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La Cucaracha!

It’s the middle of the night, and you’re in the mood for a snack. You flip on the lights to see a cockroach scurrying along the countertop and, like a magic trick, virtually disappearing into unseen cracks or holes in your kitchen.

Cockroaches, palmetto bugs, waterbugs, Croton bugs, or similar insects by any name seem to strike fear in us the moment we realize that our homes have been invaded by these pests. Not only are they revolting, but they also present a health hazard by carrying disease-causing germs, and cockroach debris may trigger asthma attacks in those who are sensitive to certain proteins found in the debris.

Regardless of the nature of your unwelcome visitor, for many of us the first inclination is to dig out that ever-present can of insecticide and start liberally spraying it on the offensive bug, and around your floors, counters or anywhere you imagine these disgusting creatures might travel.

But before you give in to that impulse, consider this: most insecticides contain toxins. The cockroaches may track these toxins across food preparation surfaces and into food storage areas (even onto food or into food containers that are not sealed); kids or animals may come into contact or even ingest them; and ultimately you may be driving the cockroaches even further into your walls, making the problem worse.

Using store-bought adhesive traps, water jars or soda bottles may provide temporary reprieve from sightings, but it won’t do anything to affect the nest and eggs, which may be hidden in your walls or cupboards.

But don’t despair! There are safer ways to eliminate the problem, and decrease the likelihood of future infestations.

Eliminate their food and water source
There is a reason that cockroaches have chosen to call your home their home. You’ve got to get rid of the conditions that allow them to thrive, including food and water. While cockroaches may be able to survive for several weeks without food, they won’t last more than a week without water. So look for and fix any obvious water leaks. Of course, you’ll need to clean your living space thoroughly, but particularly the kitchen counters, cabinets and floors. You should also inspect boxed and bagged dry food items to ensure that the contents haven’t spilled out, and that roaches haven’t gained access through rips or tears in the packaging. If in doubt, toss it out.

Keep it clean
While you may have eliminated the immediate threat, you’ll want to make sure to avoid inviting any future infestations. These precautions will also assist in keeping other insects (like ants) and rodents from invading your living space:

• Don’t leave food out for extended periods of time (this includes dirty dishes); and keep food in sealed containers, including pet food.
• Clean and disinfect your counters, sink and floors regularly to pick up crumbs and spills. Be sure to clean grease from under and behind your oven and small appliances (cockroaches LOVE grease).
• Run very hot water down your drains a couple of times per week to flush out cockroaches that may be hiding out in the overflow drain part. You can also use borax and hot water less frequently.
• Turn your oven on high heat weekly to kill any cockroaches that may be living inside.
• Take out the trash regularly; keep trash away from your house, preferably in containers with lids (let’s not invite other foragers!).
• Be sure to keep yard waste and wood piles away from your house, as these provide convenient hiding places for cockroaches.
• Seal any cracks, both inside and outside your home, that would allow their entry. Include insides of cabinets, cracks along the floor, doors and windows, and around pipes in kitchens and bathrooms.

There are several other methods of cockroach control that may be safely utilized (but have mixed results), including traps that contains a natural fungus, traps with sex attractants, non-toxic sprays and even lizards—the Tokay gecko—that love to eat cockroaches. But no matter your approach to getting rid of these pests, you’ll want to take precautions to ensure that they don’t return.

Safe bait
An easy way to kill adult cockroaches that you see is to spray them with a simple solution of liquid soap and water. The solution clogs their breathing pores, killing them almost instantly. And it’s safe for humans and animals.

Most store-bought cockroach baits are designed for the cockroach to eat the bait (which contains toxins), then excrete it back at their nest, where others will come into contact with it and die. Baits tend to minimize the need to touch or spread around chemicals. And while the active ingredients in most commercially sold baits are in small amounts, they are toxins. Skin contact with some can cause skin irritation, while ingestion can result in sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, stomach pain, dizziness, weakness, and even seizures.

In order to protect your family, you may want to consider using a homemade bait made with safer ingredients, and placing it in locations that are out of the reach of small hands or pets. Try mixing equal parts of white flour, powdered sugar and powdered (not granular) boric acid, and sprinkling the mixture under your refrigerator and stove and in the backs of drawers and cabinets. You can also add water to create a paste for use in cracks or holes and areas where you don’t want to sprinkle a powder. Although kids or pets may inadvertently come into contact with or ingest this mixture, boric acid is not highly toxic to humans and pets (but it is for external use only). You may wish to substitute baking soda or food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, for boric acid, but it may take longer to kill the cockroaches where they nest and breed. Since humidity can cause this concoction to clump or cake, you may wish to use foil or paper to protect floors and cabinets.

It may take a couple of weeks of use, including some diminishing recurrences of cockroach sightings, for all of them to be gone.

Safe products:

Diatomaceous Earth – While roaches build up resistance to chemical treatments and fumigation costs remain high, diatomaceous earth is an organic, low cost, roach control that is safe to use around your children and pets. Not only will it rid your home of cockroaches, but it continues to work long after chemical solutions have worn away and roaches won’t build up a resistance to the effects of Diatomaceous Earth $10.99,

Insect Magnet – These poison-free traps have a patented pheromone that lures and traps roaches, spiders, ants, scorpions, centipedes, silverfish, crickets and palmetto bugs. They not only attract adult roaches, but also trap the nymphs and eggs of roaches, preventing future infestations. The unique patented box design fits into small, tight corners and has multiple entry points for easy access.  $6.99,

Boric Acid Formula with lure kills roaches, palmetto bugs, waterbugs and silverfish. Puffer bottle with included straw reaches into cracks and crevices where insects hide. The powder is great for getting to roaches in hard-to-reach areas. Using the easy applicator, create a barrier through which cockroaches and other insects must crawl. Apply liberally under and behind refrigerator, stove, sink, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer and tubs in kitchen and utility rooms. Apply in cracks and crevices along baseboards and corners of cabinets, cupboards and closets. $9.99,

EcoSmart – Kills ants, carpenter ants, cockroaches, crickets, pill bugs, silverfish, spiders and other crawling insects on contact. Unlike other insecticides, it is made from organic plant oils and kills bugs naturally to better protect your family. Plus, there’s no pesticide residue. It’s safe. It’s effective. It’s smart. Naturally. $8,

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