Vacuum Kills Fleas As Effectively As Poison, Say Researchers

If you end up with a bad case of Christmas Fleas next week—hey, we’re not judging—save yourself the expense of buying flea poison. “Vacuum cleaners kill fleas just as well as any poison, surprised U.S. researchers said,” noting that a “standard vacuum cleaner abuses the fleas so much it kills 96 percent of adult fleas and 100 percent of younger fleas.” Of course, you won’t be able to train them after that, but it’s your decision.

Needham studied the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis, the most common type of flea found in households.

“No matter what vacuum a flea gets sucked into, it’s probably a one-way trip,” Needham said in a statement.

Writing in the journal Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, Needham suggested that the vacuum brushes wear away a waxy outer layer on insects called the cuticle. Without it, the fleas, larvae and pupae probably dry up and die, he said.

One problem we can see right away with this: having to chase after each flea with an old upright.

“Got fleas? Get the vacuum” [Reuters]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. dripdrop says:

    We unfortunately got a bad flea infestation when we moved into our new apartment. To get rid of them, we started using Advantage on our cat. We also bought some stuff you sprinkle on the carpet and vacuum up. Frequent vacuuming and Advantage is probably the best way to get rid of fleas. Just make sure you empty the vacuum bag frequently (outside, natch).

  2. Parting says:

    Urgh, I prefer investing a 10$/month for anti-flees treatment for my pet. That way I don’t have to test this type of scientific findings.

  3. Parting says:

    At least I pray and hope.

  4. Myron says:

    How do you vacuum your dog?

  5. B says:

    @Myron: Very carefully.

  6. IrisMR says:

    Of course the vacuum will kill the ones you catch, but if they move to an area you just vacuumed before you get to where they were, well, that’s busted.

    Poison is the best option since you can leave it there for a while.

  7. Quellman says:

    @Myron: Dysons Animal Vac? =P

  8. hexychick says:

    Anyone else notice that this expert keeps saying “probably” instead of it DOES kill them? I’m with CHOUCHOU and the monthly investment.

  9. polyeaster says:

    Some cats LIKE to be vacuumed…my old roommate’s cat would sit for some time while we “groomed” her with the vacuum:)

  10. Blueoysterjoe says:

    Insert comment about relatives.

  11. ekthesy says:

    I completely eradicated a BAD flea infestation from a 19th century Vermont farmhouse WITH carpet, using boric acid powder that cost something like six bucks a bottle (only needed three bottles to do the trick).

    I was completely shocked that it worked as well as it did. Just sprinkle, let sit for 10 minutes, and vacuum up. We were adopting another cat and didn’t want to bring her home to a flea hotel.

    Either way, it is vital to DISCARD THE VACUUM BAG after you’re done, or any fleas still left alive will crawl out and re-infest your home.

  12. meeroom says:

    I’ve heard putting a flea collar in the vacuum bag works to kill the fleas who survive the trip.
    My mother had the best flea hunting method ever. She’d walk around in white socks and all the fleas would jump on them, and she’d pick them off and throw them in a glass of alcohol.

  13. jrdnjstn78 says:

    My place gets fleas every year. worse thing about it is my son is very allergic to them and he breaks out in blisters all over. I have no pets and never had any but I guess they jump on our clothes and that’s how they get inside.

    I treat my yard. I buy defoggers, (Hot Shot sucks, Ortho is good and raid is decent). Vacumming does help but it doesn’t get them all and some of them live. I have a bagless vacuum and will empty the container outside into a bag and throw it away. Some fleas do jump out.

    One year we had gotten them so bad my son couldn’t live in the house, I had to send him to a friends. We had a car accident and were not able to get back home for over 2 weeks. We finally got home and I had on khaki pants. I sat there and watched the fleas jump on my pants, one after another. Me and my other son camped outside that night while the house got a good defogging.

  14. muddgirl says:

    Proven effective flea-eradicating technique (a la muddgirl’s dad):

    1. Obtain and wear knee-high white socks.
    2. Enter room. Observe fleas jumping on to socks, but unable to bite through thick cotton sock.
    3. Sprinkle carpet liberally with boric acid (or salt, if you prefer). Wait a few minutes
    4. Vacuum.
    5. Repeat 1-4 for each room of house, either every day or every time Mum yells at you.
    5. Treat all pets with Advantage every 3 months.

  15. StevieD says:


    Boric Acid is the leading cause of testicular cancer, second only to steroid misusage.

    Might wanna check under the hood and make sure everybody is safe and sound.

  16. Beerad says:

    @StevieD: Well, nobody’s suggesting they use it to cure their infestation of razor-toothed crotch crickets. I try and keep my junk clear of industrial-grade chemicals at all times.

  17. Beerad says:

    @StevieD: And, uh, could you please cite some support for that bold fact? Wikipedia oddly doesn’t mention that at all (not that it’s infallible). []

  18. Munsoned says:

    I’m somewhat disturbed over how many of you have had flea infestations. I’ve never even seen a flea, and have had at least one dog in my home most of my life.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’m kinda with Ernie on this one.

    But hey, thanks for the tips nonetheless!

  20. Amy Alkon says:

    Unfortunately, my Yorkie would get sucked up in the vacuum cleaner with the fleas.

  21. SoCalGNX says:

    Does PETA know about this?

  22. SkyeBlue says:

    You mean PETI right? Well, “Edgar” also known as “The Bug” from Men in Black would definitely be pissed!

  23. trujunglist says:


    Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I’ve always owned dogs and have never seen a flea in my life. I’m guessing it’s a Northwestern and Northeastern thing (I’ve lived in Arizona, Illinois, Georgia although there was some crazy bugs over there, and California).

  24. Timbojones says:

    I highly recommend Advantage or Frontline — in my experience they both work equally well — in addition to frequent vacuuming. I’ve had bad flea infestations (like step out of bed and hey there’s 6 fleas on my foot) go away completely in about a week with this treatment.

    For the love of all that is holy, do NOT buy flea control (sprays, drops, powders, collars) from the supermarket. It can cause seizures and death in pets and I’ve never been sure why they’re allowed to sell it. Go to your vet or buy online from Canada, Advantage or Frontline.

    @trujunglist: @ErnieMcCracken: I’m not surprised you haven’t seen fleas in Arizona! They seem to like dark, humid, woodsy environments.

  25. ToadKillerDog says:

    I had to use bug bombs once for fleas (along with vacuuming etc.). An odd thing I noticed was that as the bug population in the house (in our laundry room and damp bathroom) crashed the spider population crashed with it. When the bug population rebounded the spider population rebounded after it. I ended up with about a 6 month up and down cycle for about 2 years.

  26. DrGirlfriend says:

    The guy in the picture really needs to scrub his fingernails.

    Or maybe that’s why he has a flea on his hand to begin with.

  27. Parting says:

    @trujunglist: It’s more a ”bad luck” thing. It takes one flea infested pet to contaminate half of the neighborhood.

  28. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @ErnieMcCracken: My dad’s apartment had continual flea infestations even though he hadn’t owned ANY pet for 15 years. They fogged, they vacuumed, they even changed the carpet. Turned out the building was (still is, in fact) infested by rodents and raccoons in the walls.

    Dad was planning to move when he fell ill (unrelated to the infestation) and never recovered. That building is still standing, by the way, and people live in the same apartment. Ergh.

  29. @ekthesy: Boric acid is awesome for killing bugs. Roaches no likey.

  30. crapple says:

    @ekthesy: We brought an outside dog IN about 4 months ago. We bought some monthly flea med (Advantage Plus) on ebay for about $6 a treatment and then bought some 10 Mule Borax at Walmart – 2 boxes for about $3 each and covered our carpet and ‘brushed it in’ with a normal broom. We let it sit for about 3 days (online forums say 2 days is enough, but we wanted to be sure!!!) and vacuumed it up. We saw our last flea about 24 hours after that…so we’ve been flea free for 4 months, and now that our pup has the monthly medication, we shouldn’t ever see another one.

    For anyone with interest, the 10 Mule Borax is a laundry powder additive and you can get it in any major supermarket in their laundry aisle. It’s safe for humans and animals, but I wouldn’t purposefully apply it to your or your animal’s skin.

    Another bonus, any other insect really hates the stuff too, as the weather was cooling, we were having the little ‘piss ants’ trying to move in from under our deck to survive comfortably during the winter, once we put down the borax, that stopped as well!

  31. kimsama says:

    @StevieD: I have no idea who told you that, but they were wrong. It only really affects testes size and sperm motility, and only when taken orally in large doses.

    @Beerad: For you! from The EPA’s 1993 Assessment of Boric Acid:

    “A subchronic borax feeding study using dogs resulted in blood and metabolism disorders as well as effects to the testes, endocrine system, brain weight, and size ratios among various organs and glands.

    In chronic oncongenicity studies using mice, rats, and beagle dogs, boric acid and borax were found not to be carcinogenic; however, testicular effects and decreases in body weight resulted at high dose levels. EPA has classified boric acid as a “Group E” carcinogen, indicating that it shows “evidence of noncarcinogenicity” for humans.”

    It does irritate the skin and eyes, so you shouldn’t come into direct contact with it, but unless you plan on eating it in large quantities daily for years (I think the rats in the study were fed it for 2 years), your balls should be safe.

  32. ekthesy says:


    Interesting. I actually think I’ve heard something like that before. I wonder if Lance Armstrong was treating his house with boric acid. You’ll be happy to know my family jewels are fine.


    I was told that 20 Mule Team was like a mix of boric acid and something else and wouldn’t work as well, so I went straight to the scientific supply company for the pure stuff. I’m not surprised you had good results, though. Brushing it in is a step that I believe I didn’t mention, but that is really integral to the process as it permits the powder to filter down to the carpet backing.

  33. I used to use Advantage on my two indoor kitties every month, until I noticed that they no longer had fleas when we moved out into the country, away from close-in neighbors who never spayed or neutered animals and had tons of strays roaming the neighborhood. I guess we were carrying the fleas in on our socks or shoes. One of my cats used to foam at the mouth and freak out, doing a wild dance around the house every time I put Advantage on him. The vet said, “That’s normal.” I highly doubt it.

  34. skeleem_skalarm says:

    I hate to say this, but my crazy son actually shaved his cat when she got fleas. It got rid of them (on the cat, at least), but the poor thing was miserable. He treated his house and got Frontline for his kitty, and the problem was taken care of. Nobody should do this, as animals have their fur for a reason, but I have to say she looked really, really funny.

  35. toddkravos says:

    the ‘collar’ trick in the vacuum bag/collection chamber does work. but it also requires you to
    empty the bag/collection chamber after each use

  36. m4ximusprim3 says:

    @thedreamingtree: I’m fairly new to pet ownership, but in my observations vets always say “thats normal” when my animals do strange things. One of our dogs walks backwards about half the time and our vet doesn’t seem to be concerned.

    Unless there’s money in the fixing of it (in which case “we recommend treatment immediately”), it always seems to be normal.

  37. Trai_Dep says:

    Ban the in-laws from coming inside. Problem solved.

  38. Beerad says:

    @kimsama: Ah, that makes sense, thanks. Guess I should stop sprinkling it on my Cheerios!

  39. unohoo says:

    @thedreamingtree: Sure doesn’t sound normal to me. In fact, it sounds like Advantage was/is poisoning your kitty. I had a vet tell me that he usually only recommends frontline because it’s less harmful to the pet. You have to be very careful with Advantage, especially in mixed cat/dog homes because if you accidentally give your cat the one that the dog should have received, the cat could die. At this point, I only have the one cat and only give her frontline briefly in the summer to minimize the amount of poison that she gets.

  40. Timbojones says:

    @thedreamingtree: I’ve seen foaming when cats lick the stuff. Make sure you’re getting it high enough up the neck that they can’t try to lick it off. I try to get right at the base of the skull. I also slide maybe a half inch up the neck, against the nap of the fur, as I squeeze the stuff out. This keeps it down close to the skin rather than on top of the fur.

    And/or try switching to Frontline, maybe he’s allergic to Advantage?

  41. consumer_999 says:

    Not normal at all – your vet needs his teeth kicked in. A friend of mine had her cat go into seizures within half hour of an application. They didn’t use the medicine again, and there’s been no problem since.

    People need to stop using Advantage, Revolution, and the assorted others. These are very toxic poisons you’re pouring right onto your family members. If you want to control fleas, there are better ways than poisoning a loved one – regular baths, vacuuming more often, hair combing, proper diet (NOT garlic – toxic) and simple diligence in all of the above. It ain’t easy, but it’s better than watching fluffy roll over and die painfully.