How to Identify, Treat, & Prevent a Cockroach Infestation
A cockroach infestation can be a nightmare for homeowners. Cockroaches are often associated with dirtiness or a lack of care for living spaces. People may believe cockroaches indicate they're not doing enough to take care of their homes. However, there are many reasons why cockroaches may use a home for food, water, or shelter. Thorough cleaning is a requirement to manage an infestation on top of extermination when necessary. Otherwise, various practical tasks may help homeowners make it more difficult for cockroaches to survive or reproduce inside the home. Read on to learn how to identify, treat, and prevent a home cockroach infestation.
Table of Contents
- Identifying Cockroaches
- How to Remove Cockroaches in the Home
- How to Prevent Cockroach Infestations
- Dangers of Cockroaches
- Stay Proactive to Prevent Cockroach Infestations
Because many types of pests can invade a home, homeowners should start by evaluating the type of pest. Cockroaches present several unique signs that people can watch to know what kind of infestation they're dealing with.
Signs of Cockroaches in the Home
In most cases, homeowners may notice they have some infestation before they realize which pest is present. Cockroaches are usually reasonably easy to discern from other types of insects. People can tell they have a cockroach infestation by looking for:
- Black spots around cracks or gaps in the flooring, which indicate waste or feces
- Dark-colored streaks on walls and other surfaces
- Egg capsules, which are dark in color and about the size of a grain of rice
- Feces near food sources
- Foul, musty odor in the corners of a room
- Shredded cockroach skin from the molting process
- Dead or alive cockroaches
Some signs could indicate any pest infestation, and homeowners should take care to examine them first. For example, rodents will often leave feces around open food sources. They may also chew through packaging, as do cockroaches. The difference is that rodent feces has a pointed end, while cockroach leavings does not.
Sometimes, homeowners don't realize they have an infestation until they find a live cockroach. Because these insects prefer to hide in the dark, finding a live cockroach during the day can be an indicator the infestation is particularly large or severe.
What Does a Cockroach Look Like?
Although many people may know what a cockroach looks like, it's essential to understand the types. Cockroaches range in size from half an inch to two inches. They have a relatively long, flat body ranging in color from light brown to dark brown. Cockroaches have six legs, and they usually have wings, although they rarely fly. There are a variety of cockroach species, only some of which are commonly found in the United States:
- German cockroach
- American cockroach
- Brown-banded cockroach
- Water bug
- Pennsylvania wood cockroach
The American cockroach is the largest, with the most stereotypical presentation. However, homeowners are more likely to encounter the German cockroach in their homes. This pest prefers damp areas, such as a sink cabinet in a bathroom.
People sometimes confuse cockroaches for crickets or beetles. The flat body is often the easiest way to distinguish them.
How to Remove Cockroaches in the Home
Once homeowners realize they may have an infestation, they should take prompt action to remove the cockroaches. A systematic approach can eliminate the things cockroaches need to survive, including food, water, and places to hide.
Remove Food & Water Sources
Like most kinds of pests, cockroaches need access to food and water to survive. Homeowners may want to be very thorough in their inspection of food sources. Unlike some pests, cockroaches will eat almost anything, like toothpaste, pet hair, or coffee grounds. They also need very little water to survive, meaning they can get moisture from damp sponges or condensation outside of a plumbing pipe. Homeowners should consider doing the following tasks:
- Put all food in sealed, airtight containers
- Keep pet food in a secure place at night
- Sweep, vacuum, or mop floors regularly
- Clean and sanitize countertops and sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms
- Take out the garbage regularly
- Eat only in the kitchen, and clean up immediately afterward
- Address plumbing leaks promptly
These steps may not eliminate the infestation, but they will make it harder for the cockroaches to thrive.
Remove Hiding Spots
Cockroaches also need a place to live near food and water sources, so homeowners should make an effort to get rid of them. These insects like to hide in soft, porous materials like paper, cardboard, or wood. People may want to start by looking for larger, apparent sources for the infestation, such as a stack of cardboard boxes.
Getting rid of an existing infestation may require significant cleaning. Homeowners might want to begin by starting at the ceiling and working their way down to the floor. Cardboard boxes can be swapped for plastic, airtight bins or bags. Wood cabinets can be inspected for holes or gaps with a plan to seal them. The last step involves inspecting the home exterior for cracks or gaps, making it harder for cockroaches to enter.
There are various ways homeowners can cause damage to a cockroach infestation. Some of them are easy to purchase at a home improvement store and simple to place. People may want to consider:
- Roach traps
- Cockroach sprays
- Roach baits
Traps and baits are similar in that they contain something the cockroach needs to survive. People can put them under furniture or appliances, keeping them out of the reach of children or pets. Many varieties have a combination of sugar, water, and other starches and may also contain poison.
The difference between a trap and a bait is that a trap intends to kill the cockroach immediately. The bait encourages the cockroach to carry the poison back to the nest. Sprays create a barrier that cockroaches cannot cross because they will die, so they should go around the home exterior. This treatment method may need to be done by a professional because the solution is poisonous. When done incorrectly, sprays can also cause the infestation to move.
Many methods used to kill cockroaches can be toxic to humans and pets, so homeowners may prefer to call a professional for assistance. Professional exterminators have access to equipment that allows them to identify the source of the infestation and eliminate it more quickly than standard store-bought methods.
As a general rule, people can assume that there may be as many as 100 or more cockroaches in hiding for each cockroach they find inside. Placing traps may give people a sense of where the infestation is, but hiring a professional provides a higher degree of accuracy in getting rid of it.
How to Prevent Cockroach Infestations
Preventing a cockroach infestation is the best approach for homeowners. That way, they can minimize the time they have to take controlling pests. By understanding how cockroaches live and where they come from, people can target a prevention plan more effectively.
Cockroach Life Cycle
Cockroaches have a life cycle that can last for more than a year, depending on the type of cockroach. Most species start by laying an egg capsule containing about 10 to 50 eggs, which looks like a hard, dark-colored pill. Cockroaches may carry around an egg capsule for several days before they find a place to put it, usually attached to a hard surface. Once placed, the eggs take as long as a month or two to hatch.
After hatching, nymph cockroaches can grow to adulthood within a few months or up to two years. German cockroaches take the least amount of time, while American cockroaches take the longest. As adults, cockroaches live for a few months or up to one year. During this time, they can build an infestation and reproduce to increase their population.
What Attracts Cockroaches?
Cockroaches often prefer to live outdoors, but they can settle inside a home as well. These insects need a dark, damp place to live with free access to food sources and water. Homeowners may want to look in the following areas if they suspect they may have an infestation:
- Inside unused cabinets
- Underneath appliances, especially refrigerators, ranges, and dishwashers
- Below drawers in the kitchen or bathroom
- Behind or underneath clutter in the basement
- Inside the walls or crawlspace
In most cases, cockroaches are looking for crumbs and a little moisture to supply themselves with food and water. A high amount of clutter nearby makes it easier for them to hide and avoid detection. By keeping areas like the kitchen, bathrooms, and basement clean, homeowners make it more difficult for cockroaches to get what they need.
How Do Cockroaches Get In?
Although cockroaches can be quite sizable as adults, they can fit through extremely narrow gaps and cracks. Their bodies are somewhat soft and pliable, which makes it easier for them to squeeze through. In some cases, they come into a home through an open door or window at night. If they discover a plentiful source of sustenance, they can leave potent pheromones to alert other cockroaches to their location.
Cockroaches can move rather quickly for insects, so they do not need to build a home very close to a food source. They may use openings in the home exterior to enter and exit without detection. Keeping surfaces clean and de-cluttered, and sealing those gaps, are the best ways to keep cockroaches out.
Where Do Cockroaches Hide?
Most people can imagine that cockroaches would hide underneath a cardboard box or a pile of clutter, but there are other possible hiding places. Cockroaches do not like to be found, and they will run from a light source. As such, they may hide in any confined area that keeps them in the dark. Homeowners may be surprised to learn they can find cockroaches in these places:
- Inside a dishwasher not used very often
- Inside electronic equipment—particularly large, standalone pieces with hard cases
- Underneath wood components of upholstered furniture
- Behind baseboards
- Inside vents for an HVAC system
People may want to inspect these areas on occasion to confirm there is no infestation. Otherwise, investing time into cleaning dark corners of the home may be the best form of prevention. If cockroaches have nowhere to hide, they will be less likely to remain in the house.
Dangers of Cockroaches
For many homeowners, a cockroach infestation can cause a lot of shame or stress surrounding the household cleaning regimen. Cockroaches can also put people at risk, particularly for specific diseases or allergic reactions. By taking extra care, homeowners can prevent most of these problems.
Do Cockroaches Bite?
Cockroaches, being cautious and afraid of human detection, usually will not crawl on humans even at night, preferring to find immobile food sources left in a dark place. People usually do not have to worry that a cockroach infestation will cause the insects to bite their children or pets. Cockroaches will eat almost anything, but they prefer carbohydrates over the proteins present in human and pet skin. However, people should keep in mind that cockroaches have spiky legs, which can scratch or irritate the skin.
Can Cockroaches Make You Sick?
Cockroaches can make humans sick, either from an allergic reaction or through pathogens present on the cockroach or its feces. Cockroaches go through a multi-stage development process, during which they will molt and leave old pieces of skin. Over time, those leavings can crumble and eventually turn into dust. Like other forms of allergens, people can inhale the dust and eventually accumulate enough to cause a reaction. People can tell they may have a cockroach allergy if they have an infestation and the following symptoms:
- Coughing or wheezing
- Runny nose
- Skin rash with no obvious cause
Much like other pests, cockroaches can carry bacteria or other pathogens that can cause disease in humans. Because cockroaches like much of the same foods that humans do, they may track pathogens like E. coli or salmonella onto surfaces that humans use to eat. Cockroaches prefer to live and move through areas with minimal cleaning, so they can pick up a lot of germs on their legs and bring them indoors. They're known to introduce things like parasitic worms, common viruses, and even serious diseases like cholera or leprosy. Keeping a home clean to prevent a cockroach infestation, or performing a thorough cleaning to eliminate an infestation, can help people to stay healthier.
Stay Proactive to Prevent Cockroach Infestations
People may feel embarrassed about having a cockroach infestation in their homes. However, it's common enough that they should know there's a way out. Understanding how cockroaches live and what they need to survive can help homeowners figure out the best way to get rid of an active infestation or prevent a future one. In most cases, regular cleaning and attention to hiding places is sufficient to minimize the risk. Otherwise, prompt attention to the signs of an infestation and calling a professional when needed can offer a quick, effective solution to the problem.