Anyone who has lived through a flea infestation knows how miserable it can be. If fleas invade your yard, your pets won’t be the only ones scratching — fleas find you just as tasty as Fluffy and Mr. Bones. Learning how to get rid of fleas in your yard is just the first step.
To end a flea infestation (and prevent another one), follow an integrated pest management plan that includes treating:
- Your yard
- Your pet
- Your home
How to Get Rid of Fleas in the Yard
Getting rid of an outdoor flea problem takes diligence and patience. So, where to start?
Maintain Your Yard
This keeps fleas and other pests out of your yard. Insects thrive in areas with tall grass, fallen leaves, and thatch.
Mow your lawn once a week during the growing season, and dethatch once a year.
Water your lawn when it needs it, but avoid overwatering, as this creates a humid environment, which fleas love. When you see footprints that stay on the lawn or that the grass is wilting, turn on the hose. The best time to water your grass is between 4 a.m. – 8 a.m.
Remove the leaves, rake the leaves, or mulch them with a lawnmower every 3 to 4 days in fall.
Clean up plant debris, such as dead limbs, brush piles, or shed flowers. Rodents and other animals burrow in debris and drop off fleas in the process.
Don’t give animals a buffet. Food scraps attract animals that carry fleas, so:
- Cover garbage cans with tight lids (and that includes your recycling bins) to prevent a rodent infestation. Don’t leave plastic bags of garbage or trash outside.
- Don’t leave pet food outdoors.
- Don’t leave food scraps atop your compost pile; bury them, or consider a compost bin with a lid.
- If the yard is fenced, repair any holes, and fence the vegetable garden to deter animals looking for a snack.
For those who want to go the DIY route, outdoor pesticides come in various forms, including:
Liquid spray: Comes in ready-to-use form or a concentrate that’s mixed with water. Most of these products will attach to the end of your garden hose for easy broadcasting across the affected area.
Granules: Coarse particles (can be clay, corncobs, or walnut shells) that are coated with pesticide. The pesticide is released slowly, and some granules need moisture to activate.
Dusts: Pesticide is combined with a dry inert carrier (talc, chalk, clay, nut hulls, or volcanic ash). Good for use in out-of-the-way spots or places that a spray could damage.
The good news is that you’ll seldom have to treat the entire yard. Focus on areas where pets sleep and run, and apply along fences, under decks, and next to the foundation. Hit the shady areas, but skip sunny ones; direct sunlight kills flea larvae and eggs.
Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs)
Insect growth regulators won’t take out fleas on impact, but they are extremely effective for prevention. Here’s why: IGRs mimic hormones in larvae and eggs, so fleas never reach maturity or gain the ability to reproduce. They’re usually available in:
- Ready-to-use sprays
- Concentrates that mix with water
- In combination with pesticides that kill adult fleas
The best thing about IGRs: The chemicals are virtually non-toxic to humans and pets. However, they cause skin and eye irritation on contact, so keep pets away when spraying. Even if you don’t suspect a flea infestation in your yard, you can apply an IGR in late spring or early summer to keep the flea population under control.
A Few Safety Precautions
Before using any pesticide outdoors, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Keep children and pets away from the area until the spray dries.
- Remove toys, patio furniture, and anything else you don’t want to be sprayed.
- Wear gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Consider a mask and goggles.
- Don’t spray on windy or rainy days; take care that pesticide doesn’t drift into vegetable gardens or neighboring yards.
- Read directions carefully; be sure you have the right product for the job and use the correct amount.
- Change clothes and wash your hands when finished.
Why You May Need to Treat Your Lawn Again
Unfortunately, using a chemical flea spray isn’t always a one-and-done process. Blame this on the flea’s life cycle:
Fleas begin as eggs. Flea eggs hatch in two to five days. One adult can lay eggs at a rate of up to 50 per day.
Eggs hatch into larvae The worm-like larvae hide in carpet, bedding, or your pet’s fur.
Larvae become pupae, wrapping themselves in a silken cocoon. They can stay in the cocoon for weeks and in some cases, survive the winter. This cocoon also protects the pupae from insecticides.
They become adults. Adult fleas can live up to two weeks — and can lay 700 eggs each.
Many pesticides only kill adult fleas, so you’ll have to reapply in seven to 10 days to head off a second wave. For best results, use a pesticide that kills adult fleas in tandem with an IGR. Another option: Find a product that combines an adult flea killer and an insect growth regulator.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Pets
The constant bites, itching, and irritation from fleas aren’t just uncomfortable for your pet. Infected fleas can transmit parasitic tapeworms in dogs and other diseases to humans and cats. A few steps can help get rid of fleas on your dog or cat:
- Use a flea comb. This non-chemical treatment works for fleas on cats and dogs. The fine-toothed comb will pull off adult fleas and eggs. Between passes, dunk the comb in a container of soapy water to kill the fleas.
- Give your pet a bath. Use a flea shampoo that’s formulated for the species, or a mild soap like Castile soap. Dish detergent can dry out your pet’s skin, causing more discomfort.
- Apply a topical flea treatment. There are many commercial flea killers available in various forms, either over-the-counter or via prescription from your veterinarian.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Talk to your veterinarian about the safest form of treatment. This is important if you have a puppy, kitten, or elderly pet. Or one that’s pregnant, or has health issues.
- Use a species-specific product. In other words, don’t use a product for dogs on your cat. Some products have ingredients that aren’t safe for cats. And make sure the product matches your pet’s weight and life stage.
- Don’t apply a topical treatment immediately after using a flea shampoo. Unless the directions say the two are compatible, stick with one method.
- Always read the label, and follow the instructions exactly.
How to Get Rid of Fleas in the House
Fleas in your home can be a challenge, considering all the places that can harbor eggs and pre-adult fleas. Like flea control in your yard, flea control in your home is a multi-step process:
Deep Clean Your Home
When cleaning, first concentrate on the areas that your pet frequents.
- Wash (use hot water) or discard pet bedding.
- Launder anything else your pet sleeps on, including your bedding. Sheets and blankets should be washed in hot water if possible. Pillows usually can be washed and dried.
- Vacuum all carpets, rugs, and upholstery. Be sure to vacuum under furniture, since larvae like dark spaces. Immediately put used vacuum bags or the canister’s contents in a covered container outside. Otherwise, fleas can return to your house.
- Steam clean your rugs; heat kills adult fleas.
- Mop areas with hard flooring (wood, tile, linoleum, concrete, etc).
Using Indoor Pesticides
There are many brands and forms of over-the-counter indoor pesticides and insect growth regulators to help rid your home of fleas.
Sprays. Buy these in ready-to-use forms for indoor use. Never use a lawn-and-garden pesticide (or an outdoor pesticide sprayer) indoors. Apply pesticide in a directed spray. Do not fan spray or broadcast spray carpets or floors unless the label says you can.
Foggers. Generally not recommended for indoor use. They spray pesticide into the air, missing the bugs near the floor. Make sure everyone, including pets, is out of the house before use.
Dusts. These powders are blown into out-of-reach places where pests hide and are effective for a long time. Use dusts in cracks and crevices, under cabinets or appliances, or inside walls. Don’t use them in areas that can be accessed by children or pets, and wear a mask and goggles when applying.
Use caution when using pesticides indoors. Make sure that you have the right product for the job. Read the instructions, and follow them precisely. A few safety precautions to take when you apply pesticides inside your home:
- Put pet food and water dishes away until after the pesticides have dried.
- Keep pets and people out of the area until the pesticide dries.
- Cover aquariums and disconnect their air pumps.
- Remove toys, clothing, blankets, papers, etc., from the floor and underneath furniture.
- Don’t leave out food.
How to Get Rid of Fleas Naturally
If you Google ‘natural ways to kill fleas’ you’ll find a variety of remedies that people swear by. Generally, there are few scientifically proven and approved natural flea killers out there. However, there are a few popular non-pesticide methods — some are partially effective, while experts caution against others.
Vacuuming. Turns out that vacuum cleaners do an excellent job of killing fleas. A 2007 study by Ohio State University found that vacuuming kills fleas at all life stages. The results were impressive: a 96% kill rate for adults and a 100% kill rate for younger fleas. Researchers say the fan’s brushes, fans, and powerful air currents produce enough damage to kill the pests.
Flea traps. You can buy commercial traps, most of which use glue sheets to grab the pests. Or you can make your own:
- Use a shallow dish or pie pan.
- Pour in one part dish soap and three parts water, then mix.
- Find a light source. (A night light or a directional desk lamp is the safest option.)
- Place dish and light near an area that your pet frequents and leave overnight.
Traps won’t catch all the fleas, especially in a heavy infestation. They can be used as monitoring devices to see how well other eradication methods are working.
Boric acid. Boric acid is a naturally occurring substance found in many pest-control products. It dehydrates and is a stomach poison, though there is some dispute as to whether it kills adult fleas. Some sites suggest applying it to a floor or carpet, letting it sit, then vacuuming to get rid of fleas.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), boric acid can irritate the eyes, skin, mouth, nose, and lungs. The agency says not to use it on pets and to keep children and pets away from treated areas. If you want to try it on carpet, test a small area to make sure it won’t damage the fibers.
Essential oils. These come up often as a way to repel and kill fleas and are the subject of continued research. However, a 2020 paper by Michael K. Rust of the University of California-Riverside, cites adverse reactions to dogs and cats that received applications of tea tree oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, lemongrass oil, and clove oil.
The ASPCA does not advise using essential oils on a pet and advises against using a diffuser in your home if your pet has respiratory issues.
Technically, yes. Spraying any dish detergent or soap on your lawn or your pet will kill adult fleas. But it’s not a repellent; another wave of fleas will take up residence. Also, using a dish detergent to bathe your pet will strip the oils from its skin, drying it out and causing even more irritation.
Diatomaceous earth will kill pests, especially in your lawn. It abrades the waxy coating from the outer skeleton, so the insect dehydrates and dies. It is useful against adult fleas and larvae. It’s best to use diatomaceous earth in dry areas since it absorbs moisture; it won’t work in high-humidity areas according to the University of Florida.
Some sites suggest using food-grade DE indoors or on pets to kill fleas. Generally, it is not toxic to people, but DE can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Veterinarians don’t recommend using DE on pets, citing the possibility of lung damage if inhaled or gastrointestinal illness if the pet ingests it by licking.
One possibility is that fleas have hitched a ride on your clothes or shoes. But another possibility is unwanted visitors. Raccoons, opossums, and squirrels can carry fleas and can camp out in the attic, crawl space, or other areas of your home. Check your house for critter-sized openings. If you can’t scare them off, call a professional to remove them.
When to Call in a Professional
Getting rid of fleas in your yard and home takes work and patience. If you don’t have the time to handle it, or you’re unsure about what to use, consider calling a local pest control company. A local exterminator can determine the best and safest options to banish fleas from your life.
And if you need help with maintaining your yard to prevent another flea invasion, consider calling a lawn-care professional. A local lawn-care pro can take care of those areas that are attractive to fleas.
University of Nebraska Extension
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. Consult with a qualified medical or pest professional for help to eliminate fleas from your home, pet, or yard.
Main Photo Credit: Pixabay