Killing Roaches
March 5, 2005 5:47 AM   Subscribe

What's the most effective, least toxic way to kill the hordes of cockroaches that have infested my kitchen?

I don't trust that the usual Raid stuff won't hasten my own death, especially if I have to keep spraying it near my food every night. It never seems to have any lasting effect beyond killing the single roach it's aimed at, anyway. What's the best poison (or method) to keep the bugs at bay and my kitchen healthy?
posted by muckster to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not an expert on toxicity, but when we moved in to our apartment we hade huge-ass roaches, but we laid down some of this Combat Roach Gel(available just about everywhere) and it's worked like a charm after one thorough application. No roaches until a year later, then we lapplied again and none since. I've never seen a product that worked better.
posted by jonmc at 5:59 AM on March 5, 2005

i have heard of sealing up all the cracks and crevices with "Great Stuff" so they can't get back in. I'm told that works very well (although I can't vouch for how safe Great Stuff is to begin with)
posted by petebest at 6:10 AM on March 5, 2005

Also, a couple of roach traps (again Combat is the best brand), near radiators, under the sink etc. is a good idea.
posted by jonmc at 6:15 AM on March 5, 2005

Good call on the Combat, but special warning if you have dogs: dogs really seem to like them, so you need to put them in the path of the roaches, but out of the dog's reach.
posted by psmealey at 6:18 AM on March 5, 2005

last year on askme someone'd recommended a product based on citrus oil -- apparently it destroys the wax coating of the roaches' respiratory system and they suffocate, but at the same time it is safe around pets and children. can't remember the name of the product tho, and the thread is not coming up in my search.

I also heard you can mix sugar and baking soda which will mess up their digestive system, but no idea if that actually works.
posted by dorian at 6:40 AM on March 5, 2005

Boric acid powder spread around your house will keep them out. Also spread it along sideboards and where they creep.

But if you have a bad roach manifestation, you really need to go toxic first. If you have a nest undfer your kitchen then killing the lot of them means you may need a roach bomb or at least some major chemical action. After you spend on lotsof $$ on "natural methods" you'll finally get fed up and buy some really nasty toxins and thank yourself that you did.
posted by zaelic at 6:56 AM on March 5, 2005

Bug bombs first. By the time there's enough of the bastards to be considered an infestation, you're going to need something really big to get most them. After that, seal up seams and cracks with a caulking gun, and sprinkle boric acid around. They like dark places, so I'd suggest you spend extra time with cabinets and closets, and not worry too much if there's a crevice below the baseboard in a well-used hallway.

Keep the little roach traps out of reach of pets and kids that still put things in their mouths.

Roaches will eat anything involving paper and glue, so a good way to tell if they're coming back is if mysterious round holes start to appear in the labeling on cans and jars in the kitchen.

If your house is due to be tented sometime soon, go ahead and have it done. That will definitely work.
posted by cmyk at 7:22 AM on March 5, 2005

I'm with zaelic. I lived on a boat once that was severely infested with "mahogany birds". The advice I took was to mix boric acid with powdered sugared and sweep the mixture into every crook and cranny, in your case beneath wallboards and such. The logic is that the acid mixture is carried back to the nest, at which point the roach will die and the other roaches will eat it. Apparently roaches are cannibalistic because the perfect food for a roach is, well, a roach.
posted by Heatwole at 7:26 AM on March 5, 2005

posted by Miko at 8:20 AM on March 5, 2005

But if you move, be careful not to have roaches (or egg cases!) in any of your stuff--otherwise, you're starting again from the beginning in your new place.
posted by gimonca at 8:49 AM on March 5, 2005


Miko, muckster lives in New York City. The cockroach is the State Bird here. I don't think there's any dwelling in the five boroughs that'll stay roach free on it's own.
posted by jonmc at 9:20 AM on March 5, 2005

I third the boric acid powder (available from your friendly pharmacist). It is not expensive. It is easy to apply: you just lay it down along the backs of your cupboards or other spaces where the roaches crawl—between the counter and the stove, behind the stove, etc. It gets on their feet, they lick it off (lick? ...whatever), and they die. Make sure you don't put it where pets can get at it. It is toxic, but not like conventional roach poisons (ye gods!). You can put it next to your dishes without worry. It will hammer those roaches in the course of a few days.

I've used this approach in two places that I've lived. When I lived in a verminous apartment in SF, it took the population down from thousands to hundreds but, of course, more kept coming from the rest of the building. When we moved to a place in the country, with no other roach sources nearby, it completely eliminated them.
posted by bricoleur at 9:21 AM on March 5, 2005

Traps have worked well for me in NY.

Also, as a preventive measure, secure your food supplies. Tupperware, fridge, or another sealed location for everything (I keep things like fruit, bread and spaghetti in the microwave overnight. Also, no dirty dishes in the sink overnight.

If there's no food source in your apartment, the roaches will move somewhere else.
posted by nyterrant at 9:50 AM on March 5, 2005

I think if there really were an effective nontoxic strategy we would have all heard about it by now — it's the holy grail of pest control.

In the meantime, the only thing you can do is everything: throw out all cupboard food that isn't in jars or cans, then wipe those down with alcohol. Move those items, and all your plates, pots and pans, etc. out of your kitchen and bomb or spray hell out of it. Throw out any stored paper and plastic bags, toss the shelf lining paper, throw away paper restaurant menus, etc. Be ruthless. When you go back in, clean every nook and cranny of every drawer and cupboard with a good, strong cleaning agent. Caulk up any holes, then use Jon's gel, use the boric acid, and scatter traps (you should renew these as specified on the package). when you move your kitchenware back in, wash anything that hasn't been used and washed very recently.

Afterward, use a garbage can with a close-fitting lid, eliminate all sources of water (roaches can live much longer without food than without water), and keep all your opened cupboard food in sealed containers. Try to keep all bags and boxes out of the picture as much as possible (move your teabags into a sealed container and throw away the box. for example). Don't hoard grocery bags at all (you can actually move in new roach eggs with those, and even if you don't, they are an "attractive nuisance" when it comes to roaches). Sorry for the bad news, and I know it doesn't answer the "least toxic" part of your question... But I tried various forms of the natural, holistic approach when this happened to me and got nowhere. You Will Not Win. (all this took me about a day, btw, but the results were definitive, and it was so worth it!)
posted by taz at 9:55 AM on March 5, 2005 [4 favorites]

Unca Cecil has an excellent review of roach-killing techniques. Search "Straight Dope" for it. Boric acid is, IIRC, the best of the bunch; it scrapes the wax of their carcass, and they dehydrate.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:14 AM on March 5, 2005

Apparently roaches are cannibalistic because the perfect food for a roach is, well, a roach.


Just wanted to echo taz re: eliminating water drios and not hoarding grocery bags once you've gotten rid of this first round of buggers under control -- it can really make a difference, especially in and under sinks.
posted by scody at 10:33 AM on March 5, 2005

drios = drips
posted by scody at 10:33 AM on March 5, 2005

If there's no food source in your apartment, the roaches will move somewhere else.

I'd have to slightly disagree with this. I've found that roaches are really only enticed to leave when there's a better source of food someplace else. Maybe you could start giving the neighbors all your old magazines and newspapers. Or bring over a bunch of cake.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2005

I forgot to say that I also moved all the spices &tc, out before spraying as well. Everything that was in cupboards or drawers was removed, and I took advantage of the task to throw away a huge amount of stuff and wiped down pretty much everything I kept - again, with alcohol. Basically, I tossed everything that was older than a few months (in terms of spices) and anything that had simply been stored in boxes (like teabags), and really stripped everything in the kitchen to bare essentials in terms of what was stored in cabinets. I even threw out the aluminum foil, because I thought there was a possibility there might be eggs inside the box. So, call me zealous, and there was a bit of waste, but afterwards, my kitchen was so nice and uncluttered, and I really did get rid of the bugs!
posted by taz at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2005

Yes, Boric Acid. This finally did the trick, back when I lived in DC, during the 1980s. At the time Paul Harvey was promoting a product called Roach Proof; we used something from a local market called Mr Cucaracha (which we referred to as The Señor) and I believe both of these products were essentially just Boric Acid mixed with an attractant (ie sugar).

Incidentally, I've heard that ants (specifically, the small Argentine Ants) have knocked roaches out of first place, as the biggest insect problem, at least in the continental US. This certainly corresponds with my experience -- after I moved to California in 1987 I seldom saw a cockroach, whereas recently, I've had ant problems.
posted by Rash at 11:36 AM on March 5, 2005

If you feel like getting a gecko, they happen to love roach dinners. A friend of a friend in NYC had one that lived under his fridge, it cleaned up their place quite well. Certainly the least toxic method, but not for everyone.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 12:04 PM on March 5, 2005

I've heard that ants (specifically, the small Argentine Ants) have knocked roaches out of first place, as the biggest insect problem, at least in the continental US.

I'll take ants over roaches any day.
posted by nyterrant at 12:51 PM on March 5, 2005

If there's no food source in your apartment, the roaches will move somewhere else.

Of course, you may have to move somewhere else yourself at that point. I second the caulking up of entry holes as much as you can. That helps with ants as well, and if you do poisons and such on top of that, it will help you narrow their paths so you can more effectively place poisions so as to deliver them.

I like to caulk up everything I can find except one out-of-sight hole, and pile up poison traps right at that hole. Give it time to work. Then caulk up the final hole.

You don't need a special insect-caulk. Just drop $2 on a regular tube at the hardware store.
posted by scarabic at 1:23 PM on March 5, 2005

NYC resident for 7 years, and I know the roach issue. Here's something I learned.

If your super/landlord/neighbors are spraying surrounding apartments (think above and below as well as on the same floor), get yours done too. Roaches are smart enough to flee to safety -- and if yours is the only surrounding apartment that hasn't been sprayed, guess who's coming to dinner?
posted by aberrant at 5:16 PM on March 5, 2005

Roach Proof brand, boric acid. The drug store brand of boric acid is NOT effective! The claim of Roach Proof is that it's "static charged" to make it cling to the roaches. Whatever the trick, it is the most effective thing I've ever seen, without resorting to serious poisons. May not RID them, but sure reduces their numbers in a very major way. (experience from Brooklyn)

Eggs in everything: NYC roaches carry their eggs with them, most of the time, but the egg case can be dropped off. Its not tiny, its usually about the size of a grain of corn, and contains a LOT of eggs.

Roach Hotels: These have a strong scent. Hahaha, they ATTRACT roaches! sadistically fun, but ineffective.

Avoiding problems: serious infestations have an odor you can notice, especially on a hot day. Its cloyingly sweet.

Side bar: The roaches in South Africa are giants, and they fly. fortunately, they don't come in armies. The ants do.
posted by Goofyy at 12:36 AM on March 6, 2005

If roach hotels actually do work in attracting roaches, then how about a boric acid circle around the hotel, to give 'em the ol' double-whammy?

Also, wouldn't one of those glue-traps for mice work just as well for roaches?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 AM on March 6, 2005

Response by poster: *Great* answers, everybody. Thank you.

/me goes off exterminatin'.
posted by muckster at 10:41 AM on March 6, 2005

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