Cleaning

An Unexpected Reason to Ditch Your Paper Grocery Bags

We're never looking back.

July 25, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland

A few weeks after my boyfriend and I moved into our new apartment, I was spending a lovely afternoon at home, painting and arranging furniture, when I discovered an interloper: a three-inch-long cockroach living in our silverware drawer. We named him Michael Douglas (I’m a big fan of ‘80s and ‘90s thrillers) and lived in fear of him for 10 days. Every time we opened the drawer, there he was, antennae tickling our forks. But he was fast—he always darted back into some unseen hiding place and we could never figure out where he went.

That is, until we waged all-out war one night, Matt with the hose of the vacuum cleaner, me with a shoe. It was an elaborate process, but we got him. That was how we spent Valentine’s Day.

For weeks, Michael Douglas haunted my dreams (and my waking hours; I’d hallucinate cockroaches in the edges of my vision), and I lay awake at night afraid that he might have a body double—or offspring. So I called up an exterminator and stayed home one morning to meet him. I had my questions written down. “Do you think there are more?” I asked. “How can we prevent this from ever happening again?”

Having lived in New York for nine years, I was ready for some of what he told me: Don’t leave dirty dishes or trash sitting around. Don’t leave standing water in the sink or shower. Get rid of cardboard boxes as quickly as possible.

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Top Comment:
“BORIC ACID!!! is the best roach exterminator! For a solid year I battled roaches in a 25 year old home in the suburbs and very clean). One was in my baby’s crib so I promptly put her to bed with me for many months. One flew out of my hair dryer and hit me in the head. The list goes on. I had so many exterminators and the reasons were all BS because they didn’t match up: they came in because it’s cold. They came in because it’s hot. They came in because all the windows and doors were open for 2 months while you renovated. They came in because it’s dry outside and they need water. They came in because it’s wet outside and they need to dry off (that one I made up, but you get the gist). FINALLY the last exterminator said “put boric acid in bottle caps under your sinks.” THAT did the trick. Roaches GONE! I heard that tale about roaches in paper bags 30 years ago. For ages I did not keep them. But for the last few years I have with no issues. If I do, boric acid will be my friend! ”
— kim
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But I was not prepared for what he said next: Our cockroach was probably a one-off, since we’d just moved.

“Sometimes they hitch a ride in,” he said. “One thing you should never do is keep paper grocery bags. Those are stacked in the basements of grocery stores, and cockroaches can lay eggs in them or travel in them.”

I thought immediately of the stacks of grocery bags that I’d so diligently saved. They were, as we spoke, stockpiled under our sink. I thought I was being so eco-conscious, carefully collapsing and folding them to re-use to carry our recycling and, occasionally, to tote old clothes to the donation bin. Little did I know, I may have been unwittingly giving cockroaches a loading dock into our apartment.

When I reported this to friends the next day (after I’d promptly recycled every single grocery bag the moment our exterminator left), they were as horrified as I'd been. Turns out, they’d been stockpiling grocery bags, too—tons! One friend even used good-looking versions to bring flowers and wine to dinner parties. They went right home and recycled their stock.

If you’re like me, pre–Michael Douglas episode, you might forget to bring reusable cloth bags with you to the grocery store. But here’s yet another reason to make the effort: They’re better for the environment and have had no occasion to collect cockroach eggs. To help myself remember, I hang a bag of totes on one of the hooks by our front door, within my line of sight when I head to the grocery store. I also switched my everyday work bag to a roomier canvas one, so I have plenty of space for dinner supplies if I decide to stop at the market on my way home.

If you do forget a reusable bag and must get paper bags at the store, give up the idea of saving them: Unpack your groceries and then promptly recycle the bags. Then, designate a cloth or reusable bag to hold your recycling. No cockroaches welcome.

I don’t know whether it’s our new commitment to cloth grocery bags or whatever the exterminator did, but (knock on wood) we haven’t had any unwanted tenants since—and our under-sink cabinet's a lot less cluttered, too.


Have a great trick to keep roaches away? Let us know in the comments.
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Annie Quigley

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33 Comments

Danielle W. August 16, 2019
Buy one of those devices that emits sound waves at a frequency undetectable to the human ear (well, unless you are my son (: ). It plugs into an electrical outlet and keeps away all bugs and vermin within a certain radius. I have one in the garage and one in the kitchen and that's all I need. Been using this kind of device for years. Thank heavens I don't have to endure extermination chemicals, etc. I want to shout it from the rooftop! You can find them at builders' supply or hardware stores and many other places for around $20.
 
CZ8 August 16, 2019
Those devices never work. Save your money.
I live in Texas and all they do is make the clicking noise and bugs still enter the home without issue.
Use bug spray on your entry ways and windows to your homes. It stops some bugs from coming in and the bugs that make it inside and die trying.
Dollar General has a great bug killer spray for one dollar. I don't remember the brand.
 
Danielle W. August 16, 2019
I beg to differ with you CZ8. I live in Texas as well and have been using these for at least 13 years. Mine do not make a clicking noise - they make no sound at all unless your hearing is so acute (like my son's) that you hear the high-pitched hum that drives bugs mad, but most humans cannot detect. I always like to try the most benign way to address a problem before bringing in the big guns. Perhaps the brand of sonic device you tried was the problem.....?
 
mountain August 16, 2019
I recently recycled all the paper bags I'd been saving after a similar conversation with my MIL. According to her (a former county extension agent) the glue used in paper bags actually serves as food for roaches, which is probably why the roaches lay their eggs there in the first place.
 
Virginia August 16, 2019
When i first moved to Florida, I was warned about this problem, there are some huge so called palmetto bugs, flying roaches.
 
Sandra L. August 16, 2019
Those are the large American cockroach. AKA Palmetto bug.They can live for about 30 months.They are disgusting.One flew in my hair once.You can look up info on them and how to get rid of them at healthyandnaturalworld.com if anyone has a problem with them.Large roach traps would work for them .And peppermint oil can keep them away and kill them .Mint oil is toxic to insects.
 
HT August 15, 2019
If you decide to use reusable bags, be aware of the bacteria they can harbor! Plastic or wax treated ones can’t properly be wiped clean enough so try to find washable cloth ones.
 
Teresa M. August 15, 2019
Have not seen any. I use mine to recyle other papers magazines, and catalogs in.
 
kim August 15, 2019
BORIC ACID!!! is the best roach exterminator! For a solid year I battled roaches in a 25 year old home in the suburbs and very clean). One was in my baby’s crib so I promptly put her to bed with me for many months. One flew out of my hair dryer and hit me in the head. The list goes on. I had so many exterminators and the reasons were all BS because they didn’t match up: they came in because it’s cold. They came in because it’s hot. They came in because all the windows and doors were open for 2 months while you renovated. They came in because it’s dry outside and they need water. They came in because it’s wet outside and they need to dry off (that one I made up, but you get the gist). FINALLY the last exterminator said “put boric acid in bottle caps under your sinks.” THAT did the trick. Roaches GONE!

I heard that tale about roaches in paper bags 30 years ago. For ages I did not keep them. But for the last few years I have with no issues. If I do, boric acid will be my friend!
 
Saffron3 August 15, 2019
Wow! Great advice! Thank you..!
 
Danielle W. August 16, 2019
Yes - boric acid is another good "natural" solution, but you have to make sure it is inaccessible to children and pets. See the comment I made just now about sonic devices!
 
Sandra L. August 15, 2019
I have lived in Florida, since 83,a haven for many roaches.I also rent an Apt.The only time I ever see a roach is when a tenant moves out.I think they disturb their roaches and when they are gone they come to mine in search of food.Sprays never work.Roach traps do .You will never see another roach if you use traps! Until another tenant moves that is! I also get fruit flies from neighbors leaving their garbage by their doors.Please take your garbage to the dumpster!
 
Saffron3 August 15, 2019
Me too! Exactly so.
 
Mikeu August 15, 2019
C’mon, you let an unsubstantiated anecdotal comment by a guy without known qualifications outweigh the environmental and practical reasons to use and reuse paper bags? And then you published your overreaction?
 
Jennie L. August 15, 2019
Right?! It was one cockroach... not like an infestation of hatching eggs or something. All this fear mongering into wasteful living
 
Robin M. August 15, 2019
I hate roaches! My first husband had roaches in his apartment...eeeewwwwww!!! The whole building was infested. It was very old.
I saw one cockroach while we were on vacation in Florida, just one. Wigged me out completely!
 
Lady_DancingDog August 15, 2019
I wouldn't necessarily believe what some random exterminator says, most guys get hired off the street and are worked like used-car salesmen to upsell you into maintenance plans.
You "could" test what he says by putting the bags into a sealed plastic tub--see if anything hatches out. I've never had roaches and I have saved paper bags over many decades to use (double-bagged) as totes or give-away bags. But I keep the food, dirty plates cleaned up, and any dry-goods switched to glass jars. Also, keep the insides of your stove cleaned up, including under the burners. I also cold-sterilize any new dry-goods with 3-days in the freezer.
 
chefrockyrd August 15, 2019
My exterminator is not just a "random" guy. He is a professional. He should do an ad for them.
I was told about paper bags years ago and also to take items like garbage bags and such out of the cardboard box they come in. When they used to sell d/w detergent in a box, I decanted it into a plastic or glass jar. So there is no cardboard or paper, paper towels etc under the sink.
 
Andrea August 15, 2019
The markets do not like their customers to reuse paper bags. They will turn to the plastic bags, etc. first because paper develops weak points if reused.
 
Kayce W. August 15, 2019
Reusable totes are not necessarily better for the environment....the embodied energy that it takes to make one reusable tote can produce thousands of paper bags, which can be recycled. And carbon is trapped in the trees that the paper bags are made of, meaning properly harvested wood can be carbon neutral.
 
Clifford E. August 15, 2019
Now if we can just get rid of those nasty annoying drain flies! I'm beginning to think they are indestructible.
 
janet August 15, 2019
pour some bleach down the drain, followed by boiling water. thereafter, boiling water once or twice a week - problem will be solved.
 
CZ8 August 16, 2019
If the bleach doesn't work. It didn't for me. I dump and don't measure. Baking soda and white vinegar with or without boiling water poured down the drain. Dollar Tree sales both for a dollar. For a little extra clean. I use baking soda, dish washing liquid and white vinegar. I don't remember if I add the boiling water or not. I think the order that you add the ingredients, doesn't makes a difference. It makes a foam.
I saw that on the Scorpion tv show. I missed it the first time. LOL
 
Clifford E. August 15, 2019
Oh, and my mother heard about the paper grocery bag and roach connection decades ago when I was growing up. We never kept paper grocery bags in the house after that (and that was back in the early 70s!)
 
Clifford E. August 15, 2019
Nothing works better than Combat Roach Baits. Nothing. Professional exterminators with your smelly, toxic sprays, be gone! Combat Roach Baits are safe, odorless, and work for months. And no need to cover/move food, dishes, etc. Works way better than the old-fashioned boric acid treatment (and cleaner and easier).I live in Houston, and there are cockroaches in virtually every apartment in the city. Not ours. The minute you see just one, set the traps out everywhere, because where there is one, there are probably thousands more hiding behind the walls.
 
mudd August 15, 2019
They, Combat roach traps, absolutely work!
 
kim August 15, 2019
Boric acid works the best. And it’s so cheap
 
ellemmdee August 15, 2019
They like the glue. Another reason to dispose of cardboard boxes ASAP. Think of all that Amazon stuff from China. No guilt, just sayin’.
 
Gammy July 28, 2019
A Florida resident here: Dust boric acid powder in your dark out-of-the-way spaces (under and behind appliances), under and in the very back of kitchen and bathroom cabinets, it lasts almost forever. Not harmful to humans in this lose-dose application, but a good idea to make sure kids and pets can't easily get into it.
 
kim August 15, 2019
Yes!!! The only way.
 
M July 25, 2019
Or put bags in a small, sealed storage bin. See if a roach ever appears inside.

Bugs always find a way in. Even with reusable bags.
 
BerryBaby July 25, 2019
I recall these from the Midwest but have never seen one out here PNW. Like you, those bugs creeped me out! I rarely see any bugs in the house other than my friendly spiders, that I carefully relocate outside.
I keep reusable bags in the car and paper bags under the sink in utility room. Hope you stay bug free!
BB💐
 
Darci L. August 16, 2019
PNW transplant from the desert here. My bf has had to teach me that yes, the daddy long legs are FRIENDLY spiders. I call them our 'spider butlers' and leave them alone. (I could live without the wolf spiders though.. *shudder*)