Eradicate Roaches without Polluting Your Home

A tube of caulk and a little patience will kill cockroaches much more effectively than a cloud of chemicals, a new study finds.

May 27, 2009

Bug out: Get rid of roaches by understanding where they come from and what they want.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Toxic bug bombs that leave a cloud of chemicals lingering in the air are far from the only way to rid a home of a serious cockroach problem. In fact, according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, the most effective way to kill cockroaches is to swap the bug bomb for a magnifying glass.

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THE DETAILS: The researchers looked at roach-control methods used by three North Carolina school districts. One district used a professional exterminator, who sprayed organophosphate or pyrethroid chemicals (the same synthetic chemicals used in Raid and other commercial insect sprays) to baseboards once a month, and occasionally used baits in cracks and crevices, but didn’t inspect the property to see where the bugs were likely to be living (or if there were any to spray for).

The second district left the chemical spraying up to the janitorial staff, who applied boric acid and bait gels along baseboards, but called in professionals on an as-needed basis. The professionals used pyrethroids as well as insect growth regulators (chemicals that don’t kill an insect but disrupt its breeding process).

The third district used integrated pest management (IPM) tactics, which use chemicals only as a last resort. Specially trained technicians visited schools monthly and performed visual inspections for pests, documenting conditions that may have been conducive to roaches (for instance, food on countertops, or leaky pipes) and asked the school to fix those problems. They used sticky traps to monitor cockroach activity between visits. If eliminating a roach-friendly condition didn’t solve the problem, they would use bait traps, or spray chemicals into cracks and crevices where insects were found to be living (rather than on surfaces with which children could come into contact).

To see how well each system worked, researchers set out cockroach traps in cafeterias, kitchens, bathrooms, and teachers’ lounges, and performed visual inspections at each location. At the IPM schools, the researchers’ 41 cockroach traps didn’t catch a single insect, while the 80 traps set out at the conventionally treated schools caught an average of 82 insects per trap per week.

WHAT IT MEANS: If chemical-free pest control methods can work that effectively in schools with all those kids, crumbs, and cockroach-friendly hiding places, just imagine how well they’ll work in your home. IPM does require a bit more effort, but as this study found, what you pay in time and effort, you get back in a bug-free home.

Put down the can of toxic spray and try these IPM methods to keep roaches and other pesky bugs away this summer:

• Use traps. Sticky traps, such as the ones used in this study, are good tools for determining where roaches are entering your home. Set them down anywhere you may suspect them of entering, or anywhere you see cast skins, fecal matter, eggs, or dead cockroaches.

• Starve them out. Roaches come out of their hiding places to look for food and water, so…

• Keep your own food in airtight containers.
• Get tight lids for all your trashcans.
• Fix leaky pipes and faucets, and keep overly damp rooms, like bathrooms and basements, well ventilated.
• Clean up food spills immediately.
• Vacuum cracks and crevices to remove food and dust (and to suck up any insects that may be living in them).

• Keep them out. You won’t have to worry about killing cockroaches if they never get inside in the first place.

• Seal all potential entry points, such as cracks around your home’s foundation, and use weather stripping on doors or windows to close gaps there.
• Do the same for cracks you see indoors, and if need be, squirt a little boric acid into the cracks before you do to kill bugs hiding in your walls.
• Use foam to fill in gaps around your pipes.
• Fill in the gaps around your kitchen countertops with caulk.

• Be wary of storage. Items you’ve kept in a garage or storage shed may be harboring egg cases or even fully grown roaches (!). Vacuum stored items thoroughly before bringing them into your home.

• Hire a pro. If all your best efforts fail, call an IPM professional, not a chemical exterminator. Look in your local yellow pages, or find one through your state’s cooperative extension service.