Reader M.W. had a problem with roaches infesting her apartment, so she told her landlord. He had a maintenance department employee spray her place several times, but the problem continued. She asked for other solutions.
Many of you responded. My e-mail and regular mail quadrupled. Thanks to all who wrote. And may I respectfully suggest that you don't read this at the breakfast table.
Here are some of the suggestions:
* The best and cheapest roach control is plain old boric acid. You can get a small bottle in any drugstore. Remove the top and punch holes in the metallic safety cover so that what you have resembles a salt shaker.
Sprinkle the chemical along the baseboards and around and under, if possible, the stove and refrigerator. Sprinkle the boric acid any place you see the critters. When roaches groom themselves, the boric acid gets into their internal system and they die.
Repeat the application about every week to 10 days three times and you should be all clear. -- S.O., Suitland
Several readers suggested this. I found boric acid available in one-ounce plastic bottles for $2.39 at Safeway and $2.19 for four ounces at CVS. A local hardware store sells a one-pound can for $6.99 under the brand name Roach Prufe and a one-pound plastic squeeze bottle under the brand name Victor Roach Killing Powder. Other supermarkets, pharmacies and hardware stores should also have some brand or generic version of this product.
* Tell M.W. that there is an easy-to-read "Cockroach Control Manual" that can be found at the Web site pested.unl.edu/cockcom.htm. -- C.W.
This is an excellent Web site from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It offers information and pictures of the varieties of cockroaches.
For example, I learned that there are 3,500 species of cockroaches around the world. The German and brown-banded types are most common in the Washington area. Both are brown and usually less than three-fourths inches long. As the name implies, brown-banded cockroaches appear to have red-brown cross bands.
The Web site says cockroaches have been implicated in cases of salmonella food poisoning, and they also have been found to harbor staphylococcus, streptococcus and coliform bacterial pathogens.
If cockroaches feed on contaminated food in the kitchen garbage, the disease bacteria can remain in their digestive system for a month or more. If human food or utensils then come in contact with roach feces, that's when you've got a problem.
Another bit of health-related information: Many people who are allergic to dust are also allergic to cockroaches. In infested homes, crushed cockroach body parts and feces become part of household dust.
You also learn here that integrated pest management means using more than one method to eliminate the bugs.
You'll also find details on home remedies that won't work, including citrus, cucumber peels and onions; spices and herbs; salt, red pepper, chalk, talcum powder and bone meal; bran, baking soda and baking powder; ultrasonic devices; bug zappers; and copper foil, aluminum foil and human or horse hair stretched out in a line.
There is a list of active ingredients for over-the-counter liquids, aerosols, foggers, dust, baits and sticky traps.
Do you prefer to leave this unpleasant job to a professional pest control company? You will want to review the 10 Questions To Ask a Pest Control Company before Hiring.
The manual is also available by mail for $5, plus $4 for postage and handling. Contact Barbara Ogg, Lancaster Country Cooperative Extension Office, 444 Cherrycreek Rd., Lincoln, Neb. 68528; telephone 402-441-7180; fax 402-441-7148. Make checks payable to Lancaster County Extension.
* I suffered some problems with roaches when I moved to an apartment about 10 years ago. Several things helped:
Get a trash can that has a lid that is airtight so that bugs cannot penetrate. Keep it clean. Take trash out daily.
Keep floors swept.
Remove newspapers from your apartment regularly.
If you bring your groceries home from the store in paper bags, crush them and put them in the garbage because eggs and bugs can hide in the bottoms of the bags.
Wash dishes after each meal and keep kitchen and dining room counters and tabletops clean.
Keep the top of the stove clean.
Run the garbage disposal after each meal to eliminate waste that attracts bugs.
Place flour, pastas and cereals in plastic bags and use twist ties unless the bags are self-closing.
If you need to spray, use a professional company. Ask questions. You may find they have more than one product that can be tried in your apartment. Of course, your neighbors will have to be treated, too, to prevent bugs coming from their place back to yours. -- A. W.
Add one more suggestion and you will have a Top 10 list: Check all faucets for drips; make necessary repairs. Look to see if at this time of year, there is condensation coming from any of the cold-water pipes. Put a stopper in the kitchen sink before you go to bed.
* Keep cockroaches out by stuffing steel wool around all piping that enters the apartment or in any open seams between the floor boards and the walls if there are apartments above or below you. -- W.C. and S.C., Reston
Some hardware stores carry a foam product for this purpose.
* I am an integrated pest management consultant and have helped apartment dwellers get rid of cockroaches. One of my pet peeves: companies that do repeat sprays when it is obvious that the solutions are not working.
There are chemicals on the market now based on more environmentally friendly baits. They are a gel-like substance applied in small amounts with a caulking gun.
It is necessary to first identify the type of cockroach. The German cockroach has become resistant to many traditionally used chemicals. There is less resistance to the gels because of the different mode of action.
It is also important to identify the type of cockroach because roaches have different life requirements. The German cockroach prefers moist areas and will eat almost anything that is not rotten. It is a fallacy that cockroaches are an indication of a filthy home. They do not eat filth. They like fresh foods, wallpaper paste, book glue, etc.
The brown-banded cockroach has much lower moisture needs and likes to lay eggs in confined places, such as the screw holes under dining room chairs and in dark, dry closets and boxes. This means you must treat where the cockroaches live -- not just kitchens and bathrooms as many companies do that use a regular spray program. -- A.L., Silver Spring
* I can't believe after all these years that people are still spraying to get rid of roaches. The problems with spraying are that it only lasts a few weeks, it may be harmful to pets and you have to empty your cupboards.
There is a much better and cheaper alternative. The product Combat has been on the market for years and is the most effective exterminator in existence.
The problem with using Combat is that people don't think it's working because it doesn't work right away. It takes about three weeks before you don't see roaches. That's because of the way the product works. The bugs eat the poison in the trays and then carry it back to where they live, which is where they die. One has to be patient, but the product does work completely and thoroughly. A household can be roach-free for months.
If after several months you see roaches again, that means all of the poison in the trays is gone and the trays need to be replaced. -- M. P., Arlington
Many who wrote claimed this product was a winner.
* Although it has been many years since I lived in an apartment, I read your column regularly and was especially interested in the discussions of how to deal with an abundance of wedding gifts and the question of how to eliminate roaches.
As a young bride living in one of four apartments in an old house, I stored excess kitchen gifts on the upper shelves of kitchen cabinets as well as in our closets. Whatever you do, don't store the gifts in their original cardboard containers as they can be a breeding ground for roaches. -- C.W.
Most people do store gifts in their original containers, so thanks for sharing this tip.
Barbara Burtoff welcomes comments and questions but cannot reply to each letter. Write to her at Apartment Adviser, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071, or send e-mail to BBapartmentlife@aol.com.