Home & Garden

Bug off! Professional and DIY ways to rid your home of fleas

Fleas illustration
Fleas illustration Getty Images

Fleas are hilarious in the old cartoons.

In a famous Pink Panther episode, he walks through a carwash to try and get rid of one that is driving him crazy. Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island (1983) featured a fully functional flea circus, complete with roller coaster and Ferris wheel.

But in real life, there’s nothing funny about a flea infestation. The problem is especially severe in North Texas this year, exterminators say. Because of the mild winter we enjoyed months ago, we did not have extended days of freezing temperatures that can annihilate mature fleas, as well as their eggs, larvae and pupae, they say.

“We’ve never treated for fleas in February until this year,” says Todd Arnold, president of Goliath Pest Control in North Richland Hills. “It’s usually too cold.”

It’s not hard to tell if your home has fleas, especially if you walk around barefoot and in shorts. The little black pests tend to jump on your feet and legs and bite your skin, leaving red, itchy spots. You can also find them crawling around on your pets.

“Pets scratching more than usual is a sure sign, especially with the front part of their teeth,” Arnold says. “To test your pet, check their belly and groin area — the fleas are easier to see down there.”

If you do detect a flea problem, you’ll likely need to treat your pets, yard and home.

For the yard and home, you basically have two options: You can call an exterminator, or you can try to save money by taking care of the problem yourself.

Since the latter option can be a time-consuming, difficult endeavor, we’ll discuss hiring an expert first.

Making the call

“We use professional-grade insecticide on your furniture and carpets,” Arnold says, explaining a typical service call to rid a home of fleas. “This takes care of the developed insect that is ready to find a host as soon as it comes out of the pupae. It also kills at the larvae stage.”

Arnold uses an insect growth regulator as well.

“The IGR blocks the fleas’ developmental process,” he says. “It blocks their ability to produce chitin. Without chitin, fleas can’t produce an exoskeleton, which is crucial to their development and growth. IGRs also block fleas’ ability to mature sexually, so they can’t lay eggs.”

To ensure that the insecticide is effective, Arnold uses plant oils to get the fleas active.

“The oil gets fleas excited,” he says. “It gets their respiratory system jacked up, and they will move around and touch the insecticide.”

To help the process and keep the fleas from returning, Arnold advises his customers to clean and mop floors, vacuum frequently (after a set amount of time for the insecticide to work) and in general keep your house clean.

Mow your yard and bag up the grass before we come out, because it takes more chemicals if the grass is tall.

Todd Arnold, Goliath Pest Control

For the outdoors, Arnold sprays the yard with gallons of pyrethroid.

“Enough to penetrate the soil,” he says. “Mow your yard and bag up the grass before we come out, because it takes more chemicals if the grass is tall.”

Pat Myles, owner of Myles Pest Services in North Richland Hills, says he, too, has seen an increase in fleas this year.

“We’re getting more calls because of the heavy spring rains,” he says. “More rain means more growth, more animals, more fleas … more wildlife in general.”

Myles says his company provides a wide variety of flea control solutions from conventional to organic, but admitted that there is “no magic bullet” when it comes to the yard.

“There’s so much going on outside with rain, sprinklers, squirrels, rabbits and feral cats that it’s hard to control,” he says. “The outdoors may require multiple treatments.”

As professional exterminators, Arnold and Myles recommend against home remedies for flea treatment, calling them unreliable and in some cases unsafe — Arnold warns that organic materials aren’t FDA-approved, while Myles says you should never use anything that “isn’t labeled for fleas.”

However, if you’re a DIYer with patience, time and determination, you might find success in getting rid of the little nuisances.

Doing it yourself

Using an exterminator can cost hundreds of dollars, so some homeowners elect to take care of the infestation themselves.

Marc Gelacio of Dallas says he got rid of the fleas in and around his house by spraying his carpets and furniture with orange oil, which suffocates fleas, and spreading diatomaceous earth (a fine white powder made from sedimentary rock) all over his yard.

Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled on carpets and furniture as well, but should be vacuumed up 12-48 hours later. According to DIY pest-control portal www.thebugsquad.com, you should treat your yard and/or house with “food-grade” diatomaceous earth — as opposed to the kind that is used for cleaning swimming pools — which is safe for humans and pets.

“Instead of poisoning the buggers, it actually cuts their exoskeleton (their hard outer shell) and sucks the water out their bodies,” the site says. “Since their body needs this to survive, they die after a short amount of time.”

Some homeowners say they killed their fleas by saturating their carpets with ordinary table salt, leaving it for a couple of days and then vacuuming it up.

Francisco Lopez of Seagoville recommends Borax for carpets, blankets and the like (but not pets), while some homeowners say they killed their fleas by saturating their carpets with ordinary table salt, leaving it for a couple of days and then vacuuming it up.

Various home remedies that you won’t find in the kitchen or laundry room, including diatomaceous earth, orange oil and flea powder, are available at certain department stores and most hardware stores.

Monica Rachelle, head of the lawn and garden department at Westlake Ace Hardware in northeast Fort Worth, has seen a steady stream of exasperated people coming in with flea problems.

To get rid of indoor fleas, Rachelle recommends Enforcer flea powder, which you can sprinkle or spray on your carpets and furniture, depending on which kind you purchase. She also says to follow up with a fogger and to machine-wash bedding, afghans, quilts and pretty much anything else that will fit in the washing machine.

For the outdoors, Rachelle says foliar applications, which you hook to your hose, are serviceable, but she prefers Sevin Lawn Insect Granules.

“Granules are better than spray because if it rains you have to spray again,” she says. “Granules will simply soak into the ground and keep working.”

When it comes to pets, Rachelle recommended flea collars, Sentry Fiproguard and frequent flea-dip baths.

Others experts, including Todd Harper Jr. with Terminix Pest Control in Dallas, say bathing pets with Dawn dish detergent (or any other blue dish detergent) is better (and cheaper) for killing fleas than traditional flea shampoos or dips.

Cats and dogs

Speaking of pets, no flea treatment is complete without safeguarding your furry loved ones.

Veterinarian Steve Hotchkiss of Hulen Hills Animal Hospital in Fort Worth says every cat and dog should be on a monthly combination of prescription product that kills fleas and prevents heartworms, such as Revolution or Trifexis.

I’m willing to take the time to get the right product to keep fleas off of my pets and out of my bed. Because if I don’t, my wife moves out of my bed, and it’s just me and the dogs and the fleas — and that’s just sad!

Veterinarian Steve Hotchkiss

“I’m willing to take the time to get the right product to keep fleas off of my pets and out of my bed,” Hotchkiss says. “Because if I don’t, my wife moves out of my bed, and it’s just me and the dogs and the fleas — and that’s just sad!”

On a more serious note, Hotchkiss says, fleas are a problem for pets because they “can transmit diseases and cause skin infections, and in severe cases blood loss, anemia and death.”

Fleas cause itching as well, and that can be miserable for your pets.

“Apoquel will keep your dogs from itching,” Hotchkiss says. “It’s a new technology that is much safer than steroids.”

Hotchkiss warns against using pyrethroids around cats.

“If you are unsure about the product you are using, check with your veterinarian,” he says. “They are the experts on these products and the unique needs of your pet.”

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