How to Get Rid of Roaches Naturally


This article looks at how to get rid of roaches naturally from houses, apartments, and other structures. First, let’s look at why you don’t want these nocturnal creatures infesting your property.

The common American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is a fascinating insect. The reddish-brown adult has a distinct yellow band around its head. It’s 1.5” to 2” long and has six legs, four wings (two pairs), and two antennas. Some in the US refer to it as a waterbug, kakerlac, Bombay canary, and ship cockroach. Call it what you will, it’s a pest that impresses no one other than entomologists.

What Is an American Cockroach – Exactly?

The American cockroach is a nocturnal, omnivorous insect. It likes warmth and moisture, and prefers to live outdoors in drains and sewers. But is also a common pest inside buildings. Those found in southern parts often live in humid spots like mulch piles and flowerbeds. They’re also common in alleyways and yards during summer. So, why are they an indoor pest if they prefer life outside?

Roaches move indoors when there’s food scarcity outside, unfavorable changes to the climate, or both. They typically enter homes and other buildings through sewer and plumbing pipe systems. Other entrance points can be basement windows, garages, or under doors without weather strips. The more food there is available to them, the bigger the intrusion grows.

Invisible and Evasive

If you see a few roaches scurrying across your floors, you can assume there’s more. Even a single insect often means there’s infestation lurking somewhere in the darkest recesses of a home.

Here are four other signs that may indicate a roach invasion:

  1. Roach droppings, often mistaken for mouse feces
  2. Oval-shaped egg casings
  3. Oily or musty smell in part(s) of the home
  4. Dead roaches

You have a potential problem if you come across any of the above without seeing a live roach.

Are You Feeding Roaches?

An American cockroach infestation will stay in a building for as long as it has access to food and water. These cold-blooded insects can live without eating for one month if necessary. Roaches can also go a whole week without water. Any home can be a cockroach refuge unless it’s clinically clean 24/7. That’s an unlikely scenario. They’re not fussy either, and their eating habits may surprise you.

The diet of an American cockroach can be any of the following, and more besides:

  • Any crumbs found under kitchen appliances, especially microwaves and refrigerators
  • Invisible scraps or traces of food on floors and in carpet pile
  • Food remnants washed into in drains
  • Food particles fallen behind kitchen cabinets
  • Traces of pet food in unwashed dishes and bowls
  • Fermenting fruits (a favorite)
  • Milk, water, and other fluids

The scavenger roach can also survive on a less conventional diet by consuming the following:

  • Glue, wallpaper paste, book bindings, and other sweet starches
  • Toothpaste residue on toothbrushes and around sinks
  • Cosmetics
  • Soaps
  • Candy
  • Alcohol, especially beers
  • Hair
  • Dead ants and small, slow-moving insects like bed bugs

Most homes offer plenty of food choices for roaches, even though it’s not always obvious.

Beware of Fast-Breeding Roaches

The American cockroach doesn’t like humans or conflicts with its host. They are nocturnal insects that usually come out to feed only when it’s dark and quiet. There can be thousands, silently chomping away unbeknown to the sleeping residents. Most people come across them when they visit the restroom at night. A dark layer of scurrying roaches is a chilling sight for anyone.

You must eliminate roaches, whether you come across hundreds or just a few. The American roach has a lifespan of around 30 months give or take. Females start to breed at about 15 months and produce two egg cases (ootheca) each week at her peak. There’s an average of 16 eggs per case. She eventually deposits and attaches her oothecae into dark cracks and on surfaces around the home.

The Roach Threats to Humans

The American cockroach is large and menacing, though it’s unlikely to bite you. The main threat comes from the bacteria it carries and deposits onto food and surfaces. Roaches don’t cause outbreaks of disease, though. However, they can make individuals and families sick by spreading harmful germs.

Humans who come into contact with cockroach bacteria deposits can potentially catch:

  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus
  • Streptococcus

Moreover, young nymph cockroaches molt by shedding their outer skins. The remains of these exoskeletons are called exuviae. Nymphal skins, along with saliva and feces, are known to cause or trigger allergies and asthma attacks in humans.

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Cockroaches are also known to carry the following intestinal diseases:

  • Dysentery
  • Diarrhea
  • Cholera (extremely rare in the US)
  • Typhoid fever (extremely rare in the US)

Source: The World Health Organization (WHO)

As you can see, there is no shortage of reasons to justify the removal of cockroaches from homes. The rest of this page looks at ways to permanently get rid of these unwelcome critters.

Rid Your Home of Roaches the Natural Way

Few people like roaches and no one wants them in the home. To banish them with natural remedies is the safest way. Most are free from toxic chemicals that could potentially harm pets or people. The ‘natural’ approach may take a while longer, but it’s worth it. There are many different species, but the most common in US homes are American and German roaches.

The following sections are in two parts, i.e., RID and REPEL. The former uses natural DIY remedies to remove roaches from your home. The latter deters them from setting up residence in the first place.

Below are 5 proven ways to purge roaches from your home using natural ingredients:

  1. Diatomaceous Earth
  2. Baking soda
  3. Boric acid and flour or powdered sugar.
  4. Petroleum Jelly Trap
  5. Soapy water or fabric softener spray

OK, let’s look at these roach-ridding solutions in more detail.

#1 Diatomaceous Earth

What is Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.)?

Diatomaceous Earth is a natural, soft, siliceous type of sedimentary rock. It’s often sold as a fine whitish powder and typically used as a natural health remedy for several human ailments.

How Diatomaceous kills roaches

It works by dehydrating roaches and other insects that walk through or breathe it in. Make sure you only buy the food-grade diatomaceous earth. All you do is sprinkle a tiny amount of the powder at the entry points used by the insects. It’s highly effective and safe to use around humans.

#2 Baking soda

What is baking soda?

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a chalky-white crystalline compound (NaHCO3). People often use it for baking, hence the name. It’s also a popular ingredient for alternative personal care products.

How baking soda kills roaches

The secret here is to add an equal amount of sugar to the baking soda and mix it well. The sweet-smelling sugar attracts the roaches to the food, which they eat willingly. The baking soda reacts by releasing gas as the insect drinks water. The gas then bursts inside the stomach killing the roach.

#3 Boric acid and flour or powdered sugar

What is Boric acid?

Boric acid is a natural chemical in the form of a whitish powder or transparent crystal. It’s typically used as an ingredient for homemade soaps, and as an antiviral or antifungal agent.

How Boric acid kills roaches

Boric acid is another killer formula that baits roaches when mixed with sugar. It’s also potentially harmful to humans and pets. Opt for the approach below if you want a safer alternative. Otherwise, this is a very effective way to kill American roaches. Dust a little at the insect’s entry/exit points. It then clings to their feet as they walk over the powder and they die soon after.

Here’s a less toxic alternative. Mix 3 tbsp. of boric acid with 3 tbsp. of flour, and 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Stir the above ingredients into a dough-like mixture and make tiny balls about the size of a 5c coin. Place the balls in areas you’ve seen cockroaches and wait for the bait to work its magic.

#4 Petroleum Jelly Trap

What is petroleum jelly?

Petroleum jelly is a natural mixture of waxes and mineral oils. The ingredients lock together to form the colorless semi-solid ointment. Typical uses are to heal and protect dry skin and to soften lips. 

How petroleum jelly kills roaches

Consider this method if you think your roach invasion is still small in numbers. The idea is to smear a generous amount of petroleum jelly around the outside of a dish or bowl. Next, place some food in the middle as bait. The roaches soon become stuck as they try to reach the food. You can then kill the trapped insects by spraying them with warm, soapy water (see next). Repeat as necessary.

#5 Spray soapy water or fabric softener

What is soapy water or fabric softener spray?

These are the common household detergents and fabric softeners used to wash dishes and soften clothes. The spray is a simple mixture of any of the above with warm tap water.

How soapy water and softeners sprays kills roaches

Most soaps and softeners won’t have all-natural ingredients. Still, they are readily available in most households, and that’s the point. Which works best depends on the strength of the product. The most effective mix for fabric softener is three-quarters softener to half a cup of warm water. For detergent, just make sure there are plenty of suds. It’s then a case of spraying the roaches as you see them.

Either solution works by producing a film around the cockroaches breathing tubes or tracheae. That prevents them from breathing, so they die of suffocation. You must physically spray the mixture onto the insects. Thus, it’s only practical for a small invasion that hasn’t had time to grow.

3 Natural Ways to Repel Roaches

This section looks at three effective ways to keep roaches from entering your home. Use any of these if you have recently got rid of a roach invasion, or simply want to prevent one from forming.

  1. Catnip
  2. Essential oils
  3. Bay leaves

#1 Catnip (nepeta cataria)

What is catnip?

Catnip or nepeta cataria belongs to the mint family. It has velvety leaves and purple-spotted off-white flowers. The plant releases a pungent smell that cats seem to love for its intoxicating effects.

How catnip repels roaches

Catnip acts as an excellent roach repellent. That’s because they’re sensitive to one of the plant’s active ingredients, nepetalactone. Researchers at Iowa State University say it’s a better insect repellent than DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide). Place small packs of catnip at entry points to keep the critters out.

#2 Essential oils

What are essential oils?

Essential oils come from the plants they’re named after. They’re concentrated hydrophobic liquids that contain volatile chemical compounds. Volatile, in this context, means they evaporate easily.

How essential oils repel roaches

Choose organic essential oils for an all-natural way to repel roaches from your home. They hate the smell, especially peppermint oil mixed with a small amount of white vinegar. Apply it by sprinkling a little into the vulnerable entrance points. Alternatively, put a few drops onto a piece of cotton wool and smear the mix over the surface areas.

Other effective essential oils to try are cedar, oregano, and cypress with peppermint.

#3 Bay leaves (Laurus nobilis).

What are bay leaves?

People have used fresh or dried bay leaves in cooking for eons. They let off a pleasant fragrance and add a truly distinct flavor to savory dishes like stews, soups, slow-cooked meals, and pâtés.
How bay leaves repel roaches

Roaches do not share human’s love for the bay or laurel leaf, and find it most repellent. It’s best to use dry leaves and crush them into a powdered-like substance. Crushing helps to release the leaves’ essential oils. You then sprinkle the bay powder around the home’s vulnerable entry points.

Sometimes, nothing seems to work with a massive roach invasion, despite one’s best efforts. That’s the time to call in your local professional pest control service.

Other Natural Repellents & Deterrents

There are plenty of other natural roach repellents to try. Some people swear by certain foods like garlic, cucumber, lemon peels, rinds, or juice. The problem with using foods to deter roaches is that they may encourage other creatures that don’t find them repulsive. Also, if your home is free of, or recently freed from, cockroaches, you need to think DETERRENT as well as REPELLENT.

Here are 10 suggestions on how to prevent roaches from finding your home attractive:

  • Keep all visible and concealed parts of kitchen appliances clean
  • Maintain kitchen cabinets and regularly check for crumbs and food spills
  • Wipe and disinfect all kitchen counter tops at the end of each day
  • Limit meal consumption to one room, including snacks
  • Sweep or vacuum clean the kitchen floor at the end of each day
  • Sweep or vacuum clean other rooms in the home twice a week
  • Empty and wash pet food dishes and bowls at the end of each day
  • Store all leftover foods in airtight containers and refrigerate
  • Take the trash out each night and close the lid tight
  • Keep all trash, especially food waste, away from the building

The above list seems like a lot of work, but it isn’t, not when you get into the habit. Anyone can turn a new cleaning regime into a routine without too much effort. Prevention and repelling roaches is much less stressful than dealing with a massive invasion.


Simon Mann is a "handy man" to have around the house. Although he was a trained carpenter he went on to become a VP of a construction company. Any pest or DIY problem you may have, he always seems to come up with the right solution.

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