Found a small cockroach in your kitchen cabinets? Or even (shudders)… lots of them? You already know small roaches can mean trouble. But what sort of situation are you really facing? And what do you need to do?
Grab a cup of coffee and get ready to take some notes, because you’ll need a plan to take care of these tiny homewreckers, and you’ll want to do it fast.
First, we’ll answer a few important questions about small roaches. Then show you how to get rid of them—and be free of them forever.
Let’s dive in!
I. Identifying a “Small Cockroach” Problem
On a certain level, small roaches don’t make a whole lot of sense. Though tiny compared to much larger cockroach species (like the massive American cockroach, aka water bugs), they typically pose a bigger problem.
Because unlike larger common roaches that actually prefer to live outside, small roaches seek out human homes. They’re also more tenacious visitors, and the most common small roach—the one you’re most likely dealing with—breeds with astonishing speed, producing dozens of offspring at a time.
Once inside, this little monster multiplies and takes over, ravaging your food, damaging everything it touches, and spreading allergens and bacteria that could potentially make your family sick.
This is the deceptively small German cockroach. Let’s look at it (along with a few other possibilities) to identify exactly what’s gotten into your home:
What Do Small Cockroaches Look Like?
The German Cockroach (the Cockroach You’re Most Likely Facing)
German roaches are the second smallest of the indoor cockroach species, growing to little more than 1/2 inch long as adults. Light brown, yellowish, or golden colored, they’re thin, very flat, and have long, transparent wings folded across their darkly striped backs.
These small skinny roaches are expert hiders—and also lightning fast. They stay on the ground most of the time, but can fly when they sense danger or want to reach food on a counter top.
The Brown-Banded Cockroach (Another Common Pest)
Though less common than German roaches, you could also be dealing with the tiny brown-banded cockroach.
Slightly smaller than its German cousin (under .5 inches in length), this small brown roach sports two distinctive horizontal bands across its back. Brown-banded roaches infest less aggressively than German roaches, but still need to be taken seriously.
The Asian Cockroach (A Tiny Impersonator)
Nearly identical in appearance to the German cockroach but far less dangerous, the Asian cockroach is a cockroach problem child found mostly in southern states, particularly South Carolina.
If you’re being overwhelmed by small flying roaches outside, this one’s the culprit. More of a nuisance than a pest, Asian roaches don’t really want to come inside. To deal with them, you can learn more about them here.
Baby Roaches or Nymphs (Also Highly Likely)
One final possibility, especially with really, really small roaches—you saw a cockroach nymph:
- Was it a small red roach? It may be a baby American cockroach, an outdoor species that can cause problems when it gets inside.
- Was it a small black roach? It’s probably a baby German cockroach because the nymphs can appear quite dark. Also keep in mind: if your small black cockroach is indeed a German nymph, it’s not a good sign. You may be facing a well-established, growing infestation.
Tip: Very small round roaches are likely to be German nymphs as well. They don’t grow wings until adulthood and their wingless bodies appear quite squat.
If You’ve Got German Roaches
Unfortunately, if you’ve found small roaches in your house—and they’re multiplying fast—they’re probably German. Which means that you’re facing a tough, tenacious, formidable adversary.
What will work? Knowledge:
You’re going to turn German roaches’ over-sized behaviors against them.
II. Small Cockroach Behaviors (That You’ll Use Against Them)
Outsmart these bad bugs by learning their habits and cutting off their basic needs.
How Small Cockroaches Get In
It’s a strange, unhappy fact: German roaches not only seek out human buildings—they don’t live outside at all.
So if German roaches don’t live in your trees or lawn, how did they get into your house?
It could have happened in many ways:
Apartment buildings are notorious for widespread German cockroach problems. With few barriers between units, the tiny bugs easily crawl through walls from unit to unit and floor to floor. Small roaches in apartment buildings have little trouble finding food, water and mates. And when they do, they just move on to another unit.
So if you live in an apartment, yes—you can blame your neighbors. But consider this: you could have brought them in, too!
A piece of second-hand furniture might’ve come with more than just a few tiny blemishes. Your dry cleaning or a load from the laundromat might’ve come with a couple of six-legged hitchhikers. And your groceries or a takeout order could have brought a pair of stowaways straight into your kitchen.
It matters how your cockroaches found their way into your home, so take a moment to consider how it might have happened.
Once they’re in, German roaches have predictable behaviors that you can use against them. Their hiding spots are especially important, with two areas in particular:
Unfortunately, the bathroom is one of the hotspots for small cockroach activity. Nothing like flipping the bathroom light switch at 2 a.m. and seeing small roaches in the sink!
They’re there for the same reason as the small roaches in the shower: these bugs dive into the drains for a drink and slip through the gaps around plumbing to return to their nest in the wall.
The kitchen is undeniably a German roach’s favorite hangout. As soon as the lights are out, these pests start scavenging for crumbs on the floor, scraps in the sink, food in the garbage and leftovers on the counter.
It’s a free buffet for small cockroaches. In the kitchen, they have easy access to food, water and shelter, often hiding in cabinets, under the sink, or inside narrow gaps in kitchen counters. Even a dripping garbage disposal is enough to satisfy a cockroach, which can go a month without eating.
Now that you know what they need and where they get it, we’re ready to answer the million-dollar question: How to get rid of small roaches?
III. How to Get Rid of Small Roaches for Good
A simple, straightforward small cockroach elimination plan for big results.
Phase 1: Deprive Roaches of What They Need Through Cleanup
It’s a myth.
Your home doesn’t have to be dirty to have a “small cockroach” problem.
But every bit of dirt, mess, and clutter makes it easier for roaches to infest. That’s why cleaning is such a powerful weapon against these disgusting little bugs. It deprives them of things they need to survive.
Any kind of cleaning is helpful, but the most effective cleanup focuses on removing sources of food, places to hide, and the ability to communicate with other roaches.
Besides the fact that it works so well, cleanup is also great because you usually don’t need to buy much beyond a vacuum cleaner bag or two, and more importantly—it’s a way to do something right now to begin to solve your problem.
Vacuum Up Food Sources
Plug in the trusty vacuum and suck up all the dust, dirt and crumbs from everywhere you can reach: kitchen, hallways, living room and bedroom. Utilize attachments to reach under appliances and furniture, into cabinets and along walls.
Vacuum up every living and dead roach you see, too.
What you’re doing (besides suctioning up living bugs as you see them) is eliminating food sources, and possibly cockroach egg sacs on the verge of hatching.
Deprive Roaches of Hiding Spots
Call it “pest control for the soul.”
Next, you’re going to make it more difficult for cockroaches to hide, lay their eggs, and breed. And you’ll do it by decluttering.
Decluttering isn’t only good for pest control—it helps you take back your space. Take an honest, thorough look through the attic, basement, closets, and cupboards, and get rid things you don’t really want or need.
As you simplify your space, you’ll also be eliminating cockroach habitats, too—piles of paper, boxes, cardboard, and whatever other junk cockroaches have settled into (or might settle into in the future).
As you work, also take note of humidity in your home and of poorly ventilated rooms. If you can afford it, purchase a dehumidifier, or bring in a fan and open some windows. German roaches thrive in humid conditions, so creating a drier space will create an environment less friendly to them.
Wash Away Scent Trails
Roaches don’t communicate through sounds or gestures. They do it through pheromones and bacteria in their feces. That’s unhealthy for you and your family, and terrible for keeping roaches away.
You’ll want to eliminate those trails by cleaning up or tossing everything roaches have come into contact with, beginning with roach-damaged food.
Head to the kitchen, open your cabinets, dig out everything, and throw out every package of food you suspect has been contaminated or touched by roaches.
Do the same with foods that have been left open, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and even recent bags of snacks. If you think a roach might have touched something—anything, it’s time to let it go.
Next, fill a bucket with water and a mild, minimally-scented cleaner like dish soap (the stronger stuff will send roaches deeper into walls) and start wiping and scrubbing down surfaces with any sort of dots, specks, or smears—those are likely to be roach droppings and you’ll want to get them up.
Follow-up with a disinfectant spray, and use a mop and bucket with mild cleaner to clean your hard floors.
Eliminate Water Sources
The last important cleanup task has to do with eliminating water sources—all the drips, drops, and puddles that small cockroaches depend on to slake their thirst. You’ll need a flashlight to do a proper inspection and should plan to poke around.
Follow your bathroom, kitchen, and basement pipes with your fingers, especially where they meet or enter into the wall. Feel any moisture, including areas of condensation? You’re going to want to fix what needs fixing and tightly wrap any surfaces where condensation occurs.
Look for puddles everywhere and create a system for mopping them up as they occur. Small cockroaches love kitchen sinks, dish drainers and bathroom or shower floors. They love, love, love your open drains, so buy drain stoppers to keep them out.
For more on Phase 1, read our step-by-step Roach-Free Recipe: Prevent Roaches Through Sanitation, Part 1
Phase 2: Killing Roaches with Baits and Dusts
Pest control has come a long way since the days of dousing rooms with chemicals, or setting off a bunch of useless roach bombs.
Today you can kill more roaches with less effort using tiny amounts of poisons—sometimes no poisons at all.
Gel baits are powerful pest control products that attract roaches with a specially-formulated lure, then kill them with a tiny dose of insecticide. Because the active ingredients in gel baits are designed to attack the whole colony, they’re often the single best way to begin treating a “small cockroach” population.
You apply gel baits in the tiny cracks and crevices small cockroaches are drawn to, using modest, pea-sized drops. Drops are spread several feet apart, focusing on cracks and crevices, holes and gaps around plumbing, wiring, vents, and other areas small roaches travel.
For more on Phase 2, read our guide to Choosing and Using Gel Baits.
Dry Flowable Bait & Insecticidal Dusts
It’s just not possible to apply gel bait in deep, tiny crevices or other inaccessible voids. For these situations, there’s “Avert Dry Flowable Cockroach Bait.”
In addition to helping you reach difficult spaces, Avert won’t dry out and stop working. You can apply it and leave it to work for a year or longer.
You’ll apply Avert straight from the tube, squeezing puffs across surfaces and hard-to-reach places.
Similar to dry bait in that they’re also powders, insecticidal dusts kill small roaches by clinging to their bodies as they crawl through them, penetrating their protective exoskeletons and causing them to dehydrate (to death).
To apply insecticidal dusts properly, you’ll need a separate applicator product called a “hand duster” which “puffs” measured amounts of dust into cracks, crevices, and voids, usually with a selection of plastic-fitted tips.
Bonus option: To get rid of roaches when a roach infestation is heavy, drill an inconspicuous hole through the drywall so that it creates an opening into the wall cavity. Then, use the duster’s tip to squeeze the dust into the cavity.
Phase 3: Exclusion
While the Cleanup Phase aims to starve cockroaches and take away their water supply, exclusion is about keeping them from ever getting in. It’s also about adopting habits that make your home less attractive to cockroaches when they try.
Walk the rooms in your home with a tube of caulk, sealing every small crack or hole that a roach might use for shelter. Apartment dweller? Small roaches in apartment buildings don’t just hide in cracks and holes. They get in this way from other units, so sealing up is especially important for you.
Invest in sturdy glass or plastic containers with tight-sealing lids, then store your food inside. Take advantage of the roach-safe storage areas in your fridge (with its conveniently sealing doors), and chuck your flimsy Ziploc bags for anything cockroaches could get to, because they can chew right through.
Limit eating to one room to limit the spread of crumbs (and the amount of cleanup you have to do later). In the kitchen, change garbage bags often and never leave them unsealed once full. Wipe down your pet’s bowl each night, too.
And the most important tip?
Be vigilant about what comes into your home!
Check grocery bags and food deliveries before bringing them inside. Never bring home yard-sale furniture or other used items without checking them for roaches. Leave kids’ backpacks outside the door if a playmate’s house could pose a roach problem, and then inspect their clothes.
Phase 4: Monitoring for Success
If all goes perfectly, you’ll make it to Phase 4 and never have to fall back to any other phase!
This last step is all about monitoring your home for any signs of a comeback and hitting the roaches hard if you see anything suspicious.
Glue traps are great for this because they kill cockroaches, provide a simple visual gauge for how many other roaches are around, and remain effective for long periods. Roach motels make for good small roach traps because they’re easy to place, easy to clean up and fit lots of the little bugs before you have to replace them.
Finally, keep up the good cleaning habits!
If you see signs of increasing roach populations in the weeks after you thought you’d defeated them, it doesn’t necessarily mean failure. There might’ve been egg cases buried deep in a wall that hatched and will have to be dealt with. Follow the steps above and stay determined until your home is roach free!
Dealing with a small cockroach infestation can be a scary and overwhelming experience, especially if it turns out to be a large infestation. But with the tools and tips here, you can eliminate small roaches and win back your pest-free life.
- Sutherland, Andrew et al (2019) Cockroaches Management Guidelines. University of California IPM. Retrieved from http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7467.html
- Cockroaches. Illinois Department of Health. Retrieved from https://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/environmental-health-protection/structural-pest-control/cockroaches
- Kraft, Sandra and Larry Pinto (2016) German Cockroaches: 10 Key Facts to Remember. Pest Control Technology. Retrieved from https://www.pctonline.com/article/german-cockroaches-10-key-facts-to-remember/
- Talis (2015) 5 Signs of a German Roach Infestation and How to Get Rid of Them. Brody Brothers Pest Control. Retrieved from https://www.brodybrotherspestcontrol.com/5-signs-of-a-german-roach-infestation-and-how-to-get-rid-of-them