The Spring Purge: Roach Killer

Image: Uninen.

Welcome to the particularly squirm-worthy sixth installment of a series of special “spring purge” posts. The topic? Environmentally dubious household items that you might want to take a second look at while tackling spring cleaning duties. And when I say “take a second look at,” I mean you should reconsider using and/or replace with a more eco-sensible alternative.

Thus far, I‘ve recommended a household purge of antibacterial cleaning products containing the chemicaltriclosan, aerosol air fresheners that can compromise your health through lowered air quality, toxicoven cleaners, caustic drain openers, and a partial purge of the common paper towel roll. TodayI'm taking a look at a purge-worthy item that you actually use for purging — or more realistically, annihilating — when your home is under attack by the dreaded "C" word: cockroaches.

There's no doubt that the bugs themselves elicit stronger "I need this out of my house now" responses than the chemical-based commercial solutions meant to eradicate them. But remember that the very product you use to poison cockroaches can also poison you. To those who have ever crawled trembling into bed amongst the hissing of roaches, clutching a can of Raid: I feel your pain. But this spring, I challenge you to purge roach-killin' insecticides from your home and opt for less toxic solutions.

Like other questionable household products composed of synthetic chemicals, the threat to human health posed by roach killer often trumps any kind of possible detrimental eco-impact. That’s not to say that household insecticides are good for the environment, but when it boils down to it, the choice to treat or not to treat a roach infestation with a popular brand like Raid is primarily a health issue. So what’s in a flammable aerosol can of Raid Ant & Roach Killer, you ask? The most notable active ingredient is Permethrin, a synthetic neurotoxin and likely human carcinogen that's been linked to Parkinson’s disease. Headaches, nausea and seizures can occur when humans are exposed excessively to Permethrin. Additionally, the chemical is extremely toxic to aquatic life (water contamination is the main eco-threat) and to cats. Information on other toxic active ingredients in Raid can be found at PAN Pesticides Database. Raid also contains various “inert” ingredients that include petroleum distillates as well as synthetic fragrances to mask the chemical fumes with a “Country Fresh” scent.

There are plenty of less toxic ways to annihilate and/or repel roaches — including good ol’ Black Flag Roach Motels where "roaches check in, but they don't check out" — than resorting to kitty-killing, water-polluting chemicals in a can. These methods — a few notables ones are listed below — may not offer immediate results or be as convenient as chemical insecticides, but you'll be left with peace of mind that you're not inadvertently poisoning your family, pets and Mother Nature.

  • Borax/boric acid and sugar: Applying a mixture of borax (the poison) and sugar (the bait) to roach-infested hotspots is an economical, eco-friendly and effective solution. Chances are, you might already have borax around the house for natural cleaning and laundering purposes. But take heed: Borax isn’t completely nontoxic, and should be used with caution in homes with young children and pets.
  • Geckos: Yes, geckos. If you’ve always wanted a pet reptile, set a gecko or two loose in your house and watch your roach nightmare disappear. After they’ve done their job, you’ll need to provide a habitat and food for your new lizard.
  • Bay leaves
  • Epsom salt
  • Diatomaceous earth
  • Baking soda and sugar
  • Roach balls
  • Take preventive measures: Avoid roach infestations by keeping a clean and tidy house. Don’t leave food out, keep your fridge and oven spic 'n' span, vacuum and sweep frequently, take out the trash, fix leaky faucets, seal cracks in walls and baseboards, and don’t leave watery messes since roaches need water to survive. Although it’s geared toward kids, the EPA offers a pretty nifty roach prevention guide.