Ask a Clean Person: Here We Go Again With the Roaches

HELP. After a ridiculous month of a roommate ditching me with a lease I couldn’t afford and me subsequently living with my boyfriend for a month in his apartment that’s barely big enough for him, I finally moved into a room of my own on June 1. It’s close to public transportation, it’s pretty, and I have hung things on the walls, and I was oh-so very happy.

Until this morning, when I swung my legs around to get out of bed and I saw a big black thing scurry across the floor under my bed. To make it worse, my college roommate was visiting and she was sleeping on the floor. I saw another a few moments later, and then I saw one of them scurry out of my apartment from the crack under my door.

I suspected a cockroach invasion, though I’d never had them before, and my college roommate confirmed that suspicion. I already called the management company and left them a panicked voicemail, and I am now fleeing to Starbucks seeking asylum from creepy crawly things.

Basically, aside from wanting some sympathy, I want to know if there’s anything I need to be doing besides calling the landlord every half hour. I don’t usually leave food out, but I did leave two croissants on the kitchen table (in a bag) last night. Could this have attracted them? I have sugar in an open bag in a cabinet, and believe me, I will now be tossing it and getting a sealed container for my new sugar. Actually I’m tossing pretty much everything from the kitchen cabinets. But … I start grad school tomorrow and I am a very big morning tea drinker and I’m wondering about my tea. I promise I’ll toss the box and get a new one stat and put it in a sealed plastic container, but how likely is it that the roaches have attacked the tea box? I’d just like to be caffeinated tomorrow morning without shelling out $5 for Starbucks given the ridiculous amount of loans I will be taking out as of tomorrow. Am I going to have to see the cockroaches again? I just moved in a TV I bought used yesterday morning — could they have been hiding in there somehow and then laid siege to my apartment? It’s also been super hot lately, so I had all of my windows open (though the screens were down) last night. Is this the source of my problems? Should I always leave windows closed? Should I always leave them open? Is it because we were making paper flowers on the floor last night? Do cockroaches like to eat paper? Why were these wayward creatures in my bedroom and not my kitchen? What did I do to upset the gods of rental housing in the past month, and how can I appease them?

Advice and emotional support would be appreciated. As you can tell, I am a bit undone by this.

You will be okay. I promise! This is not your fault! (Okay fine, the paper flowers are a little suspect.) Roaches happen — especially in the summer months when the windows are open. You asked if it’s possible they got in via the TV, and yes that is definitely possible. Though the likely culprit is the window. Either way, though, this is important to remember: it happens to the best of us, and a roach sighting need not be an indictment of your housekeeping skills. (I once lived in a ground-floor apartment where roaches would come to chill with us after a big rain storm. The second time it happened my roommate lost it on our landlord and shouted, “THIS IS NOT ON US. JOLIE IS SO CLEAN, YOU HAVE NO IDEA. YOU CAN COME LOOK UNDERNEATH OUR KITCHEN SINK. IT IS PERFECTLY ORGANIZED UNDER THERE.”)

Right then, there’s some emotional support for you! How about some advice? Sure! Well the first piece of advice is to stop calling your landlord every hour. One call will suffice! Because really this is a thing you can take into your own hands, and you should, for two reasons: (1) the swiftest course of action is to get your hands on a few roach repellents, rather than waiting for an exterminator and (2) psychologically, it will make you feel better to take charge rather than fleeing your home in fear.

Now then, I’m not saying you shouldn’t call in an exterminator. No no! By all means bring in a professional in addition to taking the following steps — especially to help you identify where the roaches might be coming from — but an exterminator requires waiting. I’m also not going to try to tell you not to be totally freaked by roaches. None of that “You’re bigger than they are!” nonsense from me. I mean, I’m deathly afraid of pigeons, I’m not here to judge. But! We’re also all grown-ass women (and men!) and, barring the existence of a crippling phobia, none of us need to give into the urge to stand on chair and scream at the sight of an insect or vermin. (Pigeons? Yes. I carry a chair around with me at all times so I have a perch from which to stand and scream during my commute.)

Your first step should be to leave the house. Not because you’re fleeing, but because you’re going shopping. On your way out do feel free to turn around and tell those roaches that when the going gets tough the tough go shopping. Just so they know who’s boss. Get yourself some roach hotels and scatter them about. Another super effective roach slayer is boric acid, which you can find at any hardware or home improvement store, and it’s pretty cheap, too. It sounds scary but it’s not — at least not to us. To roaches, however, it’s super deadly. 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. And you want them to walk through it, because it will stick to their shell and then they’ll, like, groom themselves and ingest the stuff and BLAMMO DEAD INVADING INSECTS!

The other thing you should do is execute a hard clean on your kitchen. Would you like some guidance? I have some to offer you!

Unless you’ve actually found roaches in things, your food — including your tea — will be fine. If you’re freaked out, then by all means get rid of whatever you want to, but I don’t think it’s at all necessary. However, transferring things into sealable plastic or glass containers is a good idea.

Since we’re talking about food, you’ll want to bear in mind that roaches love coffee, and that if you’re dealing with a roach problem you should consider keeping your coffee in the refrigerator or freezer, since even in a sealable container the smell can be powerful. Also, roaches can survive for a long time without food, but they need water, so make sure you wipe up any spills and ensure that the sink is dry before you go to bed at night.

Okay so! I hope you’re feeling a little bit better about things. It’s never fun to find an uninvited guest in the home, but you will be just fine. And I’ve had a words with the gods of rental housing and they’ve agreed to lay off you; they’re sorry, they were just having a bit of sport but are duly chagrined that they’ve taken it too far.

Previously: The War on Bugs.

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 curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?