How to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs So They Don't Return

You can trap one or flush it down the toilet, but for many, try cockroach spray

How to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs

The Spruce / Mira Norian

Though they have a distinctive name, palmetto bugs are another name for the American cockroach, known to infest a wide variety of spaces and places throughout the United States, southern Canada, and parts of Mexico.

Cockroach issues must be treated with thought and precision, as they can be challenging to eliminate. Severe cockroach infestations can lead to a strong, sickeningly musty smell that can linger long after the problem has been addressed. Also worth mentioning: Palmetto bugs and other cockroaches are known to carry pathogens, spread diseases, and cause illness.

6 Ways to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs

While palmetto bugs are common in commercial settings such as shipyards, warehouses, bakeries, restaurants, and supermarkets, they frequently enter homes and apartments. How do you get rid of them, and more importantly, how do you keep them away?

Here are six solutions to eliminating palmetto bugs. Except for chemical control (pesticides), the rest are child and pet-safe.

Sanitation and Cleanliness

Cockroaches are attracted to mess of any kind. Open garbage receptacles, food spills, and pantry messes should all be cleaned up quickly to avoid providing a food source to palmetto bugs and other pests.

It is not uncommon for alleyways and yard spaces to become seriously infested during the summer months. Before you bring items inside, inspect them to ensure you have no palmetto bug stowaways.

Fix Leaks

Palmetto bugs are attracted to damp, moist environments. They commonly live in wet places such as sewer systems and use plumping and sewage pipes to access homes.

While they may be present anyway, you can deter palmetto bugs from taking an interest in your space by promptly repairing any leaks or damaged pipes.

Seal Palmetto Bugs Out

If you are concerned that palmetto bugs could venture in from outside, seal up any cracks where they could come in from outside. This could mean putting proper sweeps on doors, caulking cracks along windowsills, or sealing up splits between bathroom tiles.

Trap Them

Trapping can be a great way to determine if you have a cockroach issue. There are a variety of cockroach traps available at the hardware store, and even just an adhesive trap with no bait inside can be effective, especially in monitoring the severity of a cockroach problem.


Cockroaches are nocturnal, so seeing the extent of the problem during the day can be tricky. Consider setting a trap for palmetto bugs before going to bed. Pick a spot where you suspect they could be present and place a piece of bread in a container. Pour beer over the top of the bread. Palmetto bugs love fermenting liquid, which will draw them in and help you determine if palmetto bugs are present in your home.

Essential Oils and Homemade Sprays

Peppermint oil is a natural palmetto bug repellent that can kill bugs in high concentrations. Other oils that have similar properties are neem, clove, lavender, tea tree, and eucalyptus. Make a homemade spray by mixing 15 drops of essential oil with 10 ounces of water. When combined with water, the homemade spray works more as a repellent and is less effective as a killing method.

Herbs and plants also repel palmetto bugs, including mint, garlic, cinnamon, and bay leaves.

Chemical Control

In certain severe cockroach situations, chemical control can be necessary but should always be used as a last resort and in conjunction with other methods.

If you plan to treat with chemicals, start with baits. Baits are a great way to address a cockroach issue, especially when placed properly. Make sure to spread small bait spots throughout areas where cockroaches are present. Because roaches feed on the go, this will encourage their natural feeding behaviors and make your baiting much more effective.

Borax powder or boric acid is an organic home remedy but not an advisable method to use around pets or children. It's mixed with sugar and dusted where palmetto bugs hide.

If you believe a more potent chemical treatment is needed, contacting a pest control specialist is a good idea. Find a local company that specializes in Integrated Pest Management (IPM). They will be able to help you assess the situation and determine the best course of action based on the specific needs of your home.


If you live in an apartment, townhome, or condo and are experiencing an indoor palmetto bug issue, be prepared to approach management and the other tenants about this issue. In multi-family dwellings, palmetto bugs can travel between units using the plumbing and sewer systems, so getting the whole building on board with control measures will be necessary if you want to get control of the problem.

What Do Palmetto Bugs Look Like?

Palmetto bugs are the largest house-infesting cockroach, measuring 1 to 2 inches long. They are shiny, with reddish brown coloring and light tan spots on their head. Palmetto bugs have wings but tend to do more gliding as they are not strong fliers. You can tell the males from the females because their wings are larger and longer.

Also known as American cockroaches, palmetto bugs are commonly confused with other pests, especially the Smokybrown cockroach and Oriental cockroaches, also known as water bugs.

Mistaking these pests is understandable. They are all part of the family Blattidae and appear similar, though there are certain differences in coloring, size, behavior, and general appearance.

Their "palmetto" name comes from the palm tree in warm coastal areas such as California, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. Palmetto bugs hide among these trees, especially near lakes or ponds.

A shiny reddish brown American cockroach stands still on a piece of wood so you can see its spiky legs.
An American cockroach, also known as a palmetto bug

Paul Starosta

An adhesive insect trap shows a dark, smooth smokybrown cockroach stuck in its glue.
A smokybrown cockroach (right) stuck in an adhesive trap.

Yusuke Ide/iStock/GettyImages

Two small, wingless, black and brown oriental cockroaches
Oriental Cockroaches, also known as water bugs


Signs of a Palmetto Bug Infestation

In moist, warm areas, palmetto bugs are active year-round. Aside from commercial settings such as restaurants and warehouses, palmetto bugs are commonly found in damp basements and sewer areas, especially around pipes.

There are three signs to look out for if you think you may have a cockroach issue in your home:

  1. Physical sightings of the pest
  2. A distinct, musty odor
  3. Repeated illness

Cockroaches and palmetto bugs are vectors for disease. If you or your loved ones notice a musky smell and one or more of you have contracted an illness such as salmonella, it may be time to consider a possible interior cockroach issue.

What Causes a Palmetto Bug Problem?

In short, ideal environmental conditions create a palmetto bug issue. Palmetto bugs are widespread and look for specific circumstances to meet their needs. Palmetto bugs and other cockroaches are attracted to:

  • Moisture damage and leaky pipes
  • Food mess
  • Fermenting liquids

How to Keep Palmetto Bugs Away

Seek to eliminate any conditions that are inviting to the palmetto bugs. This includes:

  • Sealing up garbage cans and compost bins
  • Making sure pipes are not leaking
  • Keeping spaces free of clutter
  • Cleaning up food and pantry spills quickly

When to Call a Professional to Treat a Palmetto Bug Infestation

Are you noticing many palmetto bugs in your basement, especially during heavy rains? Water seepage can cause increased insect activity inside your home. A professional can root out the underlying cause and help you determine if you have deeper-seated issues to fix.

Before you call in the big guns, grab a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner and vacuum up any cockroaches. Give it a few days and see how things are. If you still have a persistent cockroach issue in your home, consider calling a professional pest control company for a consultation.

  • Where do palmetto bugs come from?

    Palmetto bugs are commonly found in warm, coastal areas such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. While they are most widely a commercial pest of bakeries, grocery stores, and other business spaces, they can also use sewage and plumbing pipes to make their way inside residences.

  • Will palmetto bugs go away on their own?

    If the issue involves an occasional palmetto bug from outside, you can handle it with a vacuum. If the problem is recurring or severe, this may warrant more extreme measures. Start with addressing sanitation issues and water leaks and go from there. 

  • Do palmetto bugs bite?

    While palmetto bugs can bite, they rarely do. However, these bugs are carriers of salmonella and other pathogens.

  • Do you get rid of all cockroaches if you kill one?

    Killing one or several palmetto bugs is helpful, but it is not the end of your problem. Female palmetto bugs deposit egg cases that can have over 20 eggs within them. It takes about 50 days for the egg case to incubate, and they're usually left in a safe, dark spot near a food source for the hatching babies to feast upon.

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  1. "Disease Vectors and Pests." Healthy Housing Reference Manual, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Cockroaches and Their Management. UFL Extension.

  3. Disease Vectors and Pests (Chapter 4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.