Of all the household pests, the roach is quite possibly the most loathed. The hallmark of any filthy college apartment, the dread of any professional kitchen, the cause for deep sorrow for any new tenant or homeowner. Nobody likes roaches. They are common, robust, plentiful, and disgusting. Ants, spiders, termites, house centipedes, even mice, while all potentially more troublesome, just don’t trigger the revulsion of seeing a cockroach skittering across a kitchen floor.
It’s hard to say why exactly, but there are some aesthetic and practical reasons that they are problematic houseguests. For one, they look super gross. That vaguely waxy exterior that looks almost like old leather or mummified skin. They also make that creepy skittering noise and sometimes even hiss. And they’re hard to kill. Ever step on one only to momentarily stun it before it runs away? Shudder.
All that in mind, it’s no wonder why people literally pump poison gas into their houses to eradicate them. Or just grab a can of Raid and spray away. But people are increasingly intolerant of the use of poisons in household care. The poisons that kill the pests can also have negative health effects on you, your family and your pets. While there are times when the infestation is so bad, only professional extermination will do, there are some very basic, and quite effective, natural solutions for a roach problem.
Cockroaches. Cool and gross.To learn how to control a roach problem, it’s important to learn a little basic information about what makes them tick and why they can be a problem. Cockroaches are among the toughest and most common of household pests. While there are some 4,000 species of roach in the world (check out blaberus giganteus and the giant burrowing cockroach!), there are only four species that commonly plague human dwellings.
There’s the American cockroach, common in sewers. The brownbanded cockroach is a fan of offices, as it’s attracted to warm appliances and starchy foods like stamp and envelope glue. The Oriental cockroach is often called a water bug, and likes cool and damp places. And then there is the German cockroach, the most common pest in homes. They like temperatures right about 70 degrees, convenient food supplies, and they reproduce the fastest of these species—one female and her offspring can produce more than 30,000 insects in a year.
Aside from the fact that they reproduce so much, one reason roaches are such pests is that they are survivors. Some species can live a month without food, can go without air for 45 minutes, and can survive extreme temperatures. And yes, as the legend goes, a cockroach can live post-decapitation (as can many insects), with the body retaining instinctive functions and the head continuing to wave its antenna for several hours after detachment, or longer if you…gulp…provide it with nutrients. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to shower for a few hours.
Roaches are also sneaky little bastards. They are nocturnal, so you often never even see them, and they are fast, skittering away at exposure to light or movement. All this means they, more than some other insects, are hard to get rid of.
Why even worry about it? Well, a roach here and there really isn’t much to worry about. Other than the gross factor, it’s not the end of the world to see one in a home or workplace. But cockroaches are pretty dirty creatures. They eat garbage and other waste, so they can spread bacteria that can be harmful to humans. They also leave trails of fecal matter when they walk, which they use for navigation. They also smell bad and can trigger allergies and asthma in some people.
What do you mean natural?There are a variety of methods for getting rid of roaches, some natural and some synthetic. Both synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals can be harmful. A number of roach killers use poisons, substances that when absorbed by animals can be harmful. Raid, for example, has a chemical called Permethrin, a neurotoxin that’s been linked to headaches, nausea, seizures and chronic illnesses at high doses. It’s also very harmful to cats. That doesn’t mean you necessarily can’t or shouldn’t use it—as with all poisons, its about dosage and exposure. In fact, for severe infestations, sometimes poisoning is your best or only option.
But before you go that route, we recommend trying milder, less harmful, often household items that can help with a roach problem, and that’s what we’re focusing on here. For the sake of this article, natural will mean not harmful, or least harmful to humans and pets, in contrast to using poison sprays or bombs.
Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of bugsprayFor starters, all exterminators and pest control experts will reinforce how important it is to treat the area with preventative measures in addition to any offensive measures employed. That’s because, as noted above, roaches are resilient and plentiful. So even if you spray the heck out of your home with poisons, that may kill those in the immediate vicinity, but there could be many more roaches hiding in the walls and cracks that survive and emerge later. To truly deal with a roach problem, you must make a dwelling unappealing and less accessible. Here’s how to do that.
Inspect: Roaches like moisture, food and hiding places. Your job is to get rid of these things as best you can. Look around the corners of your rooms, especially the kitchen and the bathroom. Look for cracks in the walls and seal them. Check behind refrigerators. Look for leaky faucets, sinks and tubs. Reduce moisture by fixing leaks and sealing gaps. Clean up wet spills. Find the “hot spots” the roaches like, where you see them and their droppings, and zone in on those places.
Eliminate their food: Exposed food is your enemy. Pet food, greasy messes, crumb, etc., draw roaches. Keep pet food tightly sealed up. Keep a clean house, especially in the bathroom and kitchen, around stoves, counters and cabinets. Mop, take out the trash and vacuum regularly. Clean cabinets, sinks, water heaters and insides of appliances with water and white vinegar. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to keep roaches away.
Get rid of clutter: They love tight, dark spaces to hang out with their buddies. Get rid of them. They especially love the smell and feel of paper and cardboard. Got any stacks of paper grocery bags in your cabinets? Get rid of them. Old moving boxes in closets? Adios. Keep your old newspapers in a pile in the corner? Recycle them. While you’re at it, take the tube extension of your vacuum and suck up any debris, droppings and even roaches themselves from the corners. Dispose of the bag outside.
This all can’t be stressed enough. If a house is dirty, cluttered and has food lying around, you’ll probably never get rid of your roach problem.
Natural Roach KillersOk, you’re running a tight ship, now what? Here are some remedies, with varying levels of effectiveness.
Traps: Store bought sticky traps do work, and they are especially good at helping you understand where the hot spots are. But they likely won’t take care of the problem unless it’s a very small infestation. You can also create jar traps by putting a little food in a glass jar, applying vaseline to the inside of the lip and placing it on the floor against a wall.
Borax or Boric Acid: This is the most popular and lauded natural roach killer. Borax is an easy-to-find household product often used in cleaning and laundry. It’s natural, environmentally sound, and safe to use. Don’t eat it, but aside from that it’s totally fine, and kills the heck out of roaches. Boric acid is not the same as borax, but has similar compounds and the same effect, although harder to find, and some people don’t feel as comfortable using it. You can mix the borax with sugar or cocoa and that will draw the roaches to it. Best not to leave giant heaps but light sprinkling in corners they like. Another approach is to mix Crisco, powdered sugar and flour with borax and form little balls to strategically place as baits. One word of warning, you don’t want your pet ingesting this, as it can be harmful to them, so don’t place out in the open. Stick to high places or tight spots they can’t reach. The roaches’ll find it.
Catnip or Bay Leaves: People commonly cite these easy to find items as natural repellents for roaches. I’ve read conflicting reports on their effectiveness but worth a try.
Diatomaceous Earth: This is a type of soil that is harmless to humans and animals, but has fine, sharp edges. The way this works is gross, but the tiny particles slice up the roach’s waxy shell and it dehydrates.
Geckos: This is my favorite solution. If you don’t mind a loose reptile in your house, geckos love to eat roaches. Set a couple of them patrolling the premises and within weeks they’ll have made a serious impact on the roach population. Of course, once the roach problem is taken care of, you’ll have to provide a home for your new pet gecko. Chickens also will eat cockroaches, but that’s a bit less practical.