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Long story short...we came home after 5 days away with our 1.5 year old and noticed that the wherever the cat slept or lounged there was cat hair and little particles that looked like black pepper.

A quick internet search pointed to fleas. My wife bought a flea collar for the kitty (~$50 for a time release collar good for 8 months...that hurt the wallet) and a flea comb.

She proceeded to comb 40-50 fleas off of kitty. (Awhile ago I noticed spots on kitty's neck that were scabbed over. I should have guessed that it was probably from scratching.)

I also saw a flea on the carpet and then it sprang away.

My question is, what is the cheapest, safest and most efficient way to get rid of these suckers. Is there a permanent solution? I have a 1.5 year old so I'm concerned with using chemicals.

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When I lived in an apartment, we had a problem with fleas once (due to a neglectful pet owner in the building). Getting rid of the problem was no small feat, and took a lot of work over a few days.

I started by laundering all bedding, clothing, and basically anything fabric that was washable. Next I rented a steam cleaner, to clean the carpets. You can call in the pros for this if you don't want to do it yourself. The final step was to spray the entire carpet; paying special attention to the edges and corners, with Adams™ Flea & Tick Home Spray. Other brands exist, this was just the one I chose which worked for me.

When using any chemical spray, make sure you have adequate ventilation. Try to avoid skin contact with chemical sprays as well. My wife had a bad reaction to the spray, where her feet swelled up quite a bit.

If you're in an apartment building; where the source of the infestation could be coming from other tenants, you'll also have to treat the other units. If you don't remove the infestation from the entire building, you'll likely see the fleas return to your apartment. Any outdoor pets in the building should also be treated, not only to combat the flea infestation but also for the health of the animal.

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That home spray doesn't sound good around my one and half year old. – milesmeow Apr 9 '13 at 6:18
It may not be dangerous to use around your child, though I would not apply it in their direct vicinity. I had no reaction to the chemical, and my wife only had a problem until the carpet was dry. If you're going to use chemicals, maybe send the wife and child to visit grandma and grandpa for the afternoon. It might also be a good idea to check with your pediatrician before using chemicals in your home. – Tester101 Apr 9 '13 at 10:49
Unfortunately fleas are hardy and most "hacks" or "non-invasive" methods are much less successful. At some point you have to consider is the infestation and chance introduction of infection carried by the critters better or worse than the chemicals used to get rid of them. – BrownRedHawk Jul 31 '15 at 15:05

Due to the fact that you have an infant I would seek professional assistance. You don't have the choices of chemicals that trained and licensed pest professionals do. I can't testify to their effectiveness but I have heard that you can trap fleas with a desk lamp. You place the lamp on the floor with the arm extended and pointed about 6 inches off the floor. Place a pie pan on the floor under the lamp so the lamp shines on it. Pour an inch of water in the pan. Add a small amount of vegetable oil to the water. The theory is that the fleas are attracted to the light, hop in the pan and are trapped in the liquid. Another tip I have done is to take the extra piece of flea collar and put it in the vacuum cleaner bag. We have a HEPA filter so the chemicals are contained in the bag. The idea is that any fleas vacuumed up are killed in the bag preventing their release when the bag is changed.

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I recommend the following for your flea problem. Vacuum the afflicted room(s). Toss the vacuum bag once your done with it. Next, take a carpet steamer to the recently vacuumed areas to kill off the remaining eggs and adult fleas. For further protection from fleas, you may purchase some carpet powder.

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You have already been warned about posting answers that are little more than spam. I've removed the link from this answer as it's not necessary. – ChrisF Apr 10 '13 at 20:39

We had this same issue in our last apartment. We gave both cats a bath with the blue dawn dish soap. This kills fleas almost instantly. Be generous with the suds too. While we were bashing the cats, we had a flea powder on the carpets. After the bath, before letting the girls out of the bathroom, we vacuumed everywhere. Once you do this, you'll be good until your pretty is exposed again. For aftercare, yo can get some Avon Skin So Soft oil. Mix it equal parts with water making it completely safe for your pet's fur and skin, and won't leave them too oily. My grandma has been selling Avon for over 40 years, so I literally grew up using it on every pretty I've ever owned. If you want to see how bad the flea infestation is before you treat, just set out a few small plates that are derp enough to hold a little water, not deep at all. Then add a drop of the blue dawn dish soap. The fleas will jump in the water, and the soap will kill them. No need to mix the soap in. Just a drop in, and you're set. The first time I did this, we had a TON of fleas, and I'm just a few days time too. As soon as I put down the first plate, a flea jumped in and died while I was watching. So so nasty.

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I certainly hope you were "bathing" your cats, and not "bashing" them. o.O – Doresoom Jul 31 '15 at 14:06

The solution I used: There are treatments which specifically target insect eggs. Two treatments of this, a few days apart according to the instructions to make sure any eggs laid after the first treatment also die, cleared most of the apartment. The cat got the flea-shampoo treatment combined with thorough combing with a nit comb; any fleas that this extracted were dropped into water with dish detergent. (The detergent cuts surface tension so they sink.) Finally, she got a flea collar, so any remaining fleas that latched onto her would be killed off -- basically I let her do the mop-up pass. May or may not have been overkill but it worked.

For what it's worth, not one of those fleas ever bit me, as far as I could tell.

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I can't confirm it's effectiveness, but I've heard of people using baking soda to get rid of fleas in carpets. It does have a nice side-effect in that's it's also a deodorant. Maybe steam clean first, then put down baking soda (along the lines of @Tester101's answer, but minus the potentially harmful chemicals)?

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As part of your "acute" treatment (along the lines that the other answerers have suggested), make sure you thoroughly wash your clothes and bedding in very hot water.

In addition to the "acute" and "follow-up" treatment that the other answerers have suggested, you can sprinkle Borax on all of the carpeted surfaces. (Borax is a cheaper version of the non-toxic flea powders.) Make sure that the areas where the cat sleeps or lounges are covered especially well. Re-apply the Borax after each time you vacuum. This will tend to prevent recurrences, at the expense of making the air very dry.

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