Have you ever wandered into the kitchen for a late-night snack, only to scream in horror as you glimpse a cockroach stealing away into another room? If so, you’ll probably want to know what you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We interviewed Steve Durham, founder and co-owner of EnviroCon Termite & Pest, Inc., in Houston, Texas, to learn more about these ancient nuisances and how to keep them out of your home.

What Do I Need to Know About Cockroaches?

cockroach on white background

Why are cockroaches so ubiquitous? What is unique about them?

Cockroaches are omnivorous. Their ability to eat any food source makes almost any locale a potential feeding site. Although members of the order Blattodea (the scientific name for cockroaches) are found worldwide, individual families within this order are segregated into different regions that they’re best suited for. Other insect orders are similar in nature. Take Diptera for instance—flies and mosquitoes are just as widespread.

How prevalent are different types of cockroaches in the North versus the South?

German cockroaches are found in both regions because they prefer indoor habitats. American cockroaches are found in both regions because they prefer the warm, moist conditions found in storm drains and utility tunnels. Exterior-dwelling roaches, like the Surinam or Australian cockroaches, are more prevalent in southern regions due to the warmer habitats.

How can a homeowner tell the difference between a rogue cockroach here or there and a legitimate problem that requires further action?

Population density and the specific species will determine the best and most economical form of treatment. It’s normal for one or two American or Smokybrown cockroaches to enter a structure now and then and not be a problem. They prefer to live outside the home environment, so if you see one or two of them, it’s normally an accidental invasion into the home.

However, one or two German cockroaches in the same environment will quickly lead to high populations and serious treatment issues because they prefer to live in the kitchen and normally only come out at night. Seeing one or two German cockroaches might indicate a growing population that could soon get out of hand.

How Do You Get Rid of Cockroaches?

homeowner cleaning the kitchen

What preventative measures/practices can a homeowner employ to help a cockroach-free home stay that way?

Sanitation is the key! A breadcrumb dropped behind a stove can feed roaches for weeks. Add to this grease splatter from frying, other tiny bits of food that children drop, and the availability of water in a kitchen, and you have a perfect habitat for roach rearing.

Although we find German cockroaches in clean kitchens too, populations in clean kitchens are far smaller than those found in less-clean environments. More tips for discouraging pests.

What steps can a homeowner take to eliminate a cockroach problem, and when is it time to call in a pro?

With the large American and Smokeybrown cockroaches, removing foliage that is touching the house, mowing regularly, and using over-the-counter roach baits may suffice to eliminate these pests. German cockroaches will require excellent sanitation in the home (especially the kitchen), and the use of baits may or may not suffice to control these roaches. Oftentimes a professional is needed to control German cockroaches. If any of these insects persist after these measures, a professional should be contacted.

What are the pros and cons of bait stations, boric acid, and sprays?

Bait stations are valuable when other food sources are removed. Why would a roach feed on a bait station when the peanut butter smeared on the counter has been a constant food source all its life?

Boric acid is a stomach poison to all insects; however, it must be ingested. Those insects that are continually grooming themselves are more likely to be controlled with boric acid, while other insects may not be affected at all.

Chemical sprays leave a chemical residue that is picked up by the insect when it walks across a treated surface. Most chemical sprays, as well as dusts, are effective on all cockroaches. German cockroaches normally have higher populations, though, and they tend to hide deep in cracks and crevices. Simply spraying a chemical around a kitchen may not control German cockroaches.

Are Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) worth investing in?

Absolutely. IGRs are a group of products that interfere with the insect’s molting process. Some work by mimicking or restricting the presence of Juvenile Hormone. When an insect molts and has JH present, it molts into another immature form. If JH is absent during the molting process, the insect develops into an adult.

An IGR that restricts JH would cause an insect to prematurely try to obtain the adult form, probably resulting in an adult that isn't physiologically ready to be an adult, thus breaking the reproductive cycle.

An IGR that mimics JH would prevent the insect from ever molting into an adult form. Other IGRs hinder the process that develops the exoskeleton, so an insect affected by these IGRs would have an extremely delicate, if any, exoskeleton that could not sustain life. IGRs are relatively safe because the hormones they restrict or mimic are unique to insects.

Are there any commercially available cockroach-elimination products that pet owners would want to be careful with?

All of them. No insect-control formulation is "safe" to eat. Although many have a very low toxicity to humans and pets, none are without risk. Homeowners should follow labeled directions. It may seem like it's better to add a little more than the label indicates, but that is not the case. Professional pest control operators follow label directions and have great success doing so.

How Can a Pest Control Company Help?

pest control technician spraying pesticide in home

If it becomes clear that a homeowner’s residence has a cockroach problem, where is the most likely place for cockroach headquarters (e.g. beneath the house, in the attic, etc.)?

If it is clear that a residence has a problem, then the most likely place to find cockroaches is where they were discovered; they are most likely to be discovered in areas of high populations.

Once a professional is called in to investigate a cockroach problem, what happens next?

First and foremost, the species of roach should be identified. Then the pest control operator should offer some insight into his treatment protocol, along with an estimate for providing that service. Most reputable companies provide an explanation of the services they offer in writing.

An appointment should be scheduled and any preparations required of the homeowner should be clearly explained. Many techniques can be employed depending on the species of roach and the size of the population. Baiting, spraying, dusting, fogging, or a combination of these methods may be employed. How to choose a Pest Control Professional

Are one-time-only visits from a pest control company effective, or do most problems require repeated treatments?

The particular species and size of the population will determine if re-treatments are needed. Substantial German cockroach populations often require more than one visit to eliminate, while the larger roaches are often controlled with one visit.

What are some best practices for pest control professionals who are eliminating cockroaches from a home? Will these vary by region?

Treatment protocols vary, but heavy German cockroach infestations usually require the use of ULV (ultra low volume) machines. These "fogging" machines atomize insecticides into a fog that penetrates hard- to-reach areas. Under and behind kitchen cabinets is a favorite hiding place for these roaches.

Typical hand-pump sprayers will not be able to reach deep into these areas. ULV machines create a "fog" of insecticide and disperse this fog into hidden voids. Some insecticidal dusts can provide coverage into these difficult areas as well. Dusts are very persistent and will offer protection for a very long time. However, a lack of experience will negate any method if it’s not applied properly.

What’s on the cutting edge in terms of cockroach-detecting/fighting technology?

The latest technologies include microencapsulated insecticides. Simply described, small amounts of insecticide are encapsulated in microscopic balls. These balls are mixed in water and sprayed. There can be millions of these balls per square foot of spray.

This protective cover quickly attaches to insects and begins dissolving to allow the insecticide to penetrate the outer skin of the insect. These microencapsulated formulations mean less of the chemical has to be applied. They work for a much longer period of time, and they are directed at specific pests.

Among pest control professionals, are there different schools of thought regarding cockroach prevention or elimination?

There are probably as many procedures as there are pest control professionals. Common to all are sanitation, thorough inspections, and customer cooperation. Without any of these key ingredients, chemical applications will fail.

This spotlight article was crafted by a Pest & Termite Control Best Pick in Houston. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.