roaching the subject
August 15, 2011 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to have a roach or two without having *thunderclap* a roach problem?

On the 1st, I moved into a studio apartment in Atlanta in a small building of four units, on the second floor, in an old, cruddy but fine building. I've been spending a ton of time in the place since I've mostly just been setting up shop, so I've been able to keep a good general eye on things. No bug problems for the first days (except silverfish -- ugh); on the 9th, I noticed a huge (~1.5 inches and fat) black roach just chilling on the floor in my kitchen, but away from anything kitcheny (the room is really a kitchen + dining area). I chased it away, and over the next few days we had a sort of Tom and Jerry thing going on. I know this sounds anthropomorphic, but I really think it was just the one roach the whole time. It was always the exact same size and the places I found it always made sense with its most recent known whereabouts. I never saw it anywhere foody or watery-- always on some random piece of floor or scuttling around objects on the floor. I keep a very clean house, food-wise-- no filth here-- but since I am in the unpacking process, I have a lot of clothes and random crap on the floor.

Fast-forward to a few nights ago. I am reading in bed, and the little fellow scuttles ACROSS MY FREAKING BED. I chase him into the stairwell and bludgeon him to death with a detached Ikea table leg. (This I felt bad about-- I never even kill bugs-- but dude had the chutzpah to be on my BED!) Knowing that the one culprit was dead, I felt a sense of ease.

And yet! Tonight I found a smaller but still fairly hefty one-- about 3/4 of an inch and much more brown-- in my bathroom, but again, away from any water. Gah. So I am now opening up an investigation.

Basically what I am wondering is, can an apartment have the occasional cockroach without there being an infestation or problem? Even though roaches seriously squick me out, if seeing one once in a blue moon is just a Thing To Deal With That There Cannot Be Much Done About, I can live with that. But if they are, like, multiplying in my walls or something, I want to act fast. I've lived in an apartment before with tiny filth-swarming New York roaches that skitter across the kitchen when you turn off the lights, and thankfully these guys were nothing of the sort. Is the friendly giant cockroach that randomly wanders in from outside just a myth to placate squeamish renters?

(Bonus question: does diatomaceous earth work well against roaches? A number of Mefites have attested to its success with bedbugs, fleas, and other insects, but I've seen little about cockroaches.)
posted by threeants to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
You live in Atlanta. You do not have a roach problem; you have a location problem. Sorry, bro. All you can do is put some boric acid powder down around your apartment (especially around doors and windows) and cry. It's a part of life in the south.

That said, we had a mouse in our apartment last month. And there was only one mouse, as impossible as that may be to believe. But I think with roaches you may be SOL.
posted by phunniemee at 10:32 PM on August 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It's summer, its Atlanta, therefore your base level is going to be at least a few roaches.

I've lived in numerous places in the city where the numbers topped out at "a few" (like, a few sighted per whole summer) and never escalated to anything I'd call a problem. So I don't think there's any reason to worry TOO Much, though you may want to go ahead and take steps to prevent more from moving in.

Also, what about talking to your landlord/leasing office, to see if there's a known problem in your building or unit? Since you've already moved in, I'd imagine they're likely to be honest with you.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:40 PM on August 15, 2011

Best answer: Agree with phunniemee. When I lived in North Florida, roaches ("Palmetto bugs" if you're being southern about it) were omnipresent. I didn't have an infestation--they'd just sometimes visit, it seemed. I saw them walk right in under the door.

They made good cat toys for my kitty.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:41 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also, what about talking to your landlord/leasing office, to see if there's a known problem in your building or unit? Since you've already moved in, I'd imagine they're likely to be honest with you.

My landlady told me before I moved in that there were "never any insect problems", but that they'd spray if I wanted. Management is pretty absent here though and I even have a clause in my lease that basically translates to "This apartment is old and cruddy; deal with it." I'm really disinclined to do anything toxic to my apartment unless necessary. Thanks for the (reassuring) answers so far, folks.
posted by threeants at 10:45 PM on August 15, 2011

Best answer: The New York roaches are German cockroaches; what you have described sounds like an American cockroach.

I don't have any experience with the latter, though it is my general understanding that they don't infest as densely as German ones can. I have a lot of (unwanted) experience with the smaller German cockroaches - and it is very possible to have a few without them hitting the critical mass to explode in population. You still want to hit them hard, of course, to try to keep from ever getting to that critical mass. But one is not the end of the world.

That dico-earth stuff is said to work agt the German ones, though it's not been so effective in my last try. Also, I should point out that cleanliness does not determine whether one will have roaches; if your building is badly infested, you will have them no matter how personally clean you are: they can
live off books, boxes, dishes inside a dishwasher, off the garbage inside your sealed garbage can.
posted by jb at 10:45 PM on August 15, 2011

Best answer: I moved to the South from the Midwest having seen only a few, small German cockroaches my entire life. Now several years later, I can assure you that 1.5 inches is only the beginning... shudder.

I wouldn't worry too much about it if it's only a few here and there. They get in from outside even in the cleanest houses. If you see little ones, or you see them every day, that's when you worry.

We used to buy roach traps that they would eat the bait and then carry back to the 'nest' with them before they died; that seemed to result in us finding them dead more often than alive, at least.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:51 PM on August 15, 2011

Best answer: My landlady told me before I moved in that there were "never any insect problems"

Very few southern homes have "insect problems." But everyone has roaches. As PhoB points out, they call them palmetto bugs down there--it's an image thing. Roaches are gross; palmetto bugs are a fact of life. It is extremely unlikely that you'll ever have a true infestation problem, so you have that on your side, but it is also extremely unlikely that you'll ever rid your place completely of roaches.

For what it's worth, boric acid isn't toxic. I mean, you shouldn't eat it, and it'll sting if it gets in your eyes, but it's not something I'd worry about laying around the house. It does a decent job of keeping roaches at bay, though, so it's definitely something to look into.
posted by phunniemee at 10:51 PM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I only have experience with using diatomaceous earth against ants (works!) but would assume it's worth a shot against roaches too. It's nontoxic and fairly cheap.

I've often been able to get away with just using a thin boundary line of DE right outside a door, or in the doorway itself, if it's recessed. Keeps most of the mess out of the apartment.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:53 PM on August 15, 2011

Palmetto bugs (pictures) are not quite the same thing as cockroaches; palmetto bugs are bigger (bigger than American cockroaches, which in turn are bigger than German / New York cockroaches). And they like to fly, and make a rather terrifying buzzing sound as they zoom past your head on their way to your light fixture or wherever. You'll never forget it if you see one or two; they do appear solo or in small groups sometimes.

I used to live in Atlanta (college - lots of cheap housing; I used to always keep my breakfast cereal in the refrigerator, not just for the extra coldness). I saw all three kinds.

I learned to invest in "Great Stuff", which is basically yellow foam insulation in a can. You can use it to fill gaps: around the holes where the plumbing comes into the bathroom / kitchen, invisible crevices behind the corners of the carpet, etc. It helped a lot. Beware - that stuff is difficult to remove if it gets on your skin or textiles (you can use acetone before the foam completely cures).
posted by amtho at 11:08 PM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah - if you do have a cat or a precocious dog, be careful what you use to poison the roaches or palmetto bugs. They are compelling prey.
posted by amtho at 11:10 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just chiming in to say, YES! you will see roaches in your home in the south. No matter what you do, other than living in a bubble. They are grody, certainly, but not a cause for long term pest concern. As a long time New Yorker I can support the assertion above that when you see more than a few of those little pale brown is the time for your tears.

I think the "Palmetto Bug" of the south may be the equal to the "Water Bug" of the north. So big, so awful, but so summer. A cockroach to be sure, but it's too damn big to call it that, and way too pervasive...otherwise everyone would have cockroaches. And we certainly can't have that!

My home is cruddy, too. I live in the Napa Valley so I have Calisoga False Tarantulas (giant hairy beasts they are!), Rattlesnakes, Black Widows and two kinds of scorpions! I almost miss roaches. Almost.

(And amtho is right about pets. No poisoned palmetto bugs for cat or dog!)
posted by metasav at 11:19 PM on August 15, 2011

Best answer: I just moved in with family in Atlanta, and their house is newer and very clean, and I am occasionally seeing these big roaches. I don't know if they are american roaches or palmetto bugs, but there does indeed only seem to be a few. I've come to think of them as local fauna.
posted by polywomp at 11:21 PM on August 15, 2011

If it flies, it's probably a palmetto bug.
posted by amtho at 12:08 AM on August 16, 2011

Keep a can of freeze spray handy, and you can freeze the crawlies solid. Makes it easy to toss 'em out, or explode them in mid-air by hitting with an old tennis or badminton racket.
posted by paulsc at 2:05 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: Former ATLien here, roaches/palmetto bugs are part and parcel of southern living, especially if you live in an older building which may have a raw earth basement (2 of the 4 places I lived did). The bait traps work pretty well and keep the chemical residue contained in the trap and of course the dead bug body, just make sure to buy the ones with the extra large openings. Boric acid works well around windows and doors which don't seal particularly tight but it does need to be reapplied if it gets too humid/damp.
posted by estronaut at 7:03 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: The ones you're seeing probably crawled in from the outside so you don't have a "roach problem" meaning they are most likely not living in your walls. Like everyone else said, they're a fact of life here in The South, especially if you live near any sort of water or fields.

I agree with amtho, get some "Great Stuff" and close off any cracks or crevices you see around the drains and pipes and windows. If you don't want to use that stuff on a rental unit, try duck tape (that's what I used). It it will cut down the little critter's access to your place tremendously.
posted by patheral at 9:17 AM on August 16, 2011

I live in the New Orleans area, and those are medium-sized cockroaches. They sometimes fly (unless the flyers I've seen were Palmetto bugs, and I just didn't realize.)

I've discovered that they like to be inside my house. Either it's raining too much (the whole ferking summer), or it's too hot, or too cold, or they just feel like watching Dexter while I'm asleep. They creep me out, but they do make for good cat toys.

They also like to burrow in random dark things - like shoes. One surprised me by crawling out of a sneaker in the morning before I went to work, and I was forced to immediately throw the shoes away. They are so creepy. I decided to spray, and now, I occasionally find dead cockroaches, enough to make sure to call the exterminator when the three months are up. (I found an exterminator that uses pet-friendly roach-killing stuff.)
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 11:03 AM on August 16, 2011

Not a fan of but this article explains how vacuums are our friend in the fight against your occasional roach.

If you aren't finding them (new ones) every day, you don't have a problem.

I have also heard of mixing hot cocoa powder with quickcrete and leaving little beer caps of it in corners. They eat it, it blocks their g.i. tract and they die. Then they rot in your walls and turn into dust. That has (at some point) been tied to asthma.

I prefer to trick the suckers with the vacuum hose. My kill rate has gone up to 90+% since I learned that trick.
posted by Seamus at 11:06 AM on August 16, 2011

Windex helps slow them down tremendously. And it cleans the countertops, too!

(lives in the South, dirt crawlspace, they roam freely outside, etc etc)
posted by pinky at 11:41 AM on August 16, 2011

Best answer: Former Texan here. The yardstick we always used was if you see one of the big ones it's probably come in from outside. This is, as other have mentioned, a fact of life in the South, and one of the more compelling reasons I've spent the last 15 years in places north of the Mason Dixon line. It's when you see the little ones that look like normal roaches anywhere that you have a roach PROBLEM.

And as a warning, let me tell you to get in a habit of checking your shoes every time you put them on. It only takes one instance of blurrily awakening, putting on your fuzzy bunny slippers, and feeling something MOVING on your toes to give you the heebie jeebies for life.
posted by MsMolly at 12:48 PM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing the boric acid. I grew up in Houston and that was the go-to stuff for handling the big "outdoor" roaches. Used around cats, dogs, children, hamsters - no problems.
posted by jeoc at 7:10 PM on August 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, y'all. You were totally right. I haven't seen a big roach since. I have had nightly sightings of what I thought must be nymphal roaches (hardly bigger than a mustard seed) in my bathroom, coming out from under the bathtub, but they never get any bigger, so I'm starting to wonder if that's even what they are.
posted by threeants at 7:27 PM on September 15, 2011

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