pet, you’ll likely notice them hopping around in their fur first. Otherwise, they’ll be found close to the ground – you might notice them hopping around near your feet!
Effective ways to get rid of fleas
Identify the scale of the problem
If you have a flea infestation, it’s important to act fast. If you have any areas you think your pet hasn’t been into, quarantine the space ASAP. If you are unsure which rooms are affected, it’s best to err on the side of caution and treat the entire house.
Understand the life cycle of a flea
Skipping this step is one of the biggest reasons people struggle to get on top of a flea infestation. Treatment needs to be timed and monitored, as one round of treatment may not affect some larvae and leaving treatment just a few days too late can allow a whole generation to breed again!
The key to getting rid of fleas is interrupting these life cycles, so pay close attention to this step!
- Stage 1 – eggs. Adult fleas lay on average 20 eggs a day, typically whilst still attached to their host. These eggs will then begin to fall wherever your pet goes, mostly dropping into the deeper fibres of your carpet and in the crevices of pet bedding. Remember, fleas will still lay eggs without a host.
- Stage 2 – larvae. Larvae prefer hidden, dark areas and will feed off organic matter – even waste from adult fleas. You can help interrupt larvae survival by minimising the amount of flea waste they have to consume by regular vacuuming.
- Stage 3 – pupae. This is the final stage of development before becoming an adult flea, now in a cocoon for protection while it develops. In this cocoon state, pupae can survive from months to over a year if the hatching conditions aren’t right.
- Stage 4 – flea. Once a flea emerges from its cocoon, it will immediately seek a host to feed off and will not survive without blood to sustain it. Females will only start laying eggs once they’ve fed and can lay successfully within a few days. Then, even with a host, adult fleas don’t survive for more than 21 days.
So, adult fleas aren’t the main issue, it’s the earlier stages of development (eggs and larvae) since they can be resistant to regular intervention.
Vacuum, vacuum, and then vacuum again!
Adult fleas at the end of the cycle make up the smallest percentage of the flea population in your home, so taking steps to combat the eggs, larvae and pupae is crucial. The main aim of vacuuming is to remove the eggs and pupae whilst eliminating food sources for the larvae.
So, consistently, and diligently vacuum, paying extra attention to certain areas of the home:
- Crevices of furniture such as underneath cushions or material seams.
- Hidden areas like cracks between skirting boards or anything else positioned on the floor.
- Corners of the room.
- Carpeted areas, rugs, and mats.
If your vacuum has an adjustable height to the head, make it as low as possible to penetrate down to where the eggs, larvae and pupae are. Be sure to lift and vacuum underneath anything that sits on the floor (like sofas, beds, and storage units) as this will be an ideal place for them to hide.
Empty the vacuum regularly and away from the house, disposing of the contents directly in the outside bin.
Treat your pets
Most people with homes suffering from flea infestations have dogs or cats, both of which are ideal hosts for fleas. Treatments for pets work by creating an environment on your pet that isn’t conducive to flea survival – some treatments include:
- Anti-flea and tick drops
- Chewy tablets or treats
- Flea collars
- Topical creams or sprays
You should also groom your pets regularly using a flea comb, focusing on the neck, head and back. The correct solution for your pet will depend on several different factors including age, weight, and breed – so you should consult your vet before beginning any new treatments.
Remember that no amount of treatment will be effective for your pet if they are getting re-infected by fleas in your home.
The ideal environment for fleas at any stage in the lifecycle is one with plenty of opportunities to burrow and hide. So, try and minimise:
- Clutter on surfaces (magazines, books, food waste)
- Objects on the floor
- Soft furnishings like pillows and blankets
- Floor rugs and mats
This will also help to reduce the number of objects that you’ll have to clean and disinfect.
Use a home flea treatment
Thankfully, there are lots of effective commercial flea treatments for your home:
- Repellent sprays
- Room foggers
- Flea bombs
Many of these products are particularly harsh and might be difficult if you have several animals or younger children. Always practice caution whilst using these products and carefully follow the instructions provided.
Clean or store soft furnishings
This step is especially important for homes that have an infestation with no pets. All soft furnishings are inviting environments for fleas, especially things like sofas and armchairs as they will catch small bits of food and dust that can feed larvae.
Get into a habit of cleaning and washing everything regularly – including curtains, cushions, furniture, rugs, and carpets. Make sure you either treat, wash, or vacuum your sofa and armchairs several times a week to take care of any larvae and eggs.
If you have any non-essential soft furnishings, it may be easier to store them instead of repeatedly washing them. Be sure to transfer clean items straight from the dryer into a safe storage area. And use a hot wash where possible to ensure proper disinfection.
Try home remedies
Whilst home remedies have less of a scientific basis, it’s safe to say that fleas have been an issue long before commercial flea treatments became available. Here are some tried and tested home remedies for you to try:
- Baking soda. Try sprinkling baking soda all over the affected area (such as a carpet) and use a broom to push it deep down into the fibres. Leave the baking soda on the carpet for at least 12 hours and vacuum it thoroughly afterwards.
- Salt. You can use salt on its own or alongside the baking soda method as it works similarly and aims to dehydrate and kill any bugs in the carpet.
- Buy anti-flea plants. Some plants can repel fleas but be careful to ensure they are not hazardous to your pet before purchasing. Plants include lavender, rosemary, basil, catnip, chrysanthemum, and sage.
- Diatomaceous earth is a powdered substance that comes from soft sedimentary rock and can effectively kill fleas when used correctly. Make sure you purchase food-grade instead of filter grade as it’s less hazardous. Sprinkle it throughout your home, leave for 2-3 days and then thoroughly vacuum.
Above all, keep your efforts consistent
The key to the effectiveness of any flea treatment is being consistent and adopting a new hygiene regime in your home. It can be exhausting – from constant vacuuming, laundry, pet treatments and bites, but for your efforts to be fruitful they need to be regular.
Even if it seems like you’re on top of the problem, you might have just come to the end of the adult flea life cycle with hundreds of hidden eggs, larvae, and pupae ready to turn into a new generation of annoying insects.
Here’s how to stop fleas from coming back
Unfortunately, there is no way to 100% ensure that fleas won’t find their way into your home, even if you don’t have a pet! However, you can reduce the likelihood of another infestation by keeping the following in mind:
- Vacuum as often as possible and pay special attention to carpets and rugs
- Don’t leave food lying around, especially not at floor level
- Keep on top of regular pet flea treatments
- Don’t give up on flea treatments too early – it’s probably just a dormant stage of the cycle
Remember that the perfect environment for a flea to thrive is a host and a warm cosy environment. Consistently interrupting this environment at all stages of a flea’s life cycle until all the generations of fleas are gone is the best way to make sure the annoying bugs are gone for good!