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Pest control: fighting fleas at home

Fleas are a difficult pest to tackle, explains Which? Local-recommended pest control technician Kevin Harrison, but persistence can prevent the need for an expensive professional call-out. We got six tips for getting rid of these troublesome pests.

About fleas

Fleas are reddish-brown in colour and have a curved body

There are several species of flea, but most are between 2mm to 3mm long and reddish-brown in colour.

Fleas can be distinguished from bed bugs by the way they move; fleas will be seen to hop or jump, while bed bugs crawl. In addition, bed bugs have a much flatter body then fleas.

Adult fleas bite humans, animals and birds to feed on their blood. Larvae tend to live on carpets or bedding where they feed on organic debris and adult fleas' excrement.

Fleas can remain dormant for as long as 12 months. They can be awoken by vibrations like footsteps and are then attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat. 'It’s not unusual for a flea problem to arise as soon as someone moves into a home that has been empty,' says pest controller Kevin.

Symptoms of a flea infestation

  • Bites and rashes – Fleas tend to bite wrists, midriffs and ankles. The bite usually looks more like a heat spot than a raised lump. Some people develop a rash.
  • Sightings of adult fleas – You’ll definitely know if you have a bedbug problem because you’ll see them jumping around.
  • Sightings of flea eggs or faeces – A 'salt and pepper' effect is sometimes created by tiny pearly-white eggs and the dark-coloured faeces of the adult fleas.

Where to find fleas

  • Pet bedding – Cats and dogs will inevitably come into contact with other flea-ridden animals. Fleas don’t tend to cling to their victims, so a pet’s bedding is a good place to look for adults and eggs.
  • Clothes, bedding and luggage – Any warm, dark place provides harbourage for a flea. In addition to the clothes in your wardrobe, a washing basket is another favourite hiding place.
  • Carpets – You might find fleas on top of or underneath a carpet.
  • Bird’s nests – An abandoned bird’s nest in a roof space will almost certainly contain fleas, as well as other pests like moths and beetles.

How to get rid of fleas

You will need:

  • vacuum cleaner
  • washing powder or liquid
  • bin bags
  • flea spray

If you have a cat or dog and think they could have fleas, the first step is to visit a vet. They'll be able to advise on a suitable course of treatment.

If you don't have pets, or the flea problem persists despite treatment, try these steps:

1. Vacuum thoroughly

Regular, careful vacuuming is important to tackle flea eggs, larvae and adults. 'Empty the contents of the vacuum outside into a plastic bag. Put this in an outside bin straight away,' says Kevin.

2. Hot wash

'Wash clothes and bedding at a hot temperature, at least 60◦,' says Kevin. Check the are label before you shrink your favourite garments, though!

3. The big freeze

Cushions, delicate clothes, children’s stuffed toys and anything else which cannot be hot-washed can be frozen. 'Wrap them in a bin bag and place in the freezer.'

4. Flea spray

This can be bought at the vet or from a DIY store. 'They tend to be more expensive at the vet,' says Kevin.

'Carry out the spraying, following the manufacturer’s instructions, at the same time as the washing and freezing, otherwise you’ll simply reintroduce fleas to your clothes and bedding.'

5. Flea powder

Use this underneath the carpet. Kevin says: 'Larvae spend 80% of their time in the base of the carpet, around the twisted pile fibers. Sprinkle lightly, following the instructions.'

6. Flea lamp

If these measures, in combination, don’t work, you could try a flea lamp. Costing around £15, they consist of a small lamp and circle of glue inside a tub. The fleas are attracted to the heat, mistaking it for the human body. They become stuck to the glue as they jump around.

When to call a professional about a flea infestation

Trader tip

'When talking to a pest control company about a flea treatment, you should find out whether their quote is per room or for the whole house. Also, find out if there is a guarantee – if you’re spending several hundreds of pounds on treatment, you’ll want to be absolutely sure that the fleas are gone.'

'A treatment will cost somewhere between £100 and £300,'says Kevin.

'The cost is mostly because it is labour intensive to move furniture.'

A good pest control technician for example, will remove the cushions from a sofa in order to spray the nooks and crannies.

About our expert trader

Our expert: Kevin Harrison

Kevin Harrison is the owner of Pest Guard North West, a pest control business based in Stockport.

Pest Guard North West is a member of Trading Standards' Buy With Confidence scheme.

Which? members have praised Pest Guard North West for offering advice and a competitively priced service.

Read reviews for Pest Guard North West