Us humans tend to have a lot of fears, such as:
- Socially programmed (fearing others who look or think differently)
- Phobias (an irrational fear)
- Experiential (ex: the fear of loss)
But one fear that tends to be well-founded and buried deep in the human psyche is the fear of cockroaches.
Cockroaches are living fossils dating back at least 300 million years. There are over 4,500 species globally. Thirty are associated with home infestations, with around 69 species living in the US. They’re infamous disease vectors, and most are visually disgusting to humans. But they’ve also got their benefits – when domesticated properly.
Let’s take a look at some facts about these critters as a whole, then examine ways to get them out of your home and off your property.
Getting to Know Roaches (From a Distance)
Roaches have a lot of common factors, although they can be grouped into giant and small cockroaches based on size. Very few species are known to invade homes, thankfully. You may also be surprised to know that roaches can even be beneficial under the right circumstances.
Types of Roaches
Knowing what species you’re dealing with is important, as some species aren’t attracted to trash or moisture like most. This means some remedies will only work on certain roach species/types.
For a breakdown of the most common roaches in the US, please check out our guide to roach types.
Note that the American Cockroach, German cockroach, and Oriental cockroach are known as the Big Three, and these are the most common infestations in both the US and globally.
Are Cockroaches Social?
Part of the problem when it comes to getting rid of a cockroach infestation is the fact that these are, indeed, social creatures. Experiments have shown that an isolated German cockroach will be less likely to venture far from its shelter, especially in the presence of light. However, a group of German cockroaches can become quite bold.
The roaches communicate through secreted chemicals called cuticular hydrocarbons in a manner not dissimilar to ants. These signals can denote food, shelter spots, or to notify latecomers whether to wait at a food source or move on to find another food source.
Even more interesting (and a potential key to future control methods) is the fact that the chemical trails led by one individual can influence group decision-making.
Experiments with roach-sized robots that can leave chemical trails have shown the robots were able to convince roaches to cluster in well-lit areas.
This is because the majority influences group decision-making, and the two main factors are the amount of light and how many other roaches are present. The more roaches to follow the robot’s trails, the more that would follow in turn, leading to a critical mass in places roaches might otherwise avoid.
Health Risks of Roaches
Cockroaches carry a wide range of health risks, and most pathogens get trapped on their legs when they pass over an infected surface, meaning they can spread fungi and bacteria everywhere they touch.
Some common diseases include E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus. Even worse, their saliva and waste contain numerous allergen proteins, which can cause asthma symptoms to flare up, especially when it comes to children.
Read Also: Are Shrimp and Cockroaches Actually Related?
Do Cockroaches Bite?
Unfortunately, they do, but it’s pretty rare. When dealing with a cockroach bite, it’s important to treat it immediately and keep an eye out for symptoms of allergic reaction or infection.
Do People Really Eat Cockroaches?
While wild cockroaches carry disease, cockroaches properly bred in captivity are a major source of protein throughout much of the world. For example, they’re a common ingredient in both Mexican cuisine and traditional Chinese medicine.
Identifying a Roach Infestation
Due to their general aversion to light, even a major infestation won’t pan out like in Joe’s Apartment. Instead, you’ll be lucky to spot even one roach in a colony of hundreds. However, the signs that tell you you’ve got an infestation can also help you identify how severe it is.
Minor roach infestations are usually first identified by smear marks on counters or in kitchen cabinets, black droppings, exoskeletons left from molting, or damaged food containers and paper/leather products. At this point, it’s usually still possible to eliminate the roaches yourself.
However, once the infestation has become severe, an exterminator is often the only option. Remember that cockroaches become bolder when in large groups and function through group decision-making. This means you’re more likely to see them scurrying in all directions when you turn on the light.
There may also be an abundance of the aforementioned symptoms or even eggs lying around. The worst is a foul, musty odor, which is usually the worst possible scenario, as it means the infestation is beyond DIY remedies.
Related: 15 Bugs That Resemble Roaches
Common Hiding Spots
There’s a surprising number of places cockroaches will make into their shelter. Here are some of the places they’re likely to seek out in different rooms of the house. When doing a self-inspection, be sure to look at each of thee places for signs of roach activity.
Attics are perfect hiding spots for many critters. Not only are they rarely accessed, but they contain plenty of boxes and other hiding places. Unfinished attics may even give access to the walls below, serving as a great way to get to the kitchen or other areas with food or water.
Cool, dark, and damp are three things that make most roaches happy. Add in the fact that you often use a basement for storage, and it’s suddenly a five-star roach hotel. There have even been reports of roaches infesting Xbox One or PS5 game consoles!
Cracks and crevasses in the bathroom may house roaches, which are attracted to the excess moisture. They’re also known to hide under sinks or in older medicine cabinets that have blade disposal sots.
Dirty laundry piles or other clutter are perfect hiding spots for roaches. They may also hide under the bed or in the walls.
Garage or Shed
One of the downsides to having a garage is that they’re rarely well-sealed. This gives plenty of access points for roaches hoping to escape the cold.
Both garages and sheds tend to have plenty of boxes or other places for roaches to hide. Even worse, attached garages tend to be better insulated, making them a perfect home for roaches that hate the cold.
There are many places for roaches to hide in the kitchen, many of which contain food. Where they set up shop depends largely on the species of roach, and each location tends to have its own list of effective treatments due to the presence of electronic components or other factors that limit what products you can use.
Species that are more cold-hardy may take up residence in your fridge, for example. Meanwhile, if the species loves water, it may appear beneath the kitchen sink, among your dirty dishes, or in your dishwasher.
Species that love warmth are known to infest ovens and microwaves. It’s also not uncommon for roaches to hide behind a lazy Susan or in portions of your cabinets or pantry that aren’t often used.
Wood Roaches and Termites
We’d be amiss if we didn’t mention an important evolutionary link between two major household pests.
Despite resembling ants, scientists have discovered that termites are actually descended from a species of cockroach. These nasty pests are now sometimes considered a type of wood roach, and some extermination techniques will work on both.
However, while the subterranean termites prefer the outdoors like most wood roaches, wet and drywood termites are frequent home invaders. Also, termites have diverged enough that roach-specific chemical treatments may not work on them.
Getting Rid of Roaches
Dealing with roaches on your own can be a lot more complicated than other pests. Many have become superbugs, resistant to a wide range of common insecticides. On top of that, there’s no guarantee any one method will get rid of all roaches in your home.
Instead, try to identify the species you’re dealing with, then hit them with a four-phase battle plan:
- Limiting their options
- Using natural remedies
- Using chemical options
- Phase one with added prevention.
These methods will work anywhere, both indoors and outside (to a lesser degree). So, without further ado, let’s get on the offensive!
Phase 1: Limiting Their Options
The first thing you need to do is go around your home and eliminate the things which attract roaches. This step may not get rid of them, but it will disrupt their scent trails and give you a fighting chance.
Start With the Kitchen
- Scrub all of your appliances, including stove, microwave, oven, fridge (remember the drain tray underneath!), and dishwasher.
- Clean all dishes and wipe down your sinks using disinfectant wipes, making sure to also clean and wipe down the sink cabinet.
- Clean your cabinets using disinfectant wipes.
- Clean all countertops and give them a final once-over with disinfectant wipes.
- Clean and disinfect all drawers.
- Wash the floor, making sure to move any appliances as you do.
- Ensure all fresh or leftover foods are securely sealed in their containers and discard any that appear compromised.
- Feed pets only what they’ll eat in one meal, rather than giving them food for an entire day and store the pet food securely.
- Ensure all garbage receptacles have lids and are clean on both the inside and outside.
Then Deep Clean the Remaining House
- Put all damp sponges or dishwashing supplies in airtight plastic bags. Most damp sponges can be placed in the microwave for two minutes on high to sterilize them, but be careful not to put double-purpose sponges scratchy-side down.
- Put any dirty laundry directly in the washer or in a lidded laundry receptacle.
- Vacuum or wash all floors.
- Wipe all sinks, showers, and tubs dry, ensure the area around the toilet is condensation-free, and plug the drains.
- When possible, switch out any cardboard boxes for sealable Tupperware containers.
- Check all appliances and put tape over any potential access holes, especially on computer towers and TVs.
- Check windows, doors, and baseboards for cracks or holes and caulk over them.
Phase 2: Break Out the Natural Remedies
The nice thing about using natural remedies is the ability to use multiple methods at once without having to leave your home for supplies. Here are some great options you can mix and match to take out most (or even all) of the cockroach population.
#1 – Adhesive Strips/Glue Traps
Sometimes the best way to get out of a sticky situation is to fight fire with fire – or in this case, something sticky!
Sticky traps are nothing new, coming in a wide range of forms. Many are strips of paper with a non-drying adhesive, such as with fly strips. Others come as thin boards that provide a sturdier surface, so it’s less likely to get stuck to itself or move in a breeze.
- Natural and Pesticide-Free
- Draws Roaches from Their Hiding Places
- Discreet, Slides Easily Under Furniture and Appliances
You can also use duct tape with the sticky side up or create your own adhesive strips using paper and honey. Simply place your adhesive strips or glue traps along the baseboards or in places where roach activity seems concentrated, and the roaches will practically exterminate themselves.
Just be warned. Kids and pets can get stuck in these traps, creating a messy situation.
#2 – Baking Soda
Baking soda is deadly for the same reason it’s so popular in the kitchen: it expands when exposed to acids.
You can use baking soda and vinegar to clean drains and as part of the effort to cut roaches out the filth they seek. However, mixing equal parts of baking soda and sugar, then leaving it where the roaches are known to tread is a highly effective killer.
Why? The roaches will seek out the sugar and end up eating the baking soda. Once in their stomachs, it encounters – you guessed it – acid. It then expands and bursts their stomachs, killing them.
#3 – Bleach
Pouring a bit of bleach down drains can kill any lurking roaches, and the smell will send them scurrying. It can also be used to disinfect surfaces contaminated by roach feces, but be warned that it may cause discoloration on some materials.
#4 – Boric Acid/Borax
Boric acid is a boon to humans but deadly to pests. When ingested, it dehydrates the roach, killing it. Borax is a popular household product used for laundry that contains boric acid.
To use, either mix 2 parts boric acid and 1 part sugar or equal parts borax, flour, and confectioner’s sugar (this latter should end up as a dough). Place your boric mix wherever roaches have been spotted and the sweet smell of sugar will trick them into eating the poison.
- All-natural design safely keeps clothes fresh and clean
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This method is great because roaches will often eat the corpses of other roaches, causing them to be poisoned as well. Unfortunately, borax is toxic to pets and has some toxicity to children (as proven in Victorian London where they often used borax to “refresh” spoiled milk), so be careful where you put it.
#5 – Bottle Trap
If you’ve ever had a fly problem, you know how effective this simple trap can be. Simply cut the top off of a soda bottle and tape it back on inverted. Then put some sugar or coffee grounds into the bottle. The roaches will go in and get stuck.
You can also add some sweet-smelling liquid, such as a bit of apple juice (avoid citrus for reasons we’ll get into momentarily) with a few drops of dish soap, causing the roaches to drown.
#6 – Citrus and Essential Oils
These won’t kill a roach, but they can still prove a deadly weapon. Citrus such as lemons and limes, or citronella, lemongrass and/or peppermint essential oils have pungent scents that repel roaches. Garlic or pepper solutions also work wonders.
Now, it’s perfectly fine to use these mixed with water in a spray bottle as a means to deter roaches (or other pests) from your cupboards or other food sources, and they’re perfectly safe for most plants (be sure to check if the plant has a sensitivity to these oils before spraying them, though), so why not use them on the offensive?
Simply spray these natural products so that the path of no stench (for them, anyway) leads directly to your roach traps. The roaches will bottleneck their way to their deaths, often signaling to other roaches to follow the same path.
#7 – Diatomaceous Earth
This all-natural product is one of our favorites, as it consists entirely of the crushed fossils of microorganisms called diatoms. Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth (or DT, for short) is safe for use in the home and on plants, making this an excellent option for both indoor and outdoor treatments.
While you’ll want to wear a mask when applying, this is merely because you’re working with a fine powder that can easily be inhaled like dust, which may trigger asthma or cause congestion. Also, be warned that smaller pets or children may find the powder uncomfortable to touch, so you should only apply where smaller family members aren’t likely to go.
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To use DT, simply dust along the spot where the floor meets baseboards, as this is often a safe travel area for insects. As they travel over the DT, the tiny shells will lacerate the protective wax that holds moisture contained. As a result, the roach will dehydrate and die.
Unfortunately, diatomaceous earth easily washes away and will need to be reapplied every few days. However, you can avoid this issue by adding it to adhesive strips for a doubly potent kill trap.
#8 – Soap or Fabric Softener
What better way to get rid of filth than with good old soap and water? Dawn dish liquid is safe for use around pets and plants, although liquid fabric softener can also be used in a pinch (but is less plant-friendly).
You’ll have to have some decent aim, but a good shot will clog the airways of the target roach, causing it to suffocate.
#9 – Vacuum Cleaner and/or Steam Vac
Show roaches how much their presence sucks by attacking cracks and crevasses with a vacuum cleaner. For deeper cracks, you can use a can of compressed air to scare the roaches out into the open where the vacuum can get them.
If you REALLY want to show them who’s boss, you can also cook the roaches by using a steam cleaner to first boil, then remove the unlucky roaches.
#10 – Advanced Bonus Method: The Bug-A-Salt
For those who are still a hunter at heart, you can grab some infrared or night goggles (or use a phone app, if your phone has low-light capabilities) and camp out in the kitchen with a little bait trail leading to a mound of sugar in the middle of the floor.
Load up your Bug-A-Salt and keep it at the ready. Then, when the roaches begin coming out of hiding, you can pick them off one by one (if you can get close enough).
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Of course, you’ll need a newer model with enhanced range, and don’t expect to eliminate the entire infestation this way. However, it can be a fun means to blow off some steam and take a few of those buggers along!
Note: While fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and kerosene may be effective at killing roaches, they are by no means a safe way to do so and should be avoided.
Phase 3: Chemical Solutions
If your infestation is serious, you’ll need to employ chemical solutions. Of course, you can also add some of these to your organic arsenal.
But, be warned, most of these aren’t safe around children or pets and may contaminate food or leave residue, so use only as directed on the packaging!
#1 – Bait Stations
Even better, use what the pros use. Maxforce FC Magnum roach bait gel will kill roaches fast! Just be sure to carefully read the instructions.
Simply put them where roaches are known to travel and the first roach to find it will tell the others, “Dere be food in dem plastic hills!”. Then, they’ll gather to eat the poison and die.
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- This package includes 18 child-resistant Combat Max roach killing bait stations...
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Best of all, roaches often eat their own dead (when food is limited), so corpses will only spread the love. Just keep in mind that the poison can make kids and pets sick if they get into the traps.
#2 – Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs)
If you have a garden, you’re likely familiar with neem oil, which is a type of natural IGR. These chemicals mimic an insect’s hormones, interrupting their ability to molt to the next stage and/or rendering them barren.
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While IGRs don’t outright kill roaches, using them (and they come in a wide range of products) can prevent any future generations, allowing you to whittle away at the existing population.
#3 – Pesticide Sprays
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Just be warned that you need to rotate products regularly, as roaches are notorious for gaining resistance to pesticides. As the old saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you more roachlike” – or something like that.
#4 – Roach Bomb/Fogger
Bombs should be your last resort before calling a professional. They require your entire family (including plants) to vacate while the bomb does its job. Bombs leave nasty residue, so you’ll have to scrub everything down upon your return. Also, any foods or liquids that were exposed must be discarded.
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Even worse is that you’ll have to make another bombing run after to get any eggs that have hatched before the new nymphs can lay more eggs. On top of that, a fogger may simply not reach where some of the roaches are hiding. Still, this is the way to go if you can’t afford an exterminator and nothing else is working.
Phase 4: Repeat Phase 1 With Added Prevention
Now that you’ve (hopefully) gotten rid of your infestation, it’s time to ensure the roaches will have a very hard time causing another one.
Go back over everything you did in the first phase and making it a weekly checklist. Regular cleaning can go a long way to preventing infestations from a wide range of critters. While some species, such as the American cockroach, aren’t as concerned about messiness, it will still limit their food and shelter options.
Check all pipes for signs of sweating or leaks and address these issues. Clean your gutters regularly and seal any external entry points (cracks, crevasses, gaps at pipe or wire entry holes, etc.).
Prune plants so they aren’t against the house, as these can embolden roaches to creep up to the foundation. You’ll also want to keep woodpiles away from the house.
Regularly mow your grass and remove any debris, raking fallen leaves frequently.
Note that it may be necessary to remove birdbaths, bird feeders, or other potential food or water sources if you’re treating the exterior portions of your property separately. This includes regular preventative treatments of your garden and fruit trees or shrubs using natural or chemical remedies until there are no signs of roaches.
When All Else Fails
Roaches are a formidable enemy under the best circumstances. They’re even more frightening to face than Hannibal’s invasion using elephants (basically giant upside-down squirrels) on skis!
Don’t be afraid to admit defeat and call for the cavalry. Professional exterminators aren’t always the cheapest option out there. However, they’ll usually charge a fair price and do follow-up inspections to ensure the roaches stay dead.