Electric Flea Traps Don't Work
“Electric flea traps” that use light as bait are ineffective for flea control.
Two years ago, WDJ published an excellent two-article series about flea control by Kathleen Dudley. The first article (“Are Spot-On Flea Killers Safe?”, February 2002) discussed the potential dangers of using pesticides. The second (“Eliminate Fleas Without Poisons,” March 2002) gave readers numerous non- and low-toxic tools they could use to control flea populations in their homes. The latter article mentioned, quite briefly, something called a “light trap,” which is supposed to attract and trap fleas.
I decided to test light traps a few months ago, when warm spring temperatures seemed to cause a resurgence of fleas in the editorial office of WDJ – which is on the ground floor of my home in a part of California that is famous for fleas. Plus, I have a more or less constant stream of potentially flea-bearing dogs coming through my home and office: dogs belonging to friends and relatives, and models and “test” dogs who try out products for us. Also, I have an indoor/outdoor cat, whom (I’m sure) helps carry fleas from here to there around my neighborhood. After seeing my long-haired Chihuahua scratch and finding a couple of fleas on him, I decided that my office would make a perfect test of these products.
I searched through a pile of pet supply catalogs and found two products appearing in a number of them. I ordered both from Jeffers, which advertised the lowest price.
Electric Flea Traps Flunk the WDJ Test
Here’s how these products are supposed to work: A small electric light bulb – the size that goes into the average night light, or old-fashioned Christmas tree lights – is suspended by a plastic case over a tray that contains a super-sticky pad. Fleas are attracted to the light, heat, and supposedly, infrared rays of the bulb, and jump toward it, landing on and adhering to the sticky pad.
I kept the flea traps plugged in (there is no on/off switch on either product) for two full months. I positioned them about a foot apart, on the carpeted floor between my office door and Mokie’s crate. Mokie sleeps in my office at night, in a sleeping bag-style bed in the crate, and he’s in and out of the office all day, as are all my guest dogs. The directions of both products suggested placing the traps as close as possible to the places where pets sleep and walk.
But in two months, neither trap caught a single flea – and not because there weren’t fleas here. Using a flea comb, I removed fleas from both Mokie and my cat throughout that time. Not a lot, but at least a dozen or so per week. In addition to the combing, I employed a number of other nontoxic flea-control techniques – baths for the animals and frequent vacuuming and floor-washing.
The traps did attract and kill a few other insects, including flies, tiny gnats, and one ant. Worried that the sticky pads in the traps were not sticky enough to catch fleas, I once dropped a flea that I had combed out of Mokie’s fur onto one of the pads. It stuck! But after walking past the traps wearing white socks and seeing two fleas jump onto my socks – and not toward the traps – I had to conclude that these products are not helpful in attracting (and thus controlling or detecting) a light flea population.
I didn’t test the traps in the face of a heavy flea infestation, but given their poor performance in this test, I would choose more effective options if my home and workplace was overrun by fleas.