Last year I adopted the perfect cat. My son named her Chowder because, like the clam soup, she was white. She loved to cuddle, didn’t scratch or bite, and showed no interest in going outside. But one day, we noticed she was acting different. Instead of happily wandering the house and napping on the living room couch, she had started spending all her time on one particular window sill.
At first we figured she’d discovered the great outdoors and was just mesmerized by the sights and sounds she could see and hear through the glass. But whenever we picked her up and tried to carry her to another part of the house, she jumped out of our arms and ran back to the window sill like something was chasing her.
As we learned when we finally took Chowder to the vet, there was something chasing her. More accurately, there were many things chasing her. She was allergic to fleas, and our carpet was full of them.
Flea bites always cause itching, but in animals who are allergic to fleas, itching is more severe and lasts longer. Understandably, flea-allergic pets will go to great lengths to avoid the pests. Chowder refused to leave the window sill because it was high above the carpet, the place in our home where fleas were most prevalent.
After injections of steroids and antibiotics, and a dose of topical flea medicine, Chowder started acting like her old self again, allowing us to carry her from the window sill to the couch for long, luxurious cuddle sessions. We were relieved, but also anxious. The vet told us that Chowder would continue to improve only if we rid our home of fleas immediately.
We knew there were lots of products that claimed to effectively kill fleas in carpet, but we didn’t know which one to choose. After researching the various products, we finally chose foggers, and they worked for us. But our research taught us that there is no one-size-fits-all flea treatment. Rather, there are many effective products, and the one that will work best for you depends on a variety of factors.
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Flea bombs or foggers
If you’ve got a heavy flea infestation and don’t want to or can’t hire a professional exterminator, chances are you’ve thought about buying yourself a multi-pack of “foggers” and bombing the heck out of your carpets. Foggers, also known as flea bombs, are effective for a few reasons. One, they’re easy and cheap to procure. Just head down to your local hardware store. Two, they’re fast.
Many take only a couple of hours to work, which means you can push the button on the fogger, go see a movie, and come home to a flea-free home. Three, they’re known for being effective because they work by releasing a cloud of chemicals into the air, which drifts into cracks and crevices you might not be able to reach if you applied a spray or powder on your own. There are also a couple of downsides to this method of killing fleas.
First, some experts say the chemicals released by the fogger may not make it to the very bottom of your carpet, but rest on the surface. If this is the case, all fleas may not be killed. Personally, I have never had this problem. Second, and indisputably, foggers rely on harsh chemicals to do their dirty work and may leave some of that chemical in your home, where it can potentially harm you, your children and your pets. If you do choose this method of flea control, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ directions for maximum effectiveness and safety.
Powders and sprays
Many flea-killing powders and sprays are similar to foggers in that they rely on powerful chemicals like insect growth regulators (IGRs). Interestingly, the way these insecticides work is by acting like the hormones found in young insects, disrupting the way fleas grow and reproduce. What makes them different and possibly better than bombs or foggers is that you can better control where they are applied.
Nobody really needs a giant cloud of chemicals coating the entire inside of their home, because fleas don’t live on walls or tiled floors — they live in carpets, bedding and animal fur. If you are willing to spray or sprinkle powder over your entire carpet, sprays and powders can be very effective. Powders and sprays also come in all-natural and eco-friendly varieties.
Flea traps available at hardware stores, pet stores and online retailers like Amazon and Walmart.com use heat, light and sometimes a sweet smell to attract fleas, then trap them via sticky pads. These traps get very mixed reviews. Those who like them seem to have low-level flea infestations, be very patient, or both.
The reason is they aren’t capable of killing a large volume of fleas all at once. If your carpets are heavily infested, you will need to be sure to buy lots of replacement sticky pads, which can get expensive. One advantage of traps is that they won’t expose your family or pets to any harsh chemicals.
If you’re interested in flea treatments with minimal impact on the environment, food grade diatomaceous earth is probably the most popular. The substance, made from the fossilized skeletons of small aquatic organisms called diatoms, comes in the form of a powder. Diatoms are made of silica, also known as silicon dioxide, a naturally occurring substance made of the elements silicon and oxygen.
Silica has a drying and abrasive effect on fleas that is ultimately lethal. At the same time, it is safe for humans, animals and the environment. Because of its safety, diatomaceous earth is used in grain storage, to keep both pests away and moisture away. It is also found in many consumer products, including toothpastes, beverages, skin care products, and water filters.
A word of caution: There are two main types of diatomaceous earth: food grade and pool grade. Be sure to use the food grade kind! Pool grade diatomaceous earth is “calcined,” which means it’s been hardened through heat treatment. This makes it a better filtration product, but dangerous for both humans and animals to consume or breathe.
To kill fleas in your carpet, sprinkle a generous amount of food grade diatomaceous earth all over your floors. Leave for at least 12 hours, then vacuum. Diatomaceous earth only kills adult fleas, not larvae, so watch for fleas over the next two weeks and repeat the treatment if needed (which it probably will be).
Boris acid is a naturally occurring chemical found in dirt, rocks and ocean water, as well as vegetables, fruits and grains. It’s also an effective pesticide used for killing roaches, ants, and, yes, fleas. To kill the fleas in your carpet, sprinkle boric acid liberally, leave overnight, and vacuum the next day. Unlike diatomaceous earth, it kills both adult fleas and their larvae. Borax, which is chemically similar to boric acid and also a natural substance, can also kill fleas, but it is slightly less effective than boric acid.
Fleas can’t survive temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes steam cleaning one way to obliterate fleas in your carpet with no toxic chemical residue. As a bonus, you get clean carpets. Depending on how much you want to spend and work, you can hire a professional, or rent or buy a steam cleaner and do it yourself.
The only drawbacks to this method are steam may not always reach deep enough into the carpet to kill all the fleas living there, and steam doesn’t kill flea larvae. Therefore, if you do use this way of treating your flea problem, you may need to follow up in a week or two with another round of steam cleaning or an alternative solution.
There are an abundance of DIY approaches to ridding your carpet of fleas. I love the simplicity of these tactics, and the fact that they seem safer for humans than using a product purchased from a store. But their effectiveness gets seriously mixed reviews. One thing about many DIY flea treatments is that, to be effective, they must be applied thoroughly and repeatedly — which makes them not only labor-intensive and tedious, but prone to error. In addition, there are some that just plain don’t work. My advice regarding DIY treatments is, if you use them at all, use them in combination with another, more tried-and-true solution.
Probably the simplest and most straightforward method of eliminating fleas in your carpet is to vacuum floors thoroughly, and throw the bag away, outside your home, every time you vacuum. A study conducted by Ohio State researchers showed vacuuming killed 96 percent of adult fleas and all flea larvae or eggs.
The scientists involved said it was dehydration that ultimately did them in, caused by the stripping away of the cuticle of the insect by the friction of the vacuum’s brushes and the strong currents of air produced by the machine. Vacuuming every other day for three to eight weeks is recommended. Still, experts generally agree that the use of some sort of flea-killing product along with vacuuming greatly increases the chances of successful flea elimination.
Salt kills fleas and flea larvae by dehydrating and corroding them. To kill fleas in your carpet using salt, simply sprinkle your carpet generously with any type of refined salt, let sit for at least two days and vacuum.
Killing fleas with baking soda takes a little more elbow grease than killing them with salt. Sprinkle baking soda all over your carpets, grind the powder into the carpet fibers with a stiff brush, and vacuum.
Some claim sprays or powders infused with herbs like peppermint and rosemary will cure low-key infestations, and can even be sprinkled on pets. One advantage of these treatments is that you can easily make them at home. However, I don’t recommend them as a way to rid carpets of fleas. While there is proof that rosemary, in particular, is an effective flea repellant, it is not clear that herbs can kill the pests or their larvae. Herbs can’t hurt, but don’t rely on them as your sole treatment.
Dish soap trap
You can catch fleas by making your own trap using nothing but dishwashing liquid and water. Simply fill a bowl with water and add one to two tablespoons of dish soap. Use a wide bowl with low sides, or even a pie pan or plate, so the fleas will be able to make it in (they can’t jump too high). To enhance effectiveness, place a desk lamp next to the trap with the light shining down on it. This works because fleas are attracted to light.
The internet abounds with instructions for making dish soap flea traps, and they’re all a little different. Some suggest placing tea light candles in the bowl, another swears adding black pepper is the real trick for getting it to work. As with commercial flea traps, the results are varied. Many people report not catching very many fleas. To me, it sounds like an awful lot of trouble, and it’s hard to imagine how all the fleas in your carpet will ever end up in a single bowl – or, even if they do, how long will that take? If you’re going to use traps, I say buy ‘em.