This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
Your home, ideally, should be a sanctuary from the shitty outside world. Unfortunately, it’s not always a sanctuary for you and you alone: sometimes – especially in the winter – small animals and critters might also seek refuge in your home.
Once they’re inside, cockroaches, mice, bedbugs and fleas often reproduce quickly and are tricky to get rid of. You might think this only happens in gross, unkempt apartments, but that’s not necessarily true – and dealing with these kind of creepy enemies can be stressful, especially if you don’t have the budget for professional help.
I asked a few people who’ve been through it share their horror stories.
Leonardo – Cockroaches
One day, I was making coffee in my apartment in Rome when I saw something moving quickly at the base of my coffee machine. At first, I didn’t pay attention to it, but the next day I saw the thing again, except this time it was things and they were moving even faster.
Within a week, the situation had got pretty out of hand. The whole kitchen was infested by a type of cockroach called Supella longipalpa, also known as the “brown-banded cockroach”.
My first reaction was total panic. I deep-cleaned many, many times. I spread insecticide powder everywhere. I killed all the cockroaches I could find, sealed up every crack in the house and put my coffee machine in quarantine in a plastic bag on my balcony.
It made no difference. The cockroaches kept prowling around my kitchen, even during the day. When I saw one on my bedroom ceiling, I almost had a breakdown. After long nights of searching online, I found a pest control forum that recommended using gel baits. You can get them at the pharmacy. They’re expensive, but worth it.
The gel made a huge difference. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I thought it was time to bring back the coffee machine and give it a good scrub. I opened the bag and saw a few dead roaches. Then I noticed a couple of them were alive. Completely horrified, I shook the coffee machine and about 30 cockroaches rained onto the ground – big and small, alive and dead.
I’ll never look at a coffee machine in the same way. In fact, go check yours now.
Giampiero – Bedbugs
In 2008, I was living in the Raval neighbourhood in central Barcelona, which was completely infested with cockroaches and bedbugs. One day, my flatmates and I found bites on our bodies, which swelled up into red itchy bumps. At first, we thought it was mosquitoes, but there was also blood on our sheets and pillows.
It took a while for us to realise that it was bedbugs. We threw out our mattresses, beds and a lot of clothes. One night, we were woken up by them biting our arms. That was the first time we saw those repulsive swollen creatures moving away from the bed. Even though we really liked that apartment, we reluctantly had to leave.
Aside from the horrible bites, their presence took a psychological toll on us. You just don’t feel safe in your own home. You go to sleep worried, and all you think about during the day is what will happen at night. I still loathe all insects to this day.
Alessandro – Mice
At the time, I’d just moved into an apartment in the historic centre of Porto with my ex. One night in winter, I heard something moving in the darkness. The next day, we found faeces in the pantry and in our cutlery, plus a few torn food packages. It was quite disgusting and we had to throw away pretty much all of our food.
A few hours later, my girlfriend found a mouse under her jumper. From then on, even opening a drawer made us anxious. The landlady sent a guy who sealed up all the cracks in the apartment, but apparently it was too late – they were already inside. Every morning, we’d clean up around 50 droppings and the whole place just smelled of ammonia.
But the mice weren’t just in our house – they were in our heads. Knowing there’s an animal watching you, waiting for the right moment to rummage through your things, makes you paranoid. You see them everywhere. You hear them under your bed at night. Sleeping is out of the question, which becomes torture in the long-run.
There’s just no way to solve this problem while keeping your hands clean. If you trap them and release them, they’ll find their way back into your house – at least, according to what I read online. Plus, animal rights groups say they’ll die of hunger or thirst outside anyway, or be eaten by predators.
On the other hand, opting for lethal traps seems like straight-up medieval torture. Those sticky sheets cause such a slow and painful death that the mouse will often try to amputate its own limbs to free itself. Poison causes internal bleeding. But after a week with this problem, any moral or ethical consideration went out the window.
We tried a bit of everything. Our baits always remained untouched. For months, we lived in emergency mode – to the point where we’d keep guard in front of the window every time we wanted to let in some fresh air. Then the mice disappeared just as they had arrived – out of nowhere.
Alessandra – Fleas
Once, I let a friend and her dog stay with me. I offered them my flatmate’s bed since she was away, even though I knew she’d have never agreed to it. I thought she’d never find out.
A week later, my flatmate came back. She woke up in the middle of the night with marks on her wrists and ankles. After some research online, she suspected it could be fleas. I tried to deny it, but the truth came out.
By then, the house was completely infested. Fleas lay around 15 eggs every day, and in an apartment they can easily spread to the carpet, furniture and clothes.
We called a pest controller, which cost us €150 (£133) with a discount. He told us to leave the house for a week and sprayed pesticide everywhere. When we got back, everything was sticky and covered in poison. We were tired, but relieved the problem had been solved quickly.
Two weeks later, they were back. Faced with a second wave, we were more pessimistic. We had already washed all of our clothes and thrown some away, but this time we got rid of anything deemed “unessential” to eliminate any possible hiding places. We sealed everything in trash bags and we wrapped furniture in cling film. When we finished at midnight, we were so exhausted even our keys had accidentally ended up in the bin.
We bought a really powerful chemical we’d found online from a pharmacy and cleaned the house from top to bottom. We bombarded the apartment with insecticide while keeping our windows closed. After two or three days, we did it all again.
In the end, our cleaning method worked, even though my flatmate kept having coughing fits. This experience taught me to think things through.