Cockroaches pop up in homes and businesses around the world, drawn in part by the easy food sources they find in them.

Though cockroaches can live a long time without eating anything, they spend most of their time either eating or looking for food, and food drives a lot of their behavior.

That’s good news for you, because understanding what and how they eat is one of the keys to controlling them.

So what do cockroaches eat?

Let’s see…

What Do Roaches Eat?

Like certain other insects, cockroaches are omnivorous creatures, happily eating both plant and animal matter.

They’re also dedicated scavengers and some of the least picky eaters in the animal kingdom. Just about everything digestible by humans can be food for roaches – and a whole lot more. If it comes from an animal or plant, chances are that cockroaches will eat it, including food that we eat and a lot of material we don’t.

Cockroaches Eat Human Food, Everywhere They Find It

Illustration of a cockroach facing frontward in front of shelled peanuts on a kitchen counter

Cockroaches not only seek out human food, but seem to prefer some of the foods we like most.

They like greasy foods (like french fries and things covered in butter and bacon grease), starches (like breads and cereal), meat products, and sweets. They even like beer so much that it makes for a very nice lure in a homemade cockroach trap.

But the thing to keep in mind about roaches is that controlling them hinges less on knowing their favorite foods than on denying them any food at all.

Here’s the ugly truth about a typical cockroach diet – the where and what of stuff they like to eat:

Food on Kitchen Surfaces

With food and water everywhere, cockroaches love kitchen surfaces. Countertop crumbs make a great midnight snack and roaches will target any fresh or processed food items that you leave out.

A few pieces of pasta or some stray vegetables in the sink are sure to attract cockroaches, and provide plenty for them to eat. Even a small splatter around a stove burner can feed them, too. Unsealed leftovers are a treasure trove for roaches, as are dirty dishes.

Food in Your Pantry

Chips, cereal, sugar and other pantry items are like a steak dinner to a bunch of roaches. They’ll chew through paper, cardboard, or even thin plastic containers to reach the edible contents inside.

Keep in mind that as soon as a package of food is penetrated by a roach, it should be considered contaminated. These bugs come from all kinds of unpleasant places and pick up lots of bad bacteria along the way. They truly live in places most people wouldn’t even defecate in.

Crumbs on Your Floor

When dealing with cockroaches, you have to get down on their level–that means focusing on the floor.

Roaches spend most of their active time crawling around on the ground. Even flying cockroaches usually stick to their feet when they’re out in search of food.

Carpets collect food morsels like it’s their job. And hunting for crumbs basically is a roach’s job. Your carpet doesn’t have to be dirty to trap plenty of crumbs for a cockroach. With its strong sense of smell, a roach will find every crumb that’s there.

Your Pet’s Food

All things considered, pet food is pretty close to human food (at least from a cockroach’s perspective). As a bonus perk for roaches, pet parents often leave a bowl of dog or cat food out overnight. That’s like leaving a buffet out for pests.

Even if your hungry pet leaves an empty plate, crumbs and residue are enough to satisfy a cockroach.

Your Store or Restaurant’s Reputation

Kitchens are cockroach hotspots for a reason: there’s food everywhere! And what other places have food everywhere? Restaurants and grocery stores.

A roach infestation in a restaurant or market can be devastating to the business’s reputation. Unfortunately, commercial spaces deal with so much food on a daily basis that it may be impossible to keep everything spotless.

That’s why restaurants and grocery stores are at higher risk of having cockroach problems. If you’re a business owner, it’s wise to have a professional pest control company inspect and treat your property regularly to keep roaches out and bring customers in.

What Else Do Cockroaches Eat?

Illustration of cockroach in front of a bunch of rotten, moldy grapes

Cockroaches eat much more than just the things we consider edible.

Roaches’ ability to digest cellulose lets them eat all kinds of paper materials and even some clothing. They’ll nibble on newspapers, book bindings, documents and cardboard boxes. Some cockroaches eat the glue on wallpaper and stamps, too.

The American cockroach and other outdoor species of cockroaches feed on piles of leaves, twigs and dead trees. Just about any decaying organic matter is fair game. That also includes skin flakes, hair and fingernails.

Many other roaches feed on roach or other animal droppings. Between garbage, dead insects and feces, there’s just about nothing organic that cockroaches won’t eat.

How Can Roaches Eat so Many Disgusting Things?

Cockroaches enjoy a symbiotic relationship with some kinds of bacteria that live in their digestive systems. The bacteria use the roach as a host and in return, provide the roach with nutrients and help it to digest many nasty substances.

One study found that a huge part of the genome of American cockroaches is dedicated to metabolizing toxic or dangerous materials. Their bodies have adapted over millions of years to surviving in harsh conditions and eating whatever’s available.

Cockroach Pest Control – Time to Act Fast

Closeup of a dead cockroach on its back- selective focus

Cockroaches can spread illnesses and contaminate food in homes and businesses. It’s important to have a solid pest control plan in place to protect yourself from these bugs.

Effective pest control starts with knowing where to find cockroaches. Focus your search on your kitchen and bathroom, looking for tiny crevices and in cluttered cabinets.

In the end, the best way to keep cockroaches out of your house is to clean diligently and make it as hard as possible for them to find food. If they can’t find dinner in your home, they’ll look somewhere else.

It’s important to get rid of cockroaches as quickly as possible. You can do it on your own with baits, natural pesticides and perseverance. Boric acid and food-grade diatomaceous earth are two products that you can use to kill cockroaches at home.

Or, you can call in the experts.

Remember, roaches are expert survivalists that spread quickly. They’re tough opponents! If you’ve seen more than a couple of roaches, it could mean a cockroach infestation, in which case your best bet is to hire a professional pest control service to get rid of them.

In the end, the best way to keep cockroaches out of your house is to clean diligently and make it as hard as possible for them to find food. If they can’t find dinner in your home, they’ll look somewhere else.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do roaches eat roaches?

Yes. At least some cockroaches eat cockroaches. The Oriental and German cockroach will not only eat their dead (anytime), but when food is scarce – eat their eggs and young. And just like black widow spiders, American cockroach females will sometimes kill and eat their mates.

Will cockroaches eat clothes?

Some cockroaches will eat clothes. These bugs feed on skin flakes and food crumbs, both of which become caught in the clothing we wear. Roaches might try to feed on dirty clothing if there’s no other food available. Enough roaches could damage the fabric.

Do cockroaches eat dog food?

Yes! Even things your dog wouldn’t dream of eating can potentially be food for roaches–and that’s saying something. A few dog food pellets left out overnight is an easy snack for a cockroach (or ten).

Do cockroaches eat cat food?

Cockroaches like cat food just as much as dog food, and don’t care if it’s moist or dry. To keep them out of it, you either need to get rid of the roaches or cover the cat bowl any time it’s not completely clean.

Do cockroaches eat hair?

Yes, including the hair in your hairbrush, your drain, or that’s fallen to the floor. They’ll also eat eyelashes, shaving stubble, or any kind of body hair.

Do cockroaches eat paper?

Roaches are one of the worst paper eating insects and will happily consume newspaper, copy paper, receipts, cardboard boxes, photographs, and any other kind they can find.

Do cockroaches eat poop?

Feces is a rich source of nutrients for cockroaches and they’ll eat it wherever they find it. This includes dog poop, cat poop, and rodent droppings.

Can cockroaches eat wood?

Cockroaches aren’t like termites that consume and destroy wood structures. But some cockroaches do seek out and eat dead trees, rotten wood, and similar decaying matter.

Do cockroaches eat grass?

Some cockroaches will both eat and live in grass clippings, especially as the grass decays and becomes easier to digest.

Do roaches like spicy food?

There’s no evidence to suggest that cockroaches either like or dislike spicy food. They’ll eat most crumbs or bits of spice they find as they would any other food.

Do roaches like sugar?

Roaches will gladly eat sugar and things that contain it. Some roaches have developed an aversion to glucose, a particular kind of sugar, but are currently the exception, not the rule.

Can cockroaches get into sealed food?

Cockroaches can chew through paper and plastic wrappers, sealed zip lock bags, paper and plastic grocery bags, and thin paper and plastic food containers. They can’t get into sealed glass food containers or sealed plastic food containers with thick walls .

Do cockroaches eat fruit?

Yes, cockroaches eat fruit, especially decaying fruit. Be sure to check the bottom of fruit bowls and trash cans where discarded fruit and fruit peels may have collected.

Do roaches eat coffee grounds?

Cockroaches will readily eat coffee grounds if available. If you have a cockroach problem, you should clean up any that you’ve spilled.

Do roaches eat onions?

Cockroaches have no trouble eating onions. If you’re looking for a cockroach deterrent, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Do roaches eat bed bugs?

Yes. Cockroaches are opportunistic insects and will eat creatures that are slow and easy to catch like bed bugs.

Do roaches eat ants?

Roaches will eat other creatures, but aren’t known to eat living ants. They will gladly eat dead ants, however.

Do cockroaches eat fleas?

Cockroaches will certainly eat dead fleas where they find them, but don’t seek out living fleas.

Do cockroaches eat salt?

Put out a bowl of salt, and no, a cockroach won’t touch it, simply because there’s no nutritional value in it. But salty foods? That’s a different story. Cockroaches will devour salty foods with as much gusto as non-salty foods. Do they like salty foods more? No, they don’t.

Do roaches eat toothpaste?

Yes, and they’ll not only eat the toothpaste itself, but any particles of food they find in it- including the toothpaste at the bottom of your sink and the toothpaste stuck in your toothbrush.

Do roaches eat baking soda?

Mixed with sugar, baking soda is a natural, safe, and fairly effective cockroach killer. Roaches won’t be attracted to the baking soda itself, but will eat it along with the sugar.

Do roaches eat soap?

Soap contains organic material that cockroaches will happily eat and digest.

Do roaches eat plants?

Plants are a food source for many cockroaches, but if you’re worried about damage to your home or lawn plants, you can heave a sigh of relief. Roaches prefer dead and decaying plants to living ones, and actually help to environmentally break them down.

Can cockroaches eat through walls?

Cockroaches can’t eat through walls, but can squeeze through the tiny holes, cracks, and crevices that walls sometimes have. If your walls are well-sealed, cockroaches can’t get in.

Do roaches eat spray foam insulation?

Cockroaches don’t eat spray foam insulation, but can burrow through it. They can also pursue food sources (like the remains from other insects) that exist in compromised foam. If they were to eat the insulation itself, they’d likely die from the borate that’s typically mixed in.

Do roaches eat wires?

Cockroaches don’t eat electrical wiring, but can be attracted to the wiring’s insulation. Electrical insulation is made from paper or cellulose, both of which a cockroach can easily digest. When that happens, the wiring can become exposed, shortening the lifespan of appliances and electronics.

Sources

  1. Omg, Barb, et al. (2006) Cockroach Control Manual. University of Nebraska Extension.
  2. Pappas, Stephanie (2018) Here’s Why Cockroaches Can Survive Just About Anything
  3. Hadley, Debbie (2019) 10 Fascinating Facts About Cockroaches. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fascinating-facts-about-cockroaches–1968524

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