Got house roaches? Let’s be clear—you’ve got a job to do and you’ll want to do it right.
These bugs are easy to get, can be difficult to get rid of, and if they’ve settled into your home, you’ll want to eliminate them ASAP, before the problem gets worse.
Let’s take a look at the common house roach, why it chose your home, how to serve it a proper eviction, and most of all—how to say goodbye for good.
What is a House Cockroach?
If you’ve got them, you’re already far too familiar with the nasty, disgusting roaches zooming around your home.
But what exactly are “house cockroaches?” You may think you know, but as it turns out, yours may be much different from your neighbor’s.
House roaches can be any of several cockroach species known for targeting human homes. They differ from roaches that live entirely outside, and can quickly cause big problems if you let them stay inside.
Other pests infest our homes too, of course. But what makes house roaches particularly challenging (to get rid of) is their behavior. Because, well—they’re kind of smart.
They hide extremely well. So well in fact that you may have no idea how many there really are. And when you try to kill them (at least the way most people do), they cunningly outwit you, not so much as individuals, but as a group.
They’re also physically talented in ways that make eliminating them (or keeping your sanity around them) even harder. Most house roaches are fast, some can swim, and yes—some can even fly. Sometimes right at you.
The Different Types of House Roaches (Small and Large)
If you were to call in a professional exterminator to solve your cockroach problem, he’d begin by figuring out which kind you have. You’ll want to do that too, because different roaches call for (somewhat) different approaches.
All told, there are 5 main types of house cockroaches likely to be harassing you, along with a couple more that may have entered by mistake.
To identify and treat house roaches, it can be helpful to group them by size—Small and Large. See if you can recognize yours here:
Small roaches: In-house invaders that multiply fast
You might think that large roaches caused the biggest problems, but no—for sheer destructiveness small roaches beat the big ones by a mile. Small roaches are the pint-sized invaders of the cockroach world. They found your home on purpose, they’re relentless in taking over, and they won’t leave until they’ve destroyed much of what you have.
If the roaches in your home are small, they’re likely to be either brown-banded or German house roaches.
German House Roaches
German cockroaches are about ½ inch long, tan or light-brown and feature two dark lines running vertically down their backs. They also have long, semi-transparent wings that they occasionally use for short flights. They love warm, damp hiding places. Kitchens and bathrooms are their favorites.
Brown-Banded House Cockroaches
Brown-banded cockroaches are similar in size to German roaches, but darker in color. Their distinguishing characteristic is a pair of light-brown bands that stretch horizontally across their backs. Males have long wings while females have short ones. They love warm but drier hiding places.
Large roaches: In-house colonizers mistook your home for a sewer
Large roaches are opportunistic creatures that didn’t purposely set out to find your home. Instead, they mistook it for a sewer or compost pile, then decided to stay for the ample food and water, and the cozy shelter you appreciate so much, too.
Large house roaches will infiltrate your home with the seasons. Or when nearby road construction upsets their usual disgusting haunts. Between the time they get in and the time you get rid of them, they’ll terrify your children, crawl onto you at night, and go to the bathroom all over your stuff.
The large house roaches:
American cockroaches: Huge (2+ in.), reddish-brown and winged. Ugly. They fly sometimes.
Oriental cockroaches: Medium (1 in.), glossy black (or very dark brown) and slow-moving. Often mistaken for beetles. Males’ wings only cover about 2/3 of their backs. They don’t fly.
Smokybrown cockroaches: Big (1½ in.), and a dark, glossy brown, smokybrown roaches have long wings and long antennae. Usually content to scrabble around your garden or yard, they’ll sometimes infest your attic in large numbers.
Baby House Roaches
Baby roaches look much like adult roaches, but lack wings until they develop them later. Though tiny, they’re no less dangerous and destructive. If you’re seeing lots of baby house roaches or tiny roach eggs, be aware that your home may be in a very active stage of infestation.
Some roaches don’t really find much appealing about your home, but occasionally get in anyway. Unlike the house cockroaches above, they won’t breed inside and infest your home. Left alone, they’re likely to die without your help.
Australian cockroaches: Also big (1–1 ½ inches), mostly brown but wear striking, pale yellow stripes along each shoulder. Occasional flyers, they may fly inside by mistake, or simply wander in.
Wood House Roaches
Straightforward Guide: How to Get Rid of House Roaches for Good
Identified your cockroach yet? Good. It’s time to get to work.
You’ll begin with products and techniques that work against any house roach, then tweak them for certain ones.
Here are the steps:
Step 1: Buy a Set of Sticky Traps
Sticky traps are the simplest pest control device on the market—and among the most effective. They attract roaches with a natural scent or pheromone, then trap them with a special glue.
You can use sticky traps the way most folks do—as always-on, everywhere, merciless killing machines. Or the way that exterminators do—as information-gathering tools.
If you go with the later approach (and we recommend you do), you’ll lay down traps in a lot of places, then systematically count and record each trap’s kill. Using sticky traps this way (called “monitoring”), you’ll discover exactly where roaches are most active. And know exactly where to hit them hard.
Sticky traps are generally sold in sets of 8-12. You can buy a single set if you just want to kill cockroaches, but you’ll need more to use the monitoring method well.
Step 2: Buy a Pack of Gel Bait
Cockroach gel bait can be a game-changer for many people, especially for those who’ve only used bombs or sprays.
The gel contains a tiny dose of poison mixed with a strong attractant. After eating the gel, a cockroach will slowly die, after which its body will be consumed by other roaches. The poison will kill those roaches too, and may kill even more roaches as the poison is passed on yet again.
Gel baits are so effective, they can sometimes wipe out an entire cockroach colony, or at a minimum, significantly reduce it.
You’ll find gel baits sold two forms: in disposable plastic “bait stations,” and syringe-style applicators. While you may find bait station products to be more convenient, the syringes allow for more control, and do a better job.
A single package of gel bait will completely treat most homes, with enough left over for follow-up treatments should you need them.
Step 3: Buy an Insecticidal Dust and a Hand Duster
Where gel bait hits roaches in their need to eat, insecticidal dust hits them in their need to forage, avoid predators, and seek out mates. That is, it kills them as they crawl around.
Insecticidal dusts are fine powders applied to surfaces roaches walk through. The powder gets on their legs and bodies, then slowly penetrates and destroys their protective shells, eventually killing them.
To apply “dusts” properly, you’ll need a simple tool called a “hand duster,” which distributes the powder in a thin, controlled layer. If you expect to do a lot of dusting, high-end dusters do a better job. But for most people, a less expensive model (about $10) will usually do.
Step 1: Cleanup
House cleaning may not seem like a pest control method, but it’s one of the most important steps.
House cockroaches can survive on even the tiniest bits of food, so when you vacuum up crumbs or wipe up spills, you deprive them of a meal. They also leave pheromone trails for communication, so when you wipe or scrub down surfaces, you deprive them of signals they use to mate and locate food.
Cleanup also primes your home for the pest control products you’re going to use. It leaves roaches hungrier for your baits, and removes competing scents for the attractants in your traps.
The first step is to get out your vacuum cleaner and give your home a thorough cleaning. Vacuum everything you normally would, but press harder into carpets, deeper into cracks in hardwood floors, and into spaces you might otherwise skip—underneath and between couch cushions, the undersides of furniture, and the tops of lamps, bookcases, and picture frames.
Vacuum not only low, but high. Put your vacuum’s attachments to good use, especially the stiff little brush most vacuum cleaners come with, and (a fierce cockroach weapon if there ever was one) the crevice tool you can use to suction out tiny voids.
Be particularly thorough in kitchens and bathrooms where roaches tend to thrive, and if you actually see any scrambling past you, suction them up, remembering later to throw your vacuum cleaner bag out in a sealed garbage bag.
Next? Decluttering. And better organization if your home needs it.
House roaches love clutter, and a disorganized space creates innumerable hiding spots where they can feel protected and lay their eggs. Go through your home room-by-room with a garbage bag and a willingness to toss things out. Be particularly merciless with papers, magazines, or anything made of cardboard, especially cardboard boxes.
Mop and scrub
Finally, get out a mop, sponges, and a wash bucket, and begin scrubbing surfaces cockroaches might have touched. Avoid harsh or smelly cleaners during this step—they could interfere with the pest control products you’re about to use.
Then give your home as thorough a scrubbing as you ever have. If you’re like a lot of folks, this will feel good—like you’re taking back your home.
For more thorough cleaning tips, see Preventing Roaches through Sanitation.
Step 2: Place Your Sticky Traps
There are no concrete rules for placing sticky traps, but exterminators almost always begin with certain high probability spots—kitchen cabinets, the space behind the refrigerator, and underneath each sink.
If you’re using your traps for monitoring, you’ll want to mark each trap with its location before you lay it down. Then check on all your traps every few days or so (more if you have a severely roach infested house).
When at least one of your traps has begun to fill, compare it with the others and record the numbers at each location.
You’ll focus your time and products in those areas in the next two steps.
Step 3: Apply Drops of Gel Bait
Knowing exactly where the problem’s worst (thanks to monitoring), you can start applying your cockroach gel bait.
You’ll apply it in tiny dabs in out-of-the-way places—in nooks and crannies, crevices, and corners. Resist the urge to leave big globs or to apply in long trails like caulk. Pea-sized dabs will do the trick.
If you do it the way the pros do—in small amounts, spaced well apart, in places only a cockroach could love— no one will ever see them. And your pets won’t even know they’re there.
Step 4: Add a Dash of Insecticidal Dust
Next, it’s time to “dust.”
Using your hand duster, you’ll dust in places you can’t reach with gel bait—in deep crevices, voids, and holes. Just a couple of puffs from your duster will coat surfaces deep inside walls and flooring, where the dust can work for years.
As with gel baits, dusts should be applied with a “less is more” approach. A super-fine layer will do the job, and roaches may actually avoid it when you use too much.
Also, don’t plan to apply dust everywhere. A puff inside your laptop may seem like a good idea, but the heat it traps will mess with your system for years.
Step 5: Wait, Watch, and Monitor
The final step—monitoring—is the easy part, because your products do all the work. Your job is to simply let them do that, and watch as the roaches in your house begin to disappear. While that happens there are a few things you should and shouldn’t do:
- Check your baits every week or so to be sure the roaches are eating them. If they aren’t, you may want to apply them in a different spot. It’s also a good idea to scrape old baits up every couple of weeks and replace them with a fresh batch.
- Check the areas you dusted every so often for moisture. If you dusted near a dripping pipe or inside a basement that later got flooded, the water will turn your dust into soggy clumps that no longer work and need to be reapplied.
- Replace sticky traps as they get full. Traps will fill to the point there’s no more sticky area to stick to. When that happens, living roaches will utilize the dead ones as a food source, defeating part of your objective from Step 4.
- Use any other roach killers (like sprays) in the vicinity of your baits, dusts, and traps. They could lessen their effectiveness, or even turn roaches away.
- Dispose of the dead cockroaches you begin to find. If the gel bait is what killed them, you’ll want them around for other roaches to nibble on, getting a dose of poison, too. Of course, there’s no reason you have to look at them for days, so go ahead and push them out of sight.
Step 6: When Things Don’t Work
Okay, so let’s fast forward a few weeks after you applied your bait and dust. House roaches have either been drastically reduced, or have disappeared completely…right?
If you’ve gotten to this point and you still have a house cockroach problem, there are a number of things you should do.
- First, you’ll want to make sure that your baits are being eaten (see above). If not, and you’re sure there’s roach activity nearby, it may mean roaches either don’t like the bait you chose, or somehow learned to avoid it—and you’ll need to try a different brand.
- Next, you may need to use a different dust. If you settled on borax, boric acid, or diatomaceous earth because they’re natural, you may want to replace them with CimeXa, a man-made alternative which doesn’t exactly come directly from the earth, but is actually safer and does a better job.
- You may also want to add a fourth roach treatment product to your attack, an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR), which interrupts the breeding cycle of the common house roach, dealing a long-term blow to the colony. An IGR is sometimes the clincher product in treating a more embedded infestation, and they’re simple to use.
Step 7: Keeping House Roaches From Coming Back
After your house roaches are gone, how do you keep them from coming back?
Cockroach control at home—for the long-term, really depends on prevention. And there are two kinds of prevention you should take: General preventive steps that apply to all cockroaches. And special preventive steps that apply to large vs. small species.
To prevent all cockroaches from coming back
Since roaches looking for a space to infest are also looking for food, you can deny them a reason to target your home through regular cleaning, removing those tasty crumbs and smears as they appear.
Also consider replacing your garbage containers with ones that have tight-fitting lids, take the trash out often, and begin sealing foods in airtight containers with thick walls roaches can’t chew through.
You’ll want to hunt up possible water sources, too. The brown-banded cockroach doesn’t need much water, but all others do. Make it your personal mission to find and eliminate every drip, leak, or puddle a roach could drink from, including condensation.
Now, onto some specific approaches.
To prevent large roaches in particular
Since large house roaches (American, Oriental, Smokybrown) are primarily outdoor creatures, you’ll need to literally seal them out of your home, including your walls, your foundation, and your drains.
- Consider buying a set of drain covers. Roaches in home septic systems (and city sewers) are not only common, but mobile, and yes—they’ll climb up your pipes when conditions are right. Drain covers are an inexpensive solution for that, and keep any roaches already inside your home from entering drains for a drink.
- Invest in a tube of caulk, some steel or copper mesh, and a can of expanding foam to deter large cockroaches. In home construction—exterior walls and foundations—roaches will find all the holes, cracks, and gaps that have opened over time, and slip right into them. Also look for gaps in siding, and deteriorating seals around window frames and doors.
- If lots of cockroaches are coming in from outside, consider adding one more technique—a perimeter treatment to Steps 1, 2, and 3 above. With this method, you’ll apply a weather-resistant spray to your home’s foundation, and possibly a granular bait nearby.
To prevent small roaches
Unlike their larger cousins, small roaches don’t typically enter through exterior walls. Instead, they choose sneakier modes of entry that speak volumes about how much they love to be around us.
Live in an apartment or a condo? Your roach problem may have started in your neighbor’s unit, and made it to yours through the walls. You’ll want to stop that from happening again, so get out your caulk gun and begin sealing up every crack and crevice you find, puffing a little dust inside first for any roaches that make it that far.
Then there are the ways we unknowingly bring roaches in ourselves. German and brown-banded roaches are born stowaways, so tiny you might not notice them in the boxes, bags, and parcels you regularly carry into your home.
- If you suspect your favorite grocer or takeout restaurant could have a pest problem, inspect your bags before toting them inside.
- If you love thrift shops and yard sales, know that roaches love them too, and could be hiding in virtually anything someone else has owned—furniture, clothing, electronics, or appliances.
- Boxes of free stuff, or hand-me-downs? Think about those bargains first. They may hold an all too-familiar surprise.
House roaches are pernicious pests that bring trouble to homes around the world. Don’t let them get the best of you, and don’t let a house cockroach problem get worse!
Start with step 1 in this guide right now, and keep exploring the site for even more tips (try out these easy Roach-Free Recipes) to get rid of roaches fast!
You can do it!
Frequently Asked Questions
House cockroaches eat just about everything, from food scraps and grease splatter to garbage, sewage, book bindings and wallpaper. Whether it’s a plate of cookies on the counter or a loose bag of rice in the pantry, they’ll search high and low for any and every food source you make available.
Roaches almost never bite people. We’re big, scary predators to them and they’ll almost always flee quickly when caught out in the open. That said, cockroach bites are like other insect bites, and can cause swelling and allergic reactions. Should one bite you, clean the area, apply a dressing, and keep an eye on it for a few days.
House roaches fly occasionally but you’ll usually see them crawling around on their six spiny legs. If they’re threatened, they might fly to safety. Rarely, they’ll use their wings to reach food. Brown-banded roaches might fly into upper cabinets or a vent for shelter.
- 2019 State of the Cockroach Control Market (2019) Zoecon/Central Life Sciences.
- Picard, Caroline and Amanda Garrity (2020) Pest Experts Share How You Can Get Rid of Roaches in 5 Easy Steps. Good Housekeeping. Retrieved from https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/a47840/how-to-get-rid-of-roaches/
- Why do I have cockroaches in my home? (2016) National Pesticide Information Center. Retrieved from http://npic.orst.edu/faq/roach.html
- Potter, Michael F. (2018) Cockroach Elimination in Homes and Apartments. University of Kentucky Entomology. Retrieved from https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef614