Seeing cockroaches scurrying around the house is one of the top things that annoy most homeowners. In fact, some people have such an intense fear of cockroaches — known as katsaridaphobia1 — that just the sight of these pests sends them into panic or makes them break out into a cold sweat.
Despite their loathsome reputation, you have to admit that roaches are impressive, as there's evidence that they've survived global extinctions – even those that wiped out the dinosaurs. Evidence points to cockroach ancestors having walked the earth 300 million years ago. Roaches have a knack for survival and they have learned that cohabitating with humans gives them access to their most basic necessities.
Nevertheless, keeping a wary eye out for roaches of whatever breed, whether they be American, Oriental, Brown-banded or German roaches, is actually a smart thing to do. While not as dangerous as other pests, cockroaches can actually be harmful to your health, as they are known to contribute to the spread of E.coli, salmonella and other bacteria,2 all of which can lead to diseases. Their shells and feces can also worsen symptoms in asthmatic individuals and/or trigger allergies.3
And here is one fact that many people fail to realize: Roaches do bite people. They usually target your fingernails, eyelashes, hands and feet, leading to irritation, swelling and painful lesions. Hence, you must do whatever you can to keep these insects out of your home.
What Causes Roaches to Thrive in Your Home?
Roaches are probably one of the most widespread and resilient pests around the world, and there is good reason for it: They actually need just three bare necessities to survive. As long as they have food, water and a warm shelter, these creatures can thrive.4
Cockroaches are not picky when it comes to what they feed on — they can, in fact, eat almost anything. That includes pet food, cardboard, and other inorganic materials like fabric, furniture and even rotting wood.5 What's more, they can survive for three months without eating, which is why they can be very hard to get rid of.6
Even the area you live in can be a factor in roach infestations. Roaches love warm to humid climates, which is why southern states like Florida tend to have higher roach populations than states that have colder climates.7
How to Get Rid of Roaches Naturally
So how do you know if roaches are settling in and invading (or have already invaded) your home? Here are some telltale signs to be on the lookout for:8
• Cockroach specks or feces, which have an appearance similar to black pepper
• Shell casings of hatched roach eggs
• Seeing them during daytime or hearing them scurrying at night
• A musty, pungent odor in your home, which is a sign of a serious infestation
If you've experienced these problems, then you must take action to make your home as "uninhabitable" to these pests as possible. Try these strategies to assist in elimination of the American, German and other species of roaches without calling an exterminator:9
• Keep your home clean at all times — Grease and food residue are highly attractive to roaches, so make sure you keep your entire place as spic-and-span as possible. Wipe down your kitchen counters, stove tops and table. Sweep and mop the floor before going to bed, and do not leave dirty dishes in the sink. Do these chores regularly and you may be able to ward off roaches effectively.
• Seal up holes and cracks around your house — Pests like roaches, as well as other insects, can pass through even the smallest of spaces and infiltrate your home, so make sure all entries are sealed off. A tube of caulk and a caulking gun can be helpful for this.
• Make sure your home is as cool as possible — As mentioned above, roaches love warm weather, and when the temperature spikes, these critters usually spread their wings and fly. By keeping your apartment or house as cool as possible, you can potentially ward off these insects or at least keep them from becoming airborne.
• Take care of any water leaks — Cutting off their water supply can greatly shorten the lifespan of roaches. Plus, they're often attracted to moisture and water from leaking pipes, which is why they usually make themselves at home under your kitchen or bathroom sink. By closing off the water source — even the tiniest of leaks — you can potentially eliminate cockroaches from your home.
Natural home remedies may also work to keep roaches out of your living space. Try any of these basic solutions:10
• Sugar and borax/boric acid — Mix equal parts sugar and borax or boric acid. The sugar lures them and the borax kills them. However, this may not be advisable if you have children or pets at home. While borax is not toxic, it can cause irritation when touched or inhaled. Place the solution in hard-to-reach areas, like under the stove, dishwasher or refrigerator, into cracks along cabinets, and under the sink.11
• Diatomaceous earth — This fine powder absorbs the oil and fats from the outer layer of the insect's hard shell, so it becomes unable to retain moisture and triggers dehydration — this is what kills the roaches.
Simply apply the powder to areas where roaches may be lurking, such as cracks and open spaces, as well as on the exterior of your home. You can use a bulb puffer to blow it over houseplants and into narrow areas. Diatomaceous earth is best used during dry weather. If it rains, just reapply the powder to all outdoor areas.12
• Bay leaves — Place a bundle near sink holes and in crevices and/or corners. Or scatter them behind appliances or entry points. Placing a packet in your cupboards and cabinets also help protect clothes and books from these pests.13
• Mint oil — Mix 25 ml of essential oil into a cup of water and place in a spray bottle. Spray this mixture all over cracks, kitchen cabinets, doorways and hard-to-reach places at least once a week.14
• Cucumber — Put the ends of a cucumber in the corners of your room and shelves. Replace them when they are shriveled.15
How to Effectively Prevent Roaches From Invading Your Home: Keep It Clean
Even if they're not making their presence known by running around your kitchen, don't be so sure that roaches aren't lurking in your home — it's possible that they could be sneakily hiding, only coming out at night, when you're fast asleep.
Remember that the best preventive strategy to keep your home free of pests is to maintain its cleanliness. Wipe down counters, mop and sweep regularly, and take out the trash daily. Fix leaks and check water sources like pet bowls, to ensure that they are not inviting in these pests. If you live in an apartment complex, make sure your neighbors do the same to keep these insects from invading their home as well.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Roaches
Q: What does a roach look like?
A: Cockroaches have flat, oval bodies that are oily to the touch. They have six long, spiny legs that are useful for running quickly across almost any surface. Some species have wings as well, although not all of them use these to fly.16
Q: What do roaches eat?
A: Roaches can eat anything. Aside from human food, they can feed on pet food, rotting wood and other inorganic materials like fabric and cardboard.
Q: What attracts roaches?
A: Roaches need three things to thrive: water, food and warm shelter. If all of these are present in your home, then there's a high possibility for roaches to live there.
Q: Where do roaches come from?
A: There's a chance that the roaches you suddenly see roaming in your home have been there from the start – only coming out from hiding, as they are nocturnal creatures.17
However, they may also be transported from other places, such as from your previous apartment or if you've recently traveled. If you live in an apartment complex, they may come from your neighbor's property as well.18
Q: How long do roaches live?
A: Cockroaches can live for at least a year.19 If without food, they can still live almost a month, and if without water, they can thrive for about two weeks.20