Fleas. The word itself makes many homeowners shudder, especially if they also happen to have pets. After all, these pesky insects may be tiny, but a flea infestation can mean big trouble for your pet, your home and you.
Many homeowners wonder, do fleas die in the dryer? Can they drown in the washing machine, or is washing flea-infested items a waste of time? When you find even one flea in your living space, it’s tempting to toss everything you own—sheets, clothing, cushion covers, your dog’s bed—into the wash. While it seems as if that should take care of the problem, the reality isn’t quite so straightforward. Exposure to heat and soap can kill fleas in all stages of their life cycle, so a dryer cycle alone will likely be inadequate to eliminate your flea population. Besides, these creatures are likely widespread across your home, so meticulous vacuuming will be the best initial method to remove fleas that might be along your baseboards, in crevices in between floorboards, in and around your carpet and on your furniture and cushions.
Let’s take a look at the facts so you have the information you need to handle a flea problem.
Can Fleas Drown in the Washing Machine?
Before we delve into whether fleas can survive a trip through the spin cycle, it’s important to understand a bit more about these tiny, fascinating insects—what they are, what they do and what potential effects they can have on their animal hosts.
Fleas can generate a number of problems for the animals whose fur they infest, not to mention the humans those animals live with. While itchy flea bites are annoying, they are actually the least of the issues that fleas can cause. Flea bites can also trigger an irritating, inflamed rash on an animal’s skin called flea allergy dermatitis. Since fleas feed off their animal host’s blood, animals with serious flea infestations can develop anemia. Fleas can even lead to tapeworms or carry infectious diseases. In fact, rat fleas were directly responsible for the spread of the bubonic plague, also known as the black plague, throughout medieval Europe.
Unfortunately, getting rid of fleas isn’t easy. This is partly due to the fact that they are so tiny as well as prolific—one female flea can produce between 500 and 2,000 eggs through the course of her 100-day lifespan! Fleas are also difficult to get rid of because they can not only thrive on an animal host but also can survive for quite some time away from the host. Thus, they might be found not just in Fido’s fur, but also in areas of the home, such as a couch, carpet, bed or pet kennel, or in warm, moist, shaded areas of the yard. This means that when addressing a flea infestation, simply treating your pet is not enough. You must also treat your home and yard simultaneously, or risk your pet becoming re-infested.
Flea infestations are also difficult to control simply due to the fact that there are four stages in their life cycle—eggs, larvae, pupae and adults—and certain stages are easier to eradicate than others. Adult fleas live nearly exclusively on a host animal, but the eggs they produce can drop almost anywhere, including into your furniture or carpet. Flea larvae do not need to live on a host animal to survive, and fleas in their pupal stage can actually survive in a dormant state for many months.
If your pet or carpet has a flea infestation and you leave clothing on the floor, your clothes could pick up fleas. Fortunately, washing your clothes, bedding, rugs and other textiles is an effective way to kill fleas in any of the four life stages, thanks to the chemicals in the detergent along with the heat and turbulence encountered during washing and drying. If you do use this method as part of your anti-flea campaign, be sure to use the hottest settings during both washing and drying to make sure as many fleas are killed off as possible.
Still, simply doing the wash is not enough to get rid of a large-scale flea infestation.
Do Fleas Die in Water?
Generally speaking, adult fleas and their eggs do not easily die in water. Many types of insect eggs can survive for days when immersed under water, and the same is likely true for flea eggs. Thus, simply taking your dog for a swim, for example, would not be an effective way to kill off fleas. There are, however, some notable exceptions to this:
- Adding dish soap to water: Fleas are so tiny, they can actually sit on the surface of water without breaking the surface tension. When soap is added to the water, however, fleas will break the surface tension, sink under the surface and die. One way to catch fleas in your home, in fact, is to position a lamp to hang a few inches over a bowl of water on the floor, and add a few drops of dish detergent to the water. Since fleas are attracted to warmth, they will jump toward the light and then land in the bowl of water. Thanks to the soap, they will not be able to float on the water’s surface; instead, they will sink and drown.
- Hot, soapy water in a washing machine: As previously explained, washing flea-infested items in a clothes washing machine is an effective way to kill fleas, thanks to the laundry detergent, along with the heat of the water and the turbulence of the wash cycle. Fleas in any life stage will either be killed in the course of the wash or will ultimately wind up in the sewer. Any insects that might happen to make it all the way to the dryer will be killed off by more heat and turbulence.
Do Fleas Die Without a Host?
Since adult fleas need to feed on fresh blood in order to survive, they must live almost exclusively on a host. Adults can jump from one host to another, spending short times away from their fresh food supply, but in general, they will die if they are separated from their host for too long. Of course, “too long” is a relative term—adult fleas can survive up to two weeks without a fresh blood meal!
Fleas in other life stages, on the other hand, do not need a host to live. Flea eggs, for example, can live in an animal’s fur, but if they happen to drop off the host animal, they can also survive deep in the fibers of the carpet or the inner recesses of the couch where Fido likes to snooze. Once flea eggs hatch, the larvae can find and feed on various types of organic matter including “flea dirt,” which is actually half-digested blood particles that have been discarded by adult fleas. And flea pupae can survive for months in a dormant state before maturing into adults. Thus, adults are the only life stage of a flea that will die if they go too long without an animal host.
When Do Fleas Die Off For The Year?
Fortunately, fleas do die off when winter sets in—that is, assuming it gets cold enough outside. Fleas living outdoors cannot survive temperatures that drop into the mid-thirties (Fahrenheit) or below. Of course, in many regions of the United States, wintertime temperatures never get that low. This means fleas can survive outdoors through the winter in these areas, and thrive all year long.
Even in cold regions, while outdoor fleas might die off with the onset of frigid weather, other fleas will still survive even the harshest of winters simply by moving indoors and living on a warm animal host, such as an indoor cat or dog.
How To Fight Fleas
If you’re dealing with a flea infestation, it is of the utmost importance that you treat your pets along with their environment—that is, both indoor and outdoor living spaces—simultaneously. If you treat only your pet or your living spaces at a given time, but not both, the leftover fleas can easily and quickly re-infest. It’s also important to follow up with further, repeated flea treatments in order to ensure that these insects in all their life stages are killed or removed.
There are several effective ways for the average homeowner to combat fleas on their own:
- bathe pets regularly, at least once a week
- administer over-the-counter or prescription anti-flea medication as needed and appropriate
- vacuum the home regularly, especially carpeted areas or areas where pets spend lots of time
- launder pets’ bedding regularly, at least once a week
- launder slipcovers of furniture where pets nap or otherwise spend time, at least once a week
- use diatomaceous earth or other natural anti-flea treatments in and around the home
These methods can be an effective way to keep flea populations under control in your living space. For many homeowners with pets, however, a flea infestation can quickly grow too large in scope to be dealt with properly on their own.
ABC Is The Answer To Your Flea Problems
Fleas are a nuisance, and a flea infestation can become a serious problem. Fortunately, ABC Home & Commercial Services is here to help. Our experienced pest control experts will develop a customized approach to treating your flea problem from all angles, including removing the insects safely from your pet as well as from your indoor and outdoor living spaces. We’ll take the problem off your hands so you can get back to enjoying your home, your yard and your furry friends as soon as possible, worry-free.