Cockroach genocide?
June 25, 2005 3:30 AM   Subscribe

GAH! Cockroaches! Please help!

Short story: I want your cockroach eradication knowledge. It can be anecdotal, scientific, folk lore, whatever. It can be poisons or traps or advice on how to seal up the apartment to keep them from getting in and moving around.

Long story:

I've moved into a new apartment with my GF. The new (oldish) apartment came with a bunch of roaches. The previous tenant was (literally) a filthy crack-ho pig. Well, meth-ho, more likely. Seriously. I met her and her posse when we were visiting the apartment 4-plex and checking it out. She was seriously one of the most offensive, assuming, and demeaning people I've ever met, and I've been around the block a few times and lived in some pretty screwed up places.

The neighbors in this four-plex are visibly not that clean, but they're mostly nice and I really don't want to be that sort of new neighbor that makes life hell for everyone.

Plus, at least two of the three neighbors have physical/medical/age issues - to the point that once I get settled in here I'm seriously considering going down and helping them clean up a bit. I do not enjoy cleaning. At all. But they can probably use the help. And if it decreases the roaches here by reducing them there, even better.

The landlord is a state away in California- and seems like a nice guy. He knocked our first months rent almost in half, after a previously agreed upon free half-month, for our patience with the hassles.

Short story on the hassles: The temporary folks he hired to clean the place before we moved in bailed out on him. We moved in three days after he said it'd be ready to find out that literally nothing had been cleaned. Not even a partially vacuumed carpet. The cupboards under the kitchen sink had a layer of roach droppings in it like a fine mulch. There were dirty dishes still in the dishwasher.

We've been sprayed - and it sucks. I can still feel and smell the fumes and outgassing. We're being extra clean. I've put down roach discs and a handful of glue traps (the kind for mice and rats, but cockroaches stick to them even better)

I could "live with" the roaches - if by "living with" we meant "terminating them with prejudice, keeping extra clean, keeping foodstuffs sealed and put away, but not generally freaking out about them and letting them run the place."

But my girlfriend can't. She's terrified of them and totally disgusted by them. I can understand that. If this place was crawling with spiders, however harmless, I'd be pretty upset.

We want to keep them to a minimum and/or eliminate them before they mature to the legendary 3-6 inch long mature ones that Phoenix, AZ is infamous for.

I'm open to any and all suggestions except for "move" and "sue the slumlord". This apartment is a frickin' huge - totally ginormous - two bedroom for under $600 a month, a welcome change from a tiny, ill-configured studio in totally ghetto LA for $800. The location and proximity to workplaces is awesome. Trader Joe's is fifteen minutes away. And the landlord seems nice - which is a huge bonus in a world of megacomplexes with faceless bearaucrats for management.
posted by loquacious to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Boric Acid is the traditional appraoch. Pretty sure it's the active ingredient of products like "Roach-Pruf", etc.

Though I once heard of a novel approach -- that I'll classify as "folklore". My grandfather used to say that setting out of small pile of plaster of paris next to a tiny bowl of water would zap roaches, who would (presumably) eat the plaster, drink the water, and harden into little calcified roach rocks.
posted by RavinDave at 3:58 AM on June 25, 2005

I have never forgotten this classic cockroach killing advice from Cecil Adams. I hope it helps.

You, and especially your girlfriend, have my total wigging out sympathy.
posted by melissa may at 4:00 AM on June 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

I hate to say it, but there may be a reason that this apartment is so cheap. As long as there are places for them to live, breed, and eat nearby, you're going to keep seeing them. It's almost impossible to actually seal off all tiny openings through which the cockroaches are going to enter your apartment, especially if it's somewhat older.

You can keep killing the ones that enter your apartment by any of these means, but, as long as there are these other potential sources nearby, you'll keep seeing them in some numbers, forever.

(Had a similar problem; city owned brownstone next door, always saw a few cockroaches, no matter how much caulking/cleaning/poisoning. Once the city evicted the tenants, they hired a crew to literally strip it to the bare bricks and joists. After one last huge wave of refugees for a day or two, we haven't since seen a single one.)
posted by bemis at 5:35 AM on June 25, 2005

I don't think my roaches are as bad as yours (a layer of roach droppings in it like a fine mulch... eeeeeeekkk!!), but I still scream everytime I see one. Can you convince your landlord to contract with Terminix or some other pest-control company? I'm in sort of the same position as you, with the not-so-clean neighbors and can't-beat-the-price-etc apartment. Sounds like your landlord is happy to have a non-meth-head tenant, so this may be an easy request.

Trying to kill the roaches myself, with store-bought bait things and syringes of foul brown goop and borax sprinkles was time-consuming and might have worked a little, but in the end, only seemed to clear the path for more visitors from downstairs.

Since Terminix started coming every month, putting stinky poison goo in all the cracks in my kitchen (causing near-instant evacuation of sad withering cockroaches... eeew!) and spraying what I assume is some sort of borax-in-liquid spray around all the borders of every room, their populations have been vastly decreased. I suppose you could do stinky anti-bug goo and borax spray yourself, but having someone else do it (and do all the units at once) made me a lot saner.

And remember that dead roaches are better than living ones. You'll probably start finding a lot of carcasses after they start dying in droves. Having your girlfriend repeat that like a little mantra might help... it helped me get over the heebie-jeebies a bit sooner I think.
posted by kittyb at 6:01 AM on June 25, 2005

I'm afraid bemis is right—as long as you can't control what goes on in the other apartments, the little bastards are going to get in, though you can reduce the problem by killing them off efficiently once they get there. I think kittyb's solution will only work if the other tenants cooperate, and that sounds like a long shot. But do give RavinDave's grandfather's idea a try: my wife loves the idea of "roach rocks" and says you can sell them as urban jewelry if it works.
posted by languagehat at 7:35 AM on June 25, 2005

First of all, we've had two good cockroach threads that I'm too lazy to look up, but do have a look at them; I know I gave excellent advice in the last one.

But I'm not chastising you at all! Not at all. There can never be too many cockroach questions, because who knows which one might turn up a new answer from a new user (or an old dog who has learned new cockroach tricks) that might work for a particular person in a particular circumstance.

Having lived in somewhat the same circumstances as you, the good news is that if you are the one ultraclean apartment in the complex, they will for the most part stay elsewhere. If a careless neighbor moves out and that apartment stays vacant for a while, or is taken over by a clean person, you will have more invasions as the swarm goes searching for new opportunities.

You will always have to deal with the stray cockroach as long as you have careless neighbors. But, if you use every trick in the book, you can live almost normally ...with this caveat: You probably won't be able to do so using only holistic, natural, non-toxic methods. The last time I had this problem, I had pretty good success with a combination of efforts that included nuking the hell out everything.

aha! on preview, here's my answer to muckster's post
posted by taz at 8:20 AM on June 25, 2005

You can get the Hot Shot Roach Powder at any Home Depot -- what we have is in an orange-labelled bottle/plastic container thingy. We have a house, so it's going around the outside of the foundation. I dont know if you can or want to do this with your building, but the stuff is cheap. Boric acid works to keep out all manner of pests from roaches to scorpions to silver fish --- my parents live in the sticks and swear by the stuff. Other than that, I would beg, plead, cajole, and threaten for a professional exterminator to visit the whole building. Help your elderly/disabled neighbors with cleaning their apartments. Community service is good for the soul and is also bad for cockroaches. :)

Closing thought: are you talking real roaches or palmetto bugs? Palmetto bugs are much larger, and are there because of water. Real small roaches are there because of dirtiness.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:31 AM on June 25, 2005

fumigate - then move.

fumigation will at least ensure that you don't have tiny little tenants inside of your furniture while you move to your new place.


if you are surrounded by people with 'medical issues' that are not proactively contributing to the eradication of these beasts, then you are SOL. No matter how much money you throw at the problem, if there is a safe haven for the roaches to go to while your place is fumigated - they will return in a week or two when the fumes have gone.

get out of there now.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:41 AM on June 25, 2005

Supella supellectilium. These are the nasty little things loq and I have in our apartment. The brown banded roach.
We had an exterminator come in and spray 1 week ago and there has been literally no difference in the amount of roaches running around.
We are going out to buy Borax and that Hot Shot powder from Home Depot RIGHT NOW. Thanks everyone!
posted by phytage at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2005

seawallrunner, two things:

First, the poster said "I'm open to any and all suggestions except for 'move' and 'sue the slumlord'".

Second, have you ever lived in a big city? There are a lot of reasons one might want to stay in a particular place, even if the neighbors aren't the best. I did, and was really happy (actually, I felt positively blessed by the apartment gods) to have the place I had, even though I had to consistently deal with the roach problem, among other inconveniences.
posted by taz at 11:23 AM on June 25, 2005

One thing that worked for us magnificently when we lived in an apartment was something called roach paste. It came in a tube. Simply apply as the directions suggest, in places like under sinks, etc. I would do this along with the other suggestions. If the other neighbors are amenable buy enough to treat their places too. The roaches eat it and die. It isn't instant but it works.

They do get immune to poisons and sprays, so those are temporary solutions.
posted by konolia at 12:47 PM on June 25, 2005

Diatomaceous earth has always worked for me: it's safe for people and pets, cheap & effective. Slightly messy, and you shouldn't inhale clouds of it, but otherwise has no down sides. I love the stuff. (Also works on bedbugs.)
posted by chrysippus at 1:25 PM on June 25, 2005

After giving your home an intense dose of poison, you might think about getting a cat. It won't have much of an impact on a substantial roach problem, but once you can reduce them to a manageable number, a cat can do quite a bit of dirty work for you.
When he lived in a place that got roaches, my cat would hunt them ferociously. Sometimes, he ate them, but most of the time, he would chase them around and then flip them over onto their backs and watch them die. The first time he did that, it struck me as being kind of gross but I came to appreciate his wicked exterminations.
posted by Jon-o at 1:48 PM on June 25, 2005

The best solution I think is to talk to your neighbours - if you have roaches, they have roaches, and if they also have mobility/medical issues, you could be doing them a huge favour if you bait their ktichens and bathrooms as well as your own. Fight as a team! It probably means lots more work for you, but if it eliminates the roaches and makes you a neighbourly person at the same time, everyone wins.

Or, you could go out and get yourself a bushel of common house centipedes - I don't have roaches because I (unfortunately) have a tonne of these - they eat roach eggs. Sure, I spend a lot of time screaming and standing on chairs, but I do not have roaches.
posted by sperare at 3:26 PM on June 25, 2005

cats cannot be relied upon to kill cockroaches ... the ones my x had would just watch them crawl across the floor and wouldn't lift a paw to kill them

some cats aren't even all that interested in killing mice ...
posted by pyramid termite at 4:54 PM on June 25, 2005

Not borax but boracic acif (i don't think they are the same)

When we were infested with roaches I used to sprinkle a band of the white boracic acid powder around the bottom of the kitchen walls. It needs to be thick enough so that every bug coming in has to walk in it - random dusting here and there isn't enough. It isn't pretty to find all the dead bugs in the morning and there are always more coming from the neighboring apartments, but boracic acid really does decrease the problem by an order of magnitude if used daily for a few days. I didn't find a real total cure unfortunately (gasbagging a whole building might do the trick, if it's detached, but that's not feasible in most SF apartments!)
posted by anadem at 5:15 PM on June 25, 2005

Combat Roach Gel.

The first night I moved into my current apartment a roach so huge you could've ridden the bastard crawled out of the toilet. A co-worker told me to get the stuff. I applied it to all baseboards, cabinets, etc. and we were unbothered by a single roach for a year. Then we applied it again. Same deal. This shit works.
posted by jonmc at 6:39 PM on June 25, 2005

I know you don't want to move, but if you change your mind, the Phoenix metro area has lots of really nice, cockroach-free condos and apartments to rent for around $800 a month. I don't understand why you would want to live somewhere so gross, Trader Joe's proximity notwithstanding.

Anyway, that's not helpful, so let me second either diatomaceous earth or boric acid. (If you have pets, do not leave boric acid in the open.) Both are safer and more effective than repeadedly fumigating.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:04 PM on June 25, 2005

cats i hear are great with roaches (as long as you understand that the cat is a pet too not just a roach-muching machine!), but you'll have to get rid of all the baits/traps/etc so you don't kill your kitty too!

ditto on the attacking neighbors' places, also spray raid outside the place.

good luck!
posted by radioamy at 10:09 PM on June 25, 2005

Thanks again for the great answers and links.

I visited the downstairs neighbors yesterday to trade some tech support for some muscle in getting a couch upstairs, and popped the cockroach question.

They apparently don't have any, but they did have a cricket problem last year.

However, it turns out that the previous tenants in the apartment next door had a pretty hardcore dumpster diving fetish, and that's apparently when the roaches first turned up.

So there's hope. We're assuming since our apartment was mostly vacated and not too clean, they established a foothold here because there wasn't really anyone taking care of the place.

The going theory among the neighbors about the previously mentioned meth-ho was that she was subleasing this place as a "safe house" or party house or something, with all kinds of random folks showing up and staying here for a few days or less at a time, at all kinds of random hours.

As for the "not moving" thing. It's really not that bad. The apartment building is in decent shape. Our unit is in decent shape, it just needs even more detail cleaning and TLC. The neighbors are friendly.

Even for Phoenix, this place is gigantic for the price. I mean, it's like 1,200 square feet or more. It has washer/dryer hookups and a dedicated closet for them. It has an excellent central AC system, with is literally essential in Phoenix.

The landlord is really quite friendly by comparison, and so far willing to work on almost any problem, though since he's operating remotely it seems like he has a tendency to hire weirdos and non-professionals to get stuff done, but I'm ok with that. It's just one of the hazards of living on the fringe, and if my patience allows other marginals and weirdos to make a living and survive, I'm even happier.

And speaking of living on the fringe: Our credit sucks pretty badly. We're fortunate to get into this place with a low deposit and the free rent we got. Plus, I honestly and emphatically do not feel comfortable living in a white-washed, mainstream condo complex, even if credit and money were no question. I'd personally be much happier in a concrete tilt-up warehouse where I could play music loudly, hammer on things at 3 in the morning, build an indoor halfpipe and skateboard naked, throw parties, make art, and otherwise be a weirdo.

As for cats, we have two, but they're useless. We also have two rats, which love to chase the cats around whenever we let them out for a run. (The glue traps and poison-bait discs I put down a few days ago are totally inaccessible to both the cats and rats.)

Thanks again MeFites! :)
posted by loquacious at 8:52 AM on June 26, 2005

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