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On the label of most household cockroach sprays is a list of “active ingredients”–long, unpronounceable chemical names–and “inert ingredients,” usually not listed. Beware the inerts: A typical spray contains up to 99 percent inerts, some of which are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and flulike symptoms. Manufacturers are shielded from revealing their recipes by a “trade secrecy” clause in federal law. But there are relatively safe, natural, and effective alternatives:

THE ACID TEST
Boric acid, a stomach poison, is one of the most effective roach controls available. It’s relatively safe, odorless, long-lasting, and roaches can’t develop resistance to it (as they can to insecticides). But sprinkle it lightly, as you’d add salt to food. If roaches see piles of powder, they’ll get suspicious and scamper off.
FROM THE SEA
Even more fun than squashing roaches under your shoe is spreading around some diatomaceous earth, a fine powder of fossilized plankton. For roaches, it’s like crawling over razor blades. The roaches cut their outer cuticle layers, expel fluids and eventually shrivel up and die. The stuff is especially useful for treating cracks and other hard-to-reach spots; humans shouldn’t breathe in too much of it, though.
TRICK OR TREAT
In old times, families would move out of their homes for a few days during winter, leave their windows open, and freeze vermin to death. Today, we can just put out insecticidal baits (many shaped like miniature geodesic domes). Roaches swallow the poison and croak within days.
HOME IMPROVEMENT
Like any unwanted guest, roaches love a prodigious supply of food and drink. Basic rules: Clean up food residue in and around the fridge, oven, garbage can, table top, counter, and pantry. Seal cracks and fix leaky pipes. Don’t leave food out overnight, and dry your dishes before putting them away.
BEATING BEETLES
Roaches gone? Then head outside to take your yard back from beetle infestation. Buy a few nematodes–microscopic worms–and put them out on the lawn. Nematodes attack beetle larvae; once the larvae are dead, they use them for spawning. Yum.

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