Fleas got into my sewing stuff--do I need to throw it all out?
August 7, 2012 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Alrighty. We were about to move into a new house, and found AFTER I'd moved several plastic tubs of sewing stuff (LOTS OF CLOTH) into the house that it was terribly infested with fleas. Do I just need to throw it out, or is there something I can do?

We moved the stuff into the garage (along with some other things that are either about to be cleaned with bleach or get thrown out). We're not moving into that house now, and we don't ever have to go in there again, BUT the fleas came out, and when my husband was moving the stuff out of the garage this morning he ended up with many fleas on him.

Clearly, the cloth is possibly infested (probably infested, I'd wager--the plastic tubs weren't air tight). I'm going to have to go through the tubs to get my scissors, etc., anyway, and I'm wondering if when I do that if I should just put ALL the cloth in the big garbage bag and throw it away, or if the stuff that's washable at a high temperature is salvageable? I'm already saying goodbye to the patterns, velvet, etc.

The cash value of this stuff isn't that much (although some of it's new which is frustrating), but if it's possible I'd like to salvage what I can. That said, if I can't eradicate the possibility of fleas to a reasonable certainty, I don't want the stuff in the house and will (possibly while weeping) absolutely throw it out.

But here's my basic question: I want to take no chances with fleas. Will the hot-water wash and dry kill the fleas and their eggs? Can I be sure of this? WILL I EVER FEEL CLEAN AGAIN?
posted by supercoollady to Home & Garden (27 answers total)
I'd leave it all in the garage, and set off a bazillion flea bombs.

(make sure you don't have a pilot light on a gas hot water heater before you do this!)

Then I'd wash everything in hot water twice.

Then I'd boil myself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:16 AM on August 7, 2012

Fleas aren't bedbugs. They respond pretty well to flea treatments. Whether you will feel okay again is a separate issue that you're going to have to work out on your own. I do not think it is likely that fleas got into your sewing stuff. I think that you are safe from fleas if you do a few simple things.

The big deal with fleas is that they don't live long without a host. You do not mention if you have pets, I am assuming not. And they tend to not sneak into little niche places to lay their eggs [again, not bedbugs] so if they weren't hopping all over your boxes, I'd feel pretty okay with there not being eggs in there. But you don't have to take my word for it.

Here is some factual information about the life cycle of the flea. Here is an instructable for getting rid of fleas using common household products. Read the comments as well as the article. It also notes that their life cycle is short and that they basically die at temps over 90 degrees. So, you can wash/dry your cloth, put it in a safe-to-you container and keep your stuff.
posted by jessamyn at 9:25 AM on August 7, 2012 [13 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny makes good suggestions. You can follow up with putting the fabric in the freezer to be double-plus certain.
posted by ambrosia at 9:26 AM on August 7, 2012

Do you have a dog? I've noticed that the occasional flea that comes in on one of our (flealess) dogs is not a problem because the treatment we use on our dog will kill any critter shortly after it bites one of our poochies. This doesn't really address the whole washing issue but I just wanted to maybe present a solution you hadn't thought of and convey that a flea or two in our home on occasion does not equate into an invasion and unstoppable horde of fleas.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:27 AM on August 7, 2012

Response by poster: I'm sorry, we do have a dog--these are cat fleas, though.
posted by supercoollady at 9:27 AM on August 7, 2012

Washing and drying the washable fabrics at a high heat should solve your problem. You can sprinkle diatomaceous earth on things that can't be cleaned in the washing machine. DE is also good to use on rugs; just be careful not to inhale too much of it because it can irritate your lungs.
posted by echolalia67 at 9:29 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you use some sort of flea preventative treatment on the dog then I'd expect any fleas that may or may not survive the cloth treatments others are recommending to be dead within days.

It may seem counter intuitive but having a treated dog will help, not hurt, your situation.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:30 AM on August 7, 2012

Information on Diatomaceous Earth.
posted by echolalia67 at 9:31 AM on August 7, 2012

The fleas wouldn't be super interested in your stuff if there wasn't anything for them to eat in there. I mean, they would eventually get in and lay eggs but I doubt your stuff is infested. I myself would probably just Not Worry About It since my pets are flea-proof and would just be sort of extra vigilant for a while, but if you are worried (and you are) then you can be assured that a wash and a dry will pretty much ruin any fleas that are lurking in your things. You could run a cycle with vinegar instead of soap as well, vinegar kills lots of things. And if you were really paranoid you could bag everything up and freeze it for a few days -- that's what we did at the cigar factory to kill bicho eggs that might have hitchhiked in on the tobacco. Flea eggs definitely wouldn't survive freezing.

But they're not like cockroaches or bedbugs who will squirm their way into any dark space that they can. Fleas are relatively tame and easy to get rid of except when they're actually on your animals. If you just quarantined your sewing supplies for a while any fleas living in them would eventually just die from starvation as they can't live without blood.
posted by Scientist at 9:41 AM on August 7, 2012

diatomaceous earth

This is what I used to get fleas out of my carpets after every flea treatment on the market failed me. You can buy it in the pool supply section of the hardware store.

You can also freeze your patterns/nonwashables to kill fleas.
posted by carolinecrane at 9:43 AM on August 7, 2012

As Jess noted fleas ain't bedbugs and I don't think it makes much difference whether they are dog or cat fleas (looks like most fleas in the US are "cat fleas" and they still like dogs. I had no idea there was such a thing as cat as opposed to dog fleas)).

In my experience (southern US, English Mastiff, Kerry Blue Terrier) unless you are super opposed to chemical treatment they are an absolute breeze to control compared to what I've heard about bedbugs. I have never know anyone to boil something because of fleas. I do bet a microwave would decimate them.
posted by Carbolic at 9:48 AM on August 7, 2012

Put the the stuff in a really big garbage bag alright, but then just add a couple of pounds of silica gel desiccant (in old socks, say, to make clean up easy) make sure the bags are airtight, wait a couple of weeks to be absolutely sure, and your stuff will be fine.
posted by jamjam at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2012

Response by poster: Hi again! Actually I'm not that concerned about the dog--we've treated her with Advantix so she should be ok (knock wood.) I'm more concerned about fleas getting in the house and infesting the place. It has some carpet and I don't want to take ANY chances with this.
posted by supercoollady at 9:58 AM on August 7, 2012

Take a deep breath and read the advice above. Fleas are gross, yes, but they are not that hard to get rid of.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If they die at 90 degrees, can you load the fabric into your car, roll up the windows, park it in the sun, wait an hour or two, and then move these "treated" boxes into your new home?
posted by carmicha at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fleas are not going to stage a long-term infestation of your house if there's nothing that they can eat. Fleas need to eat blood, and can't survive for long periods of time without it (unlike cockroaches and bedbugs, whose foods are ubiquitous and who are much better at dealing with periods of starvation). In the absence of a regular food supply from you and your animals, a small number of fleas is not going to explode into a huge number of fleas. Now, if you and your dog were to start getting regularly bitten, then there might be an issue.

If you're worried about pests in the carpet, get yourself some diatomaceous earth and a broom and sweep it around the house and into the carpets. It's non-toxic (although as others have mentioned it is a respiratory irritant if there's a lot of dust) so it's much safer for your dog than anything else you could try, and it'll make the carpets inhospitable.
posted by Scientist at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2012

If you just left the boxes of sewing stuff out in the sun for a day in a garden open space - You'd think that most of the fleas would run off.

then maybe store it all somewhere for a few months - until the remaining fleas die off.
posted by mary8nne at 10:21 AM on August 7, 2012

When I got fleas, I de-flea-ed my stiff. Then, because I am really paranoid about bugs, I put my cloth things like blankets and fabrics into a plastic garbage bag, tied it, put that in another bag, tied it, left it for a couple months, then washed everything. I did not have any more fleas after that.
posted by windykites at 10:32 AM on August 7, 2012

Sorry- my stuff, not stiff; I don't have dead bodies lying around!
posted by windykites at 10:36 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

My senior year room at college had fleas from the summer campers who were housed there. Fleas are not as horrible as bedbugs. My foam mattress topper, which could not be washed, was fine after a day out in direct sun. I'd take mary8nne's and windykites' suggestions above; I don't even think you need to hot water wash your fabric; hot dryer or direct sunlight for a full day should do the trick.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2012

I doubt that any went into the closed bins. They don't have to be airtight to be uninteresting to fleas. Fleas will be attracted to places where there is food (you and your pets) nearby. Don't bomb your fabric with poison. Put the boxes out in the sun for a few hours if you're feeling squicky about it.
posted by quince at 10:55 AM on August 7, 2012

Wash the cloth that can be washed, on hot. Freeze the items that cannot be washed. Seal everything up tight.

Another suggestion, which I have never tried: Buy some dry ice, and drop chunks into the bins. In theory, all of the air should be driven out and the fleas will die. Their eggs may be more durable, though. Anyone: Would this work?
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:19 AM on August 7, 2012

Bring the boxes to a commercial laundry and wash and dry everything on HOT. If you have to open them, open them outside.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 1:07 PM on August 7, 2012

Could you just store everything in air- and flea-tight storage for several months, until all the fleas would have starved to death? Wikipedia (yes, whatever, not authoritative, call your extension service): "Newly emerged adult fleas live only about one week if a blood meal is not obtained. However, completely developed adult fleas can live for several months without eating, so long as they do not emerge from their puparia."
posted by amtho at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2012

Easy way to check if you have indeed still fleas in your stuff: place a candle in a dish filled with water & liquid soap. Fleas will jump towards the light & drown in the water.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:33 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would advise against leaving things outside in your yard. Fleas can feed on wildlife living on/near your property, and if they're hanging around your yard with a regular food supply, you run the risk of eventually bringing them into your home on a shoe or clothing. Then they'll start feeding on you/the dog, get into the carpets, etc. It's a vicious cycle.

Also, they're not as hard to get rid of as bedbugs, but I respectfully disagree (based on personal experience) that it's as easy as some of the above comments imply. It all depends on the severity of your infestation.
posted by carolinecrane at 3:14 PM on August 7, 2012

When my family moved to the country, we had a really terrible flea infestation. A huge part of the problem was that my father was too cheap to buy flea medication that actually worked for all of my sister's animals (1 dog, 2 cats). For a while, whenever I sat at the computer, I'd get fleas jumping onto my legs and biting me, which was significantly unpleasant. After a while, my father got a girlfriend, who did not appreciate the fleas much either, and as a result he purchased that type of flea medicine that you put on the pet's neck and it keeps them flea-free for a month or so. It managed to completely neutralize the flea infestation.

I moved out shortly afterwards, and it never even occurred to me to try to sterilize my fabric bins. The only time I saw fleas on my fabric was during the previously mentioned terrible infestation era--some would go skipping across it whenever I tried to lay it out for cutting. :( I never saw a flea after moving out, though.

They're really not interested in fabric, I promise. Flea eggs aren't sticky, they sort of fall to the ground and live in the carpet until the flealing hatches. If you get flea medication for your pets, you (and your fabric) should be ok. Honestly, if it was in bins, the fleas probably never even bothered with it. They would much rather be snacking on your dog than sitting in your fabric stash. Unlike bedbugs, which are adapted to feeding on humans, treating fleas is more about treating your animal than treating your home.
posted by Estraven at 9:18 PM on August 8, 2012

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