How to Get Rid of American Cockroaches

Just spied one of these oversized roaches in your home?

Often mistakenly called a palmetto bug or water bug, the American cockroach is a major household pest. Despite its name, it was originally introduced from North Africa. Today, it's found all over the world.

For homeowners and apartment dwellers, though, the question isn't how American cockroaches found their way here, but how to get rid of them. Let's start with the basics.

What Do American Cockroaches Look Like?

First, it can be helpful to know what kind of roaches you have in your home. Here's how to identify an American cockroach.

  • Size: Averaging 1½ inches long, the American cockroach is the largest cockroach species in the world.
  • Color: American cockroaches are reddish brown to dark brown, with a yellow or light brown area behind the head.
  • Body: The American cockroach has a flat, oval body that makes crawling in and out of small spaces and tight places very easy. Its antennae are about equal to the length of its body, and its long, spiny legs are good for running. Adults sport well-developed wings, too. Though they don't actually fly, they sometimes use these wings to glide short distances—but only when temperatures are at least in the mid-80s.

Where Do American Cockroaches Hide?

Like other household roaches, American cockroaches prefer warm, dark, moist environments, including basements, bathrooms, storage areas, and kitchens, as well as sewer lines and garbage disposals.

What Do American Cockroaches Eat?

American cockroaches hide during the day and come out at night to search for food such as meats, grease, sweets, paper, leather, and decaying organic matter. However, they can also survive quite a while without food or water.

4 Signs You Have American Cockroaches

  1. Seeing an American cockroach in your home means there are likely more nearby. Even if you see one, don't assume it's alone. Act fast and treat your home to prevent an infestation.
  2. American cockroaches will leave black specks of fecal matter (which look like coffee grounds) on walls and other surfaces near their nests.
  3. Young cockroaches (called nymphs) will cast-off skins as they grow. These ‘leave-behinds' can be especially irritating to people with allergies or asthma.
  4. American cockroaches emit an unmistakable and unpleasant odor. The odor is most noticeable when there are many roaches together. If you notice cockroaches by their smell, then it could be a sign you have a large infestation.

Get Rid of American Cockroaches and Prevent an Infestation

An American cockroach scurrying along your floor is a pretty good sign that you have many more hiding elsewhere in your home. Here are some practical and effective ways to kill both the seen and the unseen:

  • Spray. Act fast whenever you see American cockroach. One of the easiest no-mess ways to get rid of them quickly is to spray Ortho® Home Defense® Ant & Roach & Spider Killer2 directly on the bug. Not only does it kill on contact, but it sanitizes*, too.
  • Bait. If you suspect a problem but don't see an actual roach, don't worry, you can still get to them. Simply bait them with a food-water-insecticide blend like Ortho® Home Defense Roach Bait. Set out 1 bait station every 6 feet wherever roaches are most likely to travel. Good places to start include along kitchen baseboards and basement walls. Roaches that come out and find the bait feed on it, head back to their colonies, and don't come back. Tip: If using bait stations, don't spray the roaches you see, as they need to be alive to carry and share the bait.
  • Create a barrier. Just one application of odor- and stain-free Ortho® Home Defense Max® Indoor Insect Barrier with Extended Reach Comfort Wand®, sprayed in a 4-inch wide band along wallboards, creates a long-lasting bug barrier that kills and prevents American cockroaches and other listed household bugs indoors on non-porous surfaces for up to 12 months. As with all products, be sure to follow label directions.
  • Clean up. Keep food in the refrigerator or in tightly sealed containers. Wipe up spills, wash dishes, take out the trash, and pick up pet food nightly. Clean, vacuum, and declutter regularly.
  • Repair. Mend breaks in sewer lines, fix leaky plumbing, and insulate sweating pipes. Seal other small entry points with steel wool, caulk, or foam spray. Cap or fill floor drains with water. Dry out damp and moisture-prone spots.

Even one American cockroach is one too many. By following this advice, you can get rid of any roaches you have—and prevent more from moving in.

*Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) and Klebsiella pneumoniae on hard, non-porous, non-food contact surfaces.

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