Do fleas live in clothes?

Summary

Cat fleas don’t live in clothes. Nor do they stay on people after taking a blood meal. However, fleas may briefly hide in the seams of clothing if they’re disrupted while feeding. In rare instances, a flea might not be to able to find it’s way out of the clothes and off the person. It’ll remain in the clothing for up to 24 hours, feeding periodically.

Details

Adult Fleas don’t Live in Clothes

Adult Fleas Stay on their Host

Adult cat fleas are permanent ectoparasites. They live on their hosts and rarely leave. They’ll feed and reproduce directly on the animal.

Humans aren’t Preferred Hosts

Humans aren’t suitable hosts of cat fleas. Bites on people are incidental. Emerging fleas will jump to the nearest warm-bodied animal, which could be a person if cats and dogs are absent. However, fleas can’t reproduce on human blood in natural settings. Also, fleas are poorly adapted for living on humans because of our lack of body hair. They’re often seen and killed before they can even feed.

Fleas Bite People & Leave

Fleas don’t stay on people after obtaining a blood meal. And they don’t breed on humans. They’ll often bite two to three times before leaving, with the meal lasting around 5 minutes.

In rare circumstances, fleas may get stuck on a person. They can’t bite through clothes. As a result, they’ll move beneath clothing to feed on exposed skin. If a flea is disturbed while feeding, it may hide in the seams of clothing briefly. This occasionally results in the flea being unable to find a way to leave. In these instances, it may remain in the clothing for up to a day and periodically feed.

Flea Larvae don’t Live in Clothes

Flea larvae develop in the environment. In homes, their usual habitat is carpeting. The larvae instinctively move away from sources of light, burrowing deep down into carpet fibers. They may also move under clothes if the garments are left on the floor. Just like carpeting, they seek refuge in the dark folds of the fabric.

References

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Discussion

  • Michelle January 11, 2017, 6:00 pm

    If an adult flea lives, feeds and mates on its host, then how does the flea “dirt” feces get to the developing Larvae to eat? Also, how long does it take the eggs to hatch into larvae and how long does it stay in that state before becoming a fully adult flea? Thank you!

    • Adam Retzer January 12, 2017, 6:16 pm

      Hello Michelle, good questions.

      Both eggs and flea dirt are deposited on the host animal. The eggs aren’t sticky and fall out easily. Flea dirt is essentially just host blood, and it’s more prone to getting lodged into pet hair when it dries. However, both eggs and flea dirt fall from the host when the animal grooms itself by scratching. The itchiness caused by flea bites helps aid in this. Flea hot-spots tend to be where animals rest and groom themselves.

      It takes 2-3 days for eggs to hatch into larvae. The larvae then develop through 3 instar stages, molting between each. At the end of the 3rd instar, around 7-11 days after hatching, the larva forms a cocoon and begins pupating. The pupation process takes another 7-19 days before the adult flea is fully mature. These durations may fluctuate based upon temperature and relative humidity. However, in most homes, the complete life cycle from egg to adult usually completes in 17-26 days.

      There is one more catch with the life cycle. After reaching adulthood, cocooned adults can enter into a quiescent state for up to 5 months. However, they’ll rapidly wake up and emerge once they detect heat and pressure on the cocoon, which indicates a host is resting on it. Most fleas won’t enter this quiescent pre-emerged state, but some do, and it causes control issues.

  • Rachel August 30, 2017, 5:52 am

    If i was bit whilst away for the weekend, and then put my clothes back into my wardrobe, will i need to wash everything in the wardrobe incase anything came home with us?

    • Adam Retzer September 28, 2017, 3:37 pm

      No, that shouldn’t be necessary, as it’s highly unlikely that fleas are on the clothes.

  • Jenn September 14, 2017, 7:09 pm

    We’re currently battling fleas. My husband found a couple pairs of socks on the laundry room floor that appeared to have eggs all over them, as well as mature fleas crawling around. I snapped a couple pictures, would you be able to confirm if they are flea eggs? I can’t seem to attach a photo with my comment. Thanks in advance!

    • Adam Retzer September 29, 2017, 10:33 am

      Yes, I can take a look. Sorry I don’t have image upload capability on this site quite yet. However, you can upload the photos to imgur.com and then post a link here.

  • Deb September 22, 2017, 8:38 pm

    we were out in the country and week later after going to groomer were told dogs have fleas 1 had 2 adults ,1 had few babies and the other 0 took them to the vet right away and they did not see any but were still treated ,my question I had clothes on the couch that I iron and put away this is the same couch my dogs sat are they ok or should I re watch everything??I am watching all bedding,dog toys,their bedding ,clothes we had on prior to this ,our car etc etc Thanks

    • Adam Retzer September 29, 2017, 1:13 pm

      The clothes should be fine, unless the dogs actually laid on top of them.

  • Jenni October 20, 2017, 10:03 am

    Been battling fleas in our home for a couple of months now. We are moving soon and I’m feeling the need to wash all of our clothes from our dressers and closets 🙁 Our dog sleeps on our bedroom floor. He’s at 1-2 feet away from one of my dressers. I know it wouldn’t hurt to wash all the clothes, but is it really necessary?? I plan to spray down all of our furniture in our new garage and letting it sit for a long time before putting into our new home. Any other advice for moving would greatly be appreciated!

    • Adam Retzer October 24, 2017, 1:53 pm

      You shouldn’t need to wash the clothes in the dresser. Fleas aren’t attracted to these kinds of things. When adults emerge, they immediately seek a host and stay on the animal once acquired. The eggs are laid on the host but they aren’t sticky, so they fall into the environment within a few hours. The fleas then develop where the eggs fall.

      Pet beds and area rugs are some of most flea-prone items. Take extra care with these items if you are moving.

      You may also want to consider spraying the new home’s carpets and floors with an insect growth regulator (IGR), such as Martin’s IGR. The IGR will remain active for 7 months, preventing any potential eggs from being able to develop. So fleas won’t be able to get a foothold in your new home.

  • Lil Dantes December 16, 2017, 3:40 am

    We have problems for 3 months now. We have tried everything and very very miserable disrupting our life , family,personal & business. We contacted a big pest control company in our local area for possible fumigation & was informed that yes fumigating with Vikane has kills all 4 cycles of fleas including in shoes , clothes & anywhere & that we don’t need to open boxes & bags that Vikane has will get in anyway. But after the treatment I’m not so sure that’s it is 100 % effective. We are worried to death that we spent a lot of money & our problem is not resolved. What’s your opinion on this. Thank you so much.

    • Adam Retzer December 18, 2017, 12:51 pm

      I am not too familiar with Vikane. However, insecticide treatments won’t end flea infestations right away. It usually takes at least 8 weeks for them to be eradicated. This is because 95-99% of the infestations are eggs, larvae, and pupae living in protected habitats within the environment (often deep within carpets). Insecticide treatments can’t penetrate the carpets well, and so many of the immature stages will survive. It will take time for them to mature, emerge, and then die. This is why pet treatments are usually required, so the emerging adults will die once they jump onto the dog or cat in the home. If the pet isn’t treated, the new adults could feed and lay eggs, continuing the infestation.

      Please see our page on How to get rid of fleas for more comprehensive control info.

  • ivana February 5, 2018, 8:56 pm

    i have a dog with fleas at my mom’s and our baby always gets flea bites although baby never touch the dog. is it possible if those fleas jumped to baby’s swaddle cloth when my dog shaked it’s body around the cloth? we did wash the cloth and brought it to our house, swaddled our baby and baby still got bites. could the fleas stay on the swaddle cloth, bit baby and jumped to our mattress? three of us sleep on the same mattress but fleas never bite us, only the baby. should i wash the cloth with really hot water since we can’t wash baby clothes with bleach? and what to do with our mattress? please help!

    • Adam Retzer February 6, 2018, 2:10 pm

      Ivana,

      In almost all circumstances, adult fleas won’t leave their host (dog or cat) once they are on it. Most bites on humans occur when new fleas are emerging from the environment and looking for a host. So, they may bite people before finding the pet. They will then leave immediately after feeding on a person.

      That said, in rare situations, fleas may be found on clothing and bedding. They shouldn’t infest the mattress though. Adult fleas wouldn’t stay on these items, but immature stages could be developing there if eggs fell from the host there. Laundering these items will kill any potential fleas on them (hot water and then drying).

      I am not sure how to explain the bites on the baby and not anyone else. Adult fleas emerge from the floor, usually carpets. So if the baby is spending more time near the floor, this could be one explanation.

      • ivana February 7, 2018, 2:35 am

        but i never let my baby sit on the floor. the bites are getting better but leave red scars on baby. could you please tell me what should i use to fade those scars? thanks for answering.

        • Adam Retzer February 8, 2018, 2:02 pm

          The red discoloration from flea bites should fade away on their own within a few weeks.

  • Ryan June 5, 2018, 9:42 am

    I have flea problem in my apartment for 7+ months. My apartment has wood floor. I have never owned any pet at my home. But I was bitten by the flea over the past months. Pest control came three times but they never cured the problem. I just wonder where the source can be. My neighbor has a little pet dog but they would be bitten even more seriously if they have fleas, correct? Besides, it seems the area under my working desk and under my shoes shelf are the main infested area, since I caught a few fleas with a trap in those areas. I am about to move to a new state in two months. Is there anything I should do to keep those creatures away from my new home before I move? Thank you!

    • Adam Retzer June 7, 2018, 11:54 am

      Ryan, sorry to hear about your flea problem. It sounds you may be dealing with human fleas (P. irritans), which is a somewhat rare species but it can survive and reproduce on human blood.

      What control measures have you employed? Are you vacuuming regularly? Did the pest specialist spray an insect growth regulator (IGR), pyriproxyfen or methoprene?

      Before moving, it may be wise to spray an IGR to the environment in your new home. IGRs mimic an insect hormone called juvenile hormone that regulates maturity. When present, eggs and larvae can’t become adults. Indoors, IGRs last 7 months, which is great for flea prevention. IGRs are considered safer than traditional insecticides because they target hormones rarely found outside of insects. Martin’s IGR comes in a good size for indoor use.

      Also, try to sanitize any items you are moving that may be near the floor. This is where immature stages develop. One common example is area rugs. Laundering, vacuuming, and steam cleaning are all good ways to kill fleas.

      • Ryan June 11, 2018, 1:58 pm

        Thanks for your reply Adam. I also did some research on human fleas. And some of the symptoms seem similar to the bites I got. For example, I have bites located not only on my lower legs and ankles, but also close to my knees, my back, and even on my arms. I am still wondering if they live on my clothes because of those bites on upper parts of my body. If so, do I need to wash everything in my apartment?

        I also checked with my pest control team; they were using Precor 2000+ for the treatment. Right now I really don’t know what I can proceed, especially the landlord does not really care about this. Thank you for the advice of using IGR after I move. But I am thinking if I can use something before I move. For example, something such as a flea fogger or stronger to clean my house before the move?

        Thank you very much for your help again!

  • Kei July 23, 2018, 11:20 am

    I got a new kitty today that comes from a farm. We brought her home for half an hour where she was just exploring around (we have tile flooring) and then went to the vet right away. As expected she has fleas but got treated right away. When we got back it seems like she likes our leather couch the most and not her own flufffy bed I got her. She only stood twice in her bed but jumped out right way. But she does have a new favorite blanket and stuffed toy she’s been snuggling with for the last few hours. I’m planning on giving her a bath after 2 days. So my question is; should I wash everything she touched already like her bed, blanket and toy or should i let it be until all the fleas are dead?

    • Adam Retzer July 30, 2018, 1:25 pm

      It would be best to wash the items the cat was on. Flea eggs likely fell there. Once eggs are in the environment, they could mature into adult fleas in 17-26 days. Then there will be a new generation of adult fleas to contend with.

  • Danny August 30, 2018, 6:21 pm

    My son is getting bite by flea but I don’t understand we lived on 3rd floor and my cats never goes outside. How can we get flea? Is there a better way to get my son better with getting bite by flea??? This weekend I am going to clean the rugs such as rug cleaners with flea spray all over it but does it help??

    • Adam Retzer September 2, 2018, 11:28 am

      It’s strange that fleas got into your home given your circumstances. However, it’s not impossible, as you are unfortunately aware of. We are in the midst of flea season. One possible explanation is that fleas hitchhiked on someone’s clothes and were brought into the home.

      Ensure that the spray you choose contains an insect growth regulator (IGR), either pyriproxyfen (Nylar) or methoprene (Precor). It would also be a good idea to treat your cats. A popular option is Advantage II for Cats. Here is a page with cheaper generic versions of Advantage II.

      For comprehensive control information please visit our page on How to get rid of fleas.

  • Katja September 16, 2018, 1:45 am

    Hi,
    I picked up a stray kitten, and I had it stay in my bathroom overnight until a shelter opened. It had cat fleas, and I was wondering how best to make sure none of them stayed. My roommate has 2 cats, but I kept them separate the entire time and gave the kitten a gentle bath. Is there any way to best prevent spreading the fleas?

    • Adam Retzer October 22, 2018, 2:03 pm

      If the kitten was limited to the bathroom, then that room should be thoroughly vacuumed and sprayed with an insect growth regulator. Many eggs likely fell onto the ground. Don’t let any other animals into that bathroom. The control measures will likely not kill all of the immature stages, so it will take around 8 weeks before the fleas reach adulthood, die, and are completely gone. Sorry for the late response.

  • Sandra December 9, 2018, 4:56 am

    Use ivory bar soap in a spray bottle and hot water. Shake up and get rid of fleas and flea larvae.

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