I think I saw a cockroach. Am I boned? What do I do?
August 28, 2020 12:44 PM   Subscribe

My cat was chasing something around the hallway this morning. I figured it would be a house centipede as usual, but it was a big freaking roach. Almost 2" long, and a very dark red/brown. It was fast as heck and I wasn't able to catch it for identification, but it seems to have been an American roach. Is this a sign of infestation? I always hear, "there's no such thing as one roach." I am moving in a couple of weeks and I DO NOT want to bring roaches with me. Also, I have never had roaches before and am not sure what to do.

I'm currently in a basement apartment with the usual creepy crawly population: house centipedes, millipedes, pill bugs, various spiders, the occasional ant party. I have never seen a roach in here before.

I am just not mentally up to the task of moving the fridge and stove around and looking for roaches. The thought of seeing one again makes me wanna barf. Can I kill roaches without going on a hunt for them? Is it possible to kill just roaches and not other small animals living in the walls and floors? I really don't want to get rid of the house centipedes or spiders. I also have a cat I don't want to poison.

I read that keeping food away from them deters cockroaches. My kitchen is kept clean and open food in the cupboards is kept in sealed plastic bags and containers. Should I put my toaster in a sealed container? I'm not sure what to do about the cat's food, since she has to free feed because of digestive problems.

My current landlords live above me. They are unhelpful and unclean. There's garbage, rotting food waste, rotting wet cardboard, and raccoon feces on almost every area of the property outside. They also have two rotting wood decks, which I think is why there are so many pill bugs around. Their kitchen is disgusting and only surface cleaned every two weeks when their house cleaner visits (just to give you an idea of how dirty it is up there, their poor cat's indoor water bowl had fungus or something growing in it for months). Getting them to clean up after themselves will not happen, and I don't think they would take an infestation seriously given our past interactions wrt other problems.

I'm out of here in about two weeks, and I REALLY REALLY do not want to bring bugs with me.
posted by Stoof to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A few of the big guys like you describe are more or less part of living in a house like what you describe. They mostly live outside in things like rotting wood and leaves but some will make their way in. They don't massively breed and infest the way German cockroaches do.
posted by Candleman at 12:54 PM on August 28, 2020 [9 favorites]

You'll be ok once you move (assuming the new place is ok.) Use new clean boxes to pack and tape them up well. Cockroaches want filth, dark, and quiet. Offer them none of that while you pack and you won't bring them with you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:55 PM on August 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you're able, I'd suggest what we did when we moved into our current house from a seriously roach-infested rental* -- we hired an exterminator to come into the empty house before we moved in and lay down chemical death for roaches. None of them made it to the new house. (On preview: these were the big roaches, not the small brown ones.)

* The management company's refusal to admit there was a problem was one of the things that spurred us to buy. We killed at least one roach per day, and I found multiple egg cases, which look a bit like coffee beans, and nine years later I still have a momentary panic reaction when I find one of my husband's coffee beans on the floor.
posted by telophase at 2:02 PM on August 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: People always confuse cockroaches, which have zero interest in traveling with you, with bedbugs, which do. It's true that there's no such thing as one cockroach, but they have no interest in getting into your moving boxes and coming with you. They're interested in your landlord's food and water, not in you. (Source: live in cockroach-infested NYC, have moved a whole mess of times in the past 15 years, and have never brought cockroaches with me to an apartment. They show up after I'm here for a while, when the figure out that we occasionally leave food and water out.)

Btw, two things: cockroaches like water as well as they like food. If you ever leave your sink wet, then yep, that'll attract them as much as food will. Also, those Combat disk things you find at Walgreen's look like they're a fraud, but they actually do work as long as you put the liberally throughout the house and replace them regularly.
posted by holborne at 2:22 PM on August 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

People always confuse cockroaches, which have zero interest in traveling with you, with bedbugs, which do. It's true that there's no such thing as one cockroach, but they have no interest in getting into your moving boxes and coming with you.

It's not a question of "interest in traveling" but of whether any objects you might bring with you provide the type of environment that a cockroach might enjoy and thus either hitch a ride in or lay some eggs in. And the answer to that is yes if you own a coffee maker. Think warm, humid, moist.

I'm primarily thinking of the small German cockroaches here. The big ones as you've described don't really infest, as others have said.
posted by unannihilated at 2:35 PM on August 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

At my last apartment I found exactly one giant-ass cockroach like the one you describe. I was on the third floor of a 18ish-unit building, with neighbors of unknown filthiness. I did manage to suck it up with the vacuum and swiftly kill it. Then I continued to live there for maybe a year after that, and never saw another.
posted by gueneverey at 3:04 PM on August 28, 2020

If it was 2 inches long, then it's very possible what you saw was not a cockroach, but a palmetto bug (or "waterbug"). They look similar (and in fact the Orkin web site I just saw says they're related) except the palmetto is bigger. They prefer damp conditions, but sometimes come inside houses if it's especially damp inside or by coming up through drains. Sometimes they can try to sneak inside a house if it's getting colder outside.

Palmetto/water bugs aren't quite as invasive as the smaller German cockroach; I've lived in my current apartment for about 15 years, and in that whole time I've only seen two. In both cases I just made sure I was especially diligent about cleaning up food and taking out the trash regularly, and that took care of it. (The mouse problem I had about 5 years ago was more stubborn.)

I'd take one as more a sign of "it's especially humid" or "I should just up the cleaning a little for safety's sake", rather than a sign of "the house is infested and I need an exterminator".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:13 PM on August 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Honestly I also live in a basement apartment and after a few days of heavy rain I spotted three roaches in my apartment. I haven’t seen any since, so as others have said they mostly came in from outside. I would also get those giant cave crickets as well. If you start seeing babies though you should probably be concerned.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:18 PM on August 28, 2020

Best answer: they are indeed palmetto bugs, aka american roaches. the smaller ones that like your kitchen/food are german. in fact, it IS possible to have an infestation of the larger, american ones, but you probably don't have that. when you have that, you see way more than one of them. What someone else said is true, they're not as into your snacks, they like damp conditions, come up the drain, etc. they can eat many things, apparently paper is just as tasty to them as things in a kitchen cupboard. I think it's unlikely you'd take them with you. the other thing you'd also see if you had an infestation is more of their droppings.. bigger bugs = bigger droppings.. given that you didn't mention spotting anything like that.. you're probably ok. You can get special bait and "hotels" for them, and special gel to put around. It's a different variety than for the small german ones. They are very gross, i'm sorry you encountered one. they are really on the rise in the US is my belief. BLAH.
posted by elgee at 4:20 PM on August 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, Young Kullervo is right. If you see evidence of breeding like egg sacs or nymphs, that's when you know you're infested. A single monster is probably just a straggler from upstairs.

"Palmetto bug" used to refer exclusively to wood roaches native to the southeastern USA (where palmetto grows) but has come to mean "any sizeable roach anywhere that the speaker would like to not think is a roach." True native wood roaches live outside. They will wander in from time to time but won't set up housekeeping. The original palmetto bug is a huge, very dark brown nearly black, shiny, oily humpbacked affair. They don't move as fast as the brown winged types. When squashed, they emit a strong and lingering almond smell. (Do not squash.)

Waterbugs look like roaches but are not roaches. They live in the water, and if they do find themselves on land, usually because they were distracted and led astray by a streetlight while flying to a new pond, have to drag themselves around feebly and ponderously. It would've been no match for you and the cat if it had been a waterbug, so it was not one of those.

There are lots and lots of different species of huge roaches that have traveled from their native lands and become domesticated the globe over thanks to shipping and to cities with plenty of warm winter harborages they share with crumb-dropping humans and their drippy faucets and crack-and-crevice-rich kitchens and bathrooms. American, Australian, or any of a dizzyingly vast array of 2-inchers could be infesting your landlord's space. Fortunately, you're moving.

Put out Combat baits and think no more about it unless you spot nymphs or egg cases after you move.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:27 PM on August 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Pro tip:
Mix sugar and baking soda 50/50 and put it out in paper plates where ever they might pass by to snack.
We live in palmetto bug country big time, doing this has cut the number of in-house sightings by 90% or so.
posted by rudd135 at 5:39 PM on August 28, 2020

Advion roach bait+poison seems to work a TREAT, FWIW. My neighbour and I swear by it.
posted by stray at 5:50 PM on August 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

You're fine. Buy some liquid roach bait online like this. Liquid 'hotel' type traps are not nearly as effective because they block access, in my experience.

Honestly I'd recommend you take a step back and take a deep breath because this is a totally normal and reasonable issue for millions of people, with a totally easy treatment. Don't let cultural stigma and biases blind you to the simple solutions to a not-very-big problem.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you’ve already got house centipedes, you should know that they eat roaches. From what you describe of the rest of the property, there almost certainly have been roaches there the whole time. The house centipedes have likely been keeping them under control, along with your tidy housekeeping making your kitchen less interesting to roaches. Yay house centipedes (even though I find them creepy).

In short — nothing has truly changed just because you saw a roach now. Do not panic. You can get roach baits if you start seeing more of them (a big bag of Advion baits can be had for not very much money). Baits typically won’t hurt your cat; double-check all labeling to be certain, but generally they are targeted to kill insects and not mammals. If you see roaches in your new place, it does not mean you brought them.

I know it is hard not to panic. I hate roaches. I just moved and found two dead roaches while unpacking, and had to ask my husband to dispose of both, because I was too anxious to pick up even a clearly-dead roach. But please try not to panic. You are leaving this property soon and the roaches are unlikely to travel with you (except as dead roaches, like mine).
posted by snowmentality at 7:49 PM on August 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

You‘ll be fine. Get some roach traps/poison and stick it where the cat can’t reach and near where you see the roaches (Under the fridge, behind the drawers in cabinets, etc.) Smash it with a shoe if you see it again. They sometimes like cardboard when it gets left in one place for a longer period of time. If you’re moving soon you’ll be fine, though. (I live in FL, among the roaches.)
posted by gnutron at 9:33 PM on August 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Waterbug seems a more likely culprit.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 AM on August 29, 2020

That sounds what we call a sewer roach. Don't worry about it. Those buggers are scary as heck but it was just lost, as they prefer to be outside.
posted by james33 at 5:03 AM on August 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

We had an infestation of American roaches in our last place (complete disgusting, egg sacs in the communal stairways, bathroom windows swarmed by ensign wasps which specifically lay their eggs in the roach sacs, just a totally nasty little Hellraiser-esque ecosystem going on) and we moved and haven’t seen a roach ever in our new place. It’s possible, but just be careful while packing and get boxes out of your apartment as soon as you can after packing. Check things like appliances for eggs. Most likely you’ll be OK though.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:35 PM on August 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

An exception to holborne's comment - potted plants are like cockroach RVs.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2020

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