Killing cockroaches can’t be that hard, can it? They’re just bugs and bugs can be squished!
Besides the fact that cockroaches can survive up to 900 times their body weight in crushing force, squishing a few (or even a few dozen) cockroaches isn’t going to stop them from multiplying, spreading and making things much, much worse.
We’ll show you how to kill cockroaches and take down the whole colony so that they never come back!
Remember, when using insecticides, the label is the law—read and follow the instructions carefully, not only for your own safety, but to make sure each treatment is as effective as possible.
How to Kill Roaches Part I: What You Need Before You Go to War
- Act fast, be thorough and don’t give up.
- It’s about eliminating the whole colony, not killing single roaches.
- Use a combination of tools and rotate your treatments for the best chance of success.
- Knowledge is power. The more you learn about cockroaches and how to control them, the better off you’ll be!
If it’s so easy to kill a cockroach you find crawling along the floor, why is it so hard to get rid of these pests for good?
It all comes down to 3 cockroach adaptations:
- They can survive on almost nothing.
- They have a lot of babies, all the time.
- They spend most of their time hiding, so people often don’t notice them until the problem has gotten out of hand.
The Stages of Infestation
The problem starts with one or two adventurous roaches, mucking through the mulch and leaves, following the path of a sewer line, hiding inside a grocery bag, or hitchhiking in the trunk of your car, until eventually… they get in.
That first stage is infiltration. From there, those few roaches reproduce rapidly, search the house for food, and spread to any dark, hidden places they can find.
The best time to have killed them would have been the moment they got in. But since that didn’t happen, the 2nd best time is right now.
Let’s get to it!
Part II: The Right Weapons for the Job
Explore your options, stock up your arsenal and start killing not only the cockroaches but the colony.
If you’ve been trying and failing to kill roaches for a while now, you might simply be using the wrong tools. It’s tough to know what works, especially when the advertising promise of “Quick-and-Easy!” has you looking at less effective products.
4 Important Don’ts of Cockroach-Killing Tools
Rule 1: Don’t waste your time on stuff that doesn’t work. Question: how do you kill roaches with ultrasonic pest repellers? You don’t! Regardless of the marketing shtick, they just don’t work. The same goes for roach bombs and other products that blow smoke out of a can. They promise plenty, but the marketing is a bunch of guff.
Rule 2: Don’t mistake what’s handy for a solution. Sure, go ahead and hit that ugly brown roach with a blast of bug-killing spray. But don’t count on a can of spray to take down the other, possibly hundreds of roaches that may be seething behind your walls.
Rule 3: Don’t rely on a single technique or product. Are there some excellent products out there? You bet. But what exterminators know, and you’ll learn below, is that products work best in combination.
Rule 4: Don’t dive in without a plan. Before buying and using products, know exactly what you need and how you’re going to use them. Yes, you can defeat cockroaches, sometimes more easily than you think, but it’s unlikely to happen without a focused, systematic plan.
Weapon 1: A Notebook, Pen, and Piece of Chalk
You’re going to need a notebook of some kind, a pen or pencil, and a piece of chalk. Nothing fancy, and available at the dollar store.
Weapon 2: Vacuum Cleaner and Cleaning Supplies
We’ll get to the importance of vacuuming shortly but at this stage, make sure your vacuum is working properly, that it has brush and crevice attachments, and that you’re stocked up on bags.
You’ll also want a bucket filled with a gentle, non-smelly cleaner like dish soap (which won’t drive cockroaches into the walls), a mop, and a sponge or rag.
Weapon 3: Traps
The most popular roach traps are sticky glue traps—what professional exterminators call insect monitors. Professionals use these to track roach activity, measure the size of the infestation, locate its hot spots and kill some roaches along the way. Inexpensive and effective, they’re indispensable to this plan.
Pro tip: Squeamish? Roach motels are a sticky trap that partially obscures its victims. Great for killing roaches, but somewhat less so for cockroach monitoring.
Weapon 4: Gel Bait
Professional pest controllers love gel roach bait, and why? Because it works!
Gel bait spreads from one roach to another, killing multiple roaches per treatment with little work on your part, other than setting them down.
Many pros also use an IGR, or insect growth regulator in combination with gel bait. IGR’s prevent cockroaches from reproducing, attacking parts of the colony the bait might have missed.
Weapon 5: Insecticidal Dust
Roach-killing dusts break down the cockroaches’ exoskeletons, eventually killing them through dehydration.
CimeXa is one highly effective example used by many exterminators.
Other roach killer dusts include boric acid, borax and diatomaceous earth (DE).
Tip: You can apply gel baits alongside dusts, as long as they’re used behind appliances or in closed, still rooms. Also, insecticidal dusts vary widely in terms of safety for children and pets. You’ll learn the safest ones further below.
The Ultimate Roach-Killing Battle Plan
This step-by-step plan of attack works for most roach infestations. Below, we’ve included some alternatives for specific situations.
Let’s get to work!
Step 1. Inspect, clean, and lay down sticky traps
You just don’t realize what vile creatures cockroaches are until you begin looking for, and cleaning up, all the crap they leave behind.
They feast on things that would make you cringe: bits of garbage, forgotten spills and crumbs—even feces. They lay their eggs in or near that debris, and leave pheromone trails on floors and walls that tell other roaches where the food is. And that they’re available to mate.
Your job is to get rid of all of that.
You’re going to go through your home room-by-room, cleaning up all the gunk roaches have left behind and suctioning up living roaches. When you finish with each problem area, you’re going to place a sticky trap there, jot down the location in your notebook, and leave a mark nearby with a piece of chalk (so you can easily find the trap later).
So grab your vacuum cleaner, nozzle attachments, mop, sponge and bucket, and head into the kitchen, where you’ll begin by pulling the refrigerator away from the wall.
Any roaches dash out from underneath? Vacuum the little buggers up. Any on the walls, in the corner, on the refrigerator’s coils or around the motor area? Don’t let them get away.
Vacuum up every roach you see, and then suction up the debris—the loose powdery granules, cockroach bodies, egg casings, and body parts. Use your crevice tool to get deep into cracks and gaps, and your brush tool to dislodge and suction up some of the stuck-on muck.
After you’ve vacuumed up everything you can, mop and scrub the area, removing every speck, stain, and pheromone-laced smear you find. Use a magic eraser or a plastic putty knife for stuck-on spots, and being nasty stuff, change your bucket water often.
When you’re done, take one of your sticky traps and place it in the problem area, preferably against a wall, then record its location in your notebook and leave a mark nearby with chalk. It will help you find it later.
Work in this way through the corners, undersides, backsides, and recesses of your kitchen, vacuuming up gunk, suctioning up roaches, cleaning off surfaces, and finally, laying down sticky traps. Where you don’t find signs of roaches, but do find any kind of dirt or mess, clean those areas, too. And then mop the entire floor.
Move on to the bathroom in the same way. Then other rooms.
And on a side note, this work is hard, but for many people, feels good. You may not have realized how cockroaches made you stop enjoying your home. Well, now you’re taking it back.
Once you’re finished, empty the vacuum into a sturdy garbage bag, seal it, and if there’s any chance your pets or outdoor critters could get into it, pop it in the freezer overnight. It will kill the bugs inside.
Also be aware that you may be faced with escapees whenever you turn the vacuum off. How do you kill cockroaches before they make their move? There’s no easy way to do it, really. Instead, try plugging the vacuum’s nozzle with a rag between sessions.
At the end of the day, give yourself a pat on the back. The next steps are a piece of cake.
Step 2. Identify your targets
Unless you have lots and lots of roaches, you won’t need to check your traps for a couple of days. When you do, you’ll learn some vital information about how and where to treat your roach problem.
Collectively, the traps will tell you what type of cockroach you’re dealing with (see below for a few ways to adapt the plan to certain species). They’ll also tell you how bad the infestation is—or whether you have an infestation at all.
Individually, they’ll tell you where the cockroach hot spots are, and that’s important because those are the areas you’ll want to focus on in the next two steps:
Step 3. Attack with gel bait and an IGR
Having found the areas you’ll hit hardest (with sticky traps), open a tube of gel cockroach bait such as Alpine or Advion and apply pea-sized drops all-around your target rooms, 2–3 feet apart.
You can place these drops on the floor, in crevices, under furniture and anywhere you think roaches will want to walk. If you’d prefer, put the drops on index cards or tissues so you don’t have to wipe off any excess once it’s eaten.
Only use tiny amounts so the roaches don’t avoid it. Keep using sticky traps to measure the effects of the bait. If you’re still monitoring with sticky traps (and you should be), you should notice fewer roaches in the traps within 1–2 weeks if it’s working well.
A round of IGR is optional, but it will help you to accomplish even more. IGR is used much like gel bait, but works differently and doesn’t need to be eaten to work. Besides helping to reduce roach populations on their own, some IGR’s are formulated with a feeding stimulant that encourages roaches to eat more bait, resulting in a more widespread kill.
Tip: As a cleaner and even simpler alternative, you can purchase bait stations, which hide the poison inside a plastic container but still let roaches crawl inside.
Step 4. Dust and trap
Dusts can kill plenty of roaches on their own but they’re also great alongside gel bait. Combining and rotating techniques and products is a great way to prevent avoidance—when cockroaches get used to a trap or bait and stop falling for it.
To kill roaches with CimeXa, boric acid or another finely powdered insecticide, use a duster to lightly coat surfaces under and around appliances, in cabinets, behind toilets, under sinks and even inside wall cavities.
If you’re using dust alongside Advion or a similar gel bait, you can apply it to a notecard or napkin and bait in the center so roaches have to step through the dust before reaching the bait.
Safety tip: Keep in mind that while these powders are relatively safe, they can be irritants or, in the case of boric acid, make you sick if you ingest it. So make sure not to coat surfaces like countertops or anywhere you might eat off of.
Step 5. Begin monitoring
As the weeks go by, you should notice fewer and fewer roaches. Then, depending on where you live (in some climates, you’ll never be completely roach-free), possibly no more roaches at all.
This is when you switch your battle plan over to monitoring.
With monitoring, you’ll ease up on the aggressive elimination tactics you’ve been using, and instead just make sure there are functioning sticky traps laid down.
You’ll check your sticky traps from time to time to check for any significant increase in roaches (catching a few from time-to-time is normal), but other than that, you’ll pretty much return to the way you lived before there was a problem.
And by the way, congratulations on a job well done. Let’s look at some special situations.
How to Kill Roaches of Different Types
Killing German Cockroaches
German cockroaches are among the worst types of cockroaches.
If you’re seeing more than a few of these bugs, be aggressive. Combine gel bait, dusts and glue traps for all-around cockroach-killing action.
Replace baits as soon as they’re empty. Change traps as soon as they’re full.
Add an IGR to prevent even more baby German roaches from starting the infestation over just when you thought you had it under control.
It’s a game of perseverance against these super-resilient pests but the battle plan works against them well.
For a complete, step-by-step guide to “How to Get Rid of German Roaches” click here.
Killing American Roaches
American cockroaches often live outdoors but they get by just fine indoors, too. Eliminating them takes a combination of roach-killing weapons and a strategic defense.
For these bugs, you’re going to need a bigger sticky trap, and if you use them, a larger bait station. American roaches grow up to 2 inches long so smaller traps and devices will fill too quickly or have openings too small to let them in.
Consider adding a perimeter spray to your arsenal, too. And while you’re out there, you should check for any gaps or openings you think the bugs might be getting in from, and seal those up. Since these pests come from outside, a strong line of defense will help prevent future invaders.
Read our Roach-Free Recipe for even more tips: Getting Rid of American Cockroaches Like a Pro
How to Kill Roaches with a Pet-Safe Strategy
Pet owners have important concerns about roach-killing products. So, how do you kill cockroaches in a way that won’t harm your pets? By using the same battle plan, but taking care to select products that have either very low toxicity—or none.
Most roach control products are safe for pets, but some you may want to avoid. Whatever you choose, carefully read and follow the label for warnings and instructions. You’ll not only protect yourself, your family, and your pets, but do a better job.
For gel baits, it’s not that the products are poisonous (the amount of poisons applied in these products are very small), but that an animal could potentially chew up or gulp down a gel baits’ plastic housing (if it’s that type), potentially causing a blockage.
Regardless of the bait you choose, baits should be placed in areas that are inaccessible to pets and children. Proper placement is one of the best things you can do to keep your household safe.
Pet-safe insecticidal dusts
For insecticidal dusts, the concerns are a little more serious:
Diatomaceous Earth: Pets could gobble up food-grade diatomaceous earth and not have a problem, but you don’t want them eating the non-food-grade DE you use for your pool—and you don’t want them (or you and your family) inhaling either kind, because DE can be damaging to the lungs.
Man-made Insecticidal Dusts: You may be surprised to learn that the least toxic insecticidal dusts are the man-made ones. CimeXa, for example, an amorphous silica gel is even allowed as a food additive.
Even so, CimeXa can irritate your eyes. And like all dusts, shouldn’t be inhaled, used around food or anything that comes into contact with food, and kept away from kids and pets.
Pet-safe sticky traps
Sticky traps don’t contain any poison and their insect attractants won’t cause your pets any harm. A dog could swallow one down however, and face the same problem a bait housing could pose. And any pet could get one stuck to its fur. That’s not going to kill them, but could be wouldn’t be too much fun.
Prevention Tips: Sanitation and Exclusion
Even with a pack or two of sticky traps lining your walls and corners, roach problems may flare up. You can certainly repeat the battle should you need to or (far better), simply prevent them from happening again.
There are two additional weapons you can use to do that: sanitation and exclusion, and both work by depriving roaches of certain things they need. Here’s how they work:
You already did some of that when you cleaned up food sources and pheromone trails. Now you’re going to do it as a way of life.
Sanitation as a pest control method is about depriving roaches of the 2 things they need most to survive: food and water. Take those away and roaches either die or leave.
You already took some sanitation steps in “How to Kill Cockroaches Step 1.” Now you’ll put some simple sanitation practices into place ongoing.
Roach-proof your trash area by using garbage cans with tight-fitting lids, and regularly wiping them down. Keep the floor and walls around them clean, and throw bags away frequently to cut down on (to roaches) attractive smells.
Invest in a set of glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, and keep all your dry foods and ingredients inside. Keep the outer surfaces clean and free of any smears of food that could continue to be a food source, and resist the temptation to store food in plastic bags. Roaches can chew right through them.
Crumbs and spills are a major food source for cockroaches, and while there’s no way to completely avoid them, there are some handy tricks to reduce them.
Create a new family rule: all eating is done in the kitchen and/or dining room, limiting the crumbs roaches are able to find throughout your house. If you have pets, keep their bowls in the kitchen as well—pet food is also roach food!
You’ll also want to have a rigorous vacuuming and wipe-up routine, possibly more than other people. A single crumb is a meal for a cockroach, and to this point they’ve somehow been getting them.
Water sources attract roaches, and the variety of them you probably have in your home may surprise you. Those cockroaches in your drains? They probably didn’t paddle up through the sewers. They probably found your drains looking for water, and figured they were a moist, cozy place to stay.
So buy a cover for your drains to keep roaches out of them, fix leaky faucets, and make a habit of mopping up even the tiniest of drips and puddles. Grab your flashlight and poke around your under-sink areas looking for leaks and even condensation.
Keep a towel by the shower or tub to soak up water at the base, and when showering, turn on the bathroom fan to reduce humidity faster. Pour out the water under your dish drainer when you’re done with it, and turn it on its side to let the last of the water drip out.
Cockroaches make it inside in a number of ways.
Indoor roaches will hide in grocery bags, in thrift store finds, and hand-me-downs. They’ll also crawl in through your walls if you’re lucky enough to live in an infested apartment building.
Outdoor roaches will crawl in through cracks and gaps in your home’s exterior. They’ll sometimes be carried in with firewood.
To keep roaches out, you’ll need to think through how the last batch must have made their way in, then take action to seal their entry points. That may mean inspecting groceries or your kids’ backpacks before they come through the door. Or investing in a supply of caulk and wire mesh to seal cracks and crevices around the house.
How to Know When to Call the Pros
There might come a time when the best course of action isn’t to continue your nightly assault but to hold back and wait for reinforcements.
When the weapons just don’t seem to be working, when the traps aren’t showing signs of success, when there are just too many of them… it’s time to call in the pros.
A professional exterminator has the tools and knowledge to get rid of roaches, even when they’re a seemingly insurmountable force. That’s a valuable ally to have.
Congratulations! You’re up against a resilient enemy but, now, you know exactly how to kill cockroaches and stop them from bouncing back.
So grab your weapons of choice, start planning your attack and take down cockroaches once and for all!
Written by Andrew Martin. Reviewed by James Miksanek, PhD.
Disclaimer: This page is strictly for informational use. When using insecticides, keep in mind—the label is the law. Insecticides should be applied correctly and safely when needed, and according to the laws of your state or country.
Andrew writes for, and along with his daughter, publishes Cockroach Facts. You can read more about him here.
James Miksanek, PhD.
James is an entomologist and adjunct professor of biology. His background is in biological control, and he has a passion for ecology and environmental science. His research has addressed a variety of topics including pest control and the management of invasive species. You can learn more about our contributors here.
- 2019 State of the Cockroach Control Market (2019) Zoecon/Central Life Sciences.
- Nagro, Anne (2019) Rethinking German Cockroach Control. PCT Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.pctonline.com/article/rethinking-german-cockroach-control/
- Murphy, Rachel (2019) Insider. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/how-to-kill-a-cockroach–2018–3