Cockroaches have survived for 350 million years. So, how effective are our repellents?

One of the most common questions I get asked is about controlling insects in the house. Cockroaches, in particular, tend to irk most people.

Well, to be honest, any method we use to control or kill cockroaches are not going to get rid of them permanently. Cockroaches are nature’s survivors develop resistance rather quickly.

Over the last 350 million years, cockroaches have evolved and adapted to a large variety of environments, are hardy insects, can go for a month without food or water and have much higher radiation resistance. Therefore in our current war against cockroaches, the odds are stacked quite overwhelmingly on their side.

One of the reasons to look for natural plant-based pest control methods instead of chemical-based ones is because of their wide-spectrum method of dealing with insects. Depending on the strength used, essential oils and whole herb-based pest control products can repel, kill or affect body functions in insects.

All chemical based insect control products on the other hand, have a defined, narrow pathway of controlling the insect and work in very set ways. This helps insects evolve much more quickly to them. So you will find that your synthetic insect repellent will work really well initially and become less effective with time. Of course, this is apart from the extensive damage caused by these chemical repellents to humans and the environment.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise to anyone reading this column that I find cockroach control methods extremely unsafe and repellent. All cockroach targeted insecticides use pyrethroids as the active ingredient in their formulation. Pyrethroids have been modelled after naturally occurring pyrethrins produced by the Pyrethrum flowers (certain varieties of Chrysanthemums). Some of the commonly used actives are Resmethrin, Allethrin, Cyflurithin and others. They are broad-spectrum insect killers which means that they do not distinguish between insects and simply kill everything on contact.

If you decide to use a pyrethroids based insecticide, your home will become a dead zone for all insects including spiders, ants, honeybees, and will down the line affect aquatic organisms like the fish.

Pyrethroids are only slightly less dangerous to human beings. The material safety document sheet of each of these compounds indicates acute toxicity in high does, which may be the case if an inquisitive child decides to investigate the contents of your pesticide.

Even in lower doses, you are not supposed to breathe fumes released by your insecticide and certainly avoid any direct contact on your skin or in your eyes.

In case of any accidental swallowing, vomiting should not be induced as these products will damage the sensitive organs again on their way out, and after nay contact on skin, your clothes and skin need to be repeatedly laundered and washed to ensure no trace of the chemical remains.

This is why all synthetic cockroach killing/ repellent products ask you to spray, close all windows and doors and leave the area for atleast an hour. You are also advised when return to the room, to open out these doors and windows and wait a while before resuming normal activity.