An answer at Pets suggested using dawn dish soap to kill fleas. I did a little looking around, and found several references supporting the idea. Most of what I found was in 'selfhelp' and 'save a dime' type books and web sites. So while it seems to be a popular idea, I am unsure if it is an effective idea.

Is there any reliable science supporting the use of dish soap to kill fleas and/or ticks? If so what points in the life cycle would it be effective? If it does work, how often would I need to use it to be relatively sure all the fleas/ticks have been through the appropriate life cycle and are dead?

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    $\begingroup$ I think completely submerging a flea in water, whether with dish soap or not (probably the soap could reduce air pockets in thick fur) would drown it, much like most terrestrial animals. However, fleas may be able to survive it for a protracted period (like cockroaches) so you may have to keep your pet in a bath for quite some time. I don't think eggs would drown, but the soap could disrupt their casing, poison them, or simply stop the adhesion and make them fall off hairs. $\endgroup$
    – Superbest
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 18:33

2 Answers 2


First part of the answer - Yes fleas (Siphonaptera) can be drowned. But not as easily as the internet would lead you to believe.

There are many claims on the internet (and printed works) expounding on how simple it is to drown fleas. The best science I found so far on the topic is in Forensic Entomology: An Introduction By Dorothy Gennard; John Wiley & Sons, Apr 30, 2013; section 4.3 which reflects a 1985 work by Simpson K. (Journal of the New York Entomological Society 76: 253-265, not finding this online). Gennard is using the fleas present on a human body at death to determine how long the body had been submerged. Findings -

  • A flea submerged for up to 12 hours will appear to dead, but can revive in about 60 minutes after being removed from the water
  • A flea submerged for 18 - 20 hours will appear to dead, but can revive in 4- 5 hours after being removed from the water
  • It takes 24 hours of full submersion to fatally drown a flea
    • Side note; lice (Phthiraptera) can be fatally drowned in about 12 hours.

Second part of the answer - Yes soap can facilitate the death of fleas in bathing

So far the best I have is Medical and Veterinary Entomology by Gary R. Mullen, Lance A. Durden Academic Press, Apr 22, 2009

  • This work suggests the process of washing the flea (and the pet) removes integumental waxes on the fleas body and they die from desiccation (dehydration).

More Research

I have been unable to find solid research specific to fleas (Siphonaptera) and soap (surfactants), so I had to reach in to the general insect works for answers. There are a number of pesticides which include surfactants in their make up to increase effectiveness but these seem to be to an aid in the delivery of the pesticide not because the surfactant has any additional killing power.

a surfactant may affect the efficacy of an insecticide by its influence on wetting, spreading and run-off rather than by its influence on cuticular penetration

The Physiology of Insecta, Volume 6 edited by Morris Rockstein

There is some science suggesting soaps can help break down cell membranes but they seem to be most effective on soft bodied insects (which fleas are not)

Soaps... kill insects by disrupting the exoskeleton and breaking down cell membranes. Soaps generally work best against small soft bodied insects such as aphids, scale crawlers, meatybugs, and young caterpillars as well as spider mites.

Destructive Turfgrass Insects: Biology, Diagnosis, and Control By Daniel A. Potter


There are multiple online reports of "drowning fleas" and killing them with soapy water. After looking for the science there does not seem to be much support for these fatal claims. There is little doubt that giving your pet a soapy bath in the tub will help remove the fleas, they may even appear dead. But in all likelihood these fleas are just waiting to dry out and be revived, hopefully in the city sewer. If you bath your pet in the yard, and than let the dry pet in the yard again the next day the clean pet and clean revived fleas will likely reunite. Soapy water is more likely to facilitate removal of the comatose flea from the pet and carry it down the drain. So it is reasonable to have noticeable decrease in the flea population after a bath. But excessive bathing has it's own risks and given the life cycle of a flea soapy baths alone are unlikely to be a final solution.

  • $\begingroup$ Though it's not important to the point you made, we can't forget the additional effects of some chemicals used in certain soaps. $\endgroup$
    – Ferus Olin
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 0:04

You have to use Lemon Dawn specifically because they have Limonene and Linalool from Lemon essential oil. There are actually registered patents on these compounds for use in killing and repelling fleas and other insects.

Lemon oil paralyses and can kill the fleas. After the bath you have to comb the dog with a flea comb to remove the fleas, eggs and larva. Do this once a week and your dog should be flea free. Lemon also repels fleas, so it prevents re-infestation.

D-limonene, a citrus peel extract, is toxic to adult fleas; products with D-limonene plus linalool control both adults and larvae. DO NOT USE THESE PRODUCTS ON CATS, AS SOME CATS HAVE ADVERSE REACTIONS. Only use products on pets that are labeled for use on the animal source(idl.entomology.cornell.edu)

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    $\begingroup$ I have added a reference that supports this claim. Note that some reference suggest that there is more research required, and that if Limonene and Linalool are not used in combination, they are known to be ineffective. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 16:24

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