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Green Barbarians–Ellen Sandbeck

A Buddha A Day–Ellen Sandbeck


Dear Ellen,

Do you have any suggestions for controlling fleas on cats or in the yard? Thanks for your help!

Polly, Mineola, TX

Dear Polly,

When we had fleas hatching out of the cracks in the floorboards in our rented home in Oakland, years ago, we brushed Pyrethrum powder into the cracks, let it sit for a day, and then vacuumed. No more fleas. Boric acid powder or borax brushed into cracks will do the same thing. Frequent vacuuming will also help break the flea's life cycle in the house. But the first thing you should suck up into the vacuum before you begin trying to suck up fleas is a goodly amount of borax or boric acid, so the fleas will die when they hit the bag. A water-filter vacuum cleaner will of course drown the fleas, and a steam cleaner will cook them; both are recommended.

Boron-based products may change the color of carpeting, so if you are going to use plain Borax or boric acid, you might want to test it in an unobtrusive area of the carpet first. There is a specific boron-based product that is recommended for killing fleas on carpets without harming the carpet; it is called "Flea Busters Rx for Fleas Plus," and will not stain the carpet. Here is the website where you can order it:

If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, obviously you have to treat it in place, but if you have area or throw rugs, and if you can take them outside and seal them into black plastic bags, or, if they are too big for that, roll them up, wrap them tightly in plastic, and seal the plastic with duct tape. Then put the rugs in the hot sun to fry for a week or two. The fleas will die. In the winter, you can put rugs outside to freeze, which will also kill the fleas.

Bathing a pet with a very lathery shampoo, and leaving the lather on the animal for five minutes will suffocate live fleas.

And last, but not least, there are beneficial nematodes (unsegmented worms) that kill fleas in the ground. Here is the website of a company that sells them:

Good luck, and please let me know how it goes!

Environmentally yours,



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