Flea War
December 14, 2016 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone actually, completely, and permanently eradicated fleas from a mostly carpeted home?

I'm scared. I keep reading online that once you get fleas you never really shake them.

The Horror:
I recently moved into a newly built townhome that has a great deal of carpeting spanning several rooms. On day 3, and after letting my little dog run around to familiarize herself with the new territory, she had adult fleas all over her head and neck. I've never in my life dealt with fleas, and I've had dogs and cats for most of it. She had been and is currently on a good flea and tick preventative, prescribed by her vet, which is always administered properly. I've bathed her and removed all traces of fleas from her person. I've also vacuumed every single day for weeks and I sprayed an IGR that also kills adults all over the carpeting and upholstery. I've washed everything that can be washed and thrown away many items that can't be. I'm about to lose my mind. I've 'removed the host' by carrying her everywhere and keeping her in a sack on my hip when she isn't in bed or in the safe zone (bathroom tile). I let her wander the other day just to see, and later on she had two adults on her head again. It has been over two months. The endless vacuuming and spraying isn't doing the trick. I spray inside the vacuum and on the bottom bristles, I also remove the vacuum's contents after each session. Will I ever shake them and how did you?
posted by Avosunspin to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Call an exterminator. It will work and save you a lot of heartache.

Vacuuming + household spray will likely never solve the problem completely.
posted by French Fry at 10:27 AM on December 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

There are flea lamps that you can get that come with sticky pads to trap the little buggers. You might want one per room and two in really big rooms. Our situation was different but we do have carpet everywhere and they helped us. As for your dog, ask your vet if the fleas may becoming immune to her current medicine. That can happen and sometimes a switch is needed.
posted by soelo at 10:30 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's possible you have fleas somewhere like the foundation of the townhouse. Are there rats or mice outside?

I agree that you need an exterminator to deal with the source of the infestation. Stop throwing out your possessions, stop trying to deal with this in counter-productive ways.

Also, your dog is clearly not on a good flea and tick preventative. It's OK to change that after your place is professionally treated. Go see your vet. There will be a procedure for treating both the pup and your home simultaneously. It's clear though your house is the source of the infestation, so get a professional to evaluate your home. What you describe is not unheard of, but it's not normal and I believe existed before you moved in.
posted by jbenben at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a townhome, is there any common outdoor area you pass through that could harbor fleas? They like grass nearly as much as carpet.

I lived in a complex with a carpeted hallway and could not get rid of fleas by any means because there was so much pet traffic in that main hall.
posted by buildmyworld at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

We've got cats, not a dog, but in my experience the only thing that's worked is to get Advantage or one of the other once-a-month back-of-the-neck treatments. With that, it's almost not even necessary to flea bomb or spray, although it does help speed things up. But if you don't treat the animal, there's no way to get rid of the fleas.

Don't rely on seeing or not seeing fleas to know whether you've got them. A figure I've heard is that for every one flea you see, there are another 10 you can't see either on the animal or in carpet/furnishings/etc.
posted by Lexica at 11:00 AM on December 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Fleas have a cocoon (pupa) life stage, in which they are basically immortal. So even if you or an exterminator have eradicated all the adult fleas and have prevented new flea eggs from being laid, there's still a waiting period (generally several weeks, though it can be months if conditions are not ideal for emerging) while those cocoons hatch, during which you will see new adult fleas.

I know this because my husband and I bought a pet-hoarder's house that turned out to be flea infested. We don't have any pets, so we knew the fleas were not reproducing (they bite humans out of meanness, but can't breed without animal hosts), and we had a professional exterminator in right away, and it was still probably six weeks or two months before we stopped seeing fleas. (And then we saw one -- just one -- about two months after that. We've been flea-free for a year since then.)

We found that walking around with white knee socks on once a day to find and kill newly emerged fleas was much more effective (and less tiring) than frequent vacuuming, and really satisfying as the number caught went down every day. If there are no animals to bite, they will be right on you.

I'm sorry, fleas are really terrible. I'm very allergic to the bites and had to get steroid treatment, and now when I go to a new doctor they're like "you had FLEAS?"
posted by teditrix at 11:08 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Diatomaceous earth did the trick for us. Be sure to get a "food grade" variety.

Right after vacuuming, brush your carpets with a stiff broom or brush. Then spread the diatomaceous earth around your house, especially the carpeted areas (a salt shaker or flour sifter can be used). Try to work it into the carpet with the brush/broom. Give it a day or so, then vacuum, and re-apply. It took us a few weeks but it worked.

Good luck!
posted by jammy at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm watching this thread. My three kitties have been tormented by fleas. Back-of-the-neck stuff doesn't work, I've had the place treated & bombed by an exterminator, I've used diatomaceous earth, I've used boric acid powder, I've vacuumed endless times. I only have carpet in one room of my apartment, and that's coming up in a few weeks. The guy at the local pet supply store said they've been AWFUL this year because the weather's been so erratic, and it hasn't gotten cold enough or dry enough to kill things outside yet. Best of luck!
posted by jhope71 at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2016

When I lived in California (over 20 years ago) we had a HORRIBLE flea problem in our carpeted house. A friend of mine recommended an all natural product that is sprinkled onto carpeting, then swept/pushed into the carpet fibers with a broom and then vacuumed up a 24 hours later. I never had a flea in the house ever again (with 2 furry Aussies). I cannot for the life of me remember the product name, but I remember that it came in a big 2-3 gallon bucket, it was a white powder and it smelled like citrus. I think the powder was a mixture of diatomaceous earth, borax, and salt with some citrus oil added for scent. There are a ton of DIY recipes on Pinterest and there are some commercial ready-made products out there that are basically made of the same ingredients.

I now live in Central Texas (subtropical climate) and my home is carpeted. When I rescued my new puppy, she was COVERED in fleas and ticks! I promptly got her home and bathed her and picked all the ticks off her. I then sprayed the house with Wondercide and then took her to the vet who put her on on Nexguard (a monthly flea & tick preventative taken orally). My dog and I go everywhere together - to the park, to obedience classes, hiking in the woods, to the lake and on walks through our apartment complex and neighborhood (where almost every house has a dog) and I don't have a flea problem. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen a flea on her since I got her.

Talk to your vet about oral flea preventatives. The stuff is amazing!
posted by ATX Peanut at 11:20 AM on December 14, 2016

Our house has an indoor/outdoor cat and a dog. When the OTC back-of-the-neck flea stuff stopped working on the cat, we got her prescription flea meds. The dog is on oral NexGuard and Sentinel (for heartworms but also sterilizes fleas).

We put down diatomaceous earth and vacuumed a few times, and that seems to have worked.

If you have a mouse or rat population that the fleas are feeding on, this won't work, and you should call an exterminator.
posted by ananci at 11:22 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh the immortal flea. If your pup can't tolerate oral treatments - this collar saved me from throwing out everything and shaving everyone. Put collar on pup, keep up with vacuuming every couple of days. We have been flea free for years after trying every other remedy on the planet. The collar breaks their life cycle,so eventually no fleas
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 11:35 AM on December 14, 2016

In addition to great tips above, you should talk to the vet about Capstar. That will kill fleas that are currently on the dog (it's used in addition to regular flea/tick treatment). Also, if you're using an older flea, you might also want to talk to the vet about using a newer brand that the fleas haven't gotten immune to. I think there's also a tick treatment that works on flea eggs too.
posted by radioamy at 11:40 AM on December 14, 2016

I use flea powder. Sprinkle on carpets. Leave, with animals, for several hours (dog park - Yay!). Brush and comb pets thoroughly outdoors. On arriving home, vacuum. Promptly dispose of vacuum contents in outdoor garbage. Repeat as needed. During any period that you see fleas, vacuum daily.

The oily back of the neck stuff seems pretty toxic and my dog cuddles, so it's a nope for us.
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on December 14, 2016

I cannot for the life of me remember the product name, but I remember that it came in a big 2-3 gallon bucket, it was a white powder and it smelled like citrus.

D-limonene carpet powder, possibly. It's citrus-based, non-toxic, and works well. Last time I had a flea infestation I used a back-of-the-neck treatment on my cats and sprinkled carpet powder/vacuumed every day for a week. No more fleas.

By the way, you want to get the kind of back-of-the-neck treatment that your vet sells. There are OTC versions, but my vet told me that they can be really harsh and not all animals tolerate them.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:09 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you live in an apartment or townhome it's very likely they are coming in from an adjacent property unfortunately. Do you have a landlord or condo association?
posted by fshgrl at 12:36 PM on December 14, 2016

nthing food-grade diatomaceous earth. Sprinkle it all over the house, leave it there for a few days, track it everywhere, it's non-toxic to people and pets. Then after a day or two carefully vacuum it up (meaning clean the filter on your vac a few times while vacuuming all the DE up, DE can be hell on a vaccum)

A week or two later the fuckers'll reappear, do the DE thang again.

And get the vet stuff for your pets.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:08 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's worth the extra cost to get Revolution for treating the dog (it's prescription only). Fleas in many areas have developed resistance to OTC drops like Advantage/Advantage II, which is probably why some people are reporting that neck drops don't work. AFAIK there are currently no areas with fleas that are revolution resistant.

My family's house had fleas when I was a kid. It took a while, but yes they were able to eradicate them. We never threw out any possessions.
posted by zug at 2:34 PM on December 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

When my cats turned up with a flea infestation this past year, I put them on Comfortis, which is a once-month tablet. In theory, it's chewable, but cats... they don't chew stuff like that, so I cut the tablets in half and used a pill popper. I got the Comfortis from our vet. The stuff can be used for cats or dogs.

At the same time, I dusted the carpet with diatomaceous earth and a flea spray with IGR.

The thing that really worked, though, for immediate relief for the cats, was Fastcaps. These are small pills given daily that wipe out adult fleas within 24 hours. The cats had relief within about two hours. I gave them Fastcaps for three days then waited a week, treated for another 3 days. I did that cycle a couple of times and 'completed' it by keeping them on the Comfortis for an additional month. They were on both Comfortis and Fastcaps at the same time - probably overkill, but I had asked the vet whether I could do that. The Comfortis is a little slower-acting apparently.

That combination seems to have done the trick. It was a quick thing, too. After the first few days, I wasn't getting bitten at all; after the first month, I was getting only one or two live fleas (but tiny little things) in the flea comb. That's one or two fleas across four cats. After the third 3 day cycle of Fastcaps, I didn't see any fleas. It's been a few months since then and we have no fleas.

Good luck.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 4:25 PM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing that you need to think about outdoor infestations and neighbors. Also do they bite you? A rash of bites on my feet is always what clues me in. My cat gets treated and they go away. .it's been a while knock on wood, since we've been bothered.
posted by emjaybee at 5:09 PM on December 14, 2016

The things you are doing are good, but they are preventative, not eradicative. You need an exterminator to do in and out.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2016

In addition to what others have said: I read (during my own flea infestation!) that most people vacuum too quickly when trying to vacuum up flea treatments and fleas. Make sure you're vacuuming reeeeeealllly slowly if you're using a treatment that requires vacuuming.
posted by lazuli at 8:40 PM on December 14, 2016

I don't know what you mean by "permanently" since I haven't finished living my life yet.

However, I maintain monthly Advantage spot on treatments for two of my cats, and mix-in-food Program for the third cat who won't let me give neck treatments.

For a quick fix right now, you could feed them Capstar, which evicts current fleas but doesn't deter new ones.

There was a stretch of time when we stopped the neck treatments because the cats would do everything to avoid it and there seemed to be no fleas around... until there were.

We were vacuuming (which is great for waking dormant flea eggs as well as for storing existing eggs till they hatch, yeah vacuuming is great for fleas, will give you the worst fleas ever) and spraying relentlessly with Indorex, but we had to get an exterminator.

Since the exterminator, maintaining monthly treatments for each cat, no fleas.
posted by tel3path at 11:55 PM on December 14, 2016

So, here was the situation: Three cats, three humans, four carpeted rooms and a carpeted hallway... fleas, that showed up mysteriously from an unknown source. We got rid of them by doing the following, which isn't that far from what you're doing, but may be a data point?

1. Neck drop flea stuff on all cats (follow instructions well, if you think you can't do this, get a vet to do it.) This must be continued WELL after the fleas appear to be gone, like clockwork, every month (or whatever interval is in the instructions) for at least six months or so.

You must buy the neck drops from a reputable veterinarian, there are many counterfeits out there that are, at very least, ineffective. Do not buy them online. I'm not saying there are 0 legit ones online, but that the gamble isn't worth it.

2. Cats were sent elsewhere for a few hours while multiple flea bombs were set off in the house.

3. Powdering + thorough vacuuming multiple times per week for about two months.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 2:24 AM on December 15, 2016

"She had been and is currently on a good flea and tick preventative, prescribed by her vet, which is always administered properly."

Please double check that it's not Sentinel. Sentinel is fine for prevention but not for full blown infestations, because it does not kill adult fleas.
posted by metaseeker at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2016

Seconding NexGuard here for your dog's treatment. No external treatment seems to be working anymore, but keeping my dogs on NexGuard solved my inside flea problem.
posted by bentpyramid at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2016

Exterminator here. There a few different species of flea, and distinct varieties within those species. Some are just regular fleas and can be gotten rid of easily. The problem is that people have been fighting fleas for so long with over-the-counter products, and not always following the instructions on the label, that some varieties of fleas are very resistant to pesticides. Sometimes a prescription from the vet is all you need, other times you will be tearing carpet out and setting up a monthly schedule with your friendly Pest Management Professional. As a pet owner myself, I would recommend going with the vets advice first. I've had luck with Capstar and Revolution, but the spot-on drop types have been over-used, and are difficult to apply if your pet has long hair. Whatever you try, make sure to follow the label exactly. It is very similar to fighting an infection with anti-biotics; super-fleas are analogous to MRSA.
Even a house with no pets can become infested. Their eggs can remain viable for a long time. Don't be surprised if they re-appear sometime after you thought they were gone. If the OTC or prescription doesn't work and you end up needing an exterminator, make sure you choose wisely to avoid paying more for less. Sometimes a little company will take care of you better than a big one, but some little companies are one guy with a sprayer he got from eBay, so do some research.
One more thing, they are probably in the yard too. If so I would try try nematodes in the spring.
posted by ambulocetus at 4:02 AM on December 18, 2016

Response by poster: After month 2 they disappeared. I went through 6 cans of spray. I used Zodiac Flea & Tick Carpet Upholstery Aerosol Spray and Raid Flea Killer Plus Carpet & Room Spray. I also vacuumed every single day and very slowly in a cross-cross pattern. I put baking soda down in one spot where I felt they might be hiding. I removed the host, my dog, by keeping her off of the carpeting. I starved them and sprayed them and they eventually left town. Hopefully they don't return this summer. I have a feeling this might be a seasonal thing here.
posted by Avosunspin at 11:15 PM on March 3, 2017

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