DEAR JOAN: I had to put down my dear feline companion recently and am now, along with suffering from his absence, suffering from a flea explosion.
Being very chemically sensitive, I have tried repeated washing, vacuuming, fragrant oil spraying and more, but am still getting bitten every day.
Can you recommend any methods of flea extermination for my home that are not toxic? Sheltering in place is pretty miserable in this condition.
Kathleen Eagan, San Jose
DEAR KATHLEEN: Please accept my condolences on the loss of your cat.
I have some suggestions to help with your flea infestation. The first step is to use a powerful vacuum cleaner on your carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture and mattresses. Use the narrow crevice wand attachment to make sure you get into the corners and creases of the furniture.
You’re not only looking for the fleas, but also the eggs, larvae and cocoons, which make up 95 percent of an infestation and is why you keep getting bit.
Take the entire vacuum outside to empty the bag or canister, and make sure the vacuum is cleaned out well.
Next, use a steam cleaner on your carpets and upholstery. The combination of high heat and soap will kill fleas in all stages of life.
You’ll need to wash bedding and curtains in the hottest water they can stand, and dry on the highest heat setting that won’t ruin the fabric. Heat is critical in killing the fleas at all stages.
Normally, I’d recommend next using an aerosol flea killer sprayed throughout your house, under beds and furniture and into corners, but with your chemical sensitivity, you probably don’t want to do that. If you should need to try it, however, look for an insecticide that will kill both adults and the eggs and larvae. It likely will contain both permethrin and methoprene or pyriproxyfen.
To help prevent making yourself ill, you might ask a friend to spray while you remain safely outside the home for a couple of hours until the spray has dried.
To avoid having to use chemicals, even the less toxic ones, you can purchase some flea traps that are odorless and harmless to humans. You plug it in and the combination of an attractant, the light and warmth lures fleas in, where they are trapped on a sticky pad. I’ve used these and they work well. You’ll probably want to get one for every large room in the house, and they cost about $20 each.
You also can create your own flea traps by filling a plate or bowl with a mixture of warm water and dish soap. It doesn’t have quite the same attraction as the electric sticky trap, but it works pretty well. You need to replace the water and soap at least once a day.
Neither of those will work on the eggs and larvae, however.
A popular homemade herbal flea spray is made with 4 parts vinegar, 2 parts water and a little lemon juice and witch hazel. Spray it throughout the house.
It will take time to get them all, but you will eventually. You should also check your yard to make sure you aren’t bringing them in from outdoors.
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