Pest Control: How to Kill Roaches
Published 7/21/08 (Modified 6/17/11)
I have a little secret to share. Well it's not really a secret so much as it's a phobia that I've held since I was a little kid. Here's the���� secret - I am deathly afraid of household insects, but in particular - cockroaches. There, I've said it - the cat's out of the bag - go ahead and laugh, but it's not funny (maybe just a little bit). Funny or not, it's something that makes my heart beat fast, makes my pupils dilate like saucers, and summons forth caveman like instincts to grab the nearest bunny slipper or rolled up U.S. News and World Report magazine for some self-preservation-inspired bug pounding.
The mere sight of the creepy crawly legs and wiggling antennas of the common household cockroach jetting out from dark corners and scampering across bathroom counters and kitchen floors utterly freaks me out. While I don't instantly jump onto chairs, call my mommy, or scream at the top of my lungs like a little girl, I do become visibly startled and immediately shift into fight mode whenever I encounter a lost spider or resident evil roach in my apartment. I'm sure you PETA fanatics out there may be turned off by my disdain and opposition to the plight of roaches and other household vermin, but I don't care. Roaches and insects have no place in my home and I'll do whatever it takes to eradicate the pests. I've had too many unfortunate experiences and bad memories of living with roaches during my student years.
Fortunately, I'm currently at a place and time in my life where my financial means now permit me to live in a nicer home far away from roach, rat, and vermin infestation that used to plague the ghetto row houses and low cost apartment rentals where I used to live as a college and graduate student. It's been a while since I've had to deal with the nuisance of roaches or had to arm myself with high caliber anti-roach weaponry to fight off the onslaught of the mighty cockroach horde. But sometimes, scenes on TV and real life will remind me of how things used to be. Right now there's a really fascinating but disgusting show on the Discovery Channel called the Verminators that I absolutely love to watch. The reality TV show follows a crack team of household pest exterminators as they go from problem home to another, wiping out severe rat, roach, ant, maggot, spider, and even pigeon infestations. The reason I love the show is the gleeful delight and absolute warlike approach the personalities on the show exhibit towards their determination to kill off all resident bugs that infest the homes of their desperate clients. The exterminator pros show no mercy and go full out with their armament of sprays, powders, and oxygen masks to combat the invaders. One time they even brought out an actual gun to take out a mega-rat that was hiding in someone's attic. The show, while visually horrendous, brings me back to my graduate school days when I faced a massive roach infestation of my own.
My Failed Battle Against The Impressive Roach Army That Resulted In Eventual Retreat and Surrender
Until recently, I've always had a roach problem wherever I lived. Even though I consider myself relatively clean when it comes keeping my home tidy, roaches always seemed to invade my home. Probably the biggest reason for that was the fact that much of my early life was spent as a financially frugal student. As I was primarily supported by my overseas-living parents during my early years, I made a conscientious decision to live in apartments and neighborhoods that were affordable, to help lessen the financial burden on my parents who had several tuitions and living expenses to pay for. But as a result of my cost saving measures, every place I've lived at was infested with vermin of all types - from rats to roaches. As indicated above, it wasn't until my recent later years in my late 20's that I've been able to move on up the financial ladder to higher class, vermin-free housing.
Probably the absolute worst out-of-control infestation experience occurred during my post law school years when I was still struggling to settle down with my fledgling law career and build a sustainable living. To keep expenses low and save money, I decided to move into a quiet garden apartment community in a suburb of Maryland. The commute was great, proximity to grocery stores was excellent, and the price seemed too good to be true - it was. Months into my lease, the nightmare began. While I maintained a clean apartment, washing my dishes after every meal and storing away all food products into air tight containers, I kept noticing the appearance of roaches. At first it was just one or two encounters a week. I squished the roaches with my shoe and flushed them down the toilet each time and hoped they would go away, but they never did. They simply started appearing in greater and greater numbers. It got to the point where everytime I turned on my bathroom light, I would see two or three small roaches hanging around the ceiling area or visibly trying to scurry into a wall corner. Each time I got chills and sweated profusely at the sight of the nightmarish invaders. Eventually, their presence spread from the bathroom and into the kitchen, and eventually into the living room. In time I started seeing them during the day as well, a warning sign that I had a serious problem. Roaches are biologically night animals. If you see one during the day, it likely indicates that you have a serious infestation as overcrowding under cabinets and refrigerators probably has forced them out into the open. For each single roach you see in the open, it probably represents hundreds more hiding behind your drywall or between your floorboards.
At the time I was busy with work so I had little time to deal with my apartment management and forcefully compel them to eliminate the pests. But in response to a few calls and complaints, my apartment complex hired an exterminator, but the roach baits they set forth were ineffective. Eventually I simply went full out and took matters into my own hands. I headed to Home Depot to arm myself with all that consumer bug fighting technology had to offer. I purchased every single roach bait, egg stopper, roach gels, boric acid powder, and roach spray brand I could find - everything from MaxForce to Raid. I probably purchased more roach motel traps and roach gel bait devices than I needed, but I was determined to eliminate their presence from my home forever. All in all, I probably had more than 60 individual roach bait traps for a small apartment that was only about 700 square feet in all. I lined all corners and walls with multiple roach baits, and inserted gel bait poisons into all cabinet cracks and wall corners. I also dusted hard to reach areas with a layer of boric acid, a white powder that is not grossly toxic to humans or most pets like cats, dogs, and birds, but is supposedly deadly towards insects as it eats away their hard shell skin thereby dehydrating them to death. However, while I started seeing piles of upside down roaches everywhere, indications that my baits were working, the onslaught kept coming. Everyday I would see dead roaches everywhere, but new live ones seemed to keep taking their places, gnawing on the dead roach carcasses for nourishment.
Even my poor pet parrot was not immune to the onslaught. Even though he was never physically harmed, his cage was also slowly invaded by the swarming roaches. To protect my pet parrot to the best of my ability, I made sure to keep his cage clean at all times and placed his cage on a plastic lawn furniture table in my living room. I lined the bottom of the plastic table with a thick coat of boric acid powder to ensure that the only way that roaches could invade the cage was by walking through the white powder of insect death. However, day in and day out, I would look at my parrot's bedding liner to find that the roaches had determinedly strolled through the boric acid powder and made their way into the bottom liner of his cage to seek out food products. When I pulled out the cage's poop tray to clean it one time, I freaked out when more than 15 roaches scurried out from the plate and began crawling the walls, heading to the ceiling to escape like some horror movie. The nightmarish sight sent deathly chills down my back, made me sweat in horror, and even caused me to bleat out a few uncontrollable expletives. Although upon inspection, the bird cage invading roaches were covered with boric acid powder from head to toe, the resilient suckers simply refused to die. While most online commentators generally cheer the beneficial roach killing abilities of boric acid powder, I must point out that the effects are often slow and unpredictable.
Although I was incredibly busy with my job at the time, I eventually found time to storm into my apartment complex manager's office to demand that they hire a competent exterminator to fix this emergency situation. Eventually the management relented and hired a more expensive crew to come in and flush the roaches out. The professionals came in with their roach pesticide sprays and laid down lines of defensive deadly roach pesticide trails designed to kill roaches on contact that trample onto them. Then they used a special roach flushing agent to spray into floorboard cracks and underneath appliances to flush out the roach colonies into the open so that they would walk onto the pesticide laden floors. It worked for a while - as there was a huge spike in dead roach bodies as the flushed out roach families were annihilated. But even with professional baits laid out to control the outbreak, the efforts were ultimately futile. The roaches continued to crawl around my dishes, hide in my television set, relax in my stove, and even find their way into my fridge of all places. The final straw was when friends came over to visit me and one of them sat down on my sofa only to stand up moments later with a squished roach on her butt.
Eventually, I shifted into lawyer mode and sent a very threatening legal letter to my landlord demanding that I be fully released from my apartment lease obligations, citing the management's violation and breach of our contract to keep the premises a safe and reasonably livable place. There was simply nothing else I could do. After talking with the exterminator, I learned that I was fighting a losing cause. Because my discount apartment complex was so old and populated by lower income families that had a habit of illegally stuffing multiple families into one apartment meant for only one, sanitation and cleanliness were major problems. Even though I kept my own apartment clean, massive roach infestations in the adjacent apartments were causing them to spill over into my unit. At the end, I was released from my lease and left my ghetto apartment in a hurry. Ultimately, I had to pay substantially more in monthly rent to live at a new, clean, and higher class apartment complex free of roaches and vermin. My rent soared from $800 a month at my old place to more than $1475 for the new place. While it's a lot more money, I don't regret a single thing about my decision to pay more in rent. Freedom from roach infestations is definitely worth the heavier financial price. Saving money is great, but having that extra few hundred in my account isn't worth the sheer torment of living with roaches invading your life completely and taking over your sanity.
Roach Infestations Are Bad For Your Health and Must Be Eliminated Quickly (Easier Said Than Done)
So other than the scare factor, why are cockroaches and the infestation that they bring to our homes so bad for you and I? First of all, it should be noted that not all insects are inherently bad. Some bugs like spiders and millipedes actually serve useful ecological purposes. Without their presence, our human existence would be inundated with out of control growth populations of pesky critters of all sorts. Most of these utilitarian insects help to control general insect population by building webs to trap, eat, and kill off other insects, helping to keep a lid on spiraling population growth. While I'm generally afraid of insects and roaches in particular, there are bugs that I have friendly, harmonious relationships with. When I see insects like lady bugs or even cicadas, I don't mind picking them up with my bare fingers to inspect them. I see them as friendly insects that help the environment, so I'm not automatically afraid of them. Roaches of all breeds on the other hand are a different story - they are simply vile. While cockroaches live all around the world and come in all shapes and sizes, the breeds I'm most adverse to are the classic American and German cockroach. These two breeds are the most common roach pests found in American homes.
Roaches are the ultimate scavengers and harbingers of disease, germs, and insect fecal wastes. They have no qualms about walking through through poo or other disgusting solids and liquids. Their bodies frequently carry around all sorts of germs and potential infection spreading agents. One huge problem that they cause for inhabitants of homes that they infect is the creation of roach dust that they build up and leave behind. Roach dust is made up of decayed roach body parts and droppings that become airborne, infecting our breathing and embedding itself onto our hairs, clothes, and furniture. Roach dust is a powerful asthmatic agent that has the potential to trigger significant asthma attacks in sensitive people.
Cockroaches will consume almost anything organic and even somethings otherwise inorganic. They'll chew threw paper, cloth, oils, bodily wastes, and any type of food or liquid product you leave behind. These little evil cannibals will even snack on the dead bodies of their fellow roach comrades they come across. Nothing is off limits when it comes to their diets. In their never ending pursuit for food, roaches often follow the footsteps of humans into homes and stay close to sources of water and food - which is why they are often found in bathrooms, kitchens, and places where food is plentiful (like near your dog or cat's food bowl).
The one singular thing that makes them so terrible and deserving of a spot in the Bible as an Old Testament plague is the fact they breed insanely fast and are nearly impossible to get rid of. Female roaches can lay up to 40 eggs at a time, laying up to a 400 evil babies in a lifetime. Their lifespan is a year long and adult roaches can go for a month without food, and even up to an hour without oxygen. They can live off of virtually anything. Even the organic glue compound found on the back of stamps or the nourishment of your dead skin flakes can sustain them for weeks.
Cockroaches are also very difficult to kill. Not only do they run like Olympic track stars, their bodies are extremely well adapted to fend off damage. Because their breathing system is made up of tubes on their bodies called trachea, they can continue to live even after their heads or limbs are chopped off - talk about walking zombies. Also, have you tried to chase down a roach with your shoe before? It's nearly impossible. It's like playing whack a mole on steroids as they dart around so fast, it's scary. They are able to quickly scurry into wall corners and flatten their bodies to avoid your newspaper punishment. They are also primarily nocturnal, preferring to come out at night. When they do, they are very stealthy and experts at staying hidden, invading your cabinets, sinks, toothbrushes, and your food stocks right under your nose. At the mere presence of light, they often smartly run for cover, unlike their more stupid cousin bugs that often sit there, succumbing to flattening attacks by humans.
How Do I Get Rid Of A Mild Cockroach Infestation, and Kill Roaches Using Roach Bait and Roach Traps?
The following words of advice are only suitable for those of you who have mild roach outbreaks in your home. If you only see a lone roach wandering around your home once every year, you probably don't have an infestation as it probably piggybacked into your home via a plastic grocery bag or something like that. However, if you are seeing them every few days, particular during the daytime when they are supposed to be in hiding, you may have a serious problem. If professional treatment and baiting are powerless, your only recourse may be to move out of your home completely like I did and not look back (if that option is available to you). Some things in life are lost causes. In serious infestations, the roaches probably have spread throughout all apartment buildings or all parts of your house. They've probably inhabited your base walls and have set up massive colonies of roach eggs and roach nurseries that are nearly impossible to eliminate completely. Remember, a single female roach once impregnated can continue to lay eggs throughout her entire life, spawning hundreds of hatchlings from just a single individual.
If the roach outbreak is not so dire where moving out is demanded, hiring a professional exterminator might due the trick. Professional exterminators have legal access to much more powerful roach flushing agents and pesticides to kill those little critters. For those who have children and pets in the home and are leery about using toxic pesticides, professional exterminators also have access to potent roach baits and gels that are less toxic for humans and pets. They work by slowly poisoning roaches. Laced with attractive smells to entice a roach, the victim eats the bait and ingests the delayed action poison that will ultimately kill it. When it travels back into the wall boards, it brings some of the poisoned food with it to share with others. In time, roach baits can kill off entire roach populations if the problem has not completely spiraled out of control.
In my opinion, cockroach bombs and roach foggers should be avoided. Not only are they extremely toxic to humans and pets, but their limitations are very well documented and observed. The irritants do drive away roaches temporarily, but they are not effective in killing the populations completely. The roaches will simply run for cover and hide until the toxic plumes have faded. As soon as you move back into your home after the roach bomb has done its work, they will come back out to play. Also, don't waste your money on those pointless electronic pest control repellent scams that you see on TV all the time. Supposedly, simply by plugging the electronic pest control repellent device into your electrical outlet and activating it, the system emits an ultra high frequency wave that irritates and drives away pests like roaches and rodents. These devices are supposed to be safe for both humans and pets. However, they're pure junk and scams in my opinion. Both rats and roaches are extremely durable and hardy animals, conditioned to survive even nuclear devastations if it ever came down to it, so neither of them is likely going to be stopped by some pointless frequency wave. To get rid of them, you're going to have to resort to good old fashioned roach food deprivation and chemical warfare. Ditch the expensive electronic pest control repellent devices and don't waste your money.
For those of you with mild roach infestations, here are some home remedies and homemade solutions to help you kill them, exterminate their colonies, and keep your home free of pesky cockroaches. Much of your efforts will be spent targeting notorious problem areas like the kitchen and bathroom.
Household Solutions To Get Rid Of A Mild To Manageable Roach Problem:
1) Eliminate the Roaches' Source Of Food, Water, Shelter, and Entry - Unless you live in a shared apartment complex that allows roaches to travel freely from one unit until into another, keeping your home clean is the most effective way to get rid of roaches. Cockroaches invade our homes usually to seek out food and water. Wash your dishes immediately after every meal and wipe down kitchen counters frequently, as roaches like to snack on greases and food oils. Vacuum your carpet and wipe down your hardwood floors and tiles as often as you can to ensure no food or liquid particles remain to feed the roaches. Fix leaky faucets as well as they offer roaches a free tasty source of water to drink from. If you have pets like cats, dogs, or even birds, clean the pet living areas frequently and make sure their food bowls are washed and cleaned after use. Dog food sacks are frequently targets of roaches - always seal them in special airtight containers. Also, make sure there are no open canisters of food or liquids anywhere in your home. Roaches can sniff them out and they will find them. Practice throwing out your trash bags on a daily basis. Trash cans contain all sorts of attractive aromas for roaches. Eliminate this prevalent food source if you can.
Finding out how they are getting into your home is easier said than done. Oftentimes roaches found their way into your home via air vents, front doors, or even cracks outside of your home. Oftentimes, telltale signs like roach droppings - tiny brown pellets of slime, indicate the presence of roaches. Frequently, professional help is needed to help you pinpoint the entry way. Finding out where they are living in your home exactly is also difficult without expert help. But once you locate how they enter your home and where they congregate, a liberal application of roach pesticide spray along the access points will provide long lasting walkways of doom for these roaches.
2) Use Non Toxic Boric Acid Or Diatomaceous Earth - While I've personally had limited success with using boric acid or even diatomaceous earth powder to control roach populations, perhaps you'll have more success than I. Borate powders are generally non toxic to humans, pets, and children although you obviously shouldn't intentionally ingest them. Despite prolonged exposure, my parrot, my friend's cat, and myself managed to remain perfectly healthy in the presence of boric dusted rooms. However, these powders are supposedly toxic and deadly against insects. As insects like roaches come into contact with the powder, the powder sticks onto their outer shell, causing gradual roach death. The downside is that boric acid powder kills very slowly and sometimes it may take days before the acid takes effect. But the plus side is that the compound can remain effective for years if the powder remains dry. Boric acid powders also allow you to dust in areas where the roaches are likely to hide and where humans and pets are less likely to come in contact with - such as in the crevices behind your kitchen appliances and spaces underneath your refrigerator.
Boric acid can be purchased at local retail hardware stores and most drug stores. They usually come in a squeeze bottle with a narrow spout that allows easy dusting once cut. Retail boric acid powder is usually white although some brands color the product light blue so you can see the product better. The key is to dust in areas where roaches are likely to walk through. Roach behavior usually dictates that they prefer to walk along edges where their bodies are in constant contact with some type of wall. Thus, remember to dust the boric acid under your stove and refrigerator, along wall edges, around door frames and open spaces inside of cabinets, sinks, and shelves.
Another product that is used by some is a form of illegal insecticide commonly called "Chinese Chalk", because of their sale in many Chinatown locations. However the sale and purchase of Chinese Chalk is illegal due to the many child related poisonings attributed to the product's resemblance to common classroom chalk. Supposedly, one can use the chalk to draw lines of kill zones on the ground to poison any roach or ant that walks across it. It probably works the same way as boric acid, but with substantially greater toxicity and health danger to humans. I don't recommend using it - it's illegal anyway.
3) Use Roach Traps, Roach Bait, and Roach Gels - Roach baits in all forms contain a combination of poison chemical and attractive food lures to entice roaches to eat them. They are actually quite effective if used in large quantities in strategic indoor locations where it's dark and moist. Like boric acid powder, they both kill slowly. However, this slow killing power is actually the most effective form of mild roach infestation control because it allows the poison to be ingested and taken by the roach into the roach lair to kill the population at its source.
The baits can come in the form of a little plastic roach bait station (roach motel) or they can come in gel syringe form. The plastic roach baits are easier to set and tend to last longer in duration, but I think they are slightly less effective than roach gel baits. Gel baits are very effective but they tend to dry out quicker, not to mention the gels are messier and harder to clean up. The gels also need to be re-applied every few weeks for maximum effect. Roach gels should be lightly applied in corners, on plumping fixtures, on interior cabinet edge corners, and under appliances where it's usually dark. Remember not to combine roach bait and roach gels with instant killing pesticide sprays. The objective with baits is not to kill them instantly, but to allow one infected roach to spread the poison love to others. Popular retail roach bait brands include MaxForce, Combat, and Raid. I don't have any preferences or recommendations because they're all about the same in terms of effectiveness. Try buying all three and using them all simultaneously if you have the money to do so - their poison chemical compositions differ somewhat.
4) Use Roach Insecticide Sprays - These aerosol powered spray cans contain a lethal dose of bug killing liquids. By spraying the roach insecticide chemicals along hidden baseboard floors and on dark and hidden areas underneath and inside cabinets where roaches frequent, you provide tremendous roach killing power on contact. The insecticide sprays contain a chemical that instantly starts to kill the roaches on contact should one wander across a sprayed area. While it's great to know that it's lights out for any roach that crosses its path, the sprays do not provide much residual or long lasting roach control. Only roach baits can target the roach nests and hit the source of the spawning problem. However, back when I had a heavy roach problem, I always kept a few bottles around at the ready. Chasing a fast running roach is much easier with a roach spray. It beats having to swing wildly like a drunkard with a shoe or newspaper.
5) Use Water Jars (Vegas Roach Jars) - Another common household remedy to combat mild roach problems is the use of a so-called Las Vegas roach trap jar. It's called that because the practice was recently popularized by a Las Vegas news report of its effectiveness in catching roaches. While I've never tried it out, the concept sounds rather interesting.���� The Vegas���� cockroach trap consists of a glass jar filled with coffee grounds (as bait), and a little bit of water that is placed against a wall. It is important that the roach jar trap is placed against a wall because roaches prefer to travel along edges where their bodies can maintain constant contact with a wall. Some people like to place Scotch masking tape on the outside of the jar to give the roach more traction. However, once they fall into the jar, the slippery glass surface prevents them from being able to climb out. Supposedly, cockroaches are attracted to these water jars. This type of homemade anti-roach remedy if effective, is a wonderful alternative to using toxic insecticides and baits. But frankly, I'm not fully convinced the technique actually works.
I'm sure everyone has their own secrets and methods to killing roaches. Feel free to share your ideas.