Wouldn’t it be great to repel roaches instead of playing a game of catch-up with them? And if that was possible—using a roach repellent—wouldn’t it be even better to have one that worked in a safe, simple, eco-friendly way?
There’s a lot of good news—along with some things to consider—on the cockroach repellent front. So set aside your roach motels, pull up a chair, and learn how to repel cockroaches like a pro.
The Science of Cockroach Repellent
If repelling roaches was as easy as you wished it could be, there’d never be a need for a cockroach exterminator. But sadly, there often is, because cockroaches are not an easy insect to keep away.
Adaptable and persistent, roaches like living with us. So much so that certain species don’t even live outside in nature anymore.
And that’s bad news.
Not just because they destroy everything they touch and pose major health concerns. But because they ruin a lot about what we enjoy about our homes, and can drive us a little crazy.
With so many reasons to want them gone, scientists identified chemical roach repellents years ago, all of which turned out to be quite toxic.
Then someone came up with the idea of a plug-in roach repellent, which would have been awesome except for the fact that ultrasonic repellents just don’t work (you’ll find more about that below).
So if so many roach repellent products are ineffective or even dangerous, what’s a roach-weary human to do? What repels roaches safely and for real?
Enter the power of plants.
Nature, as it turns out, has been taking a whack at bugs long before humans ever gave it a try. And it’s done that largely through the insecticidal properties developed by certain plants. Properties developed as a means of self-defense.
Our ancestors knew about, and exploited the properties in these plants, and if you’ve ever fended off mosquitoes with citronella oil (the real stuff, which actually works), you know how effective natural repellents can be.
Are cockroaches an exception?
Just like mosquitoes, cockroaches are repelled by certain natural substances, notably (but not limited to) certain plant essential oils. At higher concentrations, some of these oils will actually kill roaches, while lower concentrations will handily repulse them.
About Roach Repellent Essential Oils
Safe, pleasant-smelling, and effective to varying degrees (at least the ones below), essential oils are the single best answer for most folks looking for a store-bought or DIY roach repellent. But they’re also not a perfect solution.
|Peppermint oil||Highly effective, and recommended|
|Citronella oil||Highly effective|
|Clove oil||Highly effective|
|Cinnamon oil||Highly effective|
|Rosemary oil||Highly effective|
|Lemongrass oil||Highly effective|
|Thyme oil||Highly effective|
|Oregano oil||Highly effective.|
|Catnip oil||Highly effective.|
|Geraniol||Highly effective, but not for Turkestan roaches|
|Eucalyptus oil||Moderately effective|
|Sesame oil||A carrier oil with roach-repellent properties|
All these oils are capable of repelling roaches, but:
- They need to be used in sufficiently high concentrations. Because below a certain threshold (like, misted from an oil diffuser), roaches simply won’t care.
- Since they evaporate, they need to be regularly reapplied (oregano oil for example, can last about a week).
- They need to be applied strategically (like in areas you want to keep roaches away the most). Otherwise, they might just head deeper inside your walls.
- Used too frequently, there’s a possibility roaches will get used to them (but right now, no one really knows).
For more about Essential Oils for Roaches, click here.
Herbs and Plants That Repel Roaches
If you’re hoping to repel cockroaches by planting your garden with lemongrass or placing pots of rosemary around your porch or kitchen, you may be disappointed.
Living and dried plants like rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, oregano, bay leaves and others, do contain the same cockroach repellents found in bottled essential oils. It’s just that there’s too little of a concentration in them for roach repellent plants to make much sense.
Read On: Natural Cockroach Repellent: What Works and What Doesn’t
Roach Repellent Spray
There are about a dozen commercial cockroach repellent sprays, most of which use essential oils to do the heavy lifting. Most also kill roaches when you squirt the bugs directly.
The best roach repellent sprays (at least for killing) contain an additional ingredient like soap or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (substances known as surfactants) that coat and smother the insects. They also contain concentrations (3-4%) of essential oil.
That 3-4% may not sound like much, but it’s enough to work. And besides, at any higher concentration, your nose may not forgive you.
Mighty Mint Cockroach Repellent uses 4% peppermint oil with no surfactant, while Wondercide Indoor Pest Control uses a combination of oils and surfactant. They both achieve the same ends, but work in different ways.
You can also make your own homemade roach repellent spray using any of the oils above.
Roach Repellent Home Remedies
If you’re interested in pursuing a more chemical route and don’t mind trying products made outside the U.S.A., there’s evidence that certain cleaning products provide a roach deterrent.
Chloroxylenol, a strong-smelling, relatively non-toxic disinfectant used in the cleaner Dettol appears to repel roaches at an impressive rate.
Methyl neodecanamide, an ingredient used in Ajax Expel (out of Mexico), apparently worked in studies, too.
Whether cleaners work for you or not, a clean home will certainly not attract as many.
Dryer sheets are another oft-debated home remedy for repelling cockroaches. Some dryer sheets contain linalool, a natural ingredient that gives the sheet its pleasant aroma. Research has shown that linalool does repel cockroaches (and is an insect killer, too).
As part of a more complete cockroach prevention plan, why not? A few dryer sheets may not be the best cockroach repellent on our list, but could convince some roaches to stay out.
Citronella candles and similar products are popular worldwide for keeping bugs away from people’s picnics and parties. Unfortunately, these candles are more effective against flying insects… and are not a very good cockroach deterrent. It’s also not realistic (or safe!) to keep candles burning at all times.
Ultrasonic Roach Repellent
So. Do ultrasonic pest repellers work on roaches?
We wish they did, and would love to find an ultrasonic roach repeller that actually did the job—as would the scientists and companies who’ve studied them.
These products claim to repel cockroaches by emitting a roach repellent sound—a sound that confuses and startles them, keeping them away.
And unfortunately there’s no evidence to support that claim.
We can’t speak definitively for other kinds of critters, but a 2006 study that tried repellent devices on German roaches found they didn’t do much, and there’s been no effective proof since then.
So the bottom line on succeeding with an electronic roach repellent is no, at least not until more encouraging research turns up. You’re better off with a proven product like essential oil than with an electronic roach repeller that to this point, is simply too good to be true.
Now that you know how to repel roaches with certain safe, proven, easily found tools, there’s something else we need to mention. Which is that the best roach repellent isn’t really a product. It’s an anti-cockroach lifestyle that makes roaches want to stay away.
You can learn about that here, in our How to Get Rid of Cockroaches Forever section, which shows you not only what repels cockroaches, but how to get rid of roaches completely.
Ready to repel some roaches?
You’ve got this!
Frequently Asked Questions
Cheap and potent, vinegar might sound like the perfect thing to repel roaches. Unfortunately, it’s usually not the vinegar in popular cockroach repellent recipes that actually does the repelling. Use the vinegar for cleaning, instead, and keep away cockroaches by removing their food sources.
While cinnamon oil does repel cockroaches (and kill them if you use enough of it), sprinkling powdered cinnamon around your floor or cabinets is unlikely to do much good. Trans–cinnamaldehyde, the active ingredient in cinnamon, won’t be highly concentrated in the powdered spice, and what there is of it will quickly evaporate into the air.
Naphthalene, the active ingredient in mothballs, does repel roaches along with other insects. But with potentially serious health consequences from ingesting, touching, or inhaling, you don’t want to use mothballs for roaches and might want to reconsider its use for other pests.
The above advice applies to lemons, lemon peels and lemon juice, too. These items are great for cleaning and freshening but they don’t naturally repel roaches.
While some people claim coffee grounds repel cockroaches, others maintain that they’re a great way to attract roaches to traps. And we say… that doesn’t add up.
Unfortunately, there’s no scientific evidence to back either claim. The closest thing we have is a 2018 study on ants that showed some repellency from coffee extracts.
Pine-Sol and Fabuloso are strong, all-purpose household cleaners. Similar to bleach, these products kill roaches on contact.
Some homeowners suggest spraying Pine-Sol around the outside of your house to keep cockroaches away. Others claim it repels flying insects, such as wasps. However, these cleaners probably won’t repel cockroaches. But could be useful as roach-killer sprays.
Written by Andrew Martin. Reviewed by James Miksanek, PhD.
Disclaimer: This page is strictly for informational use. When using insecticides, keep in mind—the label is the law. Insecticides should be applied correctly and safely when needed, and according to the laws of your state or country.
Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.
James Miksanek, PhD.
James is an entomologist and adjunct professor of biology. His background is in biological control, and he has a passion for ecology and environmental science. His research has addressed a variety of topics including pest control and the management of invasive species. You can learn more about our contributors here.
- Appel, Arthur G. et al. (2001) Repellency and Toxicity of Mint Oil to American and German Cockroaches (Dictyoptera: Blattidae and Blattellidae). Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Auburn University. Retrieved from https://scentsoc.org/Volumes/JAUE/v18/149.pdf
- Haunt, Fangneng and Bhadriraju Subramanyam (2006) Lack of repellency of three commercial ultrasonic devices to the German cockroach (Blattodea: Blattellidae). Insect Science, 13, 1. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744–7917.2006.00069.x
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- Breedlove, Byron and Paul M. Arguin (2016) Inspiration and Insecticide from the Flower Garden. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 22, 5. Retrieved from https://dx.doi.org/10.3201%2Feid2205.AC2205