Close Encounters of the Roach Kind
June 28, 2011 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Somehow my ridiculously clean apartment has roaches. Am I being stupid trying to treat this myself or should I just get an exterminator? And if the latter, can you recommend a good one in NYC?

Jesus Christ. I suddenly have roaches in my apartment. I am the person that everyone makes fun of because my apartment is always so clean and yet... there they are. The past three days I've been seeing maybe 2-3 a day in various rooms.

Here's what I've done thus far - cleaned the apartment to an insane OCD degree. Sprayed Raid along the baseboard of the walls and across the door frames. Placed Combat roach hotel things in all the cupboards. Threw out all magazines. Kept my trash cans and recycling empty. Cried a lot.

How long does it usually take for that stuff to work? It's only been two days since I put the Raid and Combat down. Yesterday I saw a couple dead ones so's starting to work? How long should I give it before I give up and call in the big, professional guns? And if that time is now, can you recommend a good exterminator in NYC (I'm in Brooklyn) who does a good, trustworthy, and discrete job? If it matters, I'm in a basement apartment, in a two family house so it's not like a big apartment building or anything.

My biggest concern is this - I have a huge, wonderful book collection and I'm just really, really afraid of it getting damaged. When exterminators come and do that bug bomb thing, does that damage books?
posted by silverstatue to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of building do you live in? A lot of times, they come from the walls (I know, gross.) If you have holes in your walls, that could be the source of the problem, no matter how clean your apartment is.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:55 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

What kind of cockroaches are they? Little ones or the big ones that people often call "water bugs?"
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:57 AM on June 28, 2011

Don't even waste time and money on an exterminator. Get some Roach Prufe. It works far, far better than dangerous chemicals, and it's not very expensive. ($10 or less, usually.) It's 98% Boric Acid, and basically non-toxic.

If you follow the directions on the can and put it along baseboards and in corners, it will work. My understanding is that it works by clogging up their pores so they can't breathe.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:01 AM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Its a three story house. I'm in the basement. My landlords are above and I really, really was hoping to fix this without involving them.... I'm in Greenpoint so it's one of those blocks where each house is smooshed right up against the next one.

They're the little ones, THANK GOD. They're like the size of your thumb nail. Ew, ew, ew.
posted by silverstatue at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2011

they are probably coming from your neighbours. I'd just wait and see what happens they might go away.
posted by mary8nne at 9:06 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

FYI - the little ones are German Roaches - the most difficult to get rid of! Sorry!
posted by pamspanda at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2011

this article should be helpful.

I've heard it important to treat the whole building at once.
posted by bq at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2011

Yep, block every hole and crack you can find with expanding foam or steel wool. Even tiny holes. Also never leaving standing water anywhere including in your sink. If you do the dishes, dry everything immediately and even use a paper towel to dry the inside of the sink basin.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:19 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah the little ones are the bad ones, sorry to tell you. They are mostly after food and water and your neighbors are probably at fault, getting rid of them entirely is going to be a problem.

Check for holes in all your walls, look behind the toilet and under the sinks, places where plumbing pipes go into walls and surround the pipe with expanding foam to fill any gaps.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:22 AM on June 28, 2011

Yeah, if it's the little ones (German cockroaches, in other words), it's probably your neighbors who are at fault; I'd talk to your landlord first, but you're probably going to want an exterminator. The most important D.I.Y. preventative measure for German cockroaches is cleanliness and proper food storage, which you've already got handled.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:28 AM on June 28, 2011

Here is my exterminator.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:34 AM on June 28, 2011

If you live with other people, you really can't get rid of the bugs completely without also getting rid of their bugs. It's your landlord's job to provide (and pay for) extermination services and the most effective route would be dealing with the whole building at once.

In fact, they might have done roach bombing or started exterminating in their apartments, and now all the roaches are like "eff this noise, I'm moving to the basement". I lived in a building that was very infested and this was a common occurrence. I'd see the exterminator go upstairs to one of the other apartments and sure enough, a little roach exodus would ensue and we'd suddenly become very popular.

I've also had this experience when a neighboring apartment was being renovated.

Both times it had NOTHING to do with my cleanliness or lack thereof, so please don't blame yourself.

There also tends to be a natural increase in roaches in the summer months.

Sorry, bugs are really stressful. I hope you figure something out.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:35 AM on June 28, 2011

Seconding boric acid. I lived in Florida for years and am more familiar with roaches and roach habits than I care to be. It takes some time to work, so be patient for a couple weeks, but the roaches will die, I promise. The idea is to get the roaches to walk through it and bring it back to their hidey holes and nests.

I just found these instructions in application:

The key to success with boric acid is proper application. For best results, the powder should be applied in a very thin layer barely visible to the naked eye. Piles or heavy accumulations will be avoided by foraging cockroaches much as we would avoid walking through a snow drift. To apply a fine layer, shake the container and puff a small quantity of the powder into the target area. Manufacturers of boric acid often fill their containers too full of powder -- by using a container which is no more than two-thirds full, an airspace is created at the top which allows the dust to be puffed more easily (A few pennies or pebbles placed inside the container helps prevent the powder from caking). The trick is to give the container a shake, then puff a very light dusting of the powder into the area you wish to treat.

Avoid applying a heavy layer, and never apply the material with a spoon. Where the powder is applied is just as important as how it's applied. Cockroaches prefer to live in cracks, crevices and secluded areas close to food, moisture and warmth. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most common areas to find cockroaches, although any area of a home may become infested if the infestation is severe, or if species other than the German cockroach are involved. Key areas for treatment include under/behind the refrigerator, stove and dishwasher, into the opening where plumbing pipes enter walls (such as under sinks and behind the commode, shower and washing machine), and into cracks along edges and corners inside cabinets and pantries. Oftentimes, there is a void (hollow space) under kitchen and bathroom cabinets which becomes a hiding place for cockroaches. This area can be accessed and treated by injecting powder through any existing gap at the top of the kickplate, or if none is present, by drilling a few small holes.

Incidentally, it's not so much that it smothers them as dehydrates them. The powder coats the exoskeleton and damages the surface. Diatomaceous earth will do the same thing, and is safe for humans and pets.
posted by Specklet at 9:36 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

this happened to me a couple apartments ago. I'm super clean, super neat, and suddenly the roaches descended upon my kitchen. fwiw, boric acid was useless for me. the ONLY thing that worked was a spray referred to me on another ask metafilter thread. an amazing spray called Bengal Gold. at the time, only available on the Internet. one spray, and not a single roach for 6 entire months. spray bi-annually to keep thrm away forever. that was a few years ago so it might be available in big hardware stores now, but it worked magic.
posted by raztaj at 9:39 AM on June 28, 2011

Response by poster: Ok I totally have giant gaping holes around the pipes in the kitchen. Will address this with expanding foam immediately!

The standing water thing is scary. Of course i wash dishes right away, but I never considered drying the sink after washing them! Will start doing that from now on.

Also, crap. I just read in the article that bq linked that roaches like to eat the glue in contact paper. I have contact paper lining all my cupboards :(

Thanks for the suggestions so far everyone. I'm at my wits end. Haven't really slept since this all started. I keep telling myself at least it's not bedbugs!
posted by silverstatue at 9:42 AM on June 28, 2011

Relax! You'll be fine. They will not damage your books. Throwing out all of your magazines was way way overkill.

First of all, you're in the basement. You should have expextected this sooner or later. It's perfectly normal!! Gross, but normal.

- Get rid of the roach motels. They work by attracting the roaches. You don't want to attract more into your home.

- Yes to the Roach Pruf !!

- Your landlord must provide an exterminator by law. And they don't bomb the whole house, they spray along the baseboards and doorways - just like you did with the raid. Not totally effective, they'll usually need to come back monthly to keep the problem under control.

- The people above you (your landlord?) have roaches, too!

- I don't think there is a building in NYC without roaches. It's summer. Yours are likely entering through crack in the foundation, the spaces under sinks around pipes, at points where the walls meet the floor, etc. They live in the walls, which are not sealed between floors, and this is why your neighbors upstairs have them, too.


It's summer. Likely there was a sudden increase in the local population, and the roaches have come to your house to play.

Call your landlord. Treating just your flat will NOT curb the roach population in your building. Call your landlord so they can deal with this properly, thoroughly.

The building you live in is a valuable investment for the owner. Call your landlord!
posted by jbenben at 9:43 AM on June 28, 2011

They will not damage your books.

Yes, they will. Not eat them necessarily but if they are running across your books, they will leave shit behind and it will stain your books.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:48 AM on June 28, 2011

I read your contact paper comment. You are over-thinking this. Call your landlord.

PS. You might let them seal around the pipes etc. with the method of their choosing. You don't want to fuck up the walls or pipes and owe them money. Likely, they'll hire a handyman to take care of sealing your apartment.

Just call your landlord. Especially if you are not handy and haven't worked with products like spray foam before.

(I'm guessing you're not from the city, right? Listen live in NYC for any length of time and dealing with stuff like this is routine. Just call your landlord. Good luck!!)
posted by jbenben at 9:51 AM on June 28, 2011

They will not damage the books in a few days! And likely, the roaches are settled happily in the kitchen and bathroom where there is water, food, and access to the apartment (via cracks around pipes.)

OP roaches are NOT bed bugs. You don't have to throw out your possessions.

You won't come tomorrow to find your house crawling with vermin in a sci-fi movie-esque explosion of the population.

Just call your landlord. You'll be ok. Your possessions will be OK. Promise.
posted by jbenben at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've never heard of books being damaged by exterminators. Don't hesitate to call your landlord- you've done nothing wrong, these things happen. Having roaches, especially in a place like NYC, is not a scarlet letter of shame. Just call your landlord and tell them what's up. Trying to handle it without taking care of the entire building is a waste of your time.
posted by ambrosia at 10:10 AM on June 28, 2011

You can't fix a roach problem without involving your landlord...upstairs. Because when you get them out of your apartment, they'll still be in the walls & behind the fridge & under the cupboard up _there_ busily laying eggs, getting fatter & plotting their comeback. Roaches in a shared building must be approached as a community problem or it just becomes a pass-the-potatoe game of who's harboring the infestation this week.
posted by Ys at 10:15 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

BTW: I am currently battling some massive buggers that probably breed in the standing water under the the house. My landlord (Century 21, so they've dealt with lots & LOTS of houses & bugs) recommended Ortho Home Defense Max for about 12$ at Lowes. I'm on my third round of bi-weekly spraying & am overall pleased with the results (same can, btw; and I'm anticipating getting another 2-3 inside & out of the house coverages before I have to drop another 12 bucks. Beaut of an application system, too: Easiest thing I've ever used.) It's completely eliminated the ants that were plaguing us, and we seem to be winning the war against roaches. They're stubborn and given the situation under the house would probably re-populate in a heartbeat, but regular spraying on a 15 day schedule seems to be getting me the results I want.
posted by Ys at 10:25 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Earlier this year, I unwittingly moved into a roach-infested apartment in NYC. I'd never even seen these little things before, let alone tried to do battle with them, and like you I totally freaked the hell out. However, at this point I feel like I have effectively defeated the roaches. Things to know:

* Do not use Raid to try to keep roaches out. Roaches will avoid it. Especially don't use Raid and Combat baits at the same time- the Raid will make roaches not go near the Combat baits. Just don't bother with Raid at all in this situation. Sorry you already used it, don't use it again. Also, any exterminator who tries to get rid of your roaches by using a bug bomb is not a good exterminator.

* The Combat baits are good. I'd recommend getting more than one kind - get the "advanced" kind that works for three months and stops their reproductive cycle. This is very effective. These little roaches are so hard to get rid of because they multiply so quickly. You may combine the advanced baits with the "Quick Kill" baits to kill other ones quickly. You may also choose to get the Combat gel, which should be applied in TINY beads in stealthy areas that you can't really get a bait into - things like door hinges, cabinet rails, etc. A good exterminator will show you the best places to apply the stuff. I learned by watching mine and then continued on my own when I was seeing them in other places.

* Boric acid is good, but that takes skill and knowledge to apply effectively also. You shouldn't be able to see it. It should be dumped behind places roaches emerge from - for me, they were coming from behind the kitchen counter, from an area I couldn't access and seal. I dumped boric acid behind there, so any roaches that came from there had to walk through it. Then they clean it off themselves and die a few hours later.

* Sealing up the openings around pipes and along the walls is very important too. I love the expanding spray foam.

I feel I must note that, although all the anti-roach things talk about the importance of obsessively taking your trash out and drying up any water sitting around, I never really did that. For me, the key was to seal up all the holes they were getting in through and making sure some tasty poison and boric acid was left in plentiful amounts for the rest of them. You will need to take a flashlight and shine it in your cupboards to see where their popular hiding places are. I had a totally disgusting day where I took Q-tips and cleaned roach poop out of all sorts of cracks and crevices that I couldn't even see into. Eggs came out too. Holy crap, it was so disgusting, and I felt like I was going to have roaches infesting all of my things just based on all the places that had roach poop in them from the previous filthy tenants. But I don't feel like that anymore. You can do it!

Though, you should also call your landlord just to see if he will send over an exterminator. My landlord did and it did help a lot initially. However, IF YOU GET AN EXTERMINATOR WHO WANTS TO DO A BUG BOMB, DO NOT LET HIM. That guy doesn't know what he's doing. My exterminator came over with a tube of roach killing gel and he put it in all sorts of clever places. Roaches loved it so much in a few cases they just crawled into it and died. I'll memail you his info if you're interested.
posted by wondermouse at 11:00 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not a whole lot you can do on your own. You might want to get rid of potted plants. I used seal up the backs of my cupboards with caulk and keep food in tupperware. Bang the crumbs out of your toaster after use. We once had a vey badly infested neighbouring apartment but never saw one in ours and I think it was because we had an ant problem. Start an ant colony.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:04 AM on June 28, 2011

Response by poster: thanks so much everyone for your suggestions and comforting words! Jbenben I actually have lived here (same apt!) for 7 years but I guess I've been really lucky/blissfully ignorant in that I haven't had any problems until now.

Wondermouse, if you'd memail me the info for your guy, that would be great!

ARGH I guess i WILL bring my landlord in on this since, as a few people have pointed out, he probably has them too now.
posted by silverstatue at 11:09 AM on June 28, 2011

To answer your original question - yes, bug bombs are *awful* for books, but you don't want to bomb anyway. If they're going to be spraying in the vicinity of your books, you may want to tape trash bags over the shelves. Exterminators can get a little cavalier with the sprayer wand, all "what? no, this won't hurt anything!" as they hose down delicate upholstery, your furniture legs, etc.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:09 AM on June 28, 2011

yesyesyes to boric acid.

Here is how my old roommates and I used it to win the war on roaches when all other chemicals failed. We made boric acid bug balls. Or as my friend called them, bollitos. We mixed boric acid, flour, sugar, water (and maybe shortening?) together and made a ton of tiny little doughy balls. Then we placed them in corners, ledges, cabinets -- all over our kitchen (obviously not touching any food). And then we waited - within two days the roaches were literally dropping dead in their tacks. Dead bugs everywhere. A roach literally dropped dead off the underside of an overhanging cabinet and onto my roommate's sandwich. It would have been gross if we hadn't been so happy they were dying. We kept them out for about two weeks (they hardened but still seemed effective) and then threw them out. We never saw a single roach again.

I'm sorry I don't have the exact ingredients or portion sizes that we used (it was a few years ago). I do remember that we doubled the amount of suggested boric acid. But if you google something along the lines of boric acid bug balls, something instructive should pop up.

It was one of our greatest achievements as roommates. When we get together and reminisce, we still talk about the amazing bollitos.
posted by Sylvia Plath's terrible fish at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

Boric acid, boric acid, boric acid. After reaching my wit's end in my (extremely clean, tidy house) with bug bombs, sprays, roach motels, etc., etc., etc., within a few days of sprinkling boric acid around the baseboards, in the backs of the cabinets, and behind the appliances in the kitchen, my roach problem had magically, immediately disappeared. I went from >10 roach sightings a day (please don't judge. I know it's awful) to zero within a week.
posted by booknerd at 1:26 PM on June 28, 2011

My opinion has always been that it's the water. No matter how much food you have around, they are looking for water.

For maintenance: I have rubber stoppers in every drain -- bathtub, bathroom sink, kitchen sink -- that I keep in at night and when I'm away during the day for long periods. Keep the toilet seat down. Wipe down the sinks at night with rubbing alcohol. Stop leaking faucets IMMEDIATELY.

If I see a roach, I pour some (okay, a lot of) bleach down all the drains.

I almost never see roaches -- maybe one every several months or so, and they are usually dying, probably trying to escape someone else's apartment. We've never had the exterminator in, but we see the same people repeatedly on the sign-up sheet in the lobby. I think if you're not facing an infestation, don't bother with the exterminator yet. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the little fuckers like it, somehow.

There will ALWAYS be things for them to eat and there will ALWAYS be ways into your apartment. You just want to make your apartment the least enticing in your building and on your block.
posted by thebazilist at 1:29 PM on June 28, 2011

Use roach paste.

I used to live in Florida (Roach hell, with all kinds of the beasts) and roach paste bar none works the best. It stays where you put it, the roaches take it back to the places you can't get to, and soon, no more cucaracha.

You might have brought these things in on grocery bags, but by now they have probably found a home in the walls. Hence, get some roach paste!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:49 PM on June 28, 2011

...and while you're getting set to deal with it, here's a cute ukulele song about roach problems (you're in good company).
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:18 PM on June 28, 2011

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