Maintaining a home can be very rewarding, but one of the most unfortunate realities of homeownership? Roaches in the house. A roach problem in the home should be addressed as soon as possible. Cockroaches will not go away on their own and come with various health risks and sanitation concerns.
While roaches are challenging to deal with, try not to panic. Panic can lead to unnecessary or improper chemical treatments, which can make roach problems worse over time. Thankfully, a few practical strategies can help you get rid of roaches and keep them away.
Before You Begin
If you're hoping to perform DIY cockroach control, you'll need to be very consistent. If you are unsure of your ability to be consistent with treatment, it would be best to call a professional pest control company. Inconsistent cockroach treatments lead problems to become worse, in turn wasting time, money, and energy.
If you're prepared for the job, bring proper protective equipment, including a respirator. Cockroaches can trigger allergies and asthma, especially in individuals with respiratory sensitivities.
What Do Roaches Look Like?
Roaches are some of the most common and resilient household pests in the world, often stumping even the most seasoned pest pros.
Like many insect pests, cockroaches vary in size and appearance depending on the species. Generally, roaches have the following characteristics:
- Oval-shaped bodies
- Six spiny legs
- Two long antennae
Roaches are especially common in apartments and multi-family housing, but that doesn't mean they don't infest single-family houses, too.
German cockroaches are the most common house-infesting roaches. They are frequently found in kitchens but can make their way to other areas quickly and quietly without being noticed. German cockroaches are:
- About 10-15mm in length
- Light tan to brown in color (sometimes white just after molting)
- Two distinct, dark stripes behind the head
Brown-banded cockroaches are frequently confused with German cockroaches, with a few distinct differences. While both of these roach species are difficult to manage in apartments and multi-family dwellings, brown-banded cockroaches are:
- 10-15 mm in length
- Varied brown in coloring with horizontal stripes (light or dark) on their backs
- Missing the two distinct, dark stripes behind the head that indicate a German cockroach
American cockroaches (also called palmetto bugs depending on where you live) are the largest cockroach found in U.S. homes. While most common in commercial settings, they are known to make their way inside from time to time. Think you're seeing an American cockroach? They are:
- Between 27-40mm long
- Shiny, brownish-red in color
- Light tan spots on the head
Asian cockroaches like cool, dark, damp places, earning them the nickname 'water bugs'. These roaches are good at hiding, so you'll need to look in areas you might not always access, like floor drains, under your porch, and in the crawlspace. Oriental cockroaches are:
- 22-27 mm long
- Dark brown to black coloring
- Slower and shyer than other home-infesting species
Signs of a Roach Infestation
Roaches are nocturnal and elusive, meaning you're not likely to see them out and about during the day. If you are, this almost certainly indicates that the issue needs immediate attention. Knowing where roaches like to hide is critical to getting them out of your home, so start searching!
Roaches like to hide in small, dark, moist places. Kitchens and bathrooms are prime locations for roaches as they tend to have moisture from leaks and other sources. Look under sinks, behind cabinets and toilets, and in cracks in the floor or shower. Also, keep an eye out for leaks, as these can attract roaches.
Roaches can also be found behind appliances and electronics such as fridges, microwaves, clocks, and ovens, as these places are warm and close to food and moisture. In addition, they can squish into small spaces, such as behind cabinets in the small crack against the wall.
When inspecting, look for the following signs of roach activity:
- Bugs themselves, either mature adults or miniature-sized nymphs
- Small black spots or streaks (droppings)
- The appearance of egg cases in dark places
- Shed or molted skins
- Pervasive musty odor
- Greasy trails along areas they frequent
What is a Nymph?
A nymph (or instar) is another name for the mini-sized cockroaches on their way to adulthood. Nymphs range in size and color depending on the cockroach species and where they're at in their development.
4 Ways to Get Rid of Cockroaches
Above all else, cockroach control takes consistent effort. Any level of slacking on your treatment plan and the issue could get much worse, including roaches that become resistant to treatment. That's the last thing you want!
It's best to approach cockroach control with cautious optimism. Cockroach control is possible, but it needs to be handled with meticulous care if it's going to work.
Inspect and Identify
First, grab a high-quality flashlight and inspect areas where cockroaches like to hang out. Be on the lookout for roaches themselves, but also evidence of them, like:
- Droppings (tiny, dark speckles and streaks)
- Egg casings and cast skins in dark areas
- Grease trails along their travel ways
- Musty smell
Use this time to also identify what could be attracting them. For example, is the pipe under the bathroom sink leaking? Is there moisture-damaged wood along the ledge in your shower? Is an accumulation of food scum in your kitchen drain providing the roaches with a 24/7 buffet?
Place Insect Monitors
While inspecting, place insect monitors (or sticky traps) in dark, moist areas where roaches are likely to move around. This will help you determine where the cockroaches are hiding in your home and give you the information you need to deal with them more effectively later.
Be prepared that monitoring and inspecting are going to need to occur regularly. Plan to re-check your monitors every three weeks and record what you find. Pay close attention to how many roaches are stuck to the traps and how big or small they are. Document and replace the monitors as needed.
If you're finding lots of nymphs in a specific area, this could indicate that females are laying eggs nearby. Therefore, these areas should be targeted with special attention.
Reduce Food and Water Sources
When battling pests, removing as many food and water sources for them as possible is vital. Roaches are not picky. They love food messes, crumbs, rotting garbage, and various kinds of scum. Yuck!
Cockroaches also seek out hiding places where moisture can be found. Check around your water heater for roaches. Keep an eye out for leaks; if one pops up, try to address it as quickly as possible.
Use Chemicals Sparingly and at Your Own Risk
If pesticidal treatments are going to be used against roaches, focus on baits, not sprays. Not only do baits and sprays not mix, but sprays can force roaches deeper into hiding, making them more challenging to eradicate. First things first, make sure to have a few different bait options on hand but only use one at a time.
Here's where you need to keep up with your consistency and monitoring:
- It is ideal to rebait and check monitors every week to keep the bait appealing to the roaches and check on progress so you can adjust treatment if needed.
- Don't go more than three weeks between re-baiting and checking your traps.
- If you continue to see the number of roaches going down at each trap check, keep using the bait that's working.
- Be warned: as soon as the number of roaches on your trap increases, it's time to rotate to another bait. If you don't rotate baits adequately, it could lead to treatment-resistant cockroaches that are much harder to get rid of.
What Causes Roaches in the Home?
Cockroaches create worldwide problems in all types of buildings and residences. Given that our structures provide them with what they need to survive and thrive, it's best to take an attitude of prevention when it comes to roaches, rather than waiting for an inside issue to develop.
Start by doing the following:
- Keep your kitchen tidy and free of food mess and residue
- Clean your kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room drains on a regular basis
- Address moisture issues such as leaks quickly
- Have a system for containing your garbage, including exterior garbage cans that aren't too close to the house
Believe it or not, roaches love cardboard and newspaper. They commonly hide among produce boxes and other paper packaging at the grocery store. They are known for hitching a ride home with unsuspecting residents. Keep grocery store cardboard outside whenever possible, and look any cardboard over thoroughly to avoid bringing cockroaches inside.
When to Call a Professional
Cockroach control is no joke. If you feel overwhelmed or underprepared, that's ok! Pests can be seriously frustrating to deal with, and that's where it helps to have a trusted, local pest control company on speed dial. Just make sure the company you call specializes in Integrated Pest Management.
Don't hesitate to reach out for professional help, especially when it comes to a cockroach problem. Given the persistent nature of roaches, sometimes professional help is the best option to get control of a cockroach problem in your home.
Cockroaches. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
Why Are Cockroaches an Indoor Air Problem? American Lung Association
Rapid cross-resistance bringing cockroaches closer to invincibility. Purdue University: Agriculture News