Cockroaches, Fruit Flies, and Ants, Oh My!

Imagine that one day you look into an emptied out toy bin in your family room and you find a pretty large dead black bug in it.  Gross, but you don't think much of it.

Let's say a few weeks later at night, you turn on the light in the garage and see a pretty large black bug race across the ground.  Oh well, it's just the garage.  Practically outdoors anyway.

Let's say a few weeks later, late at night when you are up with a sick kid or because you need to use the bathroom, you see a pretty large black bug scurry across the hall or in a corner.  This happens maybe once a week for a few weeks.  You tell your husband.  He says he's sure it's just beetles.

Imagine that you start to see these black bugs scurrying around your house at night almost every night now.  At least every night you are awake past 9 pm.  Sometimes you see two in one night.  You decide to do a little Internet research.  You conclude those black bugs are not beetles.  They are cockroaches.  (One site advises you: "If you suspect that you might have cockroaches, you have cockroaches.")

Let's say you see one of these black bugs scurry across your white tile floor in your bathroom in the middle of the night when you have to pee and you don't even have your contacts in and now you are WIDE awake and won't be falling back asleep for a while.  You tell your husband you really need to do something about this.  Your husband, who spent many formative years in apartments in East Los Angeles, is significantly less phased by your nighttime visitors.  When you tell your friends, they are completely grossed out, and share cockroach horror stories from their time living in less developed countries.

Let's say your husband runs into a Terminix guy out front the neighbor's house.  The Terminix guy says that several of your neighbors are infested with cockroaches and are having their homes and garages sprayed.  He says you will have one million cockroaches in your house in 3 days if you do nothing (or something along those lines) because they lay eggs so fast.  He says that for every cockroach you see, there are hundreds of others in your house.  Upon hearing this report from your husband, you try to remind yourself that the guy is a salesman.  Walking around your neighborhood the next few weeks, you often see a Terminix truck parked outside a neighbor's home.

Let's say not long after, you are sitting in the dark on the sofa with your husband watching a little TV after the kids have gone to bed, it's a little bit cool in the house, so you pull a down blanket out of the bin in the corner next to the sofa (where you cleverly stash blankets for just this kind of occasion).  You put the blanket over your lap, and then see a black something scurry across the tan blanket in your peripheral vision.  Well, heck, you're sitting in the dark so you are not sure what you saw, but with an equal mixture of fear and curiosity, you shift the blanket for a second look, and sure enough, there's a cockroach (on your lap).  But you don't move fast enough to kill it (because you are kind of in shock), so now it's under your sofa or in a crack in your wall.

At this point, what should you do?
A. Have a nervous breakdown.
B. Move out of the house.  You're just renting, after all.
C. Call and book Terminix immediately.
D. Go to Home Depot and buy an arsenal of pesticides and begin fumigating and spraying your home immediately.
E. Go to Home Depot, buy traps for the inside, and a spray that claims to be eco-friendly for the outside, and thank your lucky stars that Home Depot sells something that doesn't have a skull and crossbones on it.

As you may have surmised by now, this is the true story of what happened to me earlier this year.  This was after the ants, after the fruit flies, and after a lice scare.  Oh, yes, we also had mice in our garage at one point.  Sometimes I think of this past year as the year of the pestilences.

And I chose option E.  And you know why?  Because as much as I am freaked out by cockroaches, I am freaked out even more by pesticides.  The supposedly eco-friendly spray I bought (Eco-Smart) is indeed, as far as I can tell, safe and non-toxic (both active and inactive ingredients are disclosed; active ingredients are plant oils).  The label says that it is safe to use indoors around food, kids and pets (any conventional pesticide is not allowed to use the word "safe" on the label at all).  I still chose to use it only outside, and only when my kids wouldn't be out there playing for at least half a day.  And we put lots of traps inside, out of reach from little hands.  And you know what?  It worked.  After a few weeks, no more cockroach sightings.  I think I've seen one or two cockroaches around the perimeter of my house, and one or two inside my house in the last many months.

My advice to all of you:  be proactive.  As soon as you see pests, do something.  If we had acted the first time we saw a cockroach, we probably could have just used traps and that's it.  And I never would have had to experience that episode where a cockroach crawled across my lap late at night in the dark.  If things get worse, use some kind of spray/material that is safe and eco-friendly outside, and traps inside.  If things get even worse, hire a company that uses eco-friendly materials.  Ask about the active and inactive ingredients that they use and do your homework before booking them.  Most importantly (and we all have the last decade of advocacy, research, and consumer agitation to thank for this), remember that you have options.  You do not need to expose your children or yourself to conventional pesticide chemicals.  You can find something safer to use, even at Home Depot.

Additional Resources
Ants (Eco-novice)
Beyond Pesticides
Prevent Pests Naturally (Healthy Child Healthy World)
A Doctor’s Viewpoint: How Pesticides Can Impact Children (Healthy Child Healthy World)

How have you dealt with pests?

Photo credit: masterbutler

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  1. Oh Betsy-nervous breakdown would have been my first reaction! Then hopefully the non-toxic alternatives. What a year you've had! I'm so glad the chemical free method worked for you. Hopefully those cockroaches have taken their families far away from your home. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Thanks, Lori aka groovygreenlivin. Thanks for sharing your lice story!

  3. Gross! I would have died! I now this must have sucked big tie for you, but your story made me giggle a little. Thanks for sharing!

  4. GGGG, I'm sure I'll laugh about it time.

  5. There is another option. You can still go to the hardware store, and buy some weatherstripping and caulk, go home and seal everything, including places where electric wires, communication cables, and plumbing pipes enter your home. Check the fit on all your window screens, make sure that your weatherstripping is in good repair, that your door sweeps reach the floor, and that all windows and doors are properly caulked. A half inch gap, crack, or hole is like a super highway for pests. A creature as large as a Norway rat can even squeeze through. Roaches, ants, and mice can squeeze through a much smaller opening. Preventing pests is much easier than controlling them once they get inside.

  6. James, I think that is good advice, and I've read it before. The problem is that 1) I'm renting and 2) I live in an old home with approximately 100,000 different points of entry for pests. It probably would help to focus on door sweeps and maybe some caulking here and there, but whenever I've closed up one spot, they've just found another, and honestly, they haven't found the kitchen yet, so I'm loathe to push them from where they are into the kitchen. If I owned a place, this is definitely something I would look into. I will say that I seemed to solve my fruit fly problem partially by repairing screens.

  7. We had a major rat problem in our attic, and we opted for Shake Away rodent repellent around our foundation and in our attic. It is basically crystallized predator urine, much better and significantly cheaper than what the exterminator wanted to use. And it worked!

  8. Betsy,good points all. There is a nice, less difficult, temporary measure. Keep a little steel wool handy to poke into a hole or crack when you find it. It will also do as a temporary repair for screens. Bugs can't get through the stuff, and mice will give up trying quickly as well. The website "Bugs And Weeds" was created solely for the purpose of pest prevention education if your readers want to know more. You have a nice site, and it is a good work that you are doing.

  9. Kelly, I'm so glad that worked! Rats in the attic sounds like tons o' fun.

    James, your site looks like it has tons of integrated pest managemt type info. Thanks for the tips. I know other green bloggers who've used the steel wool trick and had it work for them.

  10. Been there! What I learned living in NYC for 16 years (where your apartment is only a wall away from someone elses') is that you can never let down your guard. The kitchen counters and floor must always be free of crumbs, and everything in the kitchen must be sealed up. Keep a box of wooden clothespins for securing plastic cereal bags (inside the boxes.) Keep a big tupperware bin for bags of flour, sugar and other baking essentials to hide inside. Or use canisters. If there's no available food, they'll prefer the neighbor's house.

    Good for you, getting rid of them!


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