Help me, Homies: My slovenly roommates attract bugs which I’m powerless to stop

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Hissing Cockroach

Rachael needs your help!

I have a problem. A horrible, awful, kitchen bug problem.

Some of my roommates have been, let’s say, not so good with cleaning sometimes. So the bugs came. We rarely see them during the day, but they’re EVERYWHERE at night. Turning on the light, I usually have to stifle my instinctive scream. There are tiny little brown bugs everywhere. Not ants — they look like small roaches.

I’ve been actively working on the problem the last month by discouraging messes in the kitchen and cleaning down the counters and all around with a bleachy cleaning product. The bug problem is not getting better. It might be worse!

What’s my best option to take care of these pests? Bonus points for a gentler solution than my bleachy friend.

Comments on Help me, Homies: My slovenly roommates attract bugs which I’m powerless to stop

  1. Honestly, if you’re seeing large numbers of them and their numbers don’t seem to be abating, it’s probably time to call in a professional exterminator. Most cities these days have exterminators that use non-toxic chemicals, etc, but my guess is you’re going to need someone to go in and spray behind the walls and what not to truly solve the problem.

    • I totally agree. I’m all for the all-natural deterrent to bugs/other crawly things but I’ve fought both ants and fleas with natural solutions to no avail-it was only when I broke out the straight up poison that I got any relief. Ortho home defense spray helped with fleas. AND if you go the professional route, I’d ask my roomies very nicely to chip in to (at least help) pay for the exterminator. 🙂

      • Just as an FYI for in the future: my husband and I had a hardcore flea invasion last year. We tried all the DIY nontoxic-to-humans solutions we could find, to no avail. However, we called in a professional steam cleaner, and that did the trick!

  2. I had the same thing happen in a crappy apartment I moved into a while back. The exterminator is your friend.

    A couple of tips that helped (but did not solve) my little ‘festation:
    – Take a mason jar/juice glass/vase & put approx 1″ of white vineagar in the bottom. Cut a potato in half, prop on toothpicks and place in the jar so that the bottom of the tater is in the vineagar. Whatever reaction is taking place works to repel the little suckers.
    -Also, they HATE baking powder. If you sprinkle that wherever you believe they may be coming from, they won’t cross the line. Diatamaceous Earth is even more effective as it is a great drying agent (also works on pets as a flea/tick deterrent), but needs to be ordered online.

    However if these little suckers have taken up residence inside the wall outlets or the bottoms of appliances (oh the stories I could tell…) then it is time to call the exterminator. And schedule at least 3 visits.

    Good Luck!

    • I will second baking soda. I’ve used it for ants mixed with a little sugar so that they take it with them in a little trap. And alone sprinkled around the edges if the house, the doors and the walls.

    • we had an issue a few years ago. We sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the perimeter of the room and in the pantry cabinets. They quickly dissipated. I frequently found them dried up on the floor.

  3. Tiny brown bugs? Flour beetles perhaps? We’ve had them on and off for years due to making our own bread. Only thing I’ve found that worked was throwing out everything food related and shutting bowls of boiling water and bleach inside each cupboard to steam it.

  4. Move.

    No, seriously. We never did call a pro exterminator, but we had this exact same problem and the issue wasn’t necessarily cleanliness. These bugs need a water source. Our problem cropped up after our building’s handyman did some lazy repairs. Our dishwasher had been leaking for ages and they finally replaced it after several unsuccessful attempts to fix it. But when they installed the new one, they didn’t give us a chance to clean out that cubbyhole. They just shoved a new one into the space. I’m sure it was mold-y and disgusting back there. Then our cabinet under the kitchen sink showed signs of serious water damage, and after repeated repair requests, a guy finally came by and “fixed” it. By putting some cheap cabinet wood right over the top of the problem.

    Then the bugs came.

    We had traps, we sprayed. We removed everything from the counter and essentially stopped eating in our apartment. We doused everything in horrible chemicals and bleach. And still those bugs came. We watched them escape through the outlets. They were clearly living in the walls. And enjoying all the grossness behind the dishwasher and under the sink, I’m sure.

    It was disgusting and it was the last straw. So we saved every penny and left our old disgusting roommates who probably helped to bring on the problem.

    If moving truly isn’t an option, I’d say to save yourself the stress and hire the pro.

    • Just to echo what was said here: look for water somewhere. In the walls, under the fridge or washer… any time we’ve had a bad bug problem, we have not only been told by the exterminator that the root is usually a water leak somewhere, but we have also then found the water, fixed it, and been bug-free there on. If you have a landlord, it is absolutely their responsibility to make sure there is no water leaking, and if there is, they should fix both the water problem and the bug problem.

    • I 100% agree. My now husband had a horrible, horrible, nightmare inducing bug problem at his apartment before we got married. Nothing seemed to work, including a professional exterminator who came many times. When we were moving in together (new apt building, same landlord), I was terrified of bringing in the bugs. We took a lot of anti-roach measures and put out a lot of borax. For the next month or so, we still saw a few here and there, but less and less, and now it’s rare to see a bug. I think the preventative measures we took helped, but this apartment is just not as leaky as the old one. Just move.

  5. Agreed- Move.

    Or get new roommates.

    As long as there is food available, the bugs will come. And once they’re there, it’s really really hard to get them completely gone.

    I lived in a building of about 8 apartments once, and even though there was not a speck to be seen in our apartment, we had them. We couldn’t control our neighbors and they were in the walls at that point.

    It’s horrifying. So I agree with the above- if you live in a multi-unit place and/or you can’t afford the pros, you should probably cut your losses and move (with less messy roommates?). Good luck!!

    • Yeah, it’s really hard to get rid of bugs once you get them. I had them in my horrible basement apartment a few years back. They came down from the ceiling and hung out in my clean dishes *ugh*. I tried traps, Borax, squashing the ones I could and yelling “let that be a lesson to the rest of you” and nothing helped…except moving.

      The roaches were just one part of a generally dysfunctional building and an apathetic landlord. I was only there for 10 months.

      Once I moved out of that place, I had no further roach problems.

  6. Boric acid has worked really well for us. We had ants, and I sprinkled the boric acid along the baseboards and then mixed some in a bottlecap with sugar, which attracted them to it, and they were gone in a day or so.

    Also, if you do decide to hire a pro, there are companies who use natural products. We just hired one for our new house and the results so far have been amazing — since it was vacant for months, there were tons of bugs, spiders, etc. and pretty much immediately there are now a whole lot of DEAD bugs, which is great, and they didn’t use any chemicals.

    Also, THANK YOU to the editors for not putting a picture of an actual bug.

    • I agree with the effectiveness of Boric acid, but if fur babies are sharing the space it is poison for them as well. Be careful to place it out of reach of any fur children/guests.

        • Although it is toxic to people and animals, the required dosage is rather high and one would need to take it over a period of time. It’s considered no more toxic than table salt if you just, like, got it on your finger and tried it. It also tastes bad. So if a kid or animal tried it once, it would be very unlikely to harm them.

          That said, I wouldn’t just leave it out in the open, either. Put it somewhere that you feel is reasonably safe, assured in the knowledge that IF it was somehow found by pets or children, it wouldn’t be a huge crisis.

      • Good point, I should have mentioned that! Though personally, I would still risk exposing a kid or pet to boric acid before I would Raid. Definitely be careful either way though!

  7. Definitely call the pros. And the landlord–particularly if you live in some kind of multi-unit complex. Otherwise whatever you do will just drive the bugs into your neighbors’ place, and when the neighbors launch their own attack the bugs will skitter right back to you.

    The landlord may even pay for the exterminator. Bugs are a part of life–even the cleanest places can get them just because water is available, as pointed out previously. I’ve never had a landlord who didn’t pay for extermination if the need arose.

  8. Another gentle solution (other than moving and diatomaceous earth) is to get a lizard or two and set them loose in the kitchen. They will eat the bugs and control the problem. For me, when I had my apartment invaded by tiny bugs (we think it was because of a water leak in the apartment below us), having lizards running around was far preferable to having tiny bugs. The lizards were sweet, and kinda like pets, and for us it was a more natural solution to the problem than introducing chemicals into our home.

  9. well, if your roomies are sleeping when you’re poking around the kitchen at night, maybe *not* stifling your screams will entice them to be cleaner…so as to not be awakened by nightly shrieks 😉 that’s what we call “natural consequences” around here.

  10. I lived in an apartment for a very short period of time with a TERRIBLE roach problem. We had a ton of them shortly after moving in. That told me 1) Water issues; 2) Neighbor issues. Since I had only been there two weeks before seeing the first one, I knew it wasn’t us.

    The third week, we had water RUNNING DOWN OUR WALL by the fireplace when it rained. We pulled back the damp carpet to see a TON of mold. Maintenance came and “cleaned” the mold by painting primer over it. They told us the roaches were “water bugs”and not roaches. We ultimately moved out after only 5 months due to me getting sick and the bugs not going away even after hired our own exterminator. The neighbors must have truly had a wicked problem because those suckers wouldn’t leave.

  11. First of all, if you rent (ESPECIALLY if you’re in an apartment) call the landlord/owner post-haste. Your bug problem is becoming everyone’s bug problem–or somebody else’s bug problem has now become your’s. Getting rid of the bugs requires getting rid of ALL the bugs.

    Now, set in motion a “kill the beasties/get ’em out” plan. Whether this is calling a pro, setting off a bug bomb, sprinkling boric acid, loosing the lizards or whatever (thanks commenters above,) get it started TODAY.

    Third, CLEAN SHIT UP. Clean everything. All the nooks, all the crannies. Get the trash out of your place and into a dumpster. This means getting into all the places that might possibly have had food in them at any point and cleaning. Check all your bags/boxes of food for signs of bugs. Chuck what’s possibly been infested (even if it doesn’t LOOK infested, if a bug might’ve been there, there’s the possibility that it’s tracked staph/germs in it.) Seal all your containers of baking goods (flour and sugar/brown sugar/confectioners sugar are huge bug magnets.) Clean all surfaces with a anti-bacterial cleaner.

    Fourth, look for the mystical sources of water that above posters have mentioned. This is tricky. Sometimes, it’s an ac unit that froze up and thawed. Sometimes, it’s a huge wet moldy mess (this is the situation in which MOVE is the best advice.) Sometimes, it’s a little leak beneath the bathroom sink. Fix the leak or standing water situation… if YOU have one.

    Next, evaluate the situation within a week’s time. As many bugs as before? Fewer? MORE? Revisit steps one and two.

    Finally, don’t get in this mess again. Have weekly cleaning parties. At very least, trash left out foodstuff, vacuum up crumbs, pour out leftover soda and take the trash out. It sucks, but you’ve seen the consequences of filth. And those consequences have six legs.

  12. We have had issues both with roaches and with what looks like roaches but seem to be some sort of water beetle in two different homes. If you can keep the roommates from leaving food and mess out, and you can’t find any obvious water sources, they may just be coming around because they were used to finding things before (like the case with the first dorm room I had, where the previous tenant was less the clean). Because I have furbabies, I had to limit my options. Here’s what I did:

    Mixture of baking soda and salt. Whip up a big ol’ batch and line it under all of your cabinets, under your dishwasher, under your fridge, and any other nooks and crannies you can think of. Leave it there for a few days to a week. It deters them like nobodies business and they will leave on their own accord.

    If that doesn’t work, then there’s something deep in the walls that’s keeping them there, and unfortunately then it’s time to pull out the big guns with the exterminator. IF you aren’t signed up for Angie’s list, do so and try to find the most eco-friendly you can.

    Best of luck!

  13. Looks like other people have already given great ideas. First off, you just have to have a half-day housemate clean-a-thon. Then make your plan on how you are going to get rid of the bugs you have now, and keep any bug-food away in the future… and then stick to it. And if your bugs are indeed cockroaches, I recommend the sticky traps that are the size of small paperback book. They walk in the little hole and can’t get out. I live in a tropical area where everyone has roaches, no matter how clean you are, and these are the best ever.

  14. If you haven’t done so already, consider that the problem may be food messes in their own bedrooms (assuming they have their own rooms), rather than just in the kitchen. People tend to be a bit more slovenly with their personal private spaces than with common areas, so you’ll want to make sure cleaning the apartment includes bedrooms too.

  15. I did want to reinforce that theoretically this may have nothing to do with your roommates being messy and may have everything to do with: [a] your neighbors being REALLY messy, [b] a water leakage issue, [c] someone in your home (possibly even you) accidentally bringing roaches from someone else’s home, or even from a restaurant.

    Just to put this into perspective, two stories:

    When I was a kid, we kept our kitchen impeccably clean. We lived in a freestanding house. We had no water problems. Then, we helped my older brother out of a really bad situation and had to move a bunch of his stuff from a townhouse that was hardcore infested with roaches. We cleaned EVERYTHING before bringing it into our home, EXCEPT the inner workings of his TV, which we didn’t think about. Three weeks later our house was full of them too.

    Meanwhile, I’m kind of a slob, leave opened food out all the time, don’t seal any of my baking ingredients like sugar etc., and live in an apartment, and have never gotten any kind of bug infestation EXCEPT one time we had a leak in our sink, and ants showed up.

  16. Another for Diatomaceous Earth. Whatever bug walks through it dies. It only takes a thin dusting.
    My step-father was an exterminator. Highly recommended. It kills bed bugs too. Good preventative measure even if you don’t have bugs.

    Also, remember if you leave poison traps for bugs their numbers will increase at first. Resist the temptation to kill them. They need to survive so they can bring the poison back to the nest!

  17. Take everything out of the kitchen. Throw away all open packages of food. Wash everything. Then take something strong (like concentrated vinegar) and scrub every corner and every hole of the complete kitchen. Behind the furniture as well. (Sometimes you get “bread bugs” when buying infested flour, and we had to do this twice to get our kitchen clean again.)

    Make sure the responsible people help (and do all the really ugly work).

  18. I’d echo all above but also add that our landlady paid for bug extermination, so it’s worth asking yours. We might have just been lucky, but it is in their best interest to keep the house bug free.

  19. First and foremost, quit stifling your screams. Make the absolute most hellacious ruckus you can in the night, while your slovenly room-mates are sleeping, so that they wake in a panic. Do it every single night and ensure that they don’t get a decent night’s sleep. Make lots of pointed comments about how the bugs come because they are slobs and then the bugs scare you and you have no recourse but to make cosmic racket while killing the bugs in your immediate vicinity.

    It won’t kill the bugs, but it’s the strongest incentive I can think of to create behavioral change. The bugs won’t go away forever (even after extermination new bugs will move in) unless they have no reason to come in and feed off the yummy goodness your roommates leave out as bait.

  20. Borax mixed with powdered sugar, laid in lines by the window sills, corners of cabinets, counters, etc. worked well for me. Just be careful around kids and pets. Also note that the sugar mix can be hard to clean if it gets wet and then dries.

  21. Someone may have already mentioned this, and it’s not helpful for getting rid of the pests, but it is important that it gets said:

    If you do not fix this problem, those not-ants that look like small roaches will become REALLY BIG ROACHES.

    My roomies and I had the same thing when we moved into our apt – pretty quickly, we started noticing these tiny little roaches (they were slightly bigger than ants). We figured we’d just stay mostly clean, and what’s a few itty bitty roaches? No problem.

    Welp, a few months later, the bigger roaches noticed that we were pretty easy going, so they started coming out. By the time we moved out a year later (we never got an exterminator), those big roaches were brazen A-holes! Every time we opened the dishwasher, we automatically jumped back at the same time to allow the roaches to all scurry away. After awhile, they legit stopped scurrying. It was like they were giving us the big ‘ol cockroach “F you!”

    So we just moved. Best solution I’ve found yet.

  22. I got roaches in my last apartment. I tried cleaning and sealing all my food in plastic containers, I tried spreading diatomaceous earth (a non toxic insecticide powder, essentially it’s supposed to cut their bodies and leave them vulnerable to dehydration), I tried caulking up the openings around my pipes so they couldn’t get in from other apartments, but what really seemed to get rid of them was this recipe I found in

    Boric Acid is generally considered no more toxic than table salt, so it’s a good non-toxic choice.

    Incidentally, bleach isn’t going to do much to get rid of bugs unless you apply it directly to them. It’s an antiseptic, not an insecticide.

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