Can fleas bite through clothes?

fleas don't bite through socks

Jeff Covey

Img 1 Cat fleas will jump onto socks, but they can’t bite through the fabric.

Summary

Cat fleas can’t bite through clothing. Instead, they’ll move beneath clothes to feed on exposed skin. To prevent flea bites, wear socks, long trousers, and closed-toe shoes. Then tuck the pant legs into the socks.

For extra protection, permethrin insect repellent can be sprayed onto the garments.

Details

Flea Bites & Clothes

Fabric Types

Generally, fleas can’t bite through clothing. Jeans, socks, and even thin fabrics will prevent their bites. However, there are a few exceptions. It’s possible for fleas to feed through thin, snug-fitting clothing, such as tights, pantyhose, or yoga pants.

Fleas Feed Beneath Clothing

If fleas don’t have immediate access to skin, they’ll move underneath clothes to bite. Fleas prefer feeding in covered areas, so they can take a blood meal while remaining unnoticed. If they’re disturbed while feeding, or are unable to leave, fleas may hide in the seams of clothing for up to 24 hours and periodically feed.

Clothing Helps Fleas

Although clothing is a barrier to bites, it’s actually an aid to fleas. It’s easier for fleas to attach onto woven fibers than hairless human skin. Once on a person, they’ll find an area of exposed skin to bite, sometimes beneath clothing. There, the fleas are hidden from view and can feed freely. The clothes also wedge feeding fleas against skin, which prevents them from falling.

Where Fleas Bite People

Cat fleas jump an average of 5.2 inches into the air (7.9 inches max) Img 2. This height is well below the knee of a human. Once on a person, they’ll bite readily without much movement or wandering. As a result, flea bites usually occur on the feet, ankles, calves, and lower legs.

cat fleas jump to the height of socks

WithMe Photography

Img 2 At a maximum, cat fleas jump 8 inches high.

Although rare, flea bites can occur higher up on the body. For example, fleas have access to the upper legs, waist and pubic area when a person sits on the ground. Exposed skin around the wrists may also getting bitten. It’s highly unlikely for fleas to bite people on the face or scalp.

Best Clothing to Stop Flea Bites

Clothes that block access to skin are the best at preventing flea bites. Wearing socks, long pants and closed-toe shoes will stop many bites. However, a gap of exposed skin often occurs between the socks and trouser cuffs. As with ticks, it’s a good idea to tuck the pant’s legs into the socks Img 3.

tuck pant legs into socks to stop flea bites

WithMe Photography

Img 3 Prevent flea bites by tucking pant legs into socks.

Loose-fitting clothing, with tightly woven materials, are best at preventing all types of insect bites, including mosquitoes whose bites are known for penetrating fabrics.

Insect Repellent for Clothes

To stop fleas from landing on clothes altogether, permethrin clothing repellent can be used. Permethrin is an insecticide, but in low concentrations it acts as a broad-spectrum insect repellent. It deters fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, and biting flies. The product binds into clothing fibers, so it’s resistant to getting wet, washing, and hard wear. Treated clothing repels insects for up to 6 weeks or 6 launderings (according to product labels).

spraying permethrin clothing repellent

WithMe Photography

Img 4 Spraying permethrin repellent on socks and pants can stop flea bites.

References

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Discussion

  • Josh c October 24, 2016, 5:04 am

    How come fleas bite one person more than another I heard it’s from the carbon dioxide output other person but if so then how would you control that. Reason I’m asking is my wife is constantly bit we’ve sprayed we bombed we remove carpet and still she keeps getting bit yet I never get a bite on me

    • Adam Retzer October 29, 2016, 3:47 pm

      Carbon dioxide is only one of the attraction stimuli. For more information, you can read our page on What attracts fleas. Regardless, it seems unlikely that one person would give off significantly more carbon dioxide than another, unless they are vigorously exercising.

      The person getting bit more is probably spending more time in flea-infested areas. These would be areas of the home where the pet frequents. Eggs fall from the animal and then develop in the environment. Eventually they’ll emerge as adults in these locations, and jump onto a host when it’s present. In homes, common flea hot spots are in areas where pets sleep. For example, in family rooms, next to furniture or pet beds. Or in bedrooms, at the side or foot of the bed.

      It may also be that you’re wearing clothing that protects your feet, ankles, and lower legs, while she has more skin exposed in these areas.

  • Susan December 6, 2016, 1:25 pm

    I have little rolled up or flatten out fleas clinging to my tee shirts & tee shirt like material. They appear dead. Have been machine washed but still clinging. Are they dead? This is really getting to me!

  • HR-Florida February 4, 2017, 3:23 pm

    I have no pets so I’m not even sure how I got fleas in my apartment and my car but the fleas are managing to get into my sneakers and bite my feet especially when I am in my car.. You say that they get between the sock and my skin but when I immediately take my shoe off, I usually find the flea in the sneaker under the rubber sneaker liner (the real sneaker bottom is white). Have I got super fleas or something?

    Also I am occasionally finding some tiny ones on the bed which is at least 18 to 20 inches above the floor.

    I’m hopeful that i am nearing the end of this problem. It’s been 6 weeks and the apartment is much better than it was at first. I’ve been vacuuming every other day and spraying Precor 2000 once a week. I also have been vacuuming the car every day or 2 also. The car seems a little behind the apartment but I’m careful to check myself for new fleas when I return home.

    Any other suggestions?

    • Adam Retzer February 6, 2017, 6:36 pm

      It certainly sounds like a uncommon problem. Are you positive fleas are the pest? Can you take a picture of the culprit and upload it to imgur.com?

      Since you don’t have pets, you may be dealing with human fleas (P. irritans). Unfortunately, I am not as well versed on this species, as it’s somewhat uncommon. Regardless, no flea species should be able to bite through socks (much less a rubber liner). The fabric is too thick. Fleas don’t have a needle-like proboscis like mosquitoes, so their bites can’t penetrate very far.

      It’s strange that you are finding them in your car. They can’t survive without a host. Usually fleas are only found in cars when pets ride in them, and eggs fall there. It’s odd that they seem to be surviving in your car without a persistent host.

      It’s also rare to find fleas in beds unless an infested animal sleeps there. As you mention, they shouldn’t be able to jump 18-20 inches (the max is around the height of a human ankle). Sometimes they can crawl up bedding that hangs low to the ground. Or they may jump onto your feet/legs before you get into bed.

      The control steps you’re taking sound sufficient. The Precor will prevent fleas from developing for 7 months, so spraying every week probably isn’t necessary. I don’t have any further advice, since your problem is a bit perplexing. It may help if I could see a photo of the pest. You may also want to consider getting an exterminator to take a look.

      • HR-Florida February 8, 2017, 4:26 pm

        I’ll try to upload a picture. Mostly they are really tiny – almost like little dots but I am guessing that they are just emerging from the larvae stage? Occasionally I do see larger ones but nothing too large at this point. Thank god it is nowhere near as bad as 6 weeks ago, but I do still get bitten in a couple of hot spots where I spend a lot of time, like my computer.

        I did have a exterminator about a month ago and he sprayed a Boric Acid aerosol on the carpets and it helped for a while but then they started to return a few weeks later. But since I had already set off 2 flea foggers in the apartment, he did not see any adults and couldn’t verify that it was fleas.

        Perhaps it is some sort of human flea as they seem to love my clothing. In fact one of the first things I noticed back 6 weeks ago was that they were all over all my clothes in my dresser draws, etc. I probably infested the car myself just from fleas on my clothing 6 weeks ago. I also find they love small spots like inside the fly compartments in my briefs. Some of what I’m seeing could be lint, but an occasional larger one convinces me that it is certainly not all lint. I have taken to storing my clean clothing in plastic bags until I am ready to wear it.

        So just continue vacuuming at this point and hopefully it will slowly fade out?

        • HR-Florida February 9, 2017, 6:57 am

          Here are 3 pictures. First time using Imgur so I’m not sure what order they came out but the 3 pictures are 1) Small insect in the toilet after it bit me through my sock; 2) Little dots on the inside of my jeans pocket after returning home from a ride in my infested car; 3) Long insect on my bed from last night. These long insects was how it all started more than 6 weeks ago with these long insects showing up on my bed for a while before I had a full scale infestation with insects all over my clothing in drawers, etc.

          Here are 2 links for the 3 pics.

          http://imgur.com/a/Q1VHD
          http://imgur.com/a/YYRid

          • Adam Retzer February 10, 2017, 5:16 pm

            Hmm. Those images don’t look like fleas. Img 1 may be a flea, but it’s hard to tell because of the image quality. I don’t see anything that looks like fleas in images 2 and 3.

            Those long insects aren’t fleas. I can’t tell what they are (again picture quality). However, the only flea stage that has a long body are larvae. The larvae avoid light and disturbances, and are rarely seen. Plus, they aren’t black. Their bodies are a translucent white color, and a red digestive track can be seen through it. Their bodies are covered in bristles. Larvae also don’t bite.

            Here are some pictures of fleas:
            Adults
            Adults on a sock (for size)
            Larvae

            Continuing to vacuum will end a flea infestation. My worry is that you aren’t dealing with fleas. If it’s a different pest, a different technique may be needed. Unfortunately, I can’t help much here.

            You may want to consider posting that imgur link to reddit at /r/whatisthisbug. There are many people there who are into identifying insects. You may need to include a description of their habitat and behavior (in your clothes and bed, and biting you), since the images weren’t able to capture the small details.

  • Bob O`Bob February 9, 2017, 3:08 pm

    The cat fleas here in San Jose simply climb in between the fibers in socks. Even in thick cushioned socks. Socks slow them down, and technically they are not biting *through* the fabric, but to say that socks are anywhere near protection is ridiculous. It takes them a few seconds to burrow in, that’s all.

  • Axel May 8, 2017, 10:35 pm

    Is there any best solution for human flea bite ?

    • Adam Retzer May 9, 2017, 4:43 pm

      There’s no cure for flea bites. They’ll heal on their own, usually in around 4-5 days. However, you can apply hydrocortisone cream or other anti-itch lotion to the bite to help relieve the irritation.

  • Anonymous June 24, 2017, 2:28 pm

    I have a flea infestation in my house they are nesting in the wooden floorboards and now some of them are in my bed I can’t sleep and I feel sick and I’m to young to go to the shops and buy flea stuff and my mum can’t flea bomb the house because she is pregnant what should I dddooooo 😬😬😁

    • Adam Retzer July 2, 2017, 12:34 pm

      Please view out page on How to get rid of fleas for comprehensive information on flea control options. Vacuuming is the best non-chemical way to control fleas. Laundering items such as rugs and pet bedding is also helpful.

  • Anonymous June 24, 2017, 3:08 pm

    Is it true that fleas die at a heat of 38% c if so can you heat your room or house and then they will die and why are flea bites ichy

    • Adam Retzer July 2, 2017, 12:39 pm

      Temperatures above 95°F (35°C) are lethal to all flea life stages. However, it’s important to know that immature fleas live in protected microhabitats that have their own sheltered microclimate (such as deep within carpeting). And adult fleas live on their animal host. Thus, trying to alter indoor climates to kill fleas isn’t a very effective technique. View our page on What temperature do fleas die for more info.

      Here’s a page on Why flea bites are itchy.

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