How to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs

How to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs

The Spruce / Mira Norian

Though they have a distinctive name, palmetto bugs are actually a type of cockroach, and they are known to infest a wide variety of spaces and places throughout the U.S., Southern Canada, and parts of Mexico.

Cockroach issues need to be treated with thought and precision, as they can be difficult to get a handle on. 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 spread illness.

What Does Palmetto Mean?

A palmetto is actually a type of tree that is commonly found along warm, coastal areas in states such as California, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. Palmetto bugs earned their nickname because they like to hide among these trees, especially when the trees are near a still body of water such as a lake or pond.

What Do Palmetto Bugs Look Like?

Palmetto bugs are the largest house-infesting cockroach, measuring 27 to 40mm 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.

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

Goldfinch4ever/iStock/GettyImages

5 Ways to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs

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

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 make sure you don't have any palmetto bug stowaways.

Fix Leaks

Palmetto bugs are cockroaches, and cockroaches are attracted to damp, moist environments. They commonly live in wet places such as sewer systems and will 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 making sure any leaks or damaged pipes are repaired promptly.

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 any splits between your bathroom tiles.

Trap Them

Trapping can be a great way to determine if you have a cockroach issue at all. 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.

Tip

Cockroaches are nocturnal, so it can be hard to get eyes on them during the day. 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, so this will draw them in and help you determine if palmetto bugs are present in your home.

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

If you believe a more potent chemical treatment is needed, it's a good idea to contact a pest control specialist. 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.

Tip

If you live in an apartment, townhome, or condo and you are experiencing an indoor palmetto bug issue, be prepared to approach management as well as 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.

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 most 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 are noticing a musky smell and one or more of you have contracted an illness such as salmonella, it may be time to start considering a possible interior cockroach issue.

What Causes a Palmetto Bug Problem?

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

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

Tip

Are you noticing a large number of palmetto bugs in your basement? Have there been heavy rains in your area recently? This could be the reason for the increase in insect activity inside your home. Grab a heavy duty vacuum cleaner and vacuum up any cockroaches. Then, give it a few days and see how things are. If you are still having a persistent cockroach issue in your basement, consider calling a professional pest control company for a consultation.

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
FAQ
  • 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 commonly 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 just involves an occasional palmetto bug brought in from outside, this situation can be easily handled with a vacuum. If the issue is recurring and/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 have the ability to bite, they rarely do, and bites should be of little concern unless they become infected.

  • How long do palmetto bugs live?

    Palmetto bugs, also known as American cockroaches, can live for a surprisingly long time. Depending on the temperature of their environment, the development phase of the palmetto bug lifecycle takes over a year for them to reach full maturity. From there, adults can live anywhere from a few months to a few years.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. "Disease Vectors and Pests." Healthy Housing Reference Manual, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Cockroaches and Their Management. UFL Extension.

  3. "American Cockroaches." PestWorld.org.

  4. Mallis, Arnold, and Keith Story. Handbook of Pest Control. Cleveland, Ohio Franzak & Foster, 1982.