Wanted: one-bedroom apartment, no roaches.
July 10, 2010 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I live in Toronto. My apartment has cockroaches. I'm going to move out in a few months because, dude, waking up at 4am and finding cockroaches underneath the desk in your bedroom is NOT cool. How do I find a place that doesn't have cockroaches?

What signs should I look for? Is there a way I can find out a building's past history? Are there any obvious places I should avoid (like, maybe, above a restaurant like I am now, or houses in general, or whatever)? Is my only option for cockroach-free living an expensive condo downtown? Am I going to have to pay more than my current rent of $1200?

Also, how do I make sure I don't take the buggers with me? Assume that I don't want to throw anything out. So far the infestation has been relatively light, so I'm hoping none of them have laid eggs in my stuff, but I want to be sure. The move will likely be in November, if that's important info.
posted by chrominance to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you move out in the winter, you can put stuff outside for a few days and freeze the bugs. This really does work.

The thing is not so much the bugs, but the egg cases. You have to really search your stuff and look for egg cases. I would look up egg cases and link a picture of them, but just thinking about that freaks me out. So do it yourself.

Roaches will nest in anything, they especially love electronics. I had an expensive and new HD TV ruined by a roach frying one of the circuit boards. You can bag your stuff up and fumigate it, then seal the bag for a few days. Get gigantic zip lock bags for this or large garbage bags. You should also wash or dry clean all your clothing. Use hot water and a hot dryer. If you are bringing furniture, check it over all over (undersides, cracks, crevasses) for egg cases. If you find egg cases, you have to scrape them off and destroy them, flush them down the drain or burn them, don't put them in the garbage.

As for moving, roaches are equal opportunity offenders. Rich or poor, if they move in and settle, they are there for the long haul. One thing you can do is be very clean, seal all your food, wipe up crumbs, bring your garbage out every day. The will also eat your dirty laundry, so don't keep much around. If you have clothing you do not wear often, put in a sealed case or bag, roaches like to eat and nest in organic fibers like wool, cotton, or silk.

Before you move your stuff in, go around your new apartment and seal all around the pipes and any other areas open to the outside or common areas. This will help a lot. You can get that really cool expanding sealer in a can. Put out a lot of roach traps, some boric acid balls and roach gel. I you have a outdoor area you can surround the perimeter of your house or abode with pyrethrum powder. This really does work.

Yeah, I know way too much about roaches.
posted by fifilaru at 7:35 PM on July 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

I used my hood. It has a comment based history of some places and the search results are represented on a map.

I'd avoid any place connected to a restaurant or grocery store.
posted by ecco at 7:40 PM on July 10, 2010

I've heard that apartments above restaurants are more likely to have them.

Checking the cupboards, under the sinks, etc. when you look at a place might reveal whether the place already has roaches.

If it's just roaches you're worried about, I wouldn't be too concerned about taking them with you to your next place. As long as you're a relatively clean person and you plan to relocate in a somewhat organized manner.

Which leads me to my next piece of advice: far be it from me to assume that you are messy/dirty, but keeping things clean greatly reduces the chances that you will get roaches or that they will stick around if they arrive. Do all dishes promptly. Clean the bathroom regularly. Put away your things, especially papers and dirty laundry. Even if you already consider yourself a tidy person, crank it up a notch. Keep pantry items in airtight containers and store as much food in the fridge/freezer as you can. Basically you want to take away their food and nesting sources.

Other general suggestions: caulk up any holes or cracks you notice, especially around the floors. Stuff any larger holes with steel wool.
posted by Sara C. at 7:40 PM on July 10, 2010

Oh, and one thing I forgot - if you're just noticing this issue now, and you're not seeing all that many roaches, you might not have a real infestation on your hands. I don't know about Toronto, but here in New York the summer heat drives them out and one or two will just happen to crawl into your house. You don't need to call an exterminator, just kill the few that you see and try to stay super clean just to be sure.

Usually the visitor roaches are a lot bigger than the infestation roaches. Roaches infesting your home are going to center on the kitchen and any dark, warm, damp areas (bathroom, closets, cupboards). A roach that accidentally wandered in is going to be randomly in the middle of the living room for no reason.
posted by Sara C. at 7:48 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good luck finding a place in Toronto without roaches. I think every place I've lived in has had them when I moved in, including both homes that I owned. But they aren't that hard to wipe out. There's an insecticide powder that you sprinkle in a few places — I put it behind the fridge and stove and under the sink. There seems to be increased insect activity at first and then it dies down and I don't see any more roaches until the next time I move. The powder is non-toxic and safe for pets. It works by slicing through the insects' shells, and then they die of dehydration, and you see them when they crawl out in search of water (this is why there seems to be increased insect activity at first). And once you put it out it'll go on working until you sweep it up.
posted by orange swan at 8:03 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you call an exterminator? That's what I've done when I've lived places that had cockroaches (I have like an irrational fear of them, so if I see one, that's that). They even have organic ones now if you don't want hardcore pesticides all over your place.
posted by ishotjr at 8:06 PM on July 10, 2010

Find out if the landlord does pest control or if they expect you to do it. In order to keep roaches at bay, the entire building needs to be treated. My soon-to-be-former landlord expects tenants to do the pest control - but when we called the exterminator he said "I will come and spray, but it's not going to help if the other apartments and common areas aren't treated."
posted by radioamy at 8:24 PM on July 10, 2010

Response by poster: I've already got the floors covered in a fine misting of boric acid powder. I have, unfortunately, seen both the big ones and the small ones, and they've been around since at least the winter (but I used to go weeks without seeing one). Every time I see one I take care to cover them liberally in powder in the hopes that they make it to the nest before they die, thus allowing their cannibal relatives to eat the boric acid as well.

I'm more interested in figuring out how to avoid a repeat of this situation. So far, of my friends, very few have reported much trouble with cockroaches (though I have now heard stories about raccoons in the ceiling, mice triggering freshly replaced traps, and squirrels ransacking the living room and nesting behind the oven). I know it's possible to live cockroach-free, and my last apartment was totally fine in that regard, so I'm wondering what I need to do to get that magic anti-roach aura back.
posted by chrominance at 8:25 PM on July 10, 2010

If you want to reduce your future chances:

Don't move into a place above a restaurant.

When you look at apartments, look for any obvious signs of roaches.

When you move in, do a diligent search for any cracks, holes, or spaces where they might be getting into the apartment, and seal them up.

Keep clean! Two months of dirty dishes and pizza boxes and piles of dirty underwear is like an engraved invitation. Even if you later clean up your act - don't even give them a chance.

Beyond that, you just have to keep your fingers crossed.
posted by Sara C. at 8:43 PM on July 10, 2010

I've lived in four places around Little Italy- all multi-unit, 30+ years old, residential-only buildings on small streets- and never had a roach. And I would have noticed; I have excellent vision and a total phobia of roaches. We did have a horrendous tiny-red-ant problem in one place, but as we liked to say back then, "at least they weren't roaches!" We also weren't at all neurotic about roach-proofing, since we had cat food out at all times, often surrounded by a variety of human-food crumbs. So a roach-less Toronto existence is possible, take heart.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:58 PM on July 10, 2010

My mother-in-law's house (in Japan) was infested with cockroaches. She ran a cafe and the house was full of bric-a-brac and trash that cockroaches love to nest in. Every time I came back to Canada after staying there I used to shudder, thinking I had somehow brought cockroaches back in my suitcase, but I never did.

Generally speaking, you need to avoid apartments above stores, restaurants or bars. The way you can tell if there are cockroaches in a potential apartment is by looking in the drawers, especially in the bathroom and the kitchen. If there are roaches, you'll be able to see little cockroach droppings.

The only way that I know of to prevent roaches from moving in is to wash the dishes, make sure garbage is in a sealed container, make sure all windows are closed or screened, plug the kitchen sink when you're not using it, and make sure your apartment is tidy. Cockroaches love piles of paper, boxes, magazines, clothing, etc.

In another house I lived in, when I did discover roaches it was usually because the door to the back garden had been left open. I would lay out a glue traps, and that seemed to work.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 PM on July 10, 2010

Generally, roaches prefer cinderblock construction. They don't like wood-framing, though spiders love it. I don't know if the two are connected, just that my grandmother never had roaches in her very messy wood-framed house, though we must have brought many from our apartment building.

So if avoiding roaches is important to you, I would look for an apartment that was part of a wood-framed house, whether basement or upper-story.
posted by jb at 10:08 PM on July 10, 2010

It's not just restaurants -- any medium rise cinderblock/concrete contruction building which is relatively cheap and thus doesn't have landlords who fumigate properly will probably have roaches. Even if you keep your place perfect, they'll be coming from the basement, from the garbage shires and from the neighbours.

It's not about the cleanliness of the tenants. My roommate and I left dishes all over; no roaches. My
mother scrubs like mad, and has tons. It's about building construction and management.
posted by jb at 10:13 PM on July 10, 2010

Oh? you're paying $1200?

Mefimail me -- a friend is moving out of her place downtown -- no roaches, and she pays less than you. Nice building.
posted by jb at 10:14 PM on July 10, 2010

Our building has 1 bedrooms for about that price, and at least one of us has lived here for 10 years without a roach problem. MeMail me if you want details.
I think the key in our building is that management is very proactive about insects. They have an annual program of putting powder around the edges of the kitchen appliances, and checking all units for infestation. So if anything ever did get in, they take care of it right away.
Our building has three restaurants on the ground floor, so it is possible to live above a restaurant and not have roaches, it just takes a lot of work.
posted by nprigoda at 6:05 AM on July 11, 2010

According to the professorial bug guy (entomologist? I always forget that word) who spoke to my gardening class, house roaches live everywhere humans live. EVERYWHERE humans live. They like the same range of temperature and eat exactly the same foods (recently dead plant and animal matter) and we build them such nice houses to shelter in.

They're mostly only "dirty" in apartments where they're carrying ickiness between units; in a single-family house it's all your own ickiness. Assuming you're a clean person, it's the ickiness from others that's the problem. And, yes, the worst places are food establishments because it's a smorgasboard for roaches.

Most of the time in a reasonably clean and well-maintained home/apartment, they'll stay out of sight and live, well, wherever it is they live (probably along the pipes, I don't remember). But if you happen to see one, I wouldn't freak out about it. As long as there's not a frequent repeat show.

Bug guy said if you want to know how many roaches actually live in your "roach free" house or apartment building, burn it down, and they'll make a mass break for the structure next door. But that's about the ONLY time they'll all come out of hiding and you'll see how many share your space! However, I'm not sure arson is a good method for counting bugs.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:18 AM on July 11, 2010

Alway check the very top cupboards and on top of the cabinets. They are very likely to be in your toaster and houseplants. Avoid large high-rise buildings.

I once kept a roach in a jar with some boric acid powder for a few weeks and as long as it was kept dry, it suffered no ill effects (I realize that this was a cruel thing to do but I was going a bit mental at the time because of the little bastards).

This is just a crackpot idea, but I once had an apartment that was roach free while the one across the hall was horribly infested and I think the reason was that we had an ant problem. Ants forage and I expect they probably find roach egg cases palatable. I would seriously consider getting an ant farm if I ever have roaches again.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:13 AM on July 11, 2010

Every time I came back to Canada after staying there I used to shudder, thinking I had somehow brought cockroaches back in my suitcase, but I never did.

I grew up in a place where there are frequent gigantic flying cockroaches (New Orleans), but pretty much never see them here in New York. A few years ago, in the middle of winter, a HUGE flying roach got into my 12th floor apartment. I rationalized that it must have tagged along in someone's luggage from some exotic destination. When they stupidly threw it out the window without killing it, it flew into mine.
posted by Sara C. at 11:47 AM on July 11, 2010

Stay away from kensington market? I live in little italy and have seen four giant roach or beetle things, but never in my kitchen, and all of them have been dead. I credit my cats with scaring them away or eating the ones they find. So...get a cat?
posted by custard heart at 5:13 PM on July 11, 2010

« Older Am I an idiot or is she too grudgemental?   |   I just wanna be cool...in the desert Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.