Fleas are small, wingless, parasitic insects that live off the blood of their hosts. They can be a nuisance when they infest homes and target pets or even people. One way fleas spread is by getting into laundry, bedding, carpets, and other fabrics. Killing fleas in laundry is important to help prevent re-infestation and further bites. There are several effective methods to kill fleas in laundry and prevent any eggs or larvae from surviving.
Heat from Washing and Drying
One of the simplest ways to kill fleas in laundry is through the heat involved in regular washing and drying. Fleas and their eggs cannot survive temperatures above 140°F. Most washers reach temperatures between 130-150°F on hot or sanitizing cycles. Tumbling and drying laundry on the highest heat setting, even for just 20 minutes, can kill fleas, larvae, and eggs that may be lingering in the fabric. The heat penetrates deep into the fibers and eliminates the pests.
Wash any infested bedding, towels, clothes, or other linens on the hottest setting possible. Then dry on high heat for at least 20 minutes to effectively kill fleas. Take care not to overload the washer and dryer, so there is plenty of room for the heat to fully penetrate the laundry. The hot water and dryer heat work together to eliminate fleas in all stages of development.
Adding bleach to your laundry wash and soak cycles is another effective way to kill fleas. Bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, which has insecticidal properties. When diluted in water, bleach breaks down the outer layers and tissues of insects. It also damages flea larvae and eggs, preventing them from developing further.
For washing machines, add 1/2 cup of bleach to a regular size load. For a larger or heavily infested load, add up to 1 cup of bleach. Use bleach in place of detergent or as a supplemental booster to your regular detergent. Soaking heavily infested laundry in diluted bleach can also help kill fleas before washing. Mix 1/2 cup bleach into 1 gallon of water and soak for at least 20 minutes before washing as normal.
Take precautions when using bleach and avoid direct contact with skin. Make sure the laundry area is well ventilated. Bleach can be harsh on some fabrics, so test for colorfastness first. Overall, bleach is a powerful flea killer that can be added to your laundry routine.
Borax is a natural mineral salt that can be used to safely kill fleas in laundry. It is environmentally-friendly and gentler than bleach for regular use. Borax has abrasive properties that can physically damage the exoskeleton of fleas. It also acts as a dehydrator that kills fleas by drawing the moisture out of their bodies and eggs.
Add 1/2 cup of borax per laundry load along with your regular detergent. For a heavy infestation, use up to 1 cup of borax. You can also make a borax soak by mixing 1/2 cup borax with 1 gallon of warm water. Soak flea-infested fabrics for at least 20 minutes before washing. The borax solution penetrates materials and kills fleas on contact. Rinse thoroughly after soaking and washing to remove all borax residue.
Borax is safe for white laundry and colorfast fabrics. It can help boost stain removal too. Just take care to prevent direct exposure to skin. Overall, borax is an effective and affordable natural flea killer for laundry.
Insecticidal Laundry Detergent
There are also some laundry detergents on the market that contain insecticides specifically designed to kill fleas, larvae, and eggs. These provide an all-in-one wash solution to get rid of fleas and clean laundry simultaneously.
Some examples of insecticidal laundry detergents include:
- Harris Flea and Tick Laundry Detergent – contains permethrin
- Vet-Kem Ovitrol Plus Laundry Additive – contains pyrethrins
- Adams Plus Flea & Tick Laundry Detergent – contains pyrethrin insecticides
- EcoLogic Wipe Out Laundry Detergent – plant-based insecticidal formula
Check the label directions and use an appropriate amount of the flea detergent in place of regular laundry detergent. Many advise pre-treating heavily infested items too. This type of detergent both cleans the laundry and kills any fleas or eggs on contact in one step.
Using beneficial nematodes is an alternative biological method to kill fleas in laundry and surrounding environments. Nematodes are tiny worms that prey on flea larvae in soil, turf, carpets, pet bedding, and other places fleas breed.
There are two types recommended for flea control:
- Steinernema feltiae – attacks flea larvae and eggs
- Heterorhabditis bacteriophora – also shown effective against fleas
Nematodes can be purchased online or at some garden stores. To use for laundry, mix nematodes into wash water according to package directions. Soak heavily infested laundry before washing. Nematodes may also be applied to carpets, pet bedding, baseboards, and outdoor areas where fleas breed. They provide an eco-friendly biological control option.
Plain white distilled vinegar can also help kill fleas in laundry. Vinegar has acetic acid that is toxic to fleas. It acts as a natural deterrent and insecticide against small insects and arachnids.
Add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to a regular load of laundry. Vinegar can be combined with other flea killing agents like borax too. You can also soak laundry in a vinegar solution before washing. Mix equal parts vinegar and water, enough to fully submerge items, and soak for 15-20 minutes. Rinse laundry thoroughly after washing vinegar because the acidic taste remains. Vinegar provides a non-toxic flea killing laundry booster.
Many essential oils have insecticidal effects against fleas that can also be utilized in laundry. The strong aroma of certain oils repels fleas while also damaging their exoskeleton. Some essential oils that work as natural flea killers include:
- Tea tree
Add 10-15 drops of your chosen essential oil or oil blend into the wash cycle. You can also soak items prior to washing. Make sure to test oils on a hidden spot first, as some may stain fabrics. Essential oil insecticidal properties offer a chemical-free flea killing laundry booster.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a natural mineral dust made up of fossilized algae. The sharp edges of DE shred the waxy outer coating of fleas, causing dehydration and death. It can kill fleas in all life stages by rupturing their bodies and absorbing the fats and oils they need to survive.
DE can be added directly to laundry loads as a natural powder. Use about 1/2 cup per regular size load. Make sure to get food-grade DE, not pool-grade. When combined with washing and drying, DE abrasively eliminates fleas and coats fabrics to help repel re-infestation. Wear a mask when handling DE to avoid breathing in the fine dust particles.
Professional Pest Control Treatments
For severe flea infestations, professional pest control may be needed to thoroughly kill fleas in laundry and home environments. Exterminators have commercial-strength insecticides that rapidly kill fleas.
Some professional flea treatment options include:
- Foggers/bug bombs – Cover large areas with insecticidal mist
- Spot treatments – Directly treat carpets and pet areas
- Sprays – Powerful insecticides to hit fleas on contact
- Powders – Apply residual killing powders like boric acid
- Flea collars/drops – Treat pets with preventative insecticides
Professional treatments combine different methods for maximum effectiveness. Make sure children and pets vacate the home during treatment. This level of insecticide power is often needed to fully rid a home of severe flea infestations.
Sanitize the House
In addition to treating laundry, it is important to fully sanitize the home environment to remove flea eggs and prevent re-infestation. Thoroughly vacuum all floors and upholstery. Use a vacuum with a flea collar attached to the tube to capture fleas inside.
Wash all pet bedding, throw rugs, curtains, and other washable fabrics. Use heat treatments and flea killing detergents. Steam clean carpets, apply flea powders, and use sprays in crevices and baseboards where fleas hide. Discard any heavily infested furniture or items that cannot be salvaged.
Prevention is also key. Treat outdoor spaces and surrounding areas where fleas live and breed. Keep grass maintained. Use flea and tick prevention products on pets. With diligent laundry cleaning and home sanitation, a flea infestation can be controlled and eliminated.
Natural Flea Repellents
There are also some natural flea repellents that can be applied to laundry to help further deter fleas after the wash cycle. These natural ingredients help repel and kill fleas on contact:
Cedar oil repels fleas due to its strong aroma. Spray a cedar oil concentrate onto laundry after washing and drying. It can also be applied to blankets, bedding, towels, and clothing. The cedar oil smell deters fleas and lasts through several washes.
Lemon and Lime Juice
Citrus oils in lemons and limes naturally repel fleas. Add the juice from a lemon and lime to your laundry rinse cycle. You can also mix 15 drops each of lemon and lime essential oils into 1 cup of water. Mist the citrus spray over linens, bedding, furniture, and carpets. Reapply weekly.
Growing herbs like fennel, pennyroyal, rosemary, wormwood, and basil can help repel fleas outdoors. Crush the fresh herbs to release the oils and flea-repelling aromas before laying laundry out to dry. This deters fleas from re-infesting while giving laundry a fresh natural scent.
Rubbing alcohol has disinfectant and insecticidal properties. Misting a 50/50 alcohol and water solution onto laundry can repel fleas. The alcohol smell dissipates quickly while keeping fleas at bay.
Natural insect repellents provide additional protection against fleas finding their way back into freshly laundered fabrics and bedding. Use them in combination with other flea killing methods for best defense.
Prevent Fleas from Infesting Laundry
It is much easier to prevent fleas from infesting laundry in the first place compared to eliminating an existing infestation. Here are some tips to keep fleas out of your laundry:
- Wash pet bedding weekly – Use hot water and flea detergent
- Vacuum carpets and furniture frequently
- Treat outdoor spaces where pets spend time
- Use monthly flea prevention on pets
- Keep grass cut short and dry out moist areas
- Seal cracks, crevices, and small openings
- Inspect and treat laundry right away at first signs
- Limit contact between pets with flea problems
Catching and treating fleas early is critical. Do laundry frequently and avoid letting it pile up. Immediately wash bedding and items pets spent time on. With diligence, fleas can be kept from ever gaining a foothold in laundry.
How to Tell if Laundry is Infested
Check laundry carefully for any signs of fleas before washing or drying. Look for:
- Live adult fleas – Small (1-4 mm), quick moving, wingless, brown insects
- Flea dirt – Tiny black specks that contain digested blood
- Eggs – Tiny white oval eggs laid in clusters on fibers
- Bites – Small, red, raised itchy bites concentrated around ankles and legs
- Excess pet scratching – Fleas cause excessive scratching and discomfort
Heavily infested laundry may have visible jumping fleas. But even a few fleas can lay dozens of eggs per day that latch onto fabrics. Any indicators mean fleas have likely infiltrated the laundry and urgent washing is needed before they multiply and spread further.
How Do Fleas Get into Laundry?
Fleas make their way into laundry in a few key ways:
- Ride on infested pets – Fleas move from pets to bedding, clothes, blankets, etc
- Crawl from carpets and floors – Infested environments lead to contaminated laundry
- Fall off humans – Fleas transfer from bites onto clothing and linens
- Spread through dirt – Flea eggs get tracked indoors on shoes
Laundry in contact with flea-infested pets is most at risk. But fleas can also crawl onto laundry placed on the floor or bed. Eggs latch onto clothing and linens, making them difficult to see. Any contact with flea infestations poses a risk to laundry.
Does Drying Laundry Kill Fleas?
Drying laundry alone generally does not kill all fleas. While the heat may impact some adult fleas, drying for at least 20 minutes on the highest setting is required to fully kill eggs and larvae. Lower dryer settings allow some immature fleas to survive and hatch later.
For effective flea control, always wash infested laundry first. Then dry on the hottest setting available for a minimum of 20 minutes. The combination of high heat washing and drying is necessary to cover all life stages. Do not rely only on the drying cycle to kill fleas already in laundry. Pre-treat and wash in hot water before lengthy hot air drying for best results.
Does Freezing Laundry Kill Fleas?
Freezing laundry can help kill fleas, but may not be 100% effective alone. Extreme cold can stop fleas from developing and damage adults. But some larvae and eggs buried deep in fabrics may survive.
Place infested laundry into plastic bags and seal tightly. Leave in the freezer for at least 4 days at subzero temperatures to ensure fleas are killed. Rotate and shake bags periodically so cold penetrates all areas. Freezing works best when combined with washing and insecticide treatments. But alone, it may not eliminate a severe infestation.
Does Steam Cleaning Kill Fleas?
Using a steam cleaner can help rid carpets, fabrics, upholstery and pet beds of fleas. The combination of heat and steam pressure kills fleas on contact. But steam alone does not provide residual protection. Re-infestation can still occur after steaming.
Steam clean at temperatures of at least 130°F and with adequate pressure. Slowly move nozzle over each area and penetrate into fabric. The steam needs to reach where eggs and larvae hide. Pay close attention to cracks and dark spaces.
Follow up steam cleaning with insecticidal sprays or powders. Vacuum thoroughly first. Empty and dispose of the vacuum bag afterwards. Steam works best as part of an integrated treatment approach to kill fleas and prevent recurrence.
Fleas can be difficult to control once infested into the home and laundry environment. But there are many effective options to kill fleas and their eggs when found in laundry, bedding, and other fabrics. Washing in hot water paired with high heat drying is the simplest go-to treatment.
Supplement laundry cleaning with added flea-killing agents like bleach, borax, or insecticidal detergents. Essential oils, vinegar, steam, and freezing can also assist in breaking the flea life cycle. Contact professional pest control for severe infestations.
The key is to aggressively treat laundry at the first signs of fleas before they multiply and spread further. By taking swift action and utilizing proper insecticidal control methods, fleas can be successfully eliminated from fabrics and prevented from returning.