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Ask an Expert: Die, roaches, die

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Q. What's the most effective way to get rid of roaches? Also, are any of the sprays harmful to kids or pets? 

A.  We assume you are referring to ordinary roaches, about half-an inch long, rather than one-to-two inch behemoth beetle-like cockroaches commonly (though incorrectly) referred to as water bugs.  

The smaller variety can be brought in with groceries or deliveries and occasionally migrate from an adjacent "reservoir" apartment, says pest control expert Gil Bloom.  Simply calling an exterminator in to spray may not be enough.

If they're coming in from next door, says Bloom, "use of a sealant to caulk around kitchen and bathroom areas and service lines as well as wall-void application of diatomaceous earth or boric acid is a good prevention."

Other tips:  Don't leave human or animal food out, empty your garbage cans twice a day, and don't save bags, boxes, newspapers etc.

Insect traps can be helpful, says Bloom, as well as a variety of baits that you can buy at the hardware or drugstore and put in the hot spots where you see roaches, or between the scavengers and their food source.

"Boric acid baits are the least toxic for non-insects and diatomaceous earth is a reduced risk dust which is effective for most insects including the dreaded bed bug," says Bloom.  

As far as sprays go, there are two general types: Direct, which must be sprayed on the actual roach (many "green" sprays require direct contact), and residuals, which last from weeks to a month or so and are applied to cracks and crevices where roaches spend their time. Professional exterminators commonly employ residuals along with baits and “green” products. You too can buy residual materials in ready to use formulations; the challenge is applying it where the roaches rest.

As far as safety, "Most materials have pretty good information on their labels, so read it," says Bloom.  If you're following directions and using common sense, he says, these products "should pose little to no hazard to children or pets."

If you are dealing with a so-called "water-bug"--which Bloom says is actually either an Oriental or American cockroach--you will probably need to call in reinforcements as it may be a building issue.

"The big guys, which can be an inch or two in size, come from the basement, through a pipe or up the wall from the outside," he says. "Control consists of exclusion, like sealing gaps and openings especially around pipes, or screening your windows if you are on the first floor."

"Occasionally," says Bloom, "the American roach may find its way through unused drains where the water has evaporated from the U bend in the trap."

The building may also need to do some work such as sealing sump pumps, securing sewer caps, screening drains and vents and eliminating moisture issues. 


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