Our bedroom is a (flea) circus.
August 23, 2015 10:40 AM   Subscribe

After returning home from a short trip we find ourselves with a flea infestation and need a chemical free method of putting the little buggers out of our misery. Details within, of course.

We are a household of two adults, two adolescents and one cat and are all finding it difficult to deal with our new roommates. We're at the point where walking through the house results in a collection of 5-10 fleas on our ankles so I'm thinking there are millions scattered about. We have all tile and hardwood floors and a bare minimum of upholstered furniture -- we're actually throwing out some older furniture and area rugs tomorrow.

Is there a chemical free way to deal with this? Googling and a pest control guy all indicate that without insecticide we're not going to get rid of the fleas. For a variety of reasons, foggers and sprays are out of the question although we have treated the cat with some expensive mystery poison.
posted by cedar to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Diatomaceous earth will dehydrate the crap out of everything it touches, including the eggs of fleas. It's kind of miserable to have around due to that property but it does work for breaking the cycle.
posted by sibboleth at 11:01 AM on August 23, 2015

Vacuuming every day and mopping as often as possible will help keep the eggs under control. For adult fleas, these flea traps are what we used when I was a kid, and they do work.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:02 AM on August 23, 2015

Best answer: The flea lifecycle spends MOST of its time in egg/larvae/pupae form. The larvae will cling to and pupae embed themselves into fabric fibers. You are going to need to do a many pronged approach to attack this issue.

* Vacuum vacuum vacuum. At least every two to three days but every day would not go amiss. This will do a few things: pick up organic material the larvae feed on, encourage pupae to open from the disruption and the fleas coming out to perhaps be sucked up by the vacuum, maybe suck up fleas themselves since it's as bad as you say, pick up any eggs before they can hatch.
* Flea comb the kitty routinely, at least every three days. Use a ziplock plastic bag to put in the fur with the fleas is easiest, you can then throw it away. Alternative: a dish of water to drown them and then put down the drain or flush. Note the black squiggly flecks? That's flea poop, which is made of blood, and is organic material the larvae can use to survive.
* Routinely wash anything kitty lies on every few days.
* Diatomaceous earth might help as well, it dries and scratches up fleas and harms the larvae
* If you have a dehumidifier run it as much as possible, fleas prefer humidity
posted by foxfirefey at 11:06 AM on August 23, 2015

Treating the cat will help a lot. I stopped using bombs once the first generation of that stuff came out.

Use the DE if you want (get the food grade kind). The big thing you have to do is vacuum. And vacuum. And vacuum. And you must empty the bag or canister INSTANTLY and OUTSIDE after vacuuming and maybe leave the vacuum outside if you have a covered safe place to do so. Vacuum 3-4 times a day. Sprinkle DE, leave for a couple hours, and vacuum it up. Then put down more.

Use the DIY flea trap (or there are commercial sticky pads for collecting all manner of passing crawlies) to gauge the level of the general flea population. You should see it go down after several days of vacuuming, and then you'll get another population explosion in a couple weeks when their eggs hatch. Move quickly and those won't get to lay eggs of their own.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:06 AM on August 23, 2015

Not chemical-free, but not an insecticide either, are prescription oral medicines for pets, like the Program brand. Program blocks the flea egg-laying cycle. The fleas aren't killed, but they can't reproduce, so the entire flea population collapses.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:18 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Couple of comments deleted. Pedantry over whether anything is "chemical free" doesn't actually help the OP here. If you have a helpful flea control suggestion, go ahead and add it here.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:33 AM on August 23, 2015

Best answer: My recommendation that I think fulfills the spirit of your question (not a fog or spray) rather than the text of your question (not a "chemical", since everything is a chemical) is what has already been mentioned - diatomaceous earth. It's distinctly advantageous because it is cheap, effective, and even vaguely edible (some people add it to pet diets). However, it should be noted that "food-grade", not "pool-grade", diatomaceous earth is what you're looking for, as the latter is toxic to both people and animals.
posted by saeculorum at 11:42 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

We had luck with baking soda and salt (equal parts of each) left on all surfaces for an hour or so, then vacumed up. Every day. I think it's similar to DE in its drying properties.

We also washed all the fabrics in our house and kept them in sealed bins until their next use (our clothes too). We threw out our (old) sofa.

We put those hot, soapy water bowl traps at the bottom of our bed legs.

We changed the kitty litter every two days (emptied the bin, scrubbed it in soapy water and put new litter in).

We blocked pet access to certain areas in the house, but still vacumed them daily in case humans tracked some fleas in. We kept a flea collar in the vacuum receptacle to help keep flea eggs from hatching.

We shaved our cat and brushed him every day (with a flea brush).

In all, it took about a month to say we were flea free. Though, we're still on the lookout.

It's a big pain, good luck.
posted by eisforcool at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ugh. My sympathies. Adding one more vote for diatomaceous earth, which was the only way I was able to definitively end a thriving infestation after a month of other options, including the nasty bombs.

There was one other method that killed many, if not all, of the adults in those terrible first days: overnight, leave out a shallow bowl of water with a drop or two of dish detergent to break the surface tension. Point a desk lamp over the bowl, relatively close to it, and leave it on overnight. They're attracted to some combination of the light and heat, jump up to investigate and drown. I counted 52 dead fleas the morning after the first night I tried it. So satisfying.
posted by dr. boludo at 1:12 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Where did your kitty get the fleas...do they go outside? That would be the first place to make a change, otherwise you never get rid of them. Second; flea treatments you get at the vet/store that go on the back of the neck like Frontline, unless kitty is too sick/fragile to handle them. They turn your cat into a flea-destroyer, as fleas that bite him/her die quickly.

Then clean the rest of the house, as others have said. Pay special attention to anywhere the cat sleeps; beds, blankets, piles of clothes, etc. It's not as bad as bedbugs; fleas will die off if you're persistent enough. But if you're not also treating your cat, you're going to miss some and have to go through more rounds. Our Maine Coon was impossible to get fleas off of by conventional methods; he was huge and his undercoat was so dark and dense that even shaved, you couldn't see them on him. But they loooooved him and would make him anemic they were so bad. So we treated him once a month without fail.

If the cat doesn't go outside but you think your family brought fleas in, is it because you have strays coming through your yard? In which case you might want to try fox urine or something similar to repel them.
posted by emjaybee at 1:15 PM on August 23, 2015

If the expensive mystery poison you've used is something Advantage or Revolution or Frontline, and puss spends a lot of time indoors, that might actually be all you need to do. Those things turn a cat into a little vortex of total flea destruction, as any flea that bites them is rendered incapable of reproducing and the adults don't live all that long.
posted by flabdablet at 1:16 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I second the light/soapy water suggestion.

We had to move out of our house due to thousands of them. WE used all the chemical stuff but the last few hundred or so with the light method over several nights.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:43 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, it seems like upping our cleaning routine along with getting rid of old upholstered furniture and rugs is a good start. I figure we'll give this a week or three, along with rigorous (possibly daily) washing of bedding. Diatomaceous earth would be our next go to if this fails.

To answer a couple of questions. Yes, it was Advantage or some similar vet recommended product we treated the cat with. The cat still has the occasional flea but we're giving him frequent baths and brushing him constantly -- when we can find him, he isn't really enjoying this much. He is an indoor cat who has managed to escape overnight on several occasions, I expect that this is where the fleas came from. We're going to continue with the Advantage stuff and endeavor to keep better track of the cat (a fixed, but still feisty, year and half old male).

Oddly, I just went to the semi-finished basement/laundry room where there is a bagged pile of clean clothing that has been there for a year. That front corner is terribly infested -- to the tune of 20 fleas on my ankles -- just by walking by and glowering at it -- despite going entirely unused (and secured) for months at a time. Why would fleas be concentrated in a part of the house that no animal or person enters?
posted by cedar at 3:25 PM on August 23, 2015

Best answer: The first two things I'd look for there is a water source and signs of wild/feral animals. You may have unwelcome visitors or a leak or both: the former because of the latter.

(Note that you shouldn't actually bathe often (if at all) if you want the Advantage to complete its cycle, and you want to use a flea comb, not a brush.)
posted by Lyn Never at 3:40 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just a note: please don't use Hartz anti-flea products if anyone suggests them; they're very toxic and bad for you and cat.
posted by Nyx at 3:46 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Lyn Never, thank you. Feral animals hadn't occurred to me and our rickety old foundation isn't exactly "sealed". There has been other evidence of pests -- primarily mice and the occasional opossum, along with the Great Ant Invasion back in '09 -- and the feral cat population around here is significant.

No Hartz or sketchy stuff around here, only what a trusted vet recommends.

Thanks, again. I won't thread-sit and should get back to another round of psychotic vacuum machining.
posted by cedar at 4:56 PM on August 23, 2015

Psychotic vacuuming your house is going to be a better use of your time than psychotically vacuuming your cat. You actually want fleas on the cat, because fleas on an Advantage-medicated cat are DOOOOOOOOOOMED.
posted by flabdablet at 5:02 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I get the powder that has permethrin, probably Hartz, sprinkle the rugs, wait 1/2 hour, vacuum. At least put it in the vacuum bag so they get dead when vacuumed up. I flea comb the dog, bathe him weekly, vacuum a lot. Now going to try the water and lamp thing.
posted by theora55 at 5:27 PM on August 23, 2015

If your rickety old foundations are likely to be hosting a population of flea-bearin' critters, you might want to look into having the underneath of your place treated against termites using Fipronil. This is one of the same breeding-cycle-disrupting chemicals used in the veterinary dab-on anti-flea cat treatments, and it will do a number on fleas under your house as well as dealing with any potential termite infestation.

It's also much less toxic to mammals and birds than the organochlorine insecticides like Dieldrin or straight-up universal poisons like arsenic, both of which have been used for termite control in decades past.
posted by flabdablet at 5:29 PM on August 23, 2015

We live in a high flea area and advantage/frontline don't work for fleas here - they apparently have adapted. I recommend switching it up if you can with Comfortis or Revolution which apparently still have bite. As for around the house, in addition to DE, as was mentioned, Borax (which you can buy in the laundry detergent aisle, because it is laundry detergent!) works too. Both DE and Borax are really bad for your cat, so put in places s/he won't go if possible. Also take all your fabrics - even those in storage - and put them in the drier for 45-60 minutes. Even if you don't wash your sheets everyday (because who does!) stick them all in the drier before bed every night. Keep cat out of bedrooms and off beds/couches if possible.
posted by Toddles at 6:00 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

One correction. I'm in the middle of my own flea battle, and after six weeks, have only just learned that Revolution does NOT work on the entire life-cycle of the flea, but kills only adult fleas. Google flea treatment chart, and you'll see several that explain the various pet treatments, with their pluses and minuses, including whether they deal with the entire lifecycle or not. I now have to wait two more weeks until this month's Revolution wears off, to get the four residents and one foster (who brought the fleas with her) on to Advantage.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:18 PM on August 23, 2015

We had an infestation a few years ago and, I'm sorry to say, the only way we could stop it, even after treating the cat, was to vacuum, then spray every. damned. thing with a chemical treatment. We used this stuff. We pretty much had to do a thorough cleaning/vacuuming/treating of the entire house...basically any little hole the cat could get into, under, on, etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:40 AM on August 24, 2015

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