Explain cockroach control to me like I'm a terrified 5 year old
January 17, 2019 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Difficulty level: Apartment in GA.

tl;dr: Please tell me how much is too much when it comes to defending my home against cockroaches.

I'm a grown-ass and chicken-shit woman who up until recently, lived in the Great White North and blessedly never dealt with cockroaches before. Recently moved to a great apartment on the 4th floor of a low-rise building in Georgia, and my friend was like "hey, welcome! Did somebody warn y'all about all the roaches lol?" My very first encounter was one that scuttled out of a moving box when I was unpacking a few months ago, which I bashed to bits. We had seen 1 or 2 dead bodies in the outside breezeways, but never saw any more in our unit... until this week.

I am, how you say, freaking the fuck out.

My partner saw a roach in our closet a couple nights ago, but it ran off and then he couldn't find it. He did find 1 or 2 things that might've been egg sacs, but he crushed it up and threw it away. The following night, he saw it again in the closet (or maybe it was a different one?), and killed it. Last night, I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and screamed when I saw one in the sink. Before I could find something to smash it with, it scampered off into, my fucking god, MY MAKEUP DRAWER, where I keep things that I PUT ON MY FACE. My dearest darling partner, who fears these things as much as I do, bravely opened the drawer and rattled around, but couldn't find anything.

This morning, the pest control guy came (they come by every week for whoever needs it) and sprayed some stuff in the cracks and crevasses, which will apparently mess up the roaches' innards in a few days. I'm hoping that will solve* things but in the meantime I'm still super stressed, not to mention tired from not really sleeping after the encounter last night.

I've been reading so many threads/posts the past couple of days about what to do. I'm a distracted mess. We are generally clean people, not fastidious, but we don't leave sinks full of dishes for days, for example. There is much good advice on the web but I'm hoping folks here can give me an idea of how far to take these measures. (All 3 sightings were for brown bugs about 1.5 to 2 inches big and I can't handle googling images to try identify them right now.)

1.) Don't leave standing water around.
We don't have pets (so no water bowls), and don't typically leave dishes overnight, though sometimes a pan might soak in the sink. I know now not to do that anymore, but does that mean I have to wipe dry all the sinks after every use? (How do you wring out a damp washcloth without re-wetting the sink...?) What about the shower? The Keurig with a water reservoir? Or the glasses of water we like to have by our bed?

2.) Don't leave food out.
Does that include the fruit bowl, or a bowl of onions & garlic? We keep a stick of butter open on a dish next to the stove, is this a horrible idea? What about cooking oils, soy sauce, sriracha, etc? Are these bottles a risk too?

3.) Put pantry food in glass or plastic containers.
Like... everything?? I'm reading that things in cardboard / paper containers (pasta, crackers, flour) are best put into a tupperware. But what about unopened bags of chips or ramen? Nuts or seeds that come in plastic clamshells or zippered plastic bags? Chocolate in its paper/foil wrapping? Opened plastic bags of grains, which are tied up with rubber bands? Can any of that live outside a sealed container?

4.) Sealed garbage can.
We have a plastic one with a lid on top, where you press a button and the hinged part of the lid pops open. Is this sufficient? We take it out every few nights when it gets full, maybe 2-3 times a week. Should I be taking it out every single night instead?

4.) No clutter.
It's not like I have piles of stuff on the ground, but we do have, you know, books and furniture and regular home things. A bag of paper/plastic/cans recycling under the kitchen sink. My desk has stationary and papers on it (I work from home), and our closet is filled with hung up / folded up clothes on shelves, shoes on a shoe rack, luggage and backpacks on the ground. The bathroom linen closet and under-sink cabinets have typical things -- towels, a lot of my cosmetic stuff (some loose, some in organizers), extra bottles of shampoo, etc. Does everything loose have to go in a big sealed up bin? This seems like a crazy way to live!

5.) Plug up holes and potential entryways.
I'm not sure whether our lease allows us to spray expanding foam/insulation around pipes. Could we use steel wool, or something that could be removed eventually? Also we have carpet almost everywhere, what do I do about the little gaps and crevasses between the carpet and the wall/baseboards?

6.) Borax/boric acid/diatomaceous earth sprinkled around baseboards and entryways.
Will this work even with carpets? Will vacuuming obsessively help? (Not vacuuming the borax up, just the carpet in general.)

Is this why you all wear shoes inside the house in the US, so you always have something to smash bugs with?

* I will be living in Georgia for at least another couple years, and I know roaches are a part of life in the south. I'm trying to come to terms with this but it's really freaking me out. And then I'm ashamed that I'm so freaked out, because they're just bugs, everyone here has them and deals with it, I should grow up and stop being a shrieking mess at 3am, etc. etc. I'm afraid to open drawers and cabinets, I worry that bugs will fall out when I take clothes off hangers. I telecommute, so I spend my entire day in this apartment. How do I stop being so fearful?
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't feel bad about feeling bad. I grew up in a building that had been reclaimed from being a squat, basically, it was fucking teeming with roaches, and THEY ARE DISGUSTING.

The bad news is that roaches can live off damn near anything and they don't need much of it. Poisoning is the only option and it can take a while. Don't expect the problem to be solved with just one spray.

Maniacally wiping down the sinks won't accomplish much versus how much it's going to drive you nuts. But you shouldn't leave glasses of water by the bed. Food that's in bottles or jars should be okay, but put away the butter and the aromatics. Roaches are not like mice in that they're not going to gnaw their way through plastic to get to food, but nonetheless you should avoid thin plastic bags because one accidental hole and they will get in. I would not bother sealing up CLOSED foil packages like chips but for peace of mind I would once they are opened, again less because they will defeat a good sturdy roll-and-clip than because you don't want to expose yourself to the possibility of error. Also because if you see a roach crawling on a bag you are probably unlikely to want to eat the contents afterwards even if it didn't get into the bag. (P.S. You should be putting flour, pasta, and other grain products in sealed containers anyway because otherwise you are likely to be adding grain weevils to your troubles. Though they don't even register on the grossness scale compared to roaches.)

Get a sealed garbage can. Take it out every night if it makes you feel better, but a colony of roaches could live for ages on what you throw into your trash over the course of one day, so it's more about the marginal value of offering fewer attractive odors.

To me, the clutter thing is a folk tale. Clutter makes it easier for roaches to hide, and also can hide spills, etc., that they can eat, but having a stack of papers on the desk or whatever isn't going to make a difference. Regular vacuuming is good because it's easy to spill something and not notice it, but, again, weigh frequency against how crazed it makes you feel.

Yes, you can use steel wool to block access areas. The gap between carpet and baseboard is not the problem (they're not teleporting in), gaps in the baseboard are. You can, however, sprinkle the borax there. You can also caulk up any gaps between, e.g., the sink and the wall.

Put Combat poison dispensers under the sink and the fridge, behind the toilet, and in drawers and other areas where you've seen them, if you can stand the smell. You can spray yourself on a regular basis, but keep on the landlord to get the weekly exterminator. All this stuff smells horrible, I'm sorry to say.

You have my sympathies. Roaches are in the top three of worsts.
posted by praemunire at 12:02 PM on January 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Good news, bad news. The bad news is there isn’t much above what you’re already doing to stop them. The damn things can eat the glue on cardboard boxes. The good news is (actually) that you have the big ones. They typically just wander through and leave if you don’t kill them. Me, I kill every one and then scream into the void that that’s what will happen to all the rest of them if they show their creepy faces. If you ever see even a single little one (about an inch long, maybe a little less, not counting antennae), call every exterminator you can or just leave the place to the roaches. Those are the little German bastards and they colonize. If you see one, there are a LOT more hiding.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:10 PM on January 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Not joking: I used Mediterranean house geckos to control the little roaches in NYC. Apparently the large Tokay gecko is the right predator for the larger ones. I am from TX and I feel your pain.
posted by 8603 at 12:24 PM on January 17, 2019

I'm going to be honest. After 9 years of living in apartments in the south, if I see a roach anywhere but the kitchen, I mildly freak out, try to kill it, then if it gets away I forget about it. Even if my unit was spic-and-span, there was no way to police other units and cockroaches don't respect leases. One time a roach literally crawled across my pillow right before bed. Did I sleep with the light on and a can of bug spray next to the bed? Abso-fucking-lutely. Did I go crazy about cleaning the bedroom? Not particularly.

Roaches do spread bacteria but then again so do humans.
posted by muddgirl at 12:27 PM on January 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've had good results with this style of roach poison, which is a goop in a syringe that you squeeze out along cracks you think the roaches are coming through.

I also want to talk you down a little. In the south, in an apartment building, you're occasionally going to see a roach even if you take the most extreme possible measures against them. Just like with ants or spiders or anything else. But despite being conceptually gross, they can't physically harm you and in small numbers they're not going to contaminate your living space or anything.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:32 PM on January 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Mason jars are great for this. They will also look nicely unified if all longed up together. If there is room, you can also put pantry foods in the refrigerator.

As to getting over the fear: I had a giant cockroach in my bathroom that I could never capture. He would suprise me in the middle of the night and freak me out. What did I do? I named him. Hebert. Seriously. It allowed me to see he was just trying to survive as well. I talked to him and we became ‘friends’. It allowed me to see the nature of our earthly relationship with more understanding once I personified him. You guys could have fun making up names for them as soon as you see them. It may redirect your reflexive fearful reaction to something less intense at least.
posted by MountainDaisy at 12:37 PM on January 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

The fact that an exterminator comes by weekly is a clue that these bugs are routine and not particularly stigmatized where you are. Hey, it could be worse: you could be in Southern Japan where the bugs are [content redacted for continued sanity].

Ixnay on the tokay geckos, though. I love 'em dearly, but they're bitey af to people. They're also loud: their call (which gave them the nickname of "the fuck-you bird" to GIs in the Pacific campaigns of WW2) is birdlike and insistent.
posted by scruss at 12:40 PM on January 17, 2019

If you are seeing the big ones, it has nothing to do with your level of cleanliness or the cleanliness of your neighbors. It helps me to think of those things as "Palmetto Bugs" rather than "OH MY GOD ROACHES" because they are basically going to wander inside when it's too wet or too dry (so .. . all the time) and there is extremely little you can do about them.

If you are seeing the little ones, those are German cockroaches and they do mean that there is a cleanliness problem somewhere nearby. So that would need to be dealt with.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:11 PM on January 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you don't have a super-strong NOPE reaction to photos of roaches, I would recommend also reading up on them. Not info from pest control sites, which will always be more alarmist - just stuff about their life cycles and habits and so on. Not only will this help you think about the best ways to roachproof your home, knowing more about roaches as animals will also help deescalate the freakouts and reframe the issue in your mind. They won't be this malevolent alien presence you fear, they'll just be another annoyance, like houseflies or ants or something.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:15 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't exactly have any advice, but maybe I have some words of comfort.

In high school I volunteered at a zoo and, among other things, I would run some of those programs with bug or reptile "encounters" for visitors. One of the animals that we used for those programs was Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. So I not only had experience seeing roaches, I had tons of experience with (and certifications for!) picking them up, holding them, encouraging frightened kids (and adults) to get comfortable with them, and teaching others about them. They're interesting animals and really nothing to worry about, after all.

AND YET. After high school, I went to college in NYC and a few months in when I saw my first "wild" cockroach I totally lost it. I knew just how irrational it was - on all counts I should have been especially comfortable around them - but having one in your home for the first time is so psychologically jarring. They're big! In my space! It freaked me out! Since then, I've never experienced a full infestation but I did continue to see the occasional roach, across several different apartments, and it got so much easier & more normal with time. It was basically only time & exposure (in concert with my existing knowledge of their relative harmlessness) that helped normalize it to me, and I hope it will do the same for you. It's a weird/tough thing to adjust to, I can totally understand.
posted by mosst at 1:38 PM on January 17, 2019

I feel you on such a deep level as former New Englander who lived in Atlanta for 12 years. I didn't know, until I saw them in my place, I would have such a high-pitched, stomach-turning, jumping up on a chair reaction to southern roaches. YOU CAN HEAR THEM WALKING.

Everyone else has given the good advice - cleaning up food, sitting water etc... And they're also correct that they are part of Southern life. I dealt with it by a regular cadence of professional pest control and sealing up any baseboard gaps with tinfoil, borax, and steel wool. I also took to turning on the lights before I entered the room and if I was particularly fearful clapping my hands to "let them know I was coming".

We're not going to talk about the ones I saw poking out of the light fixture above my bed. We're definitely NOT going to talk about that.
posted by Constant Reader at 1:39 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had good results with the traps ("roach motel") for the smaller ones....that's basically a borax method; they get it on them and take it back to the nest. .......I don't know if that works for the big bastards
posted by thelonius at 1:51 PM on January 17, 2019

Definitely put that butter away!
posted by cakelite at 1:52 PM on January 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

One thing I haven't really seen anyone mention is cardboard boxes. They love the glue and the paper and will gleefully raise many generations of wee ones, no doubt telling fanciful tales about The Benevolent Giant Who Placed The Box and their offerings of food and drink to their beloved cockroach children.

Sadly this can also extend to books. Cardboard boxes of books? The worst.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. I'm a lifelong native Texan and they still gross me out. But you kind of have to just get used to the idea, because no matter how clean or expensive your house is and no matter how many times they spray or plug up holes, there will be the occasional roach. It's like the great social leveler.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:16 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Get a butter bell. This'll let you keep your butter soft and usable, keep the bugs out, and keep your butter from getting nasty from exposure to air.
posted by sourcequench at 2:27 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

FWIW: the diatomaceous earth trick DOES work, and has the added extra benefit of being harmless to mammals.

But good ol' poison will work faster.
posted by uberchet at 2:41 PM on January 17, 2019

I have used this brand of roach spray in the past. Recommended to be by someone who lived in a lot of roach-y places and this was part of how they reduced the populations significantly.

And I understand they are gross, and had fits upon seeing them when I first moved to the South, but after dealing with them a while it did dawn on me that while they are nasty, they don't bite or sting. They hide under things to get away but you can see their antennae poking out which sort of makes me pity them, but I still kill them. I do wonder about the ones I sprayed but not enough and which got away. Do they turn glowing green or something? (Kidding.)

Another tip is to drop a paper towel over them (some are that slow-moving, maybe because they already ate poison) before crunching them with a shoe. Helps with the mess.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I live in the south too. We tried most of the things recommended above for the past few years and all helped a bit, especially disposing of cardboard and not letting it pile up in recycling. What really helped though was having the exterior of our house sprayed by a the pest control person and having that company come back quarterly. It sounds like you have already had this happen once so I would schedule regular visits.
posted by JuliaKM at 4:46 AM on January 18, 2019

Seconding Bengal roach spray. When we lived in Texas, it worked better than Raid for the big American roaches. The roach bait gel worked like a charm for the little German roaches, but I have not tried it for the big ones. Also, if you have a pest control guy, work with the pest control guy.

A multi-unit building will be tough to truly eliminate roaches in. I'd like to suggest that living higher up means fewer drive-by roaches, but I don't know if that's true or not. A fogger/fumigation would be impractical to coordinate with everyone else in the building, which you would need to do because of pets, etc.

Just so you know, though, they tend to flip over and wriggle their legs around in a disconcerting manner, often in a highly-visible area, when they're dying. So you can be alarmed by that, but it means that at least something is working.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:29 AM on January 18, 2019

I recommend your #6 above. All we use is boric acid and diatomaceous earth (Gulf Coast Texas, so we know roaches) but we mix it with corn starch and powdered sugar. That's effective for us.
posted by cross_impact at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2019

Our apartment building had a roach problem that didn't go away after multiple sprayings, but did go away when a new guy used the poison gel stuff that he smeared around the baseboards and cupboards. Really worked.
posted by mediareport at 3:55 AM on January 22, 2019

Thanks, everyone, for your good advice and sympathy. I actually fled the country shortly after posting this question (not for roach-related reasons, but also it was a nice side benefit...) so I'm not sure how the situation is now. I haven't heard anything from my partner though, so I'll take it as good news, and hope that it was just one of the "passing through" kind. Before I left, I put the butter in the fridge (butter bell next!), took out a couple cardboard boxes from recycling, ordered the poison goo. If I see another one when I'm back, I'll definitely bust out the diatomaceous earth and fix the little buggers a delicious cocktail of death.

I also appreciate the commiseration and learning that, even if the shock itself never quite goes away, the abject horror of it does fade after a while. Good reminder that they can't actually hurt us, and that they're also just trying to eek out a living! Now to encourage them to just do that far, far away from me... :)
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 11:37 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

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