Infestations can take weeks or months to control. But by taking some precautions, you can prevent them from starting in the first place.
These four steps can help you make your home less inviting to these little bloodsuckers. Some of them start even before you walk through the front door.
1. Troubleshoot Your Yard.
The first line of defense is keeping fleas and ticks from setting up housekeeping on your property.
If you live in a home with a yard, that means keeping your grass mowed and shrubs trimmed back. This simple landscaping move is the opposite of curb appeal to fleas and ticks, because they have less place to hide.
Next, discourage feral pets and wildlife from coming into your yard and bringing their fleas with them. Opossums, raccoons, and feral cats are the worst offenders. Don't invite these critters by leaving bowls of dog or cat food outside.
Trim back any trees and high shrubs that could let wild animals crawl into your attic. Seal off any openings to crawl spaces, garages, sheds, or under decks, where wild animals or stray dogs or cats could nest, says, Michael K. Rust, PhD, a professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside.
When planting shrubs, keep them away from your house and each other. “Any time you have air movement and sunlight it will kill flea larvae,” Rust says.
You can also find effective yard flea sprays at your local hardware store.
2. Practice Prevention.
Many pet owners use spot-on flea and tick treatments on their pets.
When they come home, run a flea comb or brush through your pet’s coat before going inside, reducing the number of pests it carries.
Do you have a long-haired pet? It's easier for pests to hide there. So consider having your pet shaved down for the summer, making it easier to spot problems.
3. Keep Your Home Clean.
Having fleas and ticks in your house doesn't mean your home is dirty. But if you pay careful attention to certain areas, you can make pests less welcome. The tree stages of immature fleas (flea eggs, larvae, and pupae) often live in carpeting or throw rugs. So vacuum at least once a week, and more often if you spot fleas.
When you vacuum, don't just cover the center of the room. Fleas avoid high-traffic areas, so be sure to hit baseboards, under furniture, under cushions, and anywhere your pets sleep or spend time. This can eliminate 30% of larvae and 60% of flea eggs, according to the AgriLife Extension Service of Texas A&M University.
Change vacuum bags frequently, or place a flea collar in the bag to kill emerging fleas. If your pet rides in your car, vacuum your car, too.
Also wash your pet’s bedding, crate, and toys in hot water weekly to kill flea eggs and larvae.
4. Treat and Prevent Infestations.
Thanks to effective flea and tick control products you can use on your pets, infestations in your home are much less common today.
If fleas do invade, take steps to rid them from your home and keep them away. First, vacuum your carpets thoroughly. After vacuuming, dispose of the bag immediately because eggs and larvae will continue to develop in the bag. Next, shampoo or steam clean the carpet to remove additional fleas and larvae. If you choose to use an insecticide in your home, cleaning the carpets first allows the product to go deeper into the carpet.
To prevent infestations from getting a foothold, Mike Merchant, PhD, a professor and extension urban entomologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, recommends using diatomaceous earth (DE).
This fine, talc-like powder comes from ancient marine plankton and dries out fleas at all stages. Use only food-grade DE, which is available at some hardware or seed stores, and online. It’s considered nontoxic and safe for pets and children. But when spreading it, take care not to inhale it because it could damage your lungs if you breathed in too much.
Merchant recommends sprinkling the dust under furniture cushions, along baseboards, in pet beds, and brushing it into the cracks in hardwood floors.
Another alternative is an insect growth regulator, or IGR. These products make adult fleas sterile, kill larvae, and cause eggs not to hatch. It is available as a pill from your veterinarian. There also are IGR sprays, dips, spot-on products, and collars with methoprene or pyriproxyfen. Some can last 6 months or more, helping prevent infestations but how long it lasts depends on the form you choose. Ask your vet which is best for you.