Here’s Exactly How to Get Rid of Water Bugs Once and for All

No matter what name is used to refer to water bugs, most people want them far, far away from their homes. Learn how to get rid of water bugs and prevent future infestations.
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A water bug on a white background
Photo: via Insects Unlocked

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Project Overview

  • Before getting rid of water bugs, identify their entry points and potential nest locations.
  • Choose the best pest control method for the job.
  • Take steps to prevent water bugs from entering your home in the future.
  • Hire a pro to get rid of water bugs if you don’t want to do it yourself.

When most people refer to a “water bug,” they’re actually employing a delicate colloquialism for an insect whose mere name induces squirms: the cockroach. A common question is, “Are water bugs roaches?” and the answer is yes—there is no difference between water bugs and roaches. According to Matt Smith, owner and licensed professional pest control technician at Green Pest Management, located in Wilmington, Delaware, “Water bugs are commonly called palmetto bugs and even more commonly called cockroaches. Some of the most commonly found would be American and German roaches.” The water bugs vs. cockroaches terminology typically depends on a region’s dialect.

There are actual water bugs—bugs that live in or on water. These true water bugs include insects of the infraorder Nepomorpha, some of which can grow to almost 5 inches in length. But these are not the same as the insects commonly seen scurrying under the fridge when a kitchen light comes on.

Standard-issue household cockroaches earned the nickname “water bug” for their tendency to cluster near water sources. This predilection is entirely understandable: A cockroach can live for a month without food, but it can’t last more than a week without water.

While roaches generally prefer to live outside, they are—much to the annoyance of people everywhere—attracted to damp indoor environments, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Fortunately, a few key extermination practices and a few lifestyle tweaks might help homeowners in the quest for how to get rid of water bugs for good.

Time required: 1 to 3 days
Difficulty: Beginner

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Before You Begin…

There are many bugs that look like cockroaches, so before homeowners start to research how to get rid of water bugs, it’s a good idea to make sure that the pest appearing is actually a member of the cockroach family. “Sometimes it can get really difficult to identify the bug, especially after it gets smashed,” says Smith. “Beetles have similar characteristics and get confused with cockroaches. Beetles look a bit more bulky—like they have armor on.” A quick search online or in a state university’s insect database of “what do water bugs look like” is a great way to avoid a case of mistaken identity. For example, the University of Minnesota Extension lists several identifying features for cockroaches, including a body that is wide and flat, long antennae, spiky legs, and wings. Do water bugs fly? While some types of water bugs have the ability to fly, other varieties, such as black water bugs (also called oriental cockroaches), do not.

Tips for How to Get Rid of Water Bugs

  • Remove any nests where possible.
  • Apply natural or chemical pesticides.
  • Block potential entry points around the home.
  • Eliminate excess moisture.

Safety Considerations

  • Use caution when applying chemical pesticides.
  • Since water bugs and their waste may carry diseases or trigger allergic reactions, it’s a good idea to wear gloves and a mask when taking care of the problem.

STEP 1: Identify entry points and potential nest locations.

Water bugs in a house probably got there from the outdoors, so it’s worth searching for nests and likely entry points into the home. So where do water bugs come from? Gaps around windows, doors, and pipes that penetrate the home’s exterior as well as cracks in concrete floors and walls are all good places to check. If it seems like there are suddenly many cockroaches in the home when previously there were none, the insects could have been brought in accidentally in a package or on secondhand furniture. It’s a good idea for a homeowner to thoroughly check items that could be housing cockroaches before bringing them into the home.

Nests can often be found in parts of the home that are close to a water source such as kitchens and bathrooms. Basements can also be likely candidates for these bugs as they are prone to moisture issues. It may be necessary for the homeowner to poke around in those dark corners of the house that are rarely cleaned and perhaps used only for long-term storage. If no nests are turning up, residents can search in rooms that have been dark for a few hours by turning on the lights, which will cause any water bugs that are present to scatter. This will provide an opportunity for the homeowner to watch where the bugs retreat to, and that will be the best place to target removal efforts.

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STEP 2: Choose your pest control method.

After determining where the water bugs are, homeowners researching how to kill water bugs will find that they have several options. Effective roach pesticidal treatments run the gamut from otherwise innocuous natural products to hard-core chemicals. Chemicals work by exploiting roaches’ natural habits. Interestingly, although cockroaches are typically associated with filth and disease, these insects groom themselves constantly. If a water bug makes contact with a pesticide, whether natural or synthetic, the insect will consume it while cleaning itself.

For those who prefer not to use pesticides, trapping and exclusion can also be effective. Homeowners can choose the method (or combination of methods) that is best suited to their budget, comfort level, and the extent of the infestation.

  • Exclusion
  • Natural pest killers
  • Synthetic chemical treatments
  • Traps

According to Smith, “If you decide to [get rid of water bugs] on your own, be consistent and very proactive with your treatments … Some products are a delayed kill so you won’t see the problem dissipate immediately.” For those who don’t feel up to the task of keeping up with treatments, it may be worth it to hire one of the best pest control companies, such as Orkin or Terminix, to tackle the infestation.


The goal of exclusion is to eliminate any opportunities for water bugs to enter or make their nests in the home. If any nests are found, the area will need to be cleared and blocked off so that even small water bugs cannot move back in. Any egg cases that are found will also need to be removed. Once this has been accomplished, homeowners can use caulk to seal off any cracks or gaps in the home’s exterior where water bugs may be entering. If this is not sufficient, a few additional practices may be necessary, such as:

  • Installing door sweeps on all exterior doors;
  • Storing outdoor garbage cans far away from the home;
  • Removing or trimming shrubs that sit close to the home; and
  • Putting down gravel around the perimeter of the house.

Natural Pest Killers

Natural pest killers can be a good solution for getting rid of cockroaches in kitchen cabinets since they are not toxic and won’t contaminate food. These include concentrated distilled white vinegar; a mix of equal parts sugar and baking soda; borax and boric acid, which destroy the insects’ digestive tract; and essential oils like citronella.

Liquid products—usually labeled “eco” or “green”—can be applied to the nests and to all drains (tub, toilet, laundry room, and dishwasher) using a spray bottle.

To apply powders, the homeowner will want to sprinkle the granules on (and near) nests and access sites. It’s a good idea to use only a thin dusting, because these wily insects avoid large clumps.

Synthetic Chemical Treatments

Each type of treatment features an active ingredient that targets insects’ nervous systems to kill them. It’s important for the user to read and carefully follow the directions provided with any such product, because the ingredients may be toxic to people and indoor pets as well as roaches. Chemical treatments may be marketed in the following forms:

  • Gels, thanks to their syringe-like application method, make it much easier to get pesticide into those hard-to-reach places—under the fridge, say, or under the oven.
  • Traps lure and kill roaches out of sight.
  • Sprays are perhaps the most commonly used type of roach killer used by homeowners for a DIY pest-free home. SC Johnson recommends sending pets and kids outside or otherwise away from the application area and sealing the space for at least 15 minutes before thoroughly airing it out.


Sticky traps for water bugs can usually be purchased at hardware or garden stores. According to the University of California’s Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, putting out traps can help homeowners monitor the extent of their water bug infestation. Traps can be placed wherever signs of bugs have been spotted. Homeowners will need to check the traps at least once per day, replacing them as needed. Keeping a record of where water bugs are being trapped and how often can provide homeowners with valuable information about cockroach activity as well as whether the problem is improving.

A water bug on a tan-colored surface.

STEP 3: Take preventive measures to keep water bugs out of your home.

After completing one of these methods of extermination, it’s wise for the homeowner to take steps to prevent future infestations. Obviously, it’s a good idea to use caulk to seal all gaps and cracks that invite roach infiltration—but that’s just the beginning.

The surest way to keep water bugs at bay is to make sure that roaches have no reason to enter the home, and nowhere to hide should they get in. It’s possible to reduce the risk of attracting water bugs by incorporating these practices as part of a daily routine:

  • Carefully sealing and storing food;
  • Putting tight-fitting lids on recycling bins, and emptying them at least once a week;
  • Removing garbage daily, if neighborhood covenants permit;
  • Confining meals to one part of the house;
  • Vacuuming regularly to eliminate crumbs and other debris, and thoroughly cleaning the kitchen, including all appliances, with a disinfectant;
  • Cleaning rugs and carpets annually with a steam cleaner;
  • Using natural repellents. According to Smith, “Some of the most common natural repellents for water bugs are rosemary and lavender.”
  • Keeping the pool clear of algae to discourage water bugs in the pool.

It takes commitment and vigilance to keep water bugs from staging a counterattack, but it’s worth the effort to purge the home of this creepiest of all crawlies.

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STEP 4: Repair any water leaks to dissuade water bugs from entering your home.

Water is at the top of the list of what attracts water bugs, so it makes sense that removing water sources around the home where possible can discourage them from invading the home. Homeowners will want to fix leaky interior and exterior faucets and repair basement walls where water is seeping in. It’s also important that they deal with any humidity issues within the home by purchasing a dehumidifier, running exhaust fans, and turning up the air conditioning when it feels humid inside. Dealing with excess water and humidity will not only guard against water bug infestations but will also make the home less attractive to other pests and protect against water damage.

STEP 5: Contact a professional for help if you’re not comfortable getting rid of water bugs yourself.

Pest control is a complex task that isn’t always easy for homeowners to tackle on their own. Water bugs in particular are notorious for being difficult to get rid of, and they also are not completely harmless. Do water bugs bite? Potentially—and they can spread disease if they do bite. If homeowners feel intimidated by this problem or it seems like DIY methods are not doing the trick, bringing in a professional with the right knowledge and tools can provide the extra push needed to eliminate the problem for good.

“When roaches have got into an area, they multiply very quickly,” Smith explains. “If you haven’t seen any sort of improvement from DIY methods in the first week or two, I would call a professional. The longer they have been established, the harder it is to get them out.”

Finding water bugs in the home can be startling, but this does not have to be a permanent problem. Identifying where water bugs are nesting, putting down chemicals or traps, sealing up entry points, and staying on top of prevention has worked for scores of homeowners in the past. But if all else fails, or the problem feels overwhelming, one of the best cockroach exterminators will know how to keep water bugs away for good.