Roach problem: Is living upstairs better than downstairs?
May 3, 2011 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Due to my first roach sighting at the apartment I just moved into, I know more about roaches now than I ever ever hoped. This roach is either American or Oriental, rather than the small German kind. I'm told that it came inside the unit to escape the heat. I've read that they generally live outside. Is it better to live in an upstairs unit?

The roach I saw was big and dark brown (1.4" long). It darted out of a box near the sliding glass door and I managed to trap and flush it.

I've been a mess. I talked to the leasing office. I asked point blank if they have a roach problem. She said that generally, no, although they get the occasional complains about ones like this coming in during the summer. The internet somewhat confirms that the big ones generally live outside but come in to escape heat or get water. The leasing office make it sound like a one-off, like the complex isn't infested. I would love to believe her but I just can't. As far as I know I can't break the lease over this if they're actively trying to take care of it.

I asked if they have an upstairs unit, and she said yes, I can move into that in a couple of weeks. She is saying that roaches come from the outside when it's hot, and the upstairs unit has much less of a chance that the bugs will get in. She also said that the apt. complex gets sprayed every Monday. That gets me thinking… if they don't have an infestation problem, what are they spraying for every Monday?

She sent an exterminator to spray my unit inside and out.

Is living upstairs really better than downstairs?

Pertinent info: studio apartment, I'm clean, know now to get rid of cardboard and keep food away. And I didn't bring the roaches with me; I've never lived in a place with roaches before which is probably why I'm freaking out so much.

If this sounds scattered, apologies in advance-- I'm pretty rattled.
posted by elif to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where do you live? Don't mean to rattle you, just to be realistic, but I lived in a 5th floor apartment in NYC where we'd get the big ones (significantly bigger than that one) all the time, summer, winter, whenever. I don't buy the whole "they live outdoors" thing, in my experience, if they're outside your building, they're inside your building too.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:02 PM on May 3, 2011

Where do you live? In Florida (and states with similar climates), roaches are just something you expect to see from time-to-time - no matter how clean you are. When I lived in Florida, every apartment complex I knew of sprayed weekly. This helps decrease the roach visitations, but it still happens. I wouldn't let it rattle you. I don't thing the roaches are planning an invasion.
posted by AlliKat75 at 4:02 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by AlliKat75 at 4:03 PM on May 3, 2011

Where did you live before this? The saying I've heard in South Carolina is that there are two types of people: those that have roaches and those that lie about having roaches. At least in some areas, you'll see the occasional roach no matter how clean your house is.
posted by rancidchickn at 4:05 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

For more concrete advice --- if you can't get out of this building, I would do the following:

Get rid of all clutter. Papers, piles of things, etc. Keep all food sealed - not just closed but sealed.
Seal all cracks you find in the apartment. Baseboards, walls, inside cupboards, etc. Make sure nothing can come through a window or under a door. ESPECIALLY seal all cracks around anything that has water - the sink, the toilet, the tub.
***Make sure there is NO leaking water anywhere, especially in your walls***
Cover all your drains.
Check inside all the appliances. Toaster, oven, fridge.
Spread a perimeter of boric acid around the place.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:05 PM on May 3, 2011

She also said that the apt. complex gets sprayed every Monday.

When I lived in Florida, every apartment complex I knew of sprayed weekly.

WTF? With what pesticide?
posted by likeso at 4:07 PM on May 3, 2011

Well in NYC they'd just be living inside the walls. In which case height doesn't make much impact. However, I do recall seeing MEGA HUGE ones around the ground floors or in the elevator -- not so much on my 10th floor place. As far as I can tell, the bottom floors do get the most bugs/rats/etc.

(If you don't live in a place like NYC it will probably never get this bad)

Ashley801's got it right about sealing the place. I mean, honestly, they could probably just crawl in your open door/window... so living higher might make this easier.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 4:07 PM on May 3, 2011

Response by poster: I'm in Southern California.
posted by elif at 4:08 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: Agree with AlliKat75 - if you live in the US southeast or a densely populated city like New York, you are going to see roaches sometimes and it's just going to be a reality of your life.

The big roaches are "outside" roaches that come indoors. It is very rare for a building to be infested with these types of roaches.

Regular exterminator visits are a good thing, which ideally your complex should be providing as part of your rent.
posted by Sara C. at 4:11 PM on May 3, 2011

Don't be rattled, it's not going to eat you. If there are cockroaches in your region it makes no difference how clean you keep your place, or whether you live upstairs or downstairs, you're going to see some and there'll always be a bunch you don't see too. These things are nearly indestructible, have been around for hundreds of millions of years and will doubtless outlast us by a similar margin. You hit it with your shoe, scrape it up and get on with your day. I live in Sydney. The cockroaches are the size of rhinos. If you go out at night the pavements are crawling with them. They eat cockroach bait like we eat cupcakes. Life goes on.
posted by joannemullen at 4:12 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: I'm going through something similar - just moved to Florida & have had 2 roaches just as you described. I freaked! Both were alive but sluggish, and I got rid of both of them, but I'm constantly looking at the floor in my apartment for fear of seeing another one. I live on the 3rd floor.

Supposedly my complex has an exterminator come every Thursday, so I am supposedly scheduled for a spraying Thursday.

However, everyone that I've talked to about it has just said, "It's Florida!" and laughed at me.

Good luck. They are gross!
posted by firei at 4:14 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: As joannemullen said, in Sydney (similar climate to California) cockroaches are just a fact of life. They aren't a reflection of your poor hygiene/cleanliness - they just cohabitate, and aren't poisonous or anything. I bet every house from multimillion dollar mansions down has them, so for us spraying just for cockroaches isn't considered.

If I were you I'd prefer to live with them (squashing the bold ones that come out during the day) than have poisonous chemicals sprayed around regularly.
posted by trialex at 4:27 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've lived in L.A. area most of my life, and in my current house here in Santa Monica for twelve years. I'm not particularly fastidious, nor have I ever had a roach problem. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been creeped by large roach in the house. It usually happens in warm weather, near an open door. These guys are fairly common, but not in the house, thankfully. Take a walk around the neighborhood on a humid summer evening, and you'll likely see them scurrying about the sidewalks.

But in the house, pretty rare.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:31 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just guessing that by "not infested", they mean "No nests in buildings/in the gardens/walkways." That still requires spraying to maintain, because roaches will pretty much just wander in from every side. I wouldn't take that, on its own, as evidence that the apartment management is lying to you.

Also, seeing lone roaches in absence of an infestation is honestly pretty common, if you live in an area with roaches. They're pretty mobile, especially the big ones. And I know that it's not really consolation, but while they're gross, they're mostly harmless.

In my experience, you do get fewer bugs (though not zero) in a second story apartment than an equivalent one below it. Also, anecdotally, I noticed when I lived in southern California, there'd always be a spike of indoor-bug-sighting right after drastic changes in weather--when it started getting really hot or really cold or rainy (so, May and January), and it would taper off after the weather became more consistent.
posted by kagredon at 4:33 PM on May 3, 2011

If I were you I'd prefer to live with them (squashing the bold ones that come out during the day) than have poisonous chemicals sprayed around regularly.

Seconded. I did some digging, and it seems cypermethrin is the main ingredient of the insecticides of choice (formulations known commercially by a number of names). From the wiki: Excessive exposure can cause nausea, headache, muscle weakness, salivation, shortness of breath and seizures.

posted by likeso at 4:35 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Boric Acid is your friend. As an insecticide, it's sold as Roach Prufe or Mr. Cucaracha. A fine white powder, you sprinkle it under the fridge and kitchen cabinets. Used to be far more necessary (in my experience) than in the present day. In the 1970s and 80s, everybody had roaches... my understanding is now, the worst insect pest is the Argentine ant.
posted by Rash at 4:37 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that the odds are good this big roach came from outside and that they're pretty rare. But, "Southern California" is a little too broad - we basically never got them when I lived in Highland Park and Eagle Rock, got them sometimes in Huntington Beach, and got them a lot in San Diego (when I did Sea Cadet training at then-NAS Miramar, multiple barracks buildings were closed for fumigation, and I had an unpleasant middle-of-the-night introduction to a HUGE one in one of the barracks that wasn't closed.)

This actually held true for all manner of other bugs, in fact. Never in my life have I had such ant/spider/etc. problems as I did during my year in Huntington Beach, and I'm including Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas in that calculation. Admittedly, the spiders there were much more colorful/frightening.
posted by SMPA at 4:53 PM on May 3, 2011

I'm going to agree with the posters more wary of weekly pesticide sprayings than a singular roach. You should channel your roach research into determining what chemicals they're using so regularly. (I would say with wild abandon, because that sounds like a crazy-high frequency!)

We have our doors sprayed with a rosemary/peppermint oil treatment every 3 months when they check our termite bait stations. Combining this with careful source control keeps a South Carolina house bug free. (a feat of monumental proportions)

And in my experience, pesticide sprayings tend to drive the roaches to human visible locations....
posted by Kronur at 5:05 PM on May 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for allaying my fears. So it sounds like it will be an occasional thing, and not an infestation, which was what I was really afraid of.... I'm going to Raid barrier the perimeter tonight, and get some boric acid as well, and clean out the poisonous stuff they sprayed today. I'm leaning towards staying in the downstairs unit since it doesn't sound like the roaches are living in my cabinets or anything.

You have all been such a big help! kagredon, I definitely think you're onto something with the temperature changes. The weather started really getting hot this week.

Thank you all so much.
posted by elif at 5:27 PM on May 3, 2011

When I lived in Costa Mesa, Southern California, we freaked out when the "waterbugs" started showing up. It was just a function of the area, though--our apartment was near a canal. They are hideous things, but you get used to them (though the whirrrrrring of their wings can be a little tough to take). The ones we had were not interested in our food and really did come in from outside.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:31 PM on May 3, 2011

elif, hang on! That cypermethrin is in Raid!

From the wiki: Cypermethrin is highly toxic to fish, bees and aquatic insects, according to the National Pesticides Telecommunications Network (NPTN). It is found in many household ant and cockroach killers, including Raid and ant chalk.
posted by likeso at 5:31 PM on May 3, 2011

Roaches happen. I've seen them on lower floors and upper floors, in big apartment buildings and converted rowhouses.

The complex is right -- the big roaches pretty much live outside, but will occasionally spend some time in the walls. They only occasionally get out into the open, but spraying disorients them enough that it's a sure-fire way to see 'em.
posted by desuetude at 5:34 PM on May 3, 2011

I'm in a brownstone in NYC, and yes, they do come in from outside, especially in the summer. Hot muggy weather, especially rainy hot muggy weather, is what seems to drive them inside. I never see them in the winter. In the summer, I commonly see them scurrying around the sidewalks/streets, and congregating around food scraps in the subway.

I hate hate hate hate hate them. There is no way to really keep them from coming in, but to reiterate earlier advice: 1. Make sure your house is bone dry. We have two dehumidifiers in our basement for this purpose. Scan for leaks. 2. Use roach bait, lots of it. We like the Combat bait stations and gel. 3. Just for completeness, I use boric acid (be sure to apply it correctly -- just a bare dusting, not clumps) and diatomaceous earth, because it cuts up their hateful exoskeleton.

It probably is better to live on lower floors, but honestly, to these things, plumbing and electrical conduits are superhighways. They'll get pretty much everywhere if they want to. They can take elevators; they can come in in bags and boxes; many of them can fly if they want; hell, it wouldn't surprise me if they had the power of teleportation.
posted by ROTFL at 5:35 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: lol, ROTFL, I can't believe they can fly; they can survive nearly everything and have flight. I'm surprised they're not running the world.

But as far as the boric acid-- I read that you can draw a line with it with a squeeze bottle outside the home, but lightly dust it on the carpet corners. True?
posted by elif at 5:45 PM on May 3, 2011

Is getting a cat an option? Because mine has been great pest control for roaches and big bugs in both Florida and Virginia. Only problem is he tends to leave them dead under things.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2011

I lived in Austin, TX for years, and you just got used to them. They were gross and freaky when you came across them suddenly in the apartment, but their shells are kind of pretty in the sunlight.

If you of an entrepreneurial mind, you can catch them, cut off two legs, as sell them to people up north as ponies.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:09 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can do a perimeter run with boric acid, and it's cheap so it's hardly a hardship to do so, but you're just as effective putting it just near doors and windows.

Roaches do not mean you (or anyone near you) is a dirty filthy person. They want water (and you can dry your sinks and shower after use, but you'll have to seal the toilets with plastic wrap to truly make yourself least attractive. I apologize for the nightmares you'll be having tonight.) and they really like the glue on cardboard boxes and will lay their eggs there as well. So if you just moved, you might have had a castaway or two, or they're just coming in for a drink. If you or a neighbor had an infestation, you would know it - one roach is a tourist, many/day is a concern.

I just moved to Southern California from Texas, where we know from roaches. I generally just used Combat traps there, the ones with the delicious poison they carry back to the nest to kill everyone. I'd rather breathe a little less toxic spray and wait it out a week or two for them to all croak.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:20 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I read that you can draw a line with it with a squeeze bottle outside the home, but lightly dust it on the carpet corners. True?

True. Boric acid works like a charm.
posted by mhoye at 6:31 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: Ah, a palmetto bug.

Yes, they come in searching for water.

BTW when I lived in Florida I rented a room from a lady so clean you could literally eat off her bathroom floor. OR her toilet seat. Not kidding.

She still got palmetto bugs.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:38 PM on May 3, 2011

Nthing the boric acid - we periodically put it right outside our doors and behind the fridge, and so far every time we see a roach that escapes from a not-quite-accurate bang with a shoe, within a day we spot a suspiciously identical roach upside down somewhere, feebly twitching as it dies.
posted by telophase at 6:50 PM on May 3, 2011

elif, I've never used boric acid outside the house, because with a brownstone row house it'd be washed away by the first rain. The story with the light dusting is: Allegedly, roaches will avoid suspicious chunks of powder, but crawl unawares through very light dustings. Then when they clean themselves, they ingest the powder and it screws with their GI tract and eventually kills them. Who knows whether they really do avoid chunks of powder, but it makes sense; they are amazingly capable at finding food and water, so why wouldn't they be capable of detecting obviously dangerous substances?
posted by ROTFL at 7:08 PM on May 3, 2011

I hate cockroaches with a burning, driving fire that cannot be described. Like, really, really hate them, pretty much ever since one flew at my face when I was six. Therefore cockroach management is key to my existence.

I learned the basics from my grandmother, who kept the cleanest, most cockroach-free house in the entire Coastal Bend of Texas -- no tough trick. She'd create a mixture of boric acid and powdered sugar, divide the mixture among several bottle caps (this was back when soda bottles had metal twist caps instead of plastic ones), and then strategically place the caps behind dressers and bookshelves and underneath beds, behind closet doors, etc. Worked like a charm -- the sugar attracts what roaches there are, and the boric acid kills them.

Note: don't do this if you have pets.
posted by devinemissk at 7:17 PM on May 3, 2011

First off - don't be using "sprays." A lot of exterminators frown upon the spray method, using the more effective super gel bait stuff that kills them all. The sprays mostly just cause them to find a way around the spray. Sprays will also render ineffective any poison bait you put down, if they can smell the spray. I too would be concerned about all the chemicals being applied to the building. Weekly spraying sounds crazy to me.

I've been battling the little German roaches in my NYC apartment that I moved into earlier this year and I hate them with a fiery passion, and here's what I can advise:

Boric acid = good. But DON'T BREATHE IT IN. And don't touch it. When you put it down, put it in places where you can't see it. Also, this stuff works, but it takes a long time to work on the big guys. I trapped one with a whole pile of boric acid and got it to walk over it over and over again, and it cleaned it all off itself, and 24 hours later it was still walking around, albeit a lot slower. Also, don't put it outside! No.

As for sealing any cracks/gaps along the walls, get yourself some of that canned expanding foam and go nuts if you see any gaps that could use sealing.

All this said, in the last two NYC apartments I lived in, I only saw a total of three cockroaches over the course of six years. These were the large ones that fly. I don't know how they got in, but however they got there, none of their roachy friends followed. So for peace of mind, before you go nuts turning your apartment into a roach death trap, you may just want to get some of those Combat quick kill large roach baits, place them according to the diagram on the box, and see if you have anymore of them.
posted by wondermouse at 7:45 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: Nthing that big roaches just come in to escape the weather. If you have the little German fuckers, then you need to worry. They are a bitch to get rid of.
posted by radioamy at 7:59 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The state etymologist told me that just about every climate-controlled human-occupied building has roaches; certain species are human-opportunistic pests who like the same climate we do (subtropical, more or less), eat the same things we do (anything, so long as it's fairly recently dead), and probably scuttled out of Africa alongside us when we did. You just mostly don't see them because they stay out of sight, and he said they're mostly only a problem in problem in multifamily dwellings where they can "track" germs from one family to the next (especially from the really gross apartment with the salmonella-covered counters). As long as they're just in YOUR house/unit/whatever, it's not a big deal as long as you're reasonably clean, he said, and seeing one now and then is nothing to freak out over.

I am still not super-psyched to see one, but knowing they're THERE and not bothering anybody or hurting anything and just taking advantage of my humanness makes me a lot less freaked out about it on the rare occasions when I do see one.

(But yes, for "outdoor" roaches, temperature swings are totally a big factor in them seeking out the more comfortable confines of your subtropical home environment. For "indoor" roaches, a total housefire is about the only thing that will make them abandon ship.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:09 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The first time I saw a roach here in my upper-floor studio apartment in Philadelphia, it was the first really hot week of summer, with temperatures in the high 90s during the day. I found a big roach hanging out in the kitchen area. I FREAKED OUT and smashed it into approximately one million pieces, then I emptied all of the cupboards and scrubbed them with dilute bleach, spread borax, and put everything in airtight containers.

I didn't see another roach until the next summer, when they replaced the carpet in all of the common areas of the building. This time, one found its way into my bed while I was asleep and woke me by crawling up my arm toward my face. I chased it around the apartment, smashed it into approximately one million pieces and haven't seen one since. I have also been able to uncurl from the fetal position I assumed after feeling those legs on my skin, urghghghgh.

So yeah, seeing an occasional roach isn't a sign that a huge infestation is imminent.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:23 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

My experience has been that indoor roaches are much rarer in SoCal than many other parts of the country, especially the whole east coast. If you were in Virginia I would say that your complex are telling you lies, lies, lies! In SoCal though, they are probably right. I don't think you should freak out yet, they won't hurt you. Why not wait a month and see how much of an issue it really is before you go crazy with caulk and borax?

Ok, I will tell you a gross story though: We live in LA and never saw a roach inside. One of the bigger earthquakes in the last couple of years opened up a crack in our bathroom ceiling and about a 1.5" hole right over the tub. One night we were watching TV and one by one the cats ran into the bathroom and started chattering and flipping out. We ran in just in time to see a 4" "water bug" pull its last leg out of the hole and fall on its back into the tub, where all the cats leaped on to it before we could shoo them out.

Sweet dreams!
posted by crabintheocean at 1:24 AM on May 4, 2011

Texan here -- around here those big roaches are always going to come in and they don't mean that you are infested. It's the little roaches (the Germans) that are the worry, those are the ones that live in the house, and if I saw those, I'd be calling in the special forces. If you're worried, use the most expensive Combat baits (Combat Gold, or Platinum, or whatever), they work very very well. At some time in the future, they won't anymore, as the roaches will evolve, and we'll just have to use a shotgun.
posted by seventyfour at 7:12 AM on May 4, 2011

Response by poster: Just a note, I found out that squashing or stepping on them is not recommended as it could release the eggs, or get stuck to your shoe. Fun, huh?
posted by elif at 11:01 AM on May 4, 2011

Just a note, I found out that squashing or stepping on them is not recommended as it could release the eggs, or get stuck to your shoe. Fun, huh?

That's why, when I see one, I trap it under my roach-trapping-device with boric acid and leave it there until it's dead. DEAD!!!!!!! Or at least dead enough where I can safely scoop it up and flush it down the toilet without it running away.
posted by wondermouse at 7:11 PM on May 4, 2011

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