If you’ve noticed your pet scratching more than usual, and seen either bite marks, dried blood specks, or a little black jumper, chances are you have a flea problems. Many people deal with fleas through aggressive chemical treatment, but those methods can have serious (and even fatal) health consequences or side effects for you and your pets. Fleas are tenacious, but you can deal with them without using harmful chemicals or insecticides. Here’s how to deal with your problem:
Isolate your pet. You’ll ideally want to move your dog outside for the time being, while you deal with the infestation in your house. Let your dog into the yard, or if it’s very cold outside, a mudroom or anteroom that you can clean thoroughly after you’re done all the other steps.
Now that you’re alone in the house, it’s time to get cleaning.
First, deal with the source of the infestation, if you can find it. If your dogs picked up fleas from a neighbor’s pet, or from something outside your house, you don’t need to worry too much about this step, aside from preventing exposure again. If, on the other hand, you can trace the fleas to a new arrival in your home, like a secondhand rug or an upholstered piece of furniture, you’ll want to deal with that item first. Inspect the fabric for signs of “flea dirt”, which is dried clumps of animal (or human) blood that are actually the flea’s feces. Depending on the state of the object, and your access to a secure dumpster, you may want to simply throw it out. If you’re going to keep it, you’ll need to clean it extremely thoroughly in the later steps. In any case, pinpoint the source of the fleas if possible, so you know where to concentrate your cleaning efforts, and where to keep watch for re-emerging pests.
Now you’re ready to do battle.
-a good vacuum with sealing bags (being inside a vacuum chamber will usually kill fleas, but it’s always best to use a sealing bag, which will contain both fleas and their microscopic eggs, which can often escape your dust chamber on a bagless vacuum.
-a mop and bucket
-lavender Dr. Bronner’s soap (a universal soap that’s all-natural and safe for pets as well as humans. You can get the lavender version, which has essential oils as a key ingredient that’s highly repellent to fleas, and which will also destroy their eggs).
-a handheld steam cleaner (you’ll find lots, the good kinds on steamclean.reviews).
*If at any point you encounter a live flea, don’t let it escape! Use your fingernail to crush it, since fleas can usually survive a finger’s softer pressure. Make sure you take a good look around after finding each one, to see if you can figure out where they’re hiding. Usually, they’ll be infested in upholstery, carpets, or cracks between wooden floorboards.
First, eliminate as many fabrics as you can. Anything you or your pet touches on a regular basis is a possible flea hotbed, so grab linens, sheets, towels, and curtains, and put them through the wash. If you can’t do it all at once, wash in batches, using sealed trash bags to keep suspect items isolated.
Wash absolutely everything possible, knowing that it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
Use hot water, a soap with lavender essential oils (Seventh Generation makes an excellent one), and a high-heat dryer setting. Hot water and a high heat setting on the dryer will help finish off any fleas that don’t drown immediately. The dryer is also your primary weapon for destroying eggs.
Once you’ve eliminated all the fabrics you can, it’s time to deal with floors and furniture.
Vacuum thoroughly with a sealable bag, and dispose of the bag after each cleaning. Vacuum all your flooring, especially rugs and carpets that can’t go in the washer. Focus on the corners and edges of your room, leaving not a single inch untouched. Fleas thrive on careless cleaning, so make sure you eliminate any of their potential hiding spaces. Vacuum rugs above and below, and dust around your shelves, nooks and crannies. You should also use attachments to vacuum any upholstered furniture or fittings that can’t go in the wash. Again, focus on hiding places like seams, gaps between cushions and that sort of thing.
Mop hard floors after vacuuming, with hot water and Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap. If your floors are tiled, you’ll need the best rated steam mops for tile floors. Use plenty of soap, since it’s the essential oils that do the most damage to the fleas. You can also use a steam mop, but only if you’ve got sealed floors. If you have full carpets, you’ll want to borrow a carpet cleaner from the hardware store if possible, in order to do the most thorough job. That’ll drown adult fleas, and dissolve larvae. One alternative to the carpet cleaner approach is to take the opposite tack and actually dry out fleas to the point of killing them. To do this, you’ll need a natural desiccant like diatomaceous earth. It’s a super-fine powder that will dry out fleas and eggs in your carpets. Even if you’re vacuuming and carpet cleaning your other floors, this is a great final step to make sure you didn’t miss any spots. Sprinkle it liberally on deep carpets and in cracks between floorboards and around the edges of rooms. Leave it as long as possible, at least 12 hours. Then, just vacuum it all up. This stuff isn’t toxic like chemicals but it’s best to wear a mask while you’re sprinkling it around.
*After each vacuuming session make sure to seal your vacuum bags and dispose of them somewhere far away from the house. If you don’t have a dumpster to use that won’t put others at risk of ending up with fleas, you can freeze the bags to kill fleas and eggs. Just leave them in the freezer, closed in ziplock bags for as long as you need while you find a good receptacle.
Deal with all the fabrics/surfaces that can’t be washed. Here’s where you’ll need a new tool that you may not already have: a handheld steam cleaner. You can use the power of steam to deep-clean all those non-washable fabrics, in order to kill fleas below the surface, and destroy the eggs of the next generation. Make sure you steam the seams and edges of your mattress, as well as your dog’s bed or cushions, especially if you weren’t able to throw them in the laundry. If you haven’t used one of these before, make sure you get something that’s rugged enough to deal with fleas. You can find good reviews of steam cleaners here.
Next, it’s time to deal with Fido. Go outside, accompanied by a bucket of hot (but not scalding) water, supplemented liberally with the same lavender soap. Taking care not to let fleas jump on you, give your pet a thorough bath. You’ll want to do several different washes, rinsing in between, and keeping an eye out for jumping fleas. Take care to avoid panicking your pet. Make it feel like just another lovely bath!
Once you’ve thoroughly washed your dog, bring them inside and towel dry instead of letting them roll around in long grass. We also suggest mowing the lawn nice and short after all this, if it’s during spring or summer. Fleas love to hide in longer grass, and they can easily jump right back on your dog if you don’t help dry out their hideouts. Once you and your dog are both back inside, it’s time to relax and take a deep breath. You’ve done an extremely thorough cleaning, and with any luck you’ll be in the clear. Stay vigilant, though, and be sure to keep up with your cleaning routine going forward.
You’re going to want to repeat as much of this process as you can several times over the next few weeks, to make sure you’ve done your job as thoroughly as possible. At the very least, vacuum and mop every other day.
Finally, take some steps to prevent the return of your infestation. Keep your dog away from other pets for the time being, especially if you’re not sure how fleas ended up in your home. Get ahold of some vinegar (cider vinegar is best), and spray it on counters and floors. It’s a good prevention method for all insects, from fruit flies to ants and especially fleas. Be sure to keep washing your dog every day, and apply a natural flea repellent like essential oils to keep the pests from coming back.
Good luck in your war against the little biters! Give us a call during business hours if you have any questions or need clarifications. Go here for further information on different steam cleaners and mops.