Ask a Clean Person: The War on Bugs

Someone I know, not me of course, because come on, and I still want friends to want to come to my house, has recently developed a cockroach problem: horrible, awful, skittery animals in her kitchen and as soon as she thinks about them walking on her silverware she convulses and even though she is a strong person and a liberated woman she screams and grabs someone else’s shoe and splatters them every time she sees them and tries not to throw up the whole way to flushing them down the toilet. It’s so horrible for her!

OK, well, so. This person put out 12 roach baits one difficult night when she came home a little tipsy and got out of bed naked to get some water and saw a cockroach and baited the whole kitchen and bathroom and even the living room, in the nude, drunk, crying a little bit, but it doesn’t seem like they’re helping. The other problem here is that she has a very loving dog so she a) is afraid to use chemicals where the dog will lick them and b) has to leave a bowl of water out which she thinks is something the roaches like.

So, then. Can you help her? Please?

Ladies, listen up: This here is going to be a safe space to share your bug horror stories (or, um, the bug horror stories of your friends) and the tales of your triumphs over skittering pests. Proceed at your own risk.

Missybritches, I can indeed help! The good news is that there are a whole host of roach elimination solutions that are pet-safe! HURRAH! Short of hiring an exterminator — which I would also suggest if your problem is a serious one; renters, be sure to check with your landlord about bringing someone in/reimbursing you if you hire someone directly; pet owners, check with your vet about what is and is not safe for your furry friend — the most effective roach slayer is boric acid.

You can find it at any hardware or home improvement store, and it’s pretty cheap too. To use it, sprinkle a small amount along your baseboards, in crevices where the roaches might be hanging out, under the sink, etc. A thin coating will suffice — less is more with boric acid because if you make piles of it the roaches will just WALK AROUND IT. Ugh God they are sooo grooossss.

In terms of the dog’s water bowl, you’re correct to think that the roaches are enjoying an evening happy hour courtesy of Rover. Is it possible for you to dump out the water and wipe the bowl dry each night before bed? If so, do that until you’ve gotten the problem under control. (By ‘you’ I mean ‘your friend’ obviously.)

If you wanted to do some more reading (why?), here are some links you might find helpful:

Organic cockroach control

 — Controlling cockroaches

 — DIY roach trap (Did you know that roaches love coffee? I did not know that! Me and roaches, so much in common!)

Also you should hard clean your kitchen. If for no other reason than it will be good for your psyche. I mean, your friend’s psyche.

Fruit flies have infested my apartment. And not just in the kitchen. In the bathroom, too. They’re disgusting. And almost everywhere.

Here are the precautions I have already taken: I have a little compost pail with filters which has helped (except for the ones that manage to make inside the pail). So I have no organic matter in the garbage. About once a week, I pour a baking soda-vinegar mix or a non-toxic, enzyme product down my kitchen drain to make sure there’s no leftover food gunk down there either. I also no longer keep fruit out on the counter — it’s all in the fridge. So what gives? Help!

Well great, all of that is a fantastic start! You should also consider giving your kitchen a hard cleaning. The problem is that while, yes, you need to make changes so your home isn’t welcoming to fruit flies you sort of forgot the part where you have to actually kill the ones you’ve already taken in.

So kill them we will! The best part is that we’re going kill them with crafts.

What you need in your life is a fruit fly trap. Or traps, depending on how bad things are. There are three basic traps:

1. A bowl, jar or glass filled with liquid fruit fly “lure”

2. A bowl, jar or glass filled with liquid fruit fly “lure” topped with plastic wrap with a few puncture wounds and secured with a rubber band

3. A bowl, jar or glass filled with liquid fruit fly “lure” with an inverted paper cone inserted into it (to make things even more fun, the fine folks at re-nest made a downloadable fruit fly gravestone-cum-cone trap!)

The idea here is that the “lure” will attract the fruit flies and then they will drown. Ha ha stupid fruit flies. All kinds of things work as a lure: Wine, beer, cider vinegar, fruit juice, etc. Use what you’ve got! Mix in some dish soap if you want to make things more toxic for them! They apparently hate the smell of basil — finally, an excuse to splurge on that Mrs. Meyer’s soap you’ve been wanting.

Fun fact: The anal glands of fruit flies are stored in their wings! If I have to know it, you have to know it.

I’ve read all about the traps where you leave vinegar or juice in a bowl with some hole-y saran wrap in order to kill fruit flies. This has worked pretty minimally for me, and honest to goodness some have even escaped the traps. The most I’ve caught over a few day period is about two, and there are probably at least a half dozen flying around at any given point in time. Is there any sort of trapping/killing method that would actually work?

Sure there are! If the DIY trap doesn’t work for you, which it will in most but not all cases, check out some of these solutions:

Also you need to hard clean your kitchen.

WHAT ON EARTH CAN BE DONE ABOUT THOSE TERRIBLE PANTRY MOTHS?????? IT SEEMS LIKE NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES I THROW EVERYTHING AWAY AND DOUSE EVERYTHING IN BLEACH, THEY ALWAYS COME BACK. How do I A) get rid of them when I have them and B) prevent them from ever coming back once I have gotten rid of them?

Pantry moths, or Indianmeal moths, are a particularly insidious grain-feeding pest. They are beastly to get rid of, but it can be done!

This is a great piece on eliminating and preventing pantry moths, made even better by the fact that the solutions proffered are all eco-friendly. They’re also sort of delightfully strange! Did you know that insects of all stripes HATE bay leaves? They do! Moths, roaches, flies, ants — they all hate bay leaves the way Celine Dion hates pants that fit loosely around the crotch. So invest in bay leaves and stick one in, like, everything?

The basics are as follows:

Discard any infested items, removing them from the home entirely, i.e. don’t just infested bags of flour in your trash. Take your trash OUT. Items that you suspect of being infested but that you can’t bear to throw out can go in the freezer for a few days, which will kill any pesties.

Do a thorough pantry clean with warm soapy water, followed by wiping everything down with white vinegar. You want to be on the lookout not only for the moths, but for the larvae as well. (If you guys only knew how many times I cringed and shuddered and scratched wide swathes of my skin off at the word ‘larvae’ while researching this post you’d set up a Kickstarter to keep me in white wine, ice, Xanax and calamine lotion until the end of time.)

Essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree or citronella can be dabbed about to ward off bugs. They hate the smell!

Store all dry goods in glass or metal sealable containers.

I’m going to spare you guys the horror stories I came across while researching this particular question (pro tip: don’t read the comments on that re-nest post), but believe me when I say that pantry moths are wily little fuckers who can get through the most extraordinary range of packaging options, so do invest the extra money for glass or metal canisters. You also might want to consider buying cupboard moth traps.

To the last part of your question: The thing is about pretty much all insect problems is that there’s no way to guarantee that they will absolutely, never ever, 100%-no-way-no-how-nope return.

Previously: Hard Cleaning a Kitchen.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you looking for a green alternative to the suggestions found here? Because we’ve got some! More importantly: Is anything you own dirty?