Rubbing alcohol, also called isopropyl alcohol, is known for its germ-killing properties. That’s why so many people rely on it as a disinfectant.

If you’re a pet owner wondering whether rubbing alcohol might also be a good method of killing fleas in your home or on your pet, the answer is a definite no.

Here are some reasons why you should avoid this method of dealing with a flea infestation, as well as some safer alternatives to consider.

If you pluck a flea out of your pet’s fur and drop it into a jar of alcohol, the flea will die. And as you may know, drowning a flea in an alcohol bath is a lot easier than trying to crush one between your thumb and finger.

But dropping a flea into a bowl of hot, soapy water will accomplish the same end result without endangering your pet’s health or the safety of your home.

Isopropyl alcohol can be toxic to pets

You shouldn’t spray or pour isopropyl alcohol onto your pet’s fur or skin in an attempt to kill fleas. This toxic chemical is easily absorbed through the skin, and in large enough amounts it’s poisonous to pets.

It’s important to note that some commercially available flea sprays also contain alcohol, and while a light spritz may be fine, over-spraying or repeat spraying can be harmful.

If your pet laps up some rubbing alcohol, the damage can be even more severe. Symptoms of poisoning begin within 30 minutes of ingestion, and if left untreated, they can be fatal.

In 2017, accidental ingestion of household cleaning products was sixth on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) list of top pet toxins for the year.

Signs your pet may have alcohol poisoning:
  • disorientation
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • shortness of breath
  • shaking
  • stumbling

If you see any of these signs after your dog or cat has come into contact with rubbing alcohol, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately or call the APSCA’s poison control line at 888-426-4435.

Isopropyl alcohol is flammable

Spraying isopropyl alcohol on furnishings, pet bedding, or fabrics can create a fire hazard, especially if candles, cigarettes, incense burners, fireplaces, or other open flames are nearby. Although alcohol dries quickly, the fumes and vapors can still ignite fires.

If you use a flea spray that contains isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol, read the instructions carefully. Make sure the area where you’re using it is well-ventilated to avoid possible combustion and to protect your lungs as well as your pet’s.

So, if alcohol is out, what’s the best way to get rid of fleas?

If you’ve spotted fleas on your pet or in your home, it’s a good idea to employ a four-part strategy to eliminate the problem.

It’s important to act decisively, because fleas can cause serious illnesses. These include allergic reactions in both people and pets, heartworm and tapeworm in pets, and on rare occasions, diseases such as plague and typhus in humans.

Talk to your veterinarian

The best option is to first talk to your veterinarian about which products will work best for your dog or cat. Some pesticide products may cause adverse reactions in very small dogs, pregnant animals, or pets with health conditions.

There are many products available to treat fleas in animals, and all of them work differently. It’s important to consult your veterinarian to understand how the product you’re interested in works and whether it’s safe for your pet.

Read and follow all label instructions on flea treatments

If you decide on a do-it-yourself approach, be sure to read product labels carefully.

Dog products should never be used on cats.

Reapply only at recommended intervals so you don’t risk poisoning your pet.

fda warning

In September 2018, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about flea treatments in the isoxazoline class. Pesticides in this class are safe for most pets, but some animals have experienced seizures and other neurological reactions from them.

Products included in the warning were:

  • Bravecto
  • Credelio
  • Nexgard
  • Simparica
  • Revolution Plus

If you’re not sure whether your pet’s flea treatment is in this class, ask your veterinarian.

Avoid flea collars

The pesticides in some flea and tick collars are toxic, and they can be transferred to you and your children as you play with, hold, or pet your dog or cat.

Be age-appropriate

The ASPCA states that there are only two flea treatment ingredients currently approved for use on puppies and kittens:

  • Nitenpyram. This is an oral insecticide that’s fine for little ones four weeks old and more than 2 pounds.
  • Lufenuron. This is a drug that keeps flea eggs from maturing. Lufenuron is approved only for puppies four weeks or older and kittens six weeks or older.

Using the wrong flea treatment on a kitten or puppy can cause permanent damage, so talk to your veterinarian before you buy or apply.

Bathe your pet

You can use a regular pet shampoo or one that contains a flea treatment. If you use flea shampoo, make sure to read the label.

Dog shampoo shouldn’t be used to wash cats, and adult treatment shampoos shouldn’t be used on kittens and puppies.

You may want to talk to your veterinarian if you’re also using another pesticide on your pet. Overtreating could be harmful to your pet.

Comb them out

Buy a sturdy flea comb to remove adult fleas from your pet’s fur.

Pay special attention to the neck, belly, and backside, where fleas tend to congregate.

Keep a bowl of warm, soapy water nearby, and dip the comb in it to kill the fleas you find.

Vacuum daily

The best way to rid your carpet of fleas, their “dirt,” and their eggs is to use a powerful vacuum to pick them up.

Wash bedding every two days

That means all bedding — yours and your pet’s. Once you’ve laundered the bedding in hot water, dry it on high heat.

Use a steam cleaner

You may want to rent or buy a steam cleaner to attack flea populations on upholstered furniture or carpets.

Consider a home flea spray

Once-popular foggers are no longer considered the most effective way to resolve a flea infestation. They can’t get into tight spots where fleas can hide, and they leave residue that isn’t good for people or pets.

If you decide to treat parts of your home with a flea spray, protect your skin and your lungs while you’re dispensing the pesticide.

Keep it short

Long grass is a flea sanctuary, so mow your grass regularly and bag the cut grass.

Get rid of flea eggs with nematodes

Your local gardening center probably carries beneficial nematodes, which are tiny worm-like organisms that feed on eggs and larvae in the soil. Nematodes have long been recognized as a way to help control outdoor flea populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flea eggs hatch within three to four days of being laid. They mature in three to four weeks and can begin reproducing and pestering you and your pets all over again.

For that reason, it’s important to look for products that kill both flea eggs and adult fleas.

It’s also important to keep washing, drying, and vacuuming areas where flea eggs might be. If you see flea bites, flea “dirt,” or adult fleas, it’s time to talk to your veterinarian about what to do next.

If you prefer not to use chemicals, here are a few alternatives or natural flea treatments:

Diatomaceous earth

A fine dust made from the ground skeletons of prehistoric algae, diatomaceous earth is registered as an insecticide.

The dust particles attach to the bugs’ bodies, and the rough edges of the petrified skeletons scratch against the insects’ shells, creating small openings. The bugs reportedly dry up and die.

One recent study found that a product that contained 95 percent diatomaceous earth had no effect on outdoor flea infestations, however.

Essential oils

Essential oils that are often recommended to help combat fleas include cedarwood oil, lemongrass oil, tea tree oil, and lavender oil.

One study found that thyme oil and myrtle oil were more effective at repelling fleas than chemicals like DEET and permethrin.

Not all essential oils are safe for contact on your skin or your pet’s. To be safe, mix your essential oils with a carrier oil and lightly spray areas where you think there may be fleas. Keep pets off of surfaces until the spray has dried.

Always consult with your veterinarian before using any essential oil around your pets.

Rubbing alcohol does kill fleas on contact. However, it’s not a good way to tackle a flea infestation.

Alcohol can be toxic to animals. It’s easily absorbed through their skin, and if they ingest a large enough amount, it could be fatal.

Alcohol is also really flammable, so it’s not a good idea to spray it on your furniture, bedding, or carpets.

To get a handle on a flea infestation, you’ll need to treat your pet and your environment. Talk to your veterinarian about which products to use, how much to use, and when to use them to be sure you catch fleas at every stage of their life cycle.