How to Prevent and Get Rid of Cockroaches

Death cockroach on the floor, pest control concept.
Azri Suratmin / Getty Images

The sight of a cockroach scurrying across the kitchen floor will send most homeowners straight to the phone to call an exterminator. The fact that some species can fly only adds to the revulsion.

The truth is, of the 4,500 roach species in the world, only about 60 find their way into homes and most of those don’t want to be in your home any more than you want them there. So, how do you get rid of cockroaches? It starts with knowing your enemy since each species will require a different approach.

German vs. American Cockroach

Roaches are known vectors for disease and can make certain health conditions, like asthma, worse.

  • German roaches are small and brown. Some people call them “kitchen roaches” because they thrive indoors, and tend to prefer the kitchen (and bathroom). These guys can’t fly.
  • Asian roaches look like the German species, but they can fly. They prefer the outdoors but do wander inside sometimes.
  • American roaches, which are larger and deep brown, also prefer to be outside. They are flying opportunists. If they have easy access to food or water, they will make themselves at home.
  • Palmetto bugs, which are as large as the American (two inches on average), are black. They also prefer the outdoors and fly, but they will eat your pet’s food or that pie you left on the counter.

Prevention Is Your Best Defense

Roaches are resilient and can become immune to many products, particularly those found on your grocery store shelves. Failing to properly get rid of roaches can cause the problem to get worse. The best defense against roaches is to make sure you never have any in your home in the first place–and if any get in, ensure they are dealt with swiftly.

The key is to make your home inhospitable to roaches:

  • Keep counters, floors, stovetops, and tables clean.
  • Wipe down all surfaces (counters, stove, etc.) after each use.
  • Don’t leave any food out overnight or even during the day.
  • Take your garbage out regularly.
  • Pick up pet food and water bowls every night.
  • Don’t leave dishes in a sink full of water “to soak” overnight.

While even clean homes can get roaches, they love scavenging for the tiny crumbs that you leave behind. You may not be able to see them, but it’s like turning on the buffet sign for roaches.

Cutting off access points is equally important.

  • Inspect your home thoroughly and seal any cracks where roaches can enter.
  • When you bring boxes or bags in from the garage, storage, even the grocery store, inspect them to make sure you don’t have any stowaways.
  • If you go to yard sales or thrift stores, inspect any purchases before bringing them into your home.
  • Seal around windows, under doors, and around pipes. Even if a crack seems too small, seal it.

Don’t underestimate the cockroach, they are crafty and can squeeze through spaces that seem impossible.

Prevention should extend to the yard.

  • Keep heavy vegetation away from your home.
  • Avoid having plants or bushes directly against any external walls.
  • Keep firewood piles away from your home.

Trees and vegetation not only harbor roaches but other insects, including mosquitoes, as well.

Getting Rid of Cockroaches

If you are dealing with an outdoor species of roach, a glue board, pest control spray, natural pesticides, or even a well-placed shoe will take care of the problem.

German cockroaches, on the other hand, are very difficult to manage once infestation sets in. This is not to say that a home cannot be infested by American roaches (and they should be managed the same way), but German roaches are the most prevalent in the home.

German roaches prefer to be in the home and don’t take eviction well. If you live in an apartment and your neighbor has roaches, they are very likely to invade your home as well–especially if your neighbor starts battling them.

The reason they are such a problem to eliminate, though, is because they reproduce rapidly. This is also why many pest control companies have problems getting infestations under control–they don’t work with the insect’s life cycle.

The female mates once and from that can produce up to six egg cases, each of which contains 40 to 60 young. It takes about 28 days for most species to reach maturity, so even if you kill the adults, in about a month you will have a whole new population from the eggs that the adults laid.

German cockroach infestations must be treated monthly which is something most pest control companies do not do. They usually offer quarterly contracts and servicing your home more often is extra–and can be quite costly.

Take these steps to get rid of roaches:

  • Start by vacuuming up all the roaches you can. This provides immediate population control.
  • Follow with a good, professional-grade cockroach bait.
  • Roach traps can also help tremendously.

Consistency is crucial. Keep baiting until you haven’t seen any roaches for at least three months. Treating your yard can also help but make sure that the product you use is safe for pets if you have a dog or cat.

Getting rid of cockroaches is not easy, but it can be done. Just remember to avoid the sprays and products at your grocery store and look at professional-grade products, then treat consistently. Those roaches will have their walking papers in no time and be off to find a home that is a little more hospitable to them—but at least it won’t be yours.