How to keep cockroaches and other pests out of your home
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” especially when it comes to managing pests and insects in your home. Your options are limited once a cockroach (and 20 of its relatives) have made a nest in your kitchen cabinets, which is why the best plan is usually to do everything possible to keep them out in the first place.
Besides being a general nuisance, cockroaches and flies can spread diseases such as salmonella and dysentery, while termites, silverfish and ants chip away at the structure of your home. Their diminutive size means they have their pick of hiding places and entry points that are nearly invisible to humans.
And you can add one more thing to your list of climate woes: Many insects thrive in warmer weather. “With higher temperatures, you’re going to see much larger populations of all kinds of creatures,” says Louis Sorkin, an entomologist in New York who consults with pest-control companies.
Here’s how to fend them off.
Before you try to insect-proof your home, you should understand what kind of common threats you could be dealing with and where they usually enter. “The hottest pest right now is the American roach, otherwise known as the water bug or the palmetto, as far as what people are seeing the most of,” says Jesse Scaravella, owner and operator of Evergreen Eco Pest Control in Brooklyn. “Everyone’s getting those now because we’re going into these drastic temperature changes where it mimics the environment that they like as a subterranean roach.”
Usually a roach’s first stop is the basement or bottom floor of a building, where they enter through or along the pipes. Sorkin says it’s a common misconception that roaches crawl up through the drains, explaining that a waterlogged P-trap will typically keep them out unless you’ve been out of town and not using your plumbing.
Other frequent troublemakers like ants and flies come in through cracks around doors and windows. Silverfish – nocturnal insects that feast on paper and clothing — can live in walls. Clothing moths and bedbugs crawl under baseboards, traveling from adjoining units in an apartment building, or stowing away on other cargo entering your home. Used clothing, furniture and pantry items can be a common hiding spot for moths and their larvae, while bedbugs hitch rides on luggage and secondhand furniture.
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You may want to grant asylum to other types of tiny trespassers. Scaravella explains that house centipedes and spiders are often viewed as pests, but are actually rather harmless and even beneficial. “They’re predacious insects that don’t really bother us, but will eat a lot of smaller bugs like ants, springtails, even roaches, almost like personal exterminators. They aren’t going to resolve an issue, per se, but they are going to take down some numbers.”
Sorkin agrees. “They’re not a big problem at all,” he says, noting that spider and centipede bites are very uncommon.
Sealing openings that connect your home with the outside, or your apartment with an adjoining unit, can keep surprise visitors to a minimum. Bugs commonly infiltrate through cutouts in the sheetrock around water lines for sinks, openings behind appliances for mechanical lines (like the drainage line for the dishwasher or gas line for the stove), or through gaps under baseboards and around radiators. “Sealing along the baseboard is helpful [to deter] any insect that’s crawling, especially for pests like bedbugs if you have a neighbor dealing with them,” says Kevin Carrillo, director of operations at M&M Pest Control in New York.
Your local hardware store likely has an affordable solution. “When you’re sealing for insects, expansion foam and silicone is probably about all that you’ll need,” Carrillo says. Expansion foam is best for filling in large openings around water or plumbing lines; silicone will plug gaps that are a quarter-inch or smaller. While you’re at it, keep a look out for leaky or sweaty pipes. Moisture attracts certain pests, so it’s wise to keep areas where pipes enter the home dry.
And don’t neglect the most obvious entryway of all: the front door. Deteriorated weatherstripping or doors that don’t fit flush within their frames can grant pests easy access.
If bugs still manage to breach your walls, there are several ways to reduce their numbers. Wiping away crumbs and cleaning up dishes and trash will give roaches and flies fewer reasons to traffic your kitchen, and can improve the effectiveness of traps.
“Most roaches are going to prefer actual food over chemical baits, so if there’s tons of grease on the stove and there are dishes in the sink with food scraps on them, the roaches are going to go for that stuff over the bait,” explains Carrillo.
Traps sourced online or at your local hardware store can help you capture pests on your own and get a sense of their numbers before resorting to a professional. Depending on the type of pest you’re dealing with, you’ll need different kinds of attractants. Carrillo favors Tasty Banana’s glue traps for “targeting most crawling insects” and Safer pheromone traps for luring and trapping moths. For ants, he recommends using a bait station with a toxin that they take back to their colony. Though it’s expensive (retailing for about $300), he favors Vector Plasma’s UV light trap, for flying pests other than mosquitoes.
Once traps are in place, clearing up excess bags and boxes also helps eliminate hiding and nesting spots for roaches. Meanwhile, regular cleaning, vacuuming and dusting can keep other insects like moths and silverfish (plus their larvae and eggs) from becoming a recurring problem. To keep flies from proliferating, Sorkin suggests cleaning your drains, where they like to breed and lay eggs.
If you’ve gone through a round of traps and are continuing to see the same pests running around, you’ve likely got an infestation that needs professional help.
To thoroughly rid your home of insects, many pest control pros advocate the use of IPM, shorthand for integrated pest management. This approach minimizes the use of pesticides in favor of tackling the root of the problem, such as sealing entry points you may have overlooked. Though DIY remedies can be helpful, explains Sorkin, they’re little more than Band-Aids if you haven’t addressed the source of an infestation: “You’re only getting adult insects in traps, not the full life stage of the insect.”
Lori Keong is a writer and editor in Brooklyn who covers beauty, fashion, design and lifestyle topics.
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