How do I kill infrequent but terrifying giant bugs in my NYC apartment?
July 3, 2017 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm talking about those giant water bugs/palmetto bugs/giant cockroaches. Whatever you call them. They travel alone, so it's not an infestation; I see one to three a year on average, usually in hot, humid weather in my Brooklyn apartment. Just saw one this morning. I lose a few months off my life whenever I encounter one.

I'm a competent adult woman, but this is a real terror for me. A phobia, but only when I see them in the confines of my apartment. Outside, my motto is live and let live. I've thought of going to a hypnotist or something because the best case scenario is that I could peacefully coexist with these monsters when they show up on occasion. Also good would be to figure out how they're getting in, but I have no idea. I live in an old three-family building, and I'm sure there are all kinds of imperfect seals and ways they get in.

Do you have a tried and true method for killing them. The problem is that I'm so phobic it's hard for me to get near them to kill them. Any advice would be appreciated. Commiseration also welcome.
posted by swheatie to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm horrified by those things too. I usually try to get them with my vacuum cleaner's very long extension, then vacuum up a few puffs of insecticidal powder, and then hide the vacuum cleaner in a closet and try not to think about it for a week, because emptying the dust container will be another task.
posted by moonmilk at 9:02 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am equally phobic and the only reason I can bring myself to kill them instead of hiding from them is the lingering terror of trying to sleep knowing a cockroach is roaming freely in my apartment.

I usually just smoosh them with whatever I can find and then clean like crazy to make sure no trace of the roach or its potential eggs is still in my apartment.

If there's an unusually wily one that I can't catch and smoosh, my best trick is to drive it under something with limited exits and then cover all of its exit routes with duct tape (sticky side up). You can put smelly foods on the tape to increase the odds it comes to check things out. Then, it gets stuck and you can spray or crush it without worrying about it getting away.
posted by snaw at 9:07 AM on July 3, 2017

Oh man do I hear you. I hate smushing the big ones, so I use insecticide spray.Where I live, you can get roach spray with a straw attached to the spray hole (like this - I'm sure you can find similar in the States?) - this means the spray gets concentrated to a very narrow space instead of going everywhere and also means that you have the additional distance to stand far-ish away while spraying.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:19 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Double-side stick a strip of very sticky tape (duct tape works well) onto the end of something long and maneuverable. (I use the arm of a broken swiffer.) Approach the disgusting beast and whap it with the tape end. Say something like "ha, fuck you, bug, you dumb piece of shit, what now" while you watch its stupid legs flail miserably. (This helps.) Grab some paper towel (good for emotionally distancing yourself) and gingerly wrap the rest of the tape around the bug. Seal it up in the tape and dispose.

(Personally I can't stand the crunching. I will never be able to stomach squashing one, unless it's an absolute emergency situation. This way avoids the crunching.)

My dad has always been a fan of the vacuum hose attachment solution, but always puts a piece of tape over the end so it doesn't crawl back out.
posted by phunniemee at 9:24 AM on July 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

Foaming carpet cleaner. Point and shoot and shoot and shoot until it's slow enough that you can grab a paper towel and a plastic bag. Put bag on your hand, then grab paper towel, then grab bug. Squish. Use other hand to pull the bag off of your hand, reversing over the paper towel. Use two hands to tie the bag shut and throw away. Use other paper towels to mop up the foaming carpet cleaner. Not a squirt and foam but a push button spray foam.

Poisons work too, but you can SEE foaming carpet cleaner and it's prety harmless to whatever else you spray wihth it.
posted by tilde at 9:24 AM on July 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I see one of these once every other year and it affects me the same way. I use the "bug spray with long trajectory" method. also I make my brother or a friend get on the phone with me while I do it.
posted by lalex at 9:35 AM on July 3, 2017

You have to catch them, one of those rolled out of my bedspread, a month ago, while making the bed in the morning, it is thrown over the end at night. Those buggers run so fast, and they can live forever submerged in water. But I stomped it, and tied it up in a plastic bag, and put it in the garbage. Where I live, it is a fact of life. I got screen drain covers for my kitchen and bathroom. For the kitchen I had some round rocks already about the size of golf balls to weight the screens so they have a harder time pushing them open to get in my sink from the drain. I still crush them, using a napkin. The whole town is infested, you can call them roaches, they are politely called water bugs here. I am of a mind that I am not going to poison my environment to kill them, but I am going to be lethal personally as I catch them. They are unnerving, they move so fast.
posted by Oyéah at 9:50 AM on July 3, 2017

I like to keep heavy books around. When those are dropped from about 5 feet away, or flung at the offending bug, they will usually stop the bugger in his tracks. Then you can stand on top of the book to get the full crunch of the bug. Cleanup is gross, but they're definitely dead.
posted by hydra77 at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Florida resident here. My tried and true method is to smash them into oblivion with a flip flop.
posted by gnutron at 10:02 AM on July 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is monthly pest control treatment an option? They'll spray the outside of the house so the buggers can't get in.
posted by cmcmcm at 10:32 AM on July 3, 2017

Heavy books at the ready are the best, though just last week I had one in my apartment and had to resort to using the boxed set of The Wire. I then had a minor panic attack and started looking up hotels because my husband was out of town for ten days. I then calmed down and made my brother come over to clean up the evidence. Anyway, I feel you on them being unacceptably revolting and terrifying.

I know crushing them is disgusting, but I really recommend pushing down on whatever you smooshed it with to make sure the deed is done. They are horribly resilient, once my husband smashed one with a five lb barbell and its head poked out from underneath and looked around curiously.

I personally don't suggest using regular Raid (the kind that can kill ants and smaller German roaches). One time I had one trapped under a desk and decided to spray it head-on with Raid, and it went insane and ran straight at me. I screamed to the point that I now know that if intruders every broke into my apartment and murdered me, none of my neighbors would ever call the police. The roach then ran crazily around in circles in my apartment, thudding into walls, and I sat frozen on the couch watching it until my husband came home. Those things are BIG and I think Raid can addle them but not necessarily kill them on sight.
posted by cakelite at 11:31 AM on July 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

A sneaker has a bit more heft than a flip flop and can be washed off, unlike a book.

Remember where there is one, there are many. You may feel better getting the one you saw but be under no illusion that was the only one.
posted by spitbull at 2:06 PM on July 3, 2017

Shaving cream. Drop a circle around the bastard then goop right on him. Now he can't run away and can be captured, interrogated and tortured if you are into that.
posted by vrakatar at 2:22 PM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is the no poison, no smooshing, no catching answer: get a bottle of isopropel (rubbing) alcohol and put a trigger sprayer on it. Set the stream to the small intense spray. Prime the pump a couple of times and spray at the roach from as far as you can. If you hit it directly, it will roll over and die pretty damn fast. Then scoop with cardboard or paper to the trash or outside. The alcohol is very effective, the assassination is very satisfying. No poisonous residue.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:34 PM on July 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

A flyswatter actually works surprisingly well for this--you can swing it faster than a shoe or book, and be further away due to the length of the handle. I wouldn't have thought you could hit one of those giant bugs hard enough to kill it with a flyswatter, but it totally works.

I sympathize, those giant things are the worst! They are a fact of life for us in NC. If you see more than a few within a couple of weeks, though, you should consider getting a visit from the exterminator.
posted by msbubbaclees at 3:00 PM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lotta good and creative ideas here. Thank you. I have relied on the swiffer in the past, when I have been called to act, but I like the idea of spraying something that might disable it and ideally kill it. So I'm leaning toward the rubbing alcohol, which I will arm myself with asap. My apartment isn't that spacious -- i.e., there aren't a lot of open spaces, which a) makes the whole thing worse somehow, and b) makes it likely that the bug will be seen briefly before darting behind some object. My terror prevents me from doggedly hunting it down, but maybe if I'm armed with a spray bottle I'll feel more in command.

Thanks to all who expressed a similar horror on this front. Good to know I'm not alone.
posted by swheatie at 3:30 PM on July 3, 2017

I had one experience with this and it ended with me feeling like some character in Breaking Bad...totally out of control reaction to the horror that was that giant bug. (It was SO BIG).

My neighbor told me to make sure your drains are covered- you know, those metal removable things in the kitchen sink and bathtub that only allow for 'very small holes' as opposed to the original drain that might let terrifying things in. I haven't seen one since, so I'm hoping that, and the 'extra large' (shudder) cockroach traps I put in the corners of my apt worked.

In the end though, I gave up and had a friend stay in my apt and put out some type of gel poison or foam or something from home depot that eventually killed my unwanted flying giant cockroach/waterbug visitor (never again!!!).

oh, I'm having flashbacks, I think I had two separate incidents, both horrifying. But 2 in 10 years.
posted by bquarters at 5:12 PM on July 3, 2017

I also have seen roaches go into bezerker mode on Raid. Alcohol (or hairspray, in an emergency) works well.

When I was in palmetto bug land, I kept a flat rubber drain stopper in my tub drain as they like crawling up water pipes. I have also stuffed a rag into my tub faucet when it wasn't in use so there were no nasty shower surprises. I would unplug both armed with hairspray.
posted by ananci at 5:12 PM on July 3, 2017

I like to keep heavy books around. When those are dropped from about 5 feet away, or flung at the offending bug, they will usually stop the bugger in his tracks. Then you can stand on top of the book to get the full crunch of the bug. Cleanup is gross, but they're definitely dead.

I'm no longer in water bug territory, but when I was working for a University of Chicago Press journal, I found that the Chicago Manual of Style was extremely useful in situations like these (dump a paper towel over the bug first).

Hairspray or bathroom cleaner won't off large roaches, but they will indeed make them stop moving long enough for squishing to take place. (OTOH, bathroom cleaner will do in ants--er, presumably other than fire ants--with the added bonus of cleaning the floor.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:47 PM on July 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm a competent adult woman, but this is a real terror for me.

I used to get freaked by camel crickets or whatever those things that can jump 4 feet are. Eeek! I'm not afraid of much but wife had to deal with that while I shrieked. Spiders were my responsibility. My mom had a thing about snakes.

After we had kids I was no longer allowed to get freaked out and as my old toys went into circulation the disc firing Star Trek phaser pistol was repurposed. All those years and a three year old solves my problem. If you can shoot them with something I think you'll find it very satisfying.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:46 PM on July 3, 2017

When I lived in a somewhat cockroachy Brooklyn apartment a few years back, these three steps significantly reduced their numbers (and thus the frequency of encounters):
1. SECURE THE PERIMETER. Get rubber stoppers for sink and tub drains, keep 'em sealed when not in use. Get a couple of tubes of caulk and seal up any gaps between the floor and the wall; between the counter and the wall; where pipes come through the wall... Anywhere that things could get in, lock it down. If it looks too small for them to fit, seal it anyway.
2. SPRINKLE THE DEATH DUST. Get some Diatomaceous Earth, dust it lightly in areas where they're likely to travel — the floor along baseboards, under sinks, behind & under fridge, between stove and counters, etc. If they walk over the stuff, it cuts through their armor and causes them to dry up.
3. SWEEP / VACUUM MORE VIGILANTLY. If there are no food particles for them anywhere on your floor or counters, there's less motivation for them to come in.
Good luck!
posted by D.Billy at 8:19 PM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Remember where there is one, there are many.
That's a bit of a myth. swheatie says they see them every few months. That's almost certainly random roaches exploring for new places to settle down, meet more like-minded roaches and make many, many more tiny baby roaches. One roach every few weeks/months = solitary Roach Rangers. One roach every day = you have a bit of a problem. Find the source. More than one roach a day = incipient infestation - time to get serious.

I live in the subtropics where cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) are very common. I do not have them in the house. When I first moved to Sydney from Melbourne, we saw a few roaches in our first week in our new place, so I went to the local supermarket to get a can of roach spray. I remember standing in the entire aisle of pest control products and thinking "If your supermarket has an entire logistics team for roach control products, this must be a very serious issue"

Anyway. We fixed our roach problem by trial and error. Moving to Brisbane, where the roaches are bigger, more sociable and have fewer inhibitions, we have never had a roach problem.

Step 1: Roach bait. Put baits down wherever roaches would like to congregate. Around bins, under sinks, in bathrooms, wherever food crumbs may accummulate.

Step 2: Spray all the access points with a permethrin-based insecticide. Around doors, windows, ventilators, everywhere. You need to do this every six months. Go out for a few hours after spraying.

Step 3: Use indoor anti-mozzie sprays. Permethrin is your friend again. We only run these when the mozzies start biting.

Steps 1 and 2 are sufficient. I have seen four cockies this year, all dead.

Zero tolerance for vermin.
posted by Combat Wombat at 1:09 AM on July 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

skimmed this thread with horror the other day, and I am returning to let you know tonight, while in the middle of a nice youtube yoga sesh, for the first time ever I saw an absurdly massive wickedly antennaed palmetto motherfucker creeping across my floor and I jumped up and slammed a cup over it so at the very least it wouldn't get away but but but I accidentally decapitated it
so that works too
posted by changeling at 11:59 PM on July 5, 2017

Isopropyl alcohol is cheap, you can get some lemonl, orange, or grapefruit oil to make it smell nice. It doesn't take much.
posted by Oyéah at 11:17 PM on July 7, 2017

Hey, this is the OP here and just thought I'd add a little coda to this thread. I never did see that bug again, but then about eight weeks later, I was sitting in my living room reading, and felt a light sensation on my shoulder, assumed it was a hair and thought nothing of it. Felt it again, assumed the same thing, but then finally turned and looked to see one of these giant horrific insects crawling on my arm! Yes, well, you can imagine the rest. I killed the fucker very fast and with full fury. Smashed it with my book. But I now feel I have survived the worst case scenario, and maybe will be less afraid next time I see one.
posted by swheatie at 10:53 AM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

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