How to Get Rid of Cockroaches

Have you spied cockroaches in your home? Use these remedies and preventive measures to eliminate the creepy-crawlies once and for all.

By Bob Vila and Tony Carrick | Updated Sep 28, 2022 2:00 PM

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You’re not alone in wanting to get rid of roaches. These creepy-crawly insects are a major problem around the country—around the world, even—particularly in dense urban areas. According to a recent American Housing Survey, residents of about 14 million U.S. housing units reported seeing roaches in their homes. The pests thrive in heat and humid climates, so it is no surprise that, according to pesticide maker P.F. Harris, New Orleans and Houston rank highest among American cities for roaches.

No matter where you live, if you see one roach, chances are there are many more lurking out of sight. Calling a pest control company may be your first reaction, but you can save money (and be rid of them in no time) by following the steps below for how to get rid of roaches.

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Before You Begin

After discovering a roach in the home, our first reaction (after attempting to squash the invader) is often to rush out and buy a pesticide to remedy the problem. While this response is understandable given that a female roach can produce up to 224 baby roaches in her lifetime, you may end up purchasing the wrong product for the problem.

Before selecting a roach killer, it’s crucial to first assess the situation. Identifying the roach species that’s present, discovering how and why they entered the home, and determining where in the house they are entering and harboring are all key to taking the right course of action to eliminate the insects.

How to Identify Roaches

Before getting down to business and disposing of these stomach-turning pests, first confirm if the creepy-crawly found in your kitchen cupboards is, indeed, a cockroach. All roaches have flat, oval-shaped bodies that measure between ¾ inch and 3 inches long. They are generally reddish-brown in color, and move very quickly.

It’s also possible to identify a roach by what it leaves behind. Roach droppings resemble grains of pepper for smaller species; for larger species, the droppings are smooth, with pointy ends. Encountering roach eggs also can provide clues. These small (about ⅓ to ½ inch long) capsules have a purse or pill shape and are tan, brown, or black.

Once it’s clear that roaches are indeed the uninvited guests, the next step is to determine what species of roach you are dealing with. There are 4,000 species of cockroaches crawling around the globe. Fortunately, only 70 are found in the United States, including wood roaches, which are rarely found inside homes. The roach types typically found inside homes in the United States are German, Oriental, and American.

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  • German: As their name suggests, German cockroaches are an invasive species not native to the United States. These light brown roaches are smaller than other species, at just ⅝ inch long, and they are flightless (whew!) despite having wings. Since German cockroaches like warm, moist areas, they most often appear in and around sinks in kitchens and bathrooms.

German cockroaches leave telltale droppings that look like smears or small grains of black pepper. Though their size might make them a little less cringe-inducing than their larger cousins, it also makes them harder to eradicate. The small insects can hide in miniscule spaces, and are hard to spot.

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  • Oriental: This species of cockroach is identifiable by its almost totally black coloring and attraction to water sources—hence its nickname, “water bug.” Oriental cockroaches often congregate near sewer drains and gutters outdoors. Indoors, they’re typically found near drains or in damp basements.

As one of the larger species of cockroach—they measure around 1¼ inches long—Oriental cockroaches are easy to spot, though their pungent odor might be the first clue that they’re in your home. This species releases a musty-smelling chemical to communicate with each other.

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  • American: Unlike their fellow cockroach brethren, American cockroaches can fly over short distances, which is why they’ve managed to spread far and wide. At up to 2⅛ inches long, this reddish-brown cockroach (which is also called a Palmetto bug) is the largest home-infesting species of cockroach in the country.

This big cockroach has an appetite for just about everything from garbage to plants, which is why it’s so important to keep your home clean indoors and out so you don’t attract them. The American cockroach can also be identified by its large cylindrical-shaped droppings, which are commonly mistaken for mouse droppings.

RELATED: What Are These Bugs That Look Like Cockroaches in My Home?

Determine the Right Roach Eliminator for the Job

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To eliminate the roaches that are living in your midst—the ones under the stove or behind the refrigerator—choose from among several weapons at your disposal.

When determining what tool to use for the job, begin with the most natural options that are less harmful to a home’s occupants and the environment. These solutions include natural pest control remedies that can be made at home or bought at the store, which are described in detail below.

While use of either natural or synthetic remedies can rid a home of a cockroach infestation, the difference in effectiveness comes down to how long a solution takes to work. Synthetic chemicals are engineered to disrupt the biological functions of the roach, typically resulting in death more quickly than natural options. The natural methods can be just as lethal, but take more time or more applications to work.

Bob Vila and its parent company, Recurrent Ventures, puts conservation and sustainability at the forefront of nearly everything we do. Though effective, some of the solutions offered in this content are not organic or sustainable. Bob Vila’s staff encourages readers to make informed choices about maintaining their home and property, and opt for solutions that will not have detrimental effects on the health and longevity of this planet and its inhabitants.

Natural Roach Remedies

Concoct a homemade cockroach killer from some common household products and boric acid, which is readily available at the local pharmacy. Mix equal parts boric acid (which kills the insects), sugar (which attracts roaches), and flour (which binds the ingredients), laying down a thin coating of the powdered blend wherever roaches most likely are hiding.

Yet another way to lure and kill roaches is with beer. Cut the top off a plastic soda bottle, pour a little beer into the bottom of the container, and then place the top of the bottle upside down into the base so its neck serves as a funnel. Roaches enter the trap in pursuit of the beer but then, unable to escape, they ultimately drown. Once the beer trap has claimed a few victims, dispose of the entire thing without ever having to touch the bugs.

Chemical Insecticide

Should a natural roach remedy fail to do the job, it may be time to pull out the big guns by purchasing a chemical roach killer, of which there are many.

Chemical insecticides come in various forms, including gels, powders, sprays, and traps. All of these methods will work to kill roaches due largely to these insect’s role as scavengers in the insect world. Cockroaches feed their young typically by pooping or regurgitating food, both of which, though disgusting, are effective ways of transferring poison from roach to roach. Cockroaches are also cannibalistic, which means they’ll eat the poison-ridden body of another roach.

Some of the most effective chemicals for killing roaches include fipronil and deltamethrin, both of which disrupt the insect’s nervous system, and hydramethylnon, which disrupts energy production in cells. However, anyone applying the products should take care, since they can be harmful to people and animals. Apply the chosen product wherever roaches love to hide, but remember to keep pets and children away from these toxic treatments.

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Types of Roach Killers and Repellents

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There are many products on the market for killing roaches and other insects; choose one formulated specifically for cockroaches. While all roach-ridding products have effective active ingredients, each type has its pros and cons.

  • Bait stations: Bait stations, or roach traps, enclose the poison in a container that the roach crawls into. These are good options for homes that have curious pets and children. The cockroach bait works best when there are few other food sources available for the roach. That said, bait stations are too bulky to place inside cracks and crevices, which are roaches’ favorite places to hide. They also can be unsightly. Most bait stations must be placed within 2 feet of every crevice that potentially harbors a roach, which, depending on the situation, can require placing a lot of bait stations.
  • Gel baits: Gel baits come in plastic syringes with narrow tips, so it is much easier to apply the poison directly into the narrow cracks where cockroaches hide. When using a gel bait, it’s better to place several small applications (about the size of a pea) as opposed to a big glob. This approach covers more areas and prevents drips.
  • Dusts: This type of roach killer, which includes boric acid, is ideal for treating the wall voids on interior walls (accessible where plumbing passes through the wall). It’s also a good bet under refrigerators and dishwashers since dust offers better coverage of the space than other types of roach killers. Dust also transfers easily from one roach to another, which is an effective means for taking out a colony. A dust to kill cockroaches should be applied in thin, barely visible layers since roaches will avoid large clumps of dust.
  • Sprays: Sprays are not as effective as other options for controlling roaches. They can be effective, however, as supplemental treatments for creating barriers around doorways, along baseboards, or under appliances. Keep in mind that they can pose an environmental hazard to a home’s occupants due to the potential for sprays to remain in the air or overspray onto other surfaces. Outdoor perimeter sprays are effective at creating a barrier around the home’s exterior that keeps roaches out.
  • Roach bombs: Bombs generally aren’t recommended. They are not effective because they rarely reach the tight spaces where roaches harbor. They contain harsh pest killers such as pyrethroids and are flammable. Bombs, total release sprays, or foggers require every pet and person to leave a home while in use and for at least 2 to 4 hours after setting them off, in addition to other safety concerns. Roach bombs also have a high potential for overspray that can land on cookware, tables, countertops or utensils, creating an increased risk for occupants in the home.

Eliminating Roaches—and Preventing Them From Returning

With a product in mind and some understanding of how roaches are getting into your home, it’s time to take action. First, get the area ready, apply products as directed, and take steps to prevent cockroaches from returning.

STEP 1: Clean up any standing messes.

There are few more unpleasant tasks than cleaning up roach droppings. Since roaches can carry dangerous bacteria, it is important to wear protective clothing, including gloves and a face mask, when cleaning up roach feces. Begin by vacuuming surfaces where droppings have accumulated using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Spray hard surfaces with a disinfectant and wipe them clean. For carpet, use a carpet-cleaning detergent or make one using soap, water, and vinegar. For other soft surfaces, such as clothing or bedding, spray with a disinfectant of soap, vinegar, and warm water, scrub with a sponge, then rinse.

STEP 2: Find the insects’ entry point.

The next time you spot a cockroach, resist the temptation to run away. Instead, screw up some courage and follow the roach to determine how it may have found its way into the home. Common entry points are areas around windows; at the joints between walls and floors; where kitchen cabinets meet walls; near radiators and heating pipes; and in gaps around gas or water lines. Seal every hole or crack in the area with silicone caulk.

STEP 3: Choose the best roach killer for the job.

Determine what will work best for the situation. Many choose the least toxic method, such as the natural remedies above, first. Then, they step up to a stronger chemical solution if needed, based on location, safety, and extent of the cockroach problem.

If the roaches are harboring in various cracks and crevices, then it might make sense to use a gel that can be applied strategically to these small spaces. For crevices around plumbing, apply a dust into the opening. If the roaches are nesting in a more central location, place a bait within 2 feet of the opening to lure them in as they emerge at night to feed.

STEP 4: Place cockroach repellent around the perimeter of the home.

While taking steps to kill roaches inside, simultaneously keep their buddies out. One of the best lines of defense against cockroaches is to create a barrier outside the home. Purchase an outdoor cockroach dust, such as natural diatomaceous earth, or a spray to create a perimeter around your home.

The diatomaceous earth works slowly to dehydrate crawling insects. Pesticide will infect cockroaches that skitter over it, killing them before they can make entry into the home.

STEP 5: Caulk all entry points to the home.

Once the gaps around plumbing in walls or along kitchen backsplashes that are serving as entry points for roaches are spotted, seal cracks to prevent roaches from using these gaps in the home’s defenses to enter. Use a quality caulk or sealant to fill these openings. For best results, use 100-percent silicone caulk, which lasts up to 20 years.

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Preventing Future Roach Infestations

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While working on how to get rid of roaches that are already inside, take steps both indoors and out to make it less attractive—and more difficult—for roaches to enter the home.

Seal all food containers and packages.

Roaches are nothing if not persistent; it may be necessary to keep up the campaign for as long as several weeks. Once it’s evident that the home is roach-free, keep a clean house. Maintain the highest possible level of cleanliness in bathrooms, and especially in the kitchen. Store food in sealed packages and take out the trash regularly. Clean up immediately after eating or cooking. With a little luck, the cockroach infestation won’t recur.

• Seal all entrances to the home.

A 1/16-inch crack is all the space a cockroach needs to wiggle its way into a house, so figuring out current or potential entry points can be a challenge. Place glue strips or traps near suspected entry areas to determine if any roach traffic is passing through. The traps aren’t effective at controlling roach populations, but they can help determine how they’re getting in.

Common entrances include poorly sealed doors, floor drains, and eaves under the roof. Once these spots are found, seal up cracks or crevices to prevent them from getting in, using a good quality 100-percent silicone sealant. If garage doors or other outside doors have gaps, add or replace damaged weatherstripping to block their entry.

• Fix leaky pipes.

German and Oriental cockroaches are particularly attracted to water sources, which is why they’re often found under sinks, near drains, and in damp basements. Keep the floors dry and repair all water leaks to eliminate wet areas that will attract roaches. If the basement stays damp, purchase a dehumidifier to dry it out.

Hiring a Professional Roach Exterminator

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Roaches have survived for hundreds of millions of years. Suffice it to say they are very tenacious pests. While most homeowners can handle a small roach infestation using the methods and products described above, finding lots of dead roaches and droppings throughout the home or failing to eliminate the pests with these steps indicates that a call to an exterminator is in order. Usually, store-bought baits and home remedies to get rid of roaches simply won’t be enough to kill off a large colony of the pests.

Hiring an exterminator typically costs between $100 and $300. If a large infestation requires a second treatment, that cost will double. Treating a whole-house cockroach infestation can cost thousands of dollars.

There are several factors that will affect the total cost of hiring an exterminator or pest control service:

  • The number of treatments
  • The number of areas in the home that need treatment
  • The size of the home
  • The severity of the infestation

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Pest Control Companies

Final Thoughts

There are countless products and home remedies designed to help eliminate roaches from homes. Choosing the right method is crucial to effectiveness. Following the instructions and recommendations described above to assess a roach problem can help determine the best attack strategy to solve a roach problem.

FAQs

Ahead, learn more about these stomach-turning invaders, including how long they live, what attracts them to homes and the scents to use to try and keep them at bay.

Q. How long do cockroaches live?

A roach’s lifespan varies depending on the species. An American cockroach has a long lifespan of 1 to 2 years, while a German cockroach can usually survive for about 200 days. Oriental cockroaches survive for about 6 months.

Q. Where do roaches come from?

In addition to infiltrating a home via plumbing and cracks and crevices, the nasty critters can find their way indoors from a variety of sources. They might stow away in goods from infested warehouses or businesses or in foods and packaging. They can even arrive via furniture, luggage, and some appliances.

Q. How do you get rid of roaches overnight?

Boric acid is perhaps the most effective chemical for taking out cockroaches, and is an easy solution to make at home. Mix equal parts flour, sugar, and boric acid until the mix reaches a dough-like consistency. Next, place small pieces of it in the cracks where roaches are harboring, so the roaches can feed on it.

Q. What smell will keep cockroaches away?

Cockroaches hate the smell of fresh citrus. Use citrus-scented cleaners in the kitchen and bathroom to help ward off roaches. Outdoors, create a perimeter around the home by planting lavender, another smell they can’t stand. Just keep in mind that lavender is not safe for pets if they ingest a large amount of the herb. Spraying a home with eucalyptus oil or other essential oil sprays also can help repel cockroaches.

Q. What attracts cockroaches in your home?

There are two main things that attract cockroaches to your home: food and water sources. Crumbs, open containers of food, garbage cans, and pet food that’s sitting on the floor all will attract cockroaches to a home, as will excessively wet areas.

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