WHAT ATTRACTS COCKROACHES TO YOUR HOME?

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional

Cockroaches are one of the most loathsome pests known to man because they’re dirty and can spread disease.  Getting rid of these resilient pests can be a real challenge, but knowing what attracts them to your home in the first place will help you eliminate the factors bringing them in. 

How do cockroaches get into homes?  You’ll find out exactly what lures these pests in and the most common ways they gain entry, as well as what you can do to limit their access points to keep cockroaches out.  

What Attracts Roaches The Most?

“Why do I have cockroaches in my home?” is a frequently asked question to all pest exterminators, and the answer is that although they have adapted to different conditions, most roaches need four things to thrive and survive in your home: food, water, warmth, and shelter. 

It’s what we do on a daily basis that are the causes of cockroaches, such as cook, eat, and take a bath or shower which provides them with exactly what they need to live.  

Let’s look at each of these factors and how your home provides such a welcoming environment for roaches.   

Food

All pests, including roaches, need food to survive.  They’re omnivorous, which means they feed on both plant and animal matter and they’re certainly not picky eaters.  However, they prefer carbohydrates to proteins.[1]

cockroaches feeding on sugar

Having said that, roaches will eat just about anything they come across, including soap, glue, cardboard, grease, sugar, pet food, rotting meat, and insects, including dead cockroaches. 

The list is endless and quite disgusting!  

As well as finding them in homes, they also infest restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries, and just about anywhere where food is processed or stored, and it’s the German roach that is common and troublesome in these areas. 

But even the cleanest homes can fall prey to the sudden appearance of cockroaches as they scurry in and feast on any crumbs that have not been wiped up properly from countertops, or cleaned out from under kitchen appliances, or vacuumed from the carpet.   

If they have access to food, then they’ll happily make themselves at home and you’ll soon have an issue with roaches. 

Water/moisture

As well as food, roaches also need moisture and if your home has water sources such as leaky faucets or pipes, or even a damp basement, then it will lure them in, especially German roaches, as they love dark and damp environments. 

Roaches are often found in kitchens and bathrooms for this very reason. 

A common place where they can be found, and it’s one of the first places I inspect, is behind the refrigerator as they have a water supply from the overflow at the back, and they have warmth from the motor, so this is ideal for them.

Other sources of water include standing water, wet kitchen sponges, and if you have a pet and leave water in their bowl overnight, then this is an invite for this nocturnal pest to come and drink from it.

Do you leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight?  This is another attractant, especially if you leave them to soak in water.     

The bathroom is also a popular harborage for German cockroaches as they have access to the toilet bowl, sink, bath, and shower tray, and even your damp face cloth.  

How much water a cockroach needs depends on the type of roach, but the German and oriental species need regular access to moisture the most. 

Generally, a roach can survive on only one drop of water a day, but without access to moisture or water, it will die in about two weeks’ time.  

Warmth and Shelter

Some species such as the German cockroach need the warmth, humidity, and shelter of our homes especially when the weather turns colder. 

They like the heat produced by items that have electric motors and condensers, and as I said above, under and behind the fridge is one of the places you’ll likely find them. 

Certain rooms in your home provide ideal cockroach habitats, such as the kitchen and bathroom.  These can be prime living areas providing them with food, water, and also shelter from predators and lots of hiding spaces to breed.  

Cluttered kitchen provides roach hiding places
Cluttered kitchen provides cockroaches with ample hiding places
Image: Liz Kasameyer, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Bugwood.org

During the day, roaches will stay hidden away (unless the infestation is large) in cracks and crevices and they have a preference for wood and paper for their harborage areas. 

How Do You Get Cockroaches In Your Home In The First Place?

You now know what attracts cockroaches, but how do they get access to these attractants in your home? Well, there are a number of ways they can enter, including cracks in the foundation or gaps around pipes and wires.

They may also find their way in through open windows, gaps in screen coverings, or doors left ajar. 

You’d be amazed at just how much they can flatten their bodies and squeeze their way through the tiniest gaps and cracks.

Roaches can enter your home or business through spaces as small as 3 mm high. In fact, an entire colony of roaches can fit through a gap this size.[2]

And once they’re inside, it won’t be long before you’ve got a growing cockroach infestation as they are prolific breeders. 

What Are The Most Common Ways These Pests Enter Your Home?

Well, it’s actually people.  We unknowingly and easily bring them into our homes as they hitchhike in items such as deliveries, cardboard boxes, grocery bags, luggage, and various other ways. 

Have you had a delivery lately? Maybe a roach or two came in with the grocery bags or a new appliance and this might explain a sudden appearance of cockroaches. 

Most people don’t even consider these as entry points, but they are more common than you’d think, so it’s always good to inspect any containers that come into your home or place of work.   

Another very common way roaches easily spread is from one apartment to another.  If the infestation gets too large they have to search for new harborage areas and food, so they travel through pipes or other openings into neighboring units.   

Alternatively, if you’re neighbors in the apartment next door have moved out, then access to food and water becomes limited so they have to look for these elsewhere.

If you live in an apartment and have problems with roaches, immediately inform the building manager so they can contact a pest control company that will deal with the extermination.   

Another reason you might have cockroaches in your house might be that your neighbors aren’t as clean or tidy as they could be, and roaches are finding their way over to your home. 

The other common entry points are:

  • cracks, crevices, and gaps usually found around doors and windows and along the outside of the home. 
  • holes in pipes and gaps between the wall and utility pipes, this is common in apartment buildings 
Cockroach entry point from wall and pipes
Cockroach entry point – gaps between pipe and wall
  • air ducts
  • dryer vents
  • sewer connections and drains 
  • cracks and crevices in furniture  
  • spaces between outside doors and floors
  • window screens that no longer fit properly or are torn
  • gaps around an air conditioning unit in the window

How To Keep Cockroaches Away From Your Home

I mentioned above that roaches can be brought in with a delivery, so in that respect, it’s almost impossible to prevent them from getting in. 

However, there are certainly a number of ways to help keep your home cockroach-free as much as possible and that’s by removing access to their essential resources:  food, water, warmth, and shelter!  If these aren’t available, then your home is not a desirable location.

Take a look at the following strategies that will help prevent roaches from finding their way into your home in the first place:  

Take Away Their Food Sources

  • take the trash out on a daily basis and make sure the lid is secure
  • throw away any leftover pet food and water so it isn’t left out overnight
  • designate a specific room for eating in, such as the kitchen or dining room
  • vacuum regularly to get rid of any food crumbs dropped on the floor or on the chairs
  • wipe out all cabinets and pantry for any crumbs 
  • keep food such as cereals and biscuits in airtight containers as roaches will eat through cardboard and paper
  • don’t leave ANY food on countertops overnight, always put it in a container 
  • wipe countertops after preparing food and clean up any spills
  • clean grease off and inside cooker hood, stove, microwave, dishwasher, and even inside your refrigerator 

Reduce Water Sources and Moisture

  • examine all sinks and repair any leaky faucets by replacing the gasket
  • inspect the openings of all faucets to see if the screen is in place, if it’s missing it will need replacing as it will stop any cockroaches from getting into the faucet
  • check the plumbing – under the sinks for leaky pipes and tighten the connector or replace if necessary – the smallest drop of water can sustain a cockroach
  • cover all drains with a fine mesh screen so they can’t crawl out and can’t crawl in looking for water 
  • insulate cold water pipes as they may produce condensation in the summer due to humidity.  Use non-absorbent insulation and thoroughly seal 
  • inspect behind the dishwasher and washing machine for any leaks
  • check the basement for moisture
  • don’t leave dishes, pots, and pans in the sink to soak overnight, always wash, dry, and put away after use 
  • if your home is especially humid, buy a dehumidifier.  If you already have one empty the dehumidifier tank on a regular basis as this provides roaches with access to water
  • make sure there is no standing water in any plant pots.  It’s a good idea to cover moist soil with gravel
  • empty, clean, and dry the drip tray under the refrigerator – this not only provides roaches with moisture but the motor also gives them plenty of warmth and shelter.  German cockroaches love it here!
  • wipe condensation from the windows, even excess moisture is a source of water for a roach.
  • store sponges, dishcloths, facecloths, and toothbrushes in a sealable bag overnight. The photo below shows exactly why you want to keep everything sealed away – gross!
Cockroach on toothbrush
Put toothbrushes in sealed bags after use

Limit Their Hiding Places

Declutter – roaches like to hide in small dark areas where they can mate, breed, and hide out until nighttime.

They prefer to hide on porous items such as cardboard, paper, and wood, and they love corrugated cardboard inside boxes as that provides them with an ideal breeding area. 

  • clear out all newspapers, cardboard boxes, paper bags, cartons, and other paper items that you don’t need 
  • for paper items that can’t be thrown away, put them in cockroach-proof containers or heavy-duty plastic bags
  • Use caulk to fill in cracks and crevices in walls, furniture, where cabinets meet the wall, around water pipes, gaps in skirting boards, around windows and doors, gaps around switch plates, etc.  You want to seal any potential hiding places.     
  • Install door sweeps to prevent them from crawling through the gap under any doors

Housekeeping – Keeping a Clean and Tidy Home

Roaches thrive in unsanitary and untidy places, so keeping a tidy and clean home is vital to help avoid a cockroach problem and prevent an infestation.

If they don’t have access to crumbs dropped on the floor, or grease on the cooker hood, or any of the other things that attract roaches as listed above, then your home becomes inhospitable to them.  

  • if you can, unplug and pull out the stove, freezer, refrigerator, microwave, and any other appliances and vacuum under and behind them for any dropped food.  Wipe down the sides of the appliances for grease.
  • don’t forget the inside of the oven and broiler, as well as the outside.  I often find cockroaches on the inside of the oven door when I open it during inspections. 
  • clean under burners on the oven if it has them. 
  • remove all items from cupboards and drawers and vacuum and clean them, paying particular attention to corners where crumbs can build up.  
German cockroaches and feces in kitchen cabinets
German cockroaches in kitchen cabinet and hinge
  • vacuum and wash floors.  Before you go to bed, give the floor in the room where you eat a vacuum to pick up any tiny food particles that have been dropped.
  • If you see any cockroaches when cleaning these areas or you find them in hard-to-reach corners, then attach the crevice tool to the vacuum and vacuum them up. 

Unfortunately, vacuuming up the cockroaches will not kill them all, so immediately after vacuuming, take the cleaner outside and put the bag or contents of the vacuum in a trash bag, then double bag it and seal it before placing it in the outside trash bin.  Make sure the lid is securely closed. 

Always empty the contents of the cleaner immediately as you don’t want any roaches escaping.  Give the vacuum cleaner a good wipe down before taking it back inside.

Alternatively, you could put the double-bagged trash bag straight into the freezer to kill them.   If you don’t like the idea of a bag of cockroaches in your freezer, then put the bag into a freezer-proof container first.    

Cockroaches are cold-blooded insects so they struggle to survive in the extreme cold.  But it has to be a sudden change in temperature to kill them and not a gradual one as their bodies will adapt and they’ll survive. 

If you’re going to freeze them, place the bag immediately in the freezer and leave it there for 5 -7 days to make sure any egg cases are dead.   

Although the adults will die before this, the eggs will take longer to perish.  After this time, put the bag with vacuum contents outside for garbage collection.   

It’s almost impossible to make your home 100% cockroach-proof because there are so many ways they can enter, such as in infested grocery bags or through gaps under external doors, and they can infest even the cleanest of houses, but these practical tips on how to keep cockroaches out will help limit the ways they can get in, and hopefully prevent any future infestations.

There are treatments that you can carry out yourself to eliminate a low-level problem if you feel comfortable with DIY pest control.  If not, call a professional pest control company that has experience in dealing with cockroach infestations and can eliminate them for you.

 

[1] https://schoolipm.ifas.ufl.edu/newtp4.htm

[2] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/watch-amazing-video-reveals-why-roaches-are-so-hard-to-squish