Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Fleas? (Here’s the Truth)

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Updated on March 7, 2023

Here at RMC, we’re all about home remedies, but we’re also painfully aware that a lot of them have mixed results or won’t work at all. One popular home remedy is rubbing alcohol.

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Rubbing alcohol has often been touted as a way to kill all sorts of critters, such as aphids and bed bugs. But what about fleas?

Rubbing alcohol (as well as isopropyl alcohol and witch hazel) are sometimes suggested as a means to kill fleas, but does it work and is it actually safe? Let’s take a closer look and find out if its effectiveness is fact or fantasy.

See Also: 6 Types of Fleas (and What They Look Like)

Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Fleas on Contact?

Well the short answer is yes… and no. For the longer answer, we must first make a distinction between three different products. Then we’ll go into further detail about just how effective these products are.

Isopropyl Alcohol vs Rubbing Alcohol vs Witch Hazel

types of alcohol to kill bed bugs

It’s a common misconception to try and use these three products interchangeably, but there’s a huge difference between the three. Each one has different properties that affect their use against critters such as fleas.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is a powerful solvent most often used in industrial settings. The concentration is toxic on its own and can cause a number of negative side effects if applied to the skin.

This product can be found in a diluted form (in different strengths) at drug stores where it’s generally safe for topical use on humans. It’s also found in alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol.

Read Also: Can Fleas Live on Human Hair?

Rubbing Alcohol

Speaking of rubbing alcohol, this product contains 70 percent denatured alcohol, most commonly isopropyl, but can also be ethanol. It’s commonly used as a topical antiseptic as well as a cleaning solution. There is also a variant called isopropyl rubbing alcohol which contains 70 percent pure isopropyl alcohol.

Witch Hazel

Finally, witch hazel is a natural extract of Hamamelis virginiana that’s popular in treating a wide range of skin conditions as well as being used as a cleaner. It’s the most mild of the three and also generally considered to be the safest.

Unlike the others, witch hazel can generally be used on textiles without discoloring them and is often used by pet specialists such as vets to clean up blood.

As you can see rubbing alcohol sits right in the middle in terms of strength and safety. This is a big part of the reason why it’s often used to combat bugs. But does it really work against fleas?

How Effective is Rubbing Alcohol Against Fleas?

The big argument for using rubbing alcohol against fleas is its ability to dehydrate the fleas, killing them. While this is certainly true, the effects aren’t instantaneous and there’s a lot of risk involved.

For example, rubbing alcohol is highly flammable, so getting it everywhere is just asking for trouble. Also, it’s toxic to your pets if they ingest it. Even worse, the alcohol has to make direct contact with the flea to be at all useful, and it can discolor fabrics in the process.

A popular recipe is to mix equal parts rubbing alcohol (or isopropyl alcohol) and water with a few drops of liquid soap to help it stick. Spraying this all over the house may kill some fleas, but can’t be used where fleas congregate most – on your pets. All in all, this is a better remedy than mothballs, but not by much.

Will Isopropyl Alcohol Kill Fleas?

Isopropyl alcohol is even more powerful than rubbing alcohol and is a solvent. This means it will not only dehydrate the fleas, it will partially dissolve them on the inside. However, all of the same drawbacks that rubbing alcohol suffers from also apply here.

Add to that a very strong alcohol smell that can be harmful if you inhale the fumes and it’s obvious why you shouldn’t use it to fight fleas or any other critters.

Can Witch Hazel Kill Fleas?

So what about witch hazel, which is the most mild of the three? Well the good news is that you can safely spray your furniture and pet bedding.

The downside is it’s not as effective as the other two and will still require direct contact to have any effectiveness at all.

Are These Treatments Safe for Use on Cats and Dogs?

dog scratching

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And now we come back to the biggest problem with using these products as a flea killer. Both rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are highly toxic to your pets and shouldn’t even be used on them topically.

Witch hazel can potentially be used on large dogs in very small amounts (as in a cotton swab), but it’s still risky if they ingest it. Small dogs and cats are small enough that ingesting an amount that wouldn’t harm a large dog could cause serious damage or even be life threatening.

Life Stages and Resistance to Rubbing Alcohol

One last important note about this remedy is the fact that it won’t affect all stages of the flea life cycle equally.

  • Flea larvae are by far the most vulnerable but also very hard to hit with a spray bottle.
  • The pupal stage has a bit more protection, but a direct hit will still prove fatal.
  • Adult fleas take time to kill and some may survive even a direct hit with an alcohol spray.
  • Finally, the eggs are the most resistant, with a far lower rate of success.

Again, the risks far outweigh the potential benefits. You’ll also need to make sure fleas are the real problem as there are various critters that look like fleas but aren’t.

Alternatives to Using Rubbing Alcohol Against Fleas

Treating your pets can be a lot more difficult than your home in general. For example, you can’t use garlic because it’s toxic to your pets. Essential oils are also out of the question.

So what home remedies are available that will still work? Here are some options that are safe for your pets and tend to be at least somewhat effective.

Lemon Juice

does lemon juice kill fleas?

A spray made with lemon juice won’t kill fleas, but it will make your house smell wonderful while also making fleas avoid the area.

Lemon juice is generally safe for use around your pets, and it’s not uncommon to add lemon juice to other ingredients that are more lethal to increase their effectiveness. More importantly, using a lemon juice spray can drive fleas temporarily from certain areas, making it easier to target them.

Soapy Water

make soapy water to kill wasps

By far, one of the most effective (and frustrating) treatments is the flea bath. A bath in warm, soapy water isn’t as effective, but it can still produce some great results. The goal isn’t to drown the fleas, it’s to dislodge them from your pet so they can be sent down the drain.

One option is Dawn dish liquid (original strength) diluted to 1/4. This is an option often used by professionals to strip excess oils from the fur of pets with sensitive skin. You need to be careful to dilute it so your pet doesn’t accidentally ingest enough to make them sick.

Using Dawn as a shampoo in conjunction with a flea comb can send fleas and their eggs into the water below. The downside is that Dawn can produce bubbles if there’s a lot of splashing, which the fleas can use to escape.

Another great option is Mane and Tail. This all-natural shampoo was originally made for horses and is available in a diluted form in most shampoo aisles. It’s perfectly safe for your pet and will help make their coat shiny and soft.

More importantly, it’s less likely to produce bubbles than Dawn. By the time your pet is done, the surface of your tub will look like someone sprinkled pepper all over it.

And if that’s not enough, these two products can safely be used on furniture and textiles. While they won’t necessarily kill the fleas, you can mix in some of that lemon juice to both clean and repel.

Steam Cleaning

steam cleaning

There’s nothing like a commercial-grade steam cleaner to pull dirt (even flea dirt) from deep in your carpets and furniture, but did you know they also kill many pests?

You’ll want to use a commercial model over a regular one because the water needs to reach temperatures of 180 to 220 degrees. Running your steamer over places you’ve seen fleas will kill them in minutes and suck all of their stages up into the dirty water canister where they can be safely flushed.

Unfortunately, you can’t steam clean your pets, but this is a great option for just about everywhere else.

Final Notes

While we love DIY methods of controlling pests, it’s also important to accept when certain methods either don’t work or are actually dangerous. Often, methods that work on fleas will also work on bed bugs, carpet beetles, and other small critters.

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This means a lot of potential money saved. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of rubbing alcohol (and its sibling products) relies on a lot of luck and there’s just too much that can go wrong.

Rubbing alcohol can still be a useful treatment for many plant pests, but when it comes to fleas, we strongly recommend giving it a pass. You’ll get much better results using an alternative method (like those above) or simply contact a flea exterminator.


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