Roaches! Not for the first time, not for the last time.
September 28, 2013 4:31 PM   Subscribe

We have a roach infestation in our new apartment. Ha ha ha. What's a good gameplan? Is it weird that I've accepted it?

After this sad, pathetic yelp of an AskMe, I made my move to Chicago. I rented a small sublet sight-unseen (that happened to have a horrible house centipede infestation, but it was cheap), slept with the lights on, lived in denial, and got excited for my real move. I found a nice one-bedroom apartment in an older, university-owned building. Because it was unversity-owned (like the dorms! in which I've never seen a single roach!) I was optimistic. I talked to the previous tenant who said he never had any kind of bug problems, even after leaving for 1-2 months for research and coming back and expecting to see some spiders or something. The neighbors all said they liked the place and concurred that it was generally bug-free. The rent was not exactly cheap, so I didn't feel like I was moving into a slum. Alas, it was an old, multi-unit building. I was in a hurry to move, but I genuinely felt safe!

Our third night, I saw a weird brown bug crawling along the baseboard. Killed it, obviously a roach. Two days later, my boyfriend saw one crawling on the kitchen counter. Smallish, brown, German cockroaches, clearly a pre-existing infestation as we barely had any food and no furniture and had barely used the sink yet. We called the (free) building exterminators, who came, sprayed around all the radiators, put some gel in the kitchen, and left in about 10 minutes.

Two days later, dead roach near the sink. Cool that it's dead and everything. About thirty minutes later, live roach swarming around the dining room floor, taking cover under plastic bags.

So now it's today and I haven't seen any, yet. I am planning on calling maintenance on Monday morning and explaining the sightings, asking for information (is this a "thing" in this apartment, has it been managed in the past), and seeing if they'll come seal up holes in the walls/between walls and floors. After that, I assume they'll tell me to contact the exterminator again in accordance with further problems.

So, like. I kind of literally can't believe it. I was thorough this time, did my due diligence, but I guess I didn't heed the old/multi-unit advice. But everyone was so assuring, I really thought that this couldn't happen... again. But it did!

So, my question is, is there any way that previous tenant could have been telling the truth? He moved out about two weeks before we moved in, and they did significant remodeling (new flooring, new bathtub, new toilet, new sink) in the bathroom and put a new oven in the kitchen. I checked the cupboards, stove and refrigerator both when the previous tenant was living here as well as after he vacated and both times, no roach droppings, no dead roaches, no live roaches, no eggs. His refrigerator was kind of messy-sticky and he kept big stacks of paper in the cupboards. Somehow I just doubt that if there were roaches, he wouldn't have been a good target, and never would have seen them. Could maintenance have knocked things around so much they they've begun to emerge? Can they be sealed back into their portal to the underworld?

One theory is that since it's been a long, unseasonably hot late summer, they multiplied more than usual and we're seeing the typical summer influx that happens in most places. The fact that previous tenant didn't see them was maybe a function of him being away for most of summer? But he made it sound like he'd never seen a single one. Oh, the other thing, we've seen a few house centipedes too, but they're always babies. The roaches are always babies-to-teenagers. No big fat bugs anywhere. Is it because the exterminators come so often... ? They're scheduled to come every 3rd Thursday, but also come on-call. In a way it's a relief, but also what the heck.

I'm strangely not freaked out by this. I think the house centipedes (ughh) desensitized me (even worse than roaches!), and the fact that they're small roaches is less gross, even though it means they're more tenacious. I want to go full-force against these things and will, but like, is it weird that I don't want to high-tail it out of here? Plenty of people must live this way, right? It's gross, and they could give me e. coli, but... probably not?

I mean, there are grad students raising babies in these apartments, are these babies all going to get asthma? What are the risks? How normal is this?

Thanks, y'all. You've been there for me through all my bug-related traumas.
posted by stoneandstar to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you still have boxes from your move? Where did you get the boxes from? In my experience, one of the things roaches love more than a whole lot of things is the glue on cardboard boxes, and they like laying eggs in them.

So you may have brought them with you, and the centipedes as well. You're only seeing small ones because they're hatching in waves and then getting exterminated.

But also, yes, it's late summer and they're looking for water.

The entire South lives with roaches all the time. Florida and Texas would be completely empty if roaches were that dangerous and/or a reason to move.

I'm not sure what roaches have to do with asthma or e.coli. There's e.coli on everything.

Get the exterminator back out, get all your boxes and packing material out of the house. You may see a wave or two more but the weather should kick in pretty soon.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:44 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can they be sealed back into their portal to the underworld?

To this, yes, they can -- but first make sure they're not actually IN something in your apartment rather than coming through the walls.

I think it's very very likely the culprit is those holes and cracks around your nice new bathtub, toilet, and sink. Remember that roaches can get through anything the width of a sheet of paper or larger, so make sure everything is sealed up well.

I would also look with a lot more suspicion at (and under, behind, and inside of) that fridge. Seal up all cracks in and around the cupboards, and check behind them too - or just spray Raid behind them if you can't see behind them well enough. Caution: if you do that, you might have nightmares afterwards.

Here is my full advice for creating a roach-free zone. I wrote this for someone else so some of it doesn't apply to you since you don't have a bunch of clutter in there, for example, but I'll give it all to you anyway.

"Seal all the cracks along your baseboards. Seal any cracks in the walls and ceiling and around electrical fixtures and inside and around cupboards. Make sure your windows shut tightly with no openings. If there's a gap between the bottom of your doors and the floor get a rubber thing to stick on the bottom that will fill the gap. Look at all the different places water gets into your place (pipes, drains, around the tub, around your sinks) and seal up anything that's larger than the width of a sheet of paper. Get screen covers for all your drains.

It won't matter as much if your building is infested, even if the walls are full of them which they probably are, if they can't get from inside the walls to actually inside your place.

Then the killing of what's already in your place. If I were you I would check under all your sinks, inside all the cupboards, and I would check inside all the appliances (fridge, toaster, dishwasher), maybe even take the backs off of them and check inside their inner workings. Clear up all clutter, especially piles of papers. Clean up any food and trash.

Completely seal around all your cupboards where they meet the wall, so that there is absolutely no gap between the cupboards and the wall. If you're mainly seeing roaches in the kitchen I would bet a bunch that you have a lot of them back behind there, unless the gap is big enough that you can actually see into it to check.

After that I would coat the perimeter of all the rooms with boric acid.

This sounds like a ton of work, but it takes maybe a couple hours."
posted by cairdeas at 5:19 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

[T]he exterminators... [are] scheduled to come every 3rd Thursday, but also come on-call.

This schedule strikes me as alarmingly frequent.
posted by carmicha at 5:22 PM on September 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure what roaches have to do with asthma or e.coli.

Just for information's sake, roach droppings are a trigger of asthma in children, it's definitely a public health issue in NYC.
posted by cairdeas at 5:23 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get calk, find every crack and seam. Lightly dust boric acid under cabinets, behind refrigerator check door frame step, if this fails try a Mediterranean house gecko !
posted by hortense at 5:28 PM on September 28, 2013

We had a roach problem when we moved in about three years ago. Extermination brought a bunch of them out in the open to die, but it never took care of the problem.

Then we did two things:

1. Boric acid (a powder) in key places where they may be crawling out. They track this stuff back to their nests and it's incredibly effective.

2. We sealed up all possible cracks/entrances to the kitchen (where the problem seemed to be) with caulk, as they live behind stuff. This took an evening and a lot of flexibility as I got in behind all the cupboards and storage areas, and behind the stove.

It takes a few days for the boric acid to do its work, but when it does, the problem is pretty much done. With spots sealed up, I suspect that it also kept them from finding places to escape.

We haven't seen one roach since then.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:50 PM on September 28, 2013

My apartment was sprayed for roaches a few weeks ago and the building manager told me to expect to see a lot of them immediately post-spraying. Apparently the poison makes them loopy and they just kinda wander around until they die. So if you saw a swarm the day after the exterminator came, I would think that's what it was.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 6:24 PM on September 28, 2013

No, it's not weird that you don't want to hightail it out of there, and yes, you can coexist with the roaches. I mean you should take the actions you're planning on taking to get rid of them. But they might crop up again now and then, and it's not the end of the world. They're unpleasant for sure, but sometimes just a (hopefully temporary) fact of life.

By the way house centipedes actually prey on cockroaches and other nasties. I live in an old house and have learned to tolerate them; mostly I don't even bother trying to kill the centipedes. Except for being alarming-looking, they're okay critters to have around.
posted by torticat at 10:13 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just another data point: every apartment in NYC I've ever lived in has an exterminator come once a month, including the very nice and not-infested coop I currently live in. I wouldn't call that frequency alarming at all.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:31 AM on September 29, 2013

South Florida move in procedure is always to set off two bombs before you move anything in, and then remove all of your packing materials and set off two more before you bring in the food/pets/kids.

Bombs used to be oily, nasty, dangerous twelve-hour clearance affairs. Now they take two hours and it''s safe to go back in. In a multi-unit, you can seal the outside bottom of the front door with painter's tape, and stick a note on the door.

Roach motels are very effective at breaking an infestation, but don't just buy one or two - buy a six-pack and place them upright along the cabinet baseboards in the kitchen, underneath the toe-kick space. They will do everything they are going to do in two weeks, which is break the reproductive chain by making females produce unfertilized ooliths.

Pull out all of the drawers in the kitchen and check the sides and bottoms for evidence.

Apparently the poison makes them loopy and they just kinda wander around until they die.

Cockroaches invented the "operatic death scene" long before it was ever seen on a stage. Our gigantic American Cockroaches/Palmetto Bugs are masters of the art.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:09 AM on September 29, 2013

Not an immediate solution unless you can transplant some from your old sublet, but torticat's right: learn to love house centipedes. They're great. They're harmless to humans, and they eat cockroaches and lots of other things you don't want around (termites, bedbugs, silverfish). Alarming-looking, but seriously beneficial. We've got a fair number in our house, and the only problem we ever have with them is occasionally having to rescue one when it falls in the kitchen sink and can't get out. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure that they've headed off a few cockroach invasions over the years.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:40 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happened to me once in SF. Moved in to a new apartment to find thousands of roommates that weren't on the lease. Very bad infestation.

At the time it was the worst thing ever. I couldn't sleep at night, I was afraid to eat anything, it sent my anxiety through the roof. But in the grand scheme of things it wasn't that bad. I'd say it was about two weeks from seeing roaches everywhere to never seeing them again, and I stayed in that apartment for years. I didn't even seal anything, I just had the exterminator come twice on the landlord's bill. He dusted that powder around all the walls, cabinets, and the crown molding (yes there were roaches up there, ugh) and after two passes they were gone forever.

If you can swing it, a cat is a pretty effective roach deterrent.

Also, don't go looking for blame here. In dense cities, in old buildings, they are just everywhere and it's probably no one's fault. Remodeling can bring them out of the woodwork, so can moving when the unit might be vacant for a while. So, just try to get through it and tell yourself that the worst of it will be over soon. Extermination takes time but it does work.
posted by annekate at 9:39 AM on September 29, 2013

Thanks, everybody! I didn't use any cardboard boxes to move; thankfully (because I'd be freaking out about all my stuff by now) I barely have any possessions at the moment. It's possible roaches could've come with in my one suitcase but dayum, did they multiply/grow up fast. I think it's more likely they were already here, but that means the previous tenant was either a liar or a madman (... or the Son of God).

Saw another one today around noon (in the light of day, wtf!). Was it probably out because we poisoned it? So far we've done the spraying and the gel near the fridge (by the exterminators) and put diatomaceous earth under/behind the fridge, oven, and microwave, and around most of the perimeters. It was just crawling (slowish but not in a sickly fashion) across the floor... was it dying? Or just chilling out? Dumb things.

Anyway I called building management this morning and we're getting an exterminator to come do an inspection tomorrow so yayyy. I'm starting to get very suspicious of the fridge; it's clean inside but the spaces where you can see into the ventilation look very dirty and I wish we could get a new one. They're definitely living it up in the kitchen area. We've only found one dead one since the exterminator came.

We've seen about six roaches in two weeks now... it could be worse, but it could be a looot better.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:14 PM on September 30, 2013

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