Cockroach Infestation: How To Identify and Eradicate Roaches

By: Karen Kirkpatrick  | 
A row of apartment buildings on a street.
Few things put more fear in the average apartment dweller than seeing a single cockroach scurry across the floor.
Barry Winiker/Getty Images

The simple sound of the word "cockroach" can make the skin of the strongest person crawl. Actually seeing one can force homeowners and apartment dwellers to seek refuge at the top of the highest piece of furniture to get away from the awful pests. So how do you cope when evidence emerges of a cockroach infestation in your own home?

In this article, we'll show you how to systematically target a roach infestation, from confirming the presence of a cockroach problem to banishing these nocturnal insects from your home. Importantly, we'll also help you prevent cockroaches from ever creeping into your living space again.


How Dangerous Are These Common Household Pests?

Are cockroaches really so awful? On one hand, they're tough: Cockroaches are said to be the one thing that could survive nuclear war. Although that's not quite the case, it is true that this nasty insect has been around for about 320 million years — literally since before dinosaurs walked the earth.

On the other hand, they're ugly, carry disease, and like to hide. Cockroaches tend to come out at night, moving around in dark, warm, tight places where their bodies can touch a surface above and below them [source: PublicHealthPests]. This kind of place is what cockroaches are seeking when you flip the light on and see a couple of them scurry under a cabinet or the refrigerator.


Identify the Cockroach Species In Your Home

The first sign of a roach infestation in your home is typically cockroach droppings. You may also find dead roaches. Sometimes, homeowners will see unusual smear marks, or detect a musty smell or unpleasant odor. If you suspect an infestation, check moist places and damp areas in your home.

While there are thousands of types of roaches, you are most likely to find one of these four kinds infesting the nooks and crannies of houses, apartments and businesses:


  • German cockroaches
  • American cockroaches
  • Brown banded cockroaches
  • Oriental cockroaches

You'll almost never see adult roaches during the day. They much prefer moving around in the dark. So, if you see a cockroach in daylight, you should suspect an infestation. Cockroaches don't like traveling alone, and will explore their habitats during the day if it's quiet.

The definition of infestation may be fluid, even in your own mind. You may be able to stand one or two roaches around your garbage cans, for example, but not want to see a single one in your kitchen. Read on for information about how to prevent roach infestations or deal with one yourself.


How to Rid Yourself of a Cockroach Infestation

If you suspect an infestation, you need to try to get rid of the little buggers. They're every bit as nasty as their reputation says they are. After all, they can carry disease and germs. They may walk through feces and garbage before showing up in your kitchen and can actually lead to asthma and certain allergies [source: PublicHealthPests].

So, how do you get rid of them? The answer is, not easily. It requires an integrated pest management (IPM) program, which means a combination of several approaches [source: Cockroaches].


How a Pest Control Professional Can Help

A professional exterminator begins with a thorough inspection to identify the type and extent of the cockroach infestation. Once assessed, the IPM program offers several methods to control the cockroach population:

Cultural controls: First, pest control will modify the environment to make it less attractive to cockroaches. Practices include proper sanitation, reducing water and food sources that attract cockroaches, and eliminating their hiding and breeding places.


Physical controls: Next, they focus on removing or blocking cockroaches. They'll set traps, vacuum, seal cracks and crevices to prevent entry, and use barriers to limit their movement.

Biological controls: Although less common for indoor pests like cockroaches, exterminators can introduce natural enemies of an insect population, such as parasites or predators, to reduce their numbers.

Chemical controls: When necessary, IPM uses pesticides, but in a targeted and mindful way. The focus is on using the least toxic options and applying them in a way that minimizes harm to people, pets, and the environment.


Cockroach Prevention Tips

Keeping roaches from infesting your home in the first place is much easier than getting rid of them once they have moved in. Fortunately, the same IPM program applies to prevention tactics. The first steps of an IPM are to deprive roaches of access to food, water and shelter and to keep your home clean and dry [source: HealthNote].

Exterior Prevention

To close off access, you need to know how they get in. They can crawl inside your house through the tiniest holes and cracks. To seal your home, be sure you have tight-fitting windows and doors, caulk all cracks or holes in foundations and walls and repair any plumbing leaks [source: Cockroaches].


Interior Prevention

Once you've tackled the outside, work on the inside of your home. They gravitate to kitchens in search of even the smallest bits of food and water. Follow these steps to cut down on the things in your kitchen that entice them:

  • Don't leave food out. Store it in tight containers or in the refrigerator.
  • Wash dirty dishes, wipe down tables and countertops and sweep floors after every meal.
  • Fix any leaky faucets. Small drips of water are enough to keep roaches around [source: Cockroaches].

Finding cockroach eggs or shed skins means you're very close to their nesting place. And as gross as it is to think about, that's likely the kitchen area.

If cleaning and sealing don't solve your problem, use sticky traps to catch roaches and to help you figure out where they're holed up [source: Cockroaches]. You can also try some roach spray, but make sure you leave your windows open after you spray.

How to Prevent Cockroaches in an Apartment

If you live in an apartment, these steps may not be enough. You may have sealed and cleaned everything you can, but if your neighbors have an infestation or if the outside of your building isn't sealed, cockroaches can still find a way in.

This is why apartment dwellers often suffer from cockroaches more than people living in single-family homes. Their IPM approach only works if everyone else is on board with it as well.


The Best Way to Deal with Cockroach Infestations

If you've tried cleaning and sealing, but still have roaches, call a pest control professional. They have the know-how to identify your roach species and the chemicals and poisons to help you get rid of them.

By knowing the common signs of cockroaches and understanding the humid places and food sources they crave, you can stop these persistent pests in their tracks. Explore the links on the next page for more information about cockroaches.


This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.