How big of guns do I need to bring to this battle?
September 12, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Roaches, how worried should I be?

I saw my first roach in my new apartment :( Boo.

I've been in the apartment for almost 2 months and this is the first sign I've had of any roaches. I've been doing research since then, and I've notice a light amount of what look like coffee grounds and I assume are roach droppings on the counter and in the cabinet. I'm not happy, but I plan on putting down glue traps and roach motels. I have heard boric acid is the best stuff to use, but I have cats so I'm worried that cats and borax don't mix.

I'm unhappy, but not super stressed out or worried by the scenario. I live in the middle of the city, I understand this to be a fairly common problem and there are steps to take. Sadly my girlfriend is another issue. When I told her that I saw one, she up and left. She's been really unhappy about the whole situation and told me that she'd be really uncomfortable coming over until there is no risk of an sort of transference.

I'm curious if I really need to be so worried. She has essentially said I should consider breaking the lease over this and should resign all of my furniture to the dump when I leave. The fear from her is that they will follow me everywhere from now on. I'm not so extreme in my views yet, I fully understand it could spiral out of control and I could have a huge issue on my hands, BUT I don't think the evidence is there yet from just seeing one.

TLDR version; How worried do I need to be about seeing this one cockroach? Am I royally screwed over from now and forever because of this? Can anyone link me anything specific to either convince me or her as to the severity of this?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you live in an urban apartment, you are going to see roaches. Period.

That said, seeing droppings like you describe definitely means you should get on top of the situation. It sounds like you're already taking some steps at making sure you don't develop an actual Roach Problem, and that's good. There're lots of threads here on AskMefi on the topic, so you'll have no trouble putting together a battle plan. You should also make sure to find out when your building's exterminator comics by, and be home to let them in. Tell them you have cats, and they'll let you know if there's anything you have to worry about -- I have two cats and I've had zero problems with boric acid or with anything the exterminator has put down.

Your girlfriend is massively overreacting. I, too, have had giant freakouts about seeing a roach in my kitchen -- I mean, I'm not saying that her reaction isn't understandable. But this isn't a lease-breaking situation. And if she's never seen a single roach in her own urban apartment, she's a pretty lucky individual, or else she just doesn't spend very much time there.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:17 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

(er, "comes by." I guess that was my subconscious telling me to stop wasting time on mefi and get back to work on my comic.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:18 PM on September 12, 2011

Look, I loathe roaches with the white hot heat of a thousand suns, but your girlfriend sounds a little, um, high-strung. Transference? Getting rid of all your stuff? Is it possible she's confusing roaches with bed bugs?
posted by lalex at 3:19 PM on September 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Was it a big cockroach or a small cockroach? Big ones are actually better because they are usually loners just looking for water, they are ugly as hell and I woke up with one on my face one night (some days I really hate Texas) but I still knew it was better than having small ones. Small ones are the ones that lead to infestations.

I borax my carpets every couple of months and I have a line of it across all doors and put it in cupboards and stuff. I also have a small dog and a cat, never had any problems.

Do a search because I know there are like 4-5 (at least) roach threads in here.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:20 PM on September 12, 2011

Absolutely talk to your apartment manager about getting the exterminator in sooner rather than later - but there isn't any need to panic. You *can* get infestations in your furniture, but it takes a lot of neglect for things to get to that point. And I'd be very surprised if *people* were common transfer mechanisms for roaches from apartment to apartment. I mean, even a very young cockroach is a lot bigger than a bedbug.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 3:23 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're seeing cockroach dropping on the counter and other places, you have more than one cockroach. You've got a colony.

The best way to get rid of roaches is to deny them a comfortable place to live. This means washing dishes, taking out trash, vacuuming daily, getting rid of clutter (including newspapers and clothes on the floor), making sure areas under sofas etc are vacuumed. Make sure there is no water to be found. Plug up drains. Keep windows screened and closed. Keep your apartment extremely clean. Clean out your closets.

Use glue traps in the likely places and you will start to get an edge on these guys.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:27 PM on September 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

I want to reiterate that you should tackle this head-on and go full out. Roaches can easily multiply and become a nuisance. Definitely take all of the precautions mentioned in this thread, such as: no water anywhere (dry out the sinks and everything), seal up all food items, don't leave any paper/cardboard items around, put borax along the baseboards, doors, etc., tell the apartment manager and neighbors, etc. etc.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2011

There have been quite a few questions that address parts of yours, including:
posted by ninekinds at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2011

I've had huge success (vs. a paid exterminator) with blocking their entry into the house. That meant using duct tape, caulking, and foam to block all crevices under sinks and around cupboards that share a wall with plumbing. It seems like they like to use pipes as their entry points.
posted by maulik at 3:44 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have no cockroach advice. However, for what it's worth: your girlfriend sounds like me - I overreact just like that to the existence of bloodsucking and/or infesting creatures - and if she *is* like me, she'll calm down as she gets used to the idea.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2011

I have no cockroach advice. However, for what it's worth: your girlfriend sounds like me - I overreact just like that to the existence of bloodsucking and/or infesting creatures - and if she *is* like me, she'll calm down as she gets used to the idea.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature


Was the roach big or small?
posted by cyndigo at 4:06 PM on September 12, 2011


Yes! I've been posting in bug ID threads for ages, and you're the first person to notice...
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:15 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've used boric acid to get rid of pests in the past and my cats never cared about it either way. From that perspective, have at it.
posted by barc0001 at 4:57 PM on September 12, 2011

First, don't panic. They don't really hurt anything (except aesthetics and resale value) unless you have a specific allergy to them; and they actually remove certain types of debris we normally overlook anyway.

That said, you have one really easy (if time-consuming) answer, and one complicating factor here.

For the answer - Clean, clean, clean. And I don't mean "wipe everything down with bleach", not trying to kill mold here... But dust like you've never dusted before; clean every possible place any sort of organic debris could hide - Bits of food (including pet food), animal dander, even soap scum... Think about all the most vile places in your house, places no one expects you to clean - Under/behind the stove/fridge/washing machine/toilet, in the cracks between the floorboards, the inside of your radiators or heating ducts, the gross sticky areas in the inch between your cabinets and the ceiling, etc. Places that you don't ever apply the five second rule, you just consider that last M&M gone for good. Now do it again the next day. And the next. And keep it clean. Roaches vanish in the absence of food...


You said you live in an apartment (as opposed to single-resident housing). That means any of your neighbors can (and will, without knowing better) keep feeding them. You may well have no choice but an exterminator.

Note that I don't mean to insult your cleaning skills here... We all ignore those places except for perhaps the once-or-twice-a-year seasonal cleaning. But once you have something like roaches establish themselves, you have two choices - Poison literally every square inch of your living space, or starve them out.

As for your girlfriend... She has it half right, aside from the massive over-reaciton. Realistically, you will transfer eggs or even a few live roaches anywhere you go, via your clothes and furniture and books and what-have-you. But the above "clean" idea still applies to a new living space - If they have nothing to eat, they won't take hold and will just die out without you ever even noticing them.
posted by pla at 4:59 PM on September 12, 2011

I hate roaches. With the fire of a thousand suns. That said, I've had to kill two in the past week. Big, uh-gly, you've-turned-on-the-light-and-there-they-are roaches.

But, well, that's the good news. As far as I've been told, big ones are not the ones you need to worry about. As mentioned above, they're just looking for stuff. They're the explorers of the roach world. Since there's been two in a week, the traps are going out as soon as I pick them up from the store. Still, they're big. Little ones are the one's that were born/hatched in your home. When you start seeing little ones, that's when you should freak out, and nuke the site from orbit.

Big ones? That's why god invented rolled up magazines. Careful, they splatter.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:33 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Boric acid won't do anything except perhaps contain, rather than eradicate the problem. Like I said, keeping your place fucking *clean* and free of clutter, and sealing off all holes, is your only chance to win the war.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:06 PM on September 12, 2011

Clean is definitely right (damn... I've been putting off cleaning the stove). Anecdotally, I've heard that putting out too many traps (the scented/baited sort) can actually attract roaches from elsewhere. Clean is the best way.

As for apartments, you're kind of screwed in another way. Here in Japan, we have literal bug bombs. You put the canister down, step on the lever, and get the hell out of your apartment for several hours. A friend did this, and another friend who lived next door said he had a sudden flood (seriously, dozens) of cockroaches come running across his floor and walls and ceiling and ewwww.

Starve them out. Cleanliness is your best option.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:21 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get an exterminator in to do a thorough killing. (If you see one, there are twenty you don't see.)

Then get boric acid (the kind in a white bottle with a pointed dispenser tip). It's a fine powder. Mix it with enough water to create a squirtable paste. Squirt this into the cracks and seams in your kitchen. Follow up with caulk, so when your neighbors find roaches and call an exterminator, they don't try to come back to your place.

Like your gf, I am skeeved mightily by insects, although the odds of her accidentally taking one back to her apartment is low.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:36 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

We had roaches at my apartment for a while, but took a few steps to get rid of them and (knock on wood) haven't seen a single one for weeks now.

We keep our kitchen VERY clean, take the trash out every night, do dishes every night, and have lots of traps out. Memail me if you want more specifics.

Yes, it sucks, but with some work you can deal with the problem.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:42 PM on September 12, 2011

Boric acid and borax are not the same thing. For your purposes, what you want is boric acid. Roaches walk through it and it sticks to them, so they eat it off. Borax is coarser and doesn't do that, although it's still poisonous for roaches to eat. What you definitely do not want to do, with cats, is sprinkle boric acid around anywhere they might step in it.

By the way, I lived in the city for several years before I ever saw a single one of these little roaches. It is not guaranteed that if you live in a city you'll have roaches. But if you see roach droppings in your cabinet, you definitely have more than one roach and you should tackle this head-on.

I do have to say, if you've only seen one in two months, it is not a terrible infestation and you're in a very good place to keep the roaches at bay. If you do all the roach-fighting stuff well, they probably won't be infesting your things (though they may always be able to find a way in, depending on the setup of your place and if your neighbors have them), and they'll probably be limited to the kitchen at most or a stray one wandering around in boric acid-induced delirium, awaiting death. I totally freaked out in the style of your girlfriend when I discovered I had a roach problem in my current apartment, but now I only see one decrepit little roach every month or so as well as occasional dead baby roaches in my cabinet. Dead because they were born into boric acid. What a world.
posted by wondermouse at 8:51 PM on September 12, 2011

One in two months is not bad at all. When it gets bad they will be in the the fridge, various electronics,they seem to like TVs maybe because they are warm, and any paper you have. What you need is an exterminator who comes every week. If it is an apartment building speak to the building manage there is probably one that comes to do the basement areas.

I've seen a lot of roaches in my day, I saw a situation once where I was literally vacuuming them up with a vacuum cleaner. I was in an apartment where everything in the refrigerator was covered in roaches and the cat was chasing them around batting them like toys. Twice in my life I saw what I swear must be Madagascar hissing roaches, I hit them with a broom repeatedly and they still got away. I have never once see roach droppings.

Get a exterminator that comes every week and you will be fine.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:57 AM on September 13, 2011

OP, where are you? In tropical and sub-tropical areas (Brisbane Australia, for example) huge ones fly in at night in Summer. You have to have the windows and doors open because it's so hot. It's nothing to do with how clean or otherwise your kitchen is, and there's also nothing you can do about it apart from keep them from staying...

I would be amazed if there was a single kitchen in Brisbane that never had a roach.
posted by FrereKhan at 8:19 AM on September 13, 2011

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