You already know that roaches are a nuisance, and you may be aware of the serious health risks they pose. But what attracts roaches to your home or business? And more importantly, how can knowing that help you stay free of them – or even get rid of them once they’ve settled in?
Let’s dig in and find the answers…
A Simple 5-Step Guide For Getting Rid of Roaches
“Print or Follow on Your Phone. It’s FREE!”
What Attracts Cockroaches the Most?
Let’s make one thing clear. There’s probably no one thing you’re doing wrong that’s inviting roaches in. There’s also no single food, liquid, sight, or smell that’s making them target your home.
Cockroaches are easy-to-please, equal opportunity invaders attracted to any space that serves their needs. Once they find it, they’ll set up shop for good if you let them.
And no, you never, ever want to let them.
So what specifically are they looking for? For the conditions that assure their survival –
- Water and Humidity
- And sometimes… Light
You’ll notice that these just happen to be the same as our basic survival needs, too. When cockroaches are satisfied – hydrated, well fed, and comfortable – they spend most of their time hiding, reproducing, or (in a cockroach way) simply hanging out.
But when those needs aren’t met, they’ll begin a life or death hunt that may very well lead them to your home. Learning what they’re looking for will help you keep them out or kill them if they’ve already made their way inside.
Like termites, mice, and other household pests, cockroaches have a relentless, never-ending drive for food. Attracted to strong smells, they seek it out and easily track it to its source.
Though it’s possible they have a preference for the same starchy, sticky, sweet foods that junk food-loving humans also enjoy – and might even have a soft spot for the yeasty taste of beer, roaches are anything but picky.
If there’s organic material in something, roaches will feed on it. Period. Meaning that glue, paper, animal waste and dead insects are on the menu along with every single food you eat – or the food you feed your pets.
Not only that, but thanks to millions of years of evolution, cockroaches have developed an extremely high tolerance for “toxic” foods and materials. Ever had food poisoning? Cockroaches don’t get it. Bacteria like that found in feces, rotting flesh, and garbage cans has no effect on them – and yes, they’re attracted to it.
Floors and counter tops offer roaches more food sources, along with more opportunities to attract them. Carpets collect crumbs that are usually too small for you or I to notice, and furniture can hide lots of specks of food that are perfectly accessible for cockroaches.
Storing paper in your attic or closet? It can attract and feed hungry roaches. They’ll nibble on starches, including wallpaper and book bindings, without any complaints.
With these decidedly undiscriminating bugs, “cockroaches ate my homework” is almost a valid excuse, though since they need very little food to survive, it would take an awful lot of them to do it.
Water and Humidity
While cockroaches can go for long periods of time without food, they can’t live very long without water, and some need water more than others. When cockroaches are able to find a source of water in your home, it’s a signal that conditions there may support them.
Perhaps the best-known of the water-loving roaches is the American cockroach which is fond of infesting sewers and storm drains, sometimes by the tens of thousands, or sometimes even more. In the structures we live and work in, they’ll be drawn to areas that are similarly moist.
The Oriental cockroach will be drawn to those areas too, and like the American roach, will seek out your basement or bathroom. Leave them a leaky pipe, a faucet or a water bowl and they’ll thrive. Throw in more leaking plumbing and they’ll follow your pipes through the walls, moving easily from room to room, or apartment to apartment.
Warmth can attract roaches too. Many species are sensitive to cold and seek out warmth when outdoor temperatures begin to dip. When winter comes or a cold snap hits, they’ll be glad to find the warmth in your home and won’t be in any hurry to leave.
Warmth and humidity? Bingo!
Most roaches are especially attracted to warm and humid areas. Attics and closets are typically the worst-ventilated rooms in a house, making them prime cockroach habitats. Kitchens and bathrooms are also common cockroach habitats because of the presence of moisture and food.
Your home doesn’t have to be dirty to provide all the things cockroaches need. It just has to be warm and offer a few crumbs, a little standing water and some cracks and crevices for cockroach hiding places.
Ever been munched on by a rodent or a gecko? Or been drowned to death in a seasonal flood? It’s sometimes not a good thing to be a cockroach out of doors and your home can be the perfect refuge.
Even in a home with rodents or other critters (like your cat) that might kill them, houses offer unparalleled protection for cockroaches, with lots of tiny hiding spaces and comfortable areas to wait out dangers.
In fact, if you’re a German cockroach, which feels safest in snug spaces, human homes—along with their warmth and ample food supplies— provide a better habitat than any they could possibly find in nature.
Like moths and certain other insects, a few cockroaches (but not most of them) are attracted to nighttime artificial lights. The male Pennsylvania wood cockroach is easily the best-known of them and bothers rural homeowners throughout mating season in the early summer. The Cuban cockroach, an even better flyer, annoys residents of southern states year-round.
How They Get In
Cockroaches are determined survivalists. And sometimes your home presents the ideal opportunity. Even roaches that prefer to live outdoors will seek out homes and businesses when necessary. And when they decide to, they’ll look everywhere for a way in.
Cockroaches can squeeze through tiny cracks and crevices in exterior walls to crawl into a building and take up residence inside the walls. Flying cockroaches have the additional advantage of flying or gliding onto your roof from tree branches. There, they’ll look for an attic vent or gaps between old shingles to come inside.
If you live in an apartment building, roaches can climb along pipes from unit to unit, spreading quickly through a building and bothering even the most careful tenants.
You might even bring a cockroach into your home accidentally. That pile of firewood under a tarp outside is the perfect hiding place for wood cockroaches. And it’s easy to carry a few surprise guests in with the wood.
Once they’re in, they’ll quickly find another hiding place (one that’s not on fire). The same goes for cardboard boxes you’d stored in the garage or shed: cockroaches love hiding in boxes and might take a short ride into your house.
Grocery stores and supermarkets are always at risk of cockroach infestations that could in turn affect your home. A roach could easily hide in the bag you’ve brought home then quickly scurry away to hide its egg case.
How to Avoid Attracting Cockroaches
What’s the most effective way to prevent cockroaches from entering your home?
Do the opposite of all of the things that attract them!
Clean on a regular basis, remembering to vacuum around furniture and sweep the kitchen floor. Seal or cover open food containers, including snack and pet food bowls, and check food items for infestation. Regularly clean and don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. Repair any leaky pipes and make sure rooms are ventilated to reduce humidity and dry up standing water.
If you already have a cockroach problem, learn all about how to get rid of them and start taking action today. For large numbers of roaches, you should call a professional pest control service that can use specialized equipment and pesticides to eliminate the roach infestation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cockroaches hide their egg cases well. Sometimes, they’ll attach them to walls or furniture. However, they’ll usually leave their egg cases in tiny crevices, in cabinets or inside boxes. They’ll probably hide their eggs close to food and water so the nymphs can survive once they hatch.
There is a chance that killing a cockroach can attract more roaches. When food is scarce, cockroaches will eat other insects—including other dead roaches. It’s highly unlikely that that’s the only cockroach in your home, so others might come to investigate a potential meal.
The same things that attract roaches in your kitchen can also attract them in your bedroom. If you like to snack in bed or keep your laundry pile in a basket on the floor, cockroaches might come looking for the warmth and crumbs, or smell of food. Cockroach prevention includes washing those glasses and dishes that tend to pile up next to your bed.
All cockroaches need water to some degree, but some need water more than others. Those roaches that need water most will be attracted to water sources in your home, including leaky pipes, water spills, drips, and open containers of liquid.
Big roaches are typically the large species (American, Oriental, and Smoky brown cockroach) that actually prefer to live outside. They’ll be attracted to your home when conditions change in their natural environment – when it gets too dry or cold outside, or when heavy rains bring flooding and the possibility of drowning.
Some cockroaches, such as the German or Brown-banded cockroach thrive in human businesses and homes. Humans provide ample access to food, water, and warmth, and their homes provide both safety, and sometimes – optimal conditions to breed.
Cardboard is a food source to roaches and they’ll eat it wherever they find it.
While cockroaches will happily seek out and eat cardboard by itself, cardboard boxes are even more attractive to them. They’ll eat the cardboard and the glue that binds them, and live and breed inside.
The most powerful roach attractant would be cockroach sex pheromones, released by females to attract a mate. If you really want to attract a cockroach, you can buy a cockroach bait that uses pheromones to draw the insects in.
Written by Andrew Martin, Reviewed by Helene Steenkamp, PhD.
Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.
Helene Steenkamp, PhD.
Helene is a Namibian born South African citizen with a great love for nature and its intricacies. She completed a PhD in molecular phylogenetics at the University of Pretoria, South Africa in 2011, and has since worked as a postdoctoral researcher in this field at the University as well as the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa.
She has published several peer reviewed scientific articles with the use of genetic, taxonomic and phylogenetic tools, specializing in Entomology, taxonomy, zoonoses, epidemiology and bacterial & viral genetics.
These days, she is a stay-at-home-mother of two lovely boys, with whom she loves to explore nature from a different point of view. She also works as a freelance writer, editor and researcher for all things science.
You can learn more about our contributors here.
- Omg, Barb, et al. (2006) Cockroach Control Manual. University of Nebraska Extension.
- Pappas, Stephanie (2018) Here’s Why Cockroaches Can Survive Just About Anything. Live Science. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/62093-why-cockroaches-can-survive-anything.html
- Spector, Dina (2014) The Worst Way to Eliminate a Cockroach. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-get-rid-of-cockroachs–2014–3
- Wolfe, Ireland (2017) How Can I Repel Roaches from My Bedroom? Hunker. Retrieved from https://www.hunker.com/13420962/how-can-i-repel-roaches-from-my-bedroom