Home Remedies for Roaches: Fact vs. Fiction

Do home remedies for getting rid of cockroaches really work?

Unfortunately, many home remedies for roaches are not as effective as the internet makes them out to be. Some are downright myths.

On the other hand, they often have some sort of scientific basis. When used correctly in the right situations, some of them can actually help you get rid of — or at least reduce the number of — cockroaches infesting your home.

Here’s how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to getting rid of roaches, based on our professional experience as one of New York City’s highest-rated pest control experts.

Do Home Remedies for Cockroaches Really Work?

Home remedies for roaches are often the first solution people look for after discovering traces of these phobia-inducing pests in your home.

After all, if household items are enough to keep cockroaches at bay, you can save yourself the time and cost of hiring a professional exterminator, right?

BUT, there’s a reason why you never see pest control professionals employing home remedies.

Many of these “remedies” are unreliable, untrue, or can even make your situation worse.

Spending your precious time trying out home remedies that turn out to be ineffective — instead of calling the exterminator right away — gives the cockroaches in your home time to breed, multiply, and spread.

Here’s a list of popular home remedies for cockroaches, along with our take on how much is fact versus fiction.

Home Remedies for Roaches That Are True:

Home Remedies for Roaches That Are False:

Bonus: The Best Ways to Get Rid of Cockroaches

Home Remedies for Roaches That Are True or Partially True

Boric acid successfully exterminates cockroaches.

Boric Acid: True

Boric acid is a fairly simple white powder sold as a DIY cockroach product.

It is, in fact, effective at exterminating cockroaches, although please remember to follow all safety instructions when applying it at home. Studies have found that boric acid works on roaches by destroying the lining of their gut and also by acting as a neurotoxin.

You could simply sprinkle it lightly along places where cockroaches are active, and as they walk through the boric acid powder it will cling to the roaches. When roaches groom themselves, they will ingest the boric acid on their bodies and subsequently die.

Boric acid works best, however, when the roaches eat it intentionally. A more effective way of using boric acid as a remedy for roaches is mixing it with things they like to eat. You can find several recipes online for making boric acid bait balls out of various ingredients you already have in your kitchen.

In an ideal scenario, cockroaches will eat the boric acid bait, wander back to their nest and die, and then other roaches will eat the poisoned roaches and die themselves. So don’t use boric acid bait at the same time you are using cockroach traps. Traps prevent poisoned roaches from returning to the nest to poison others.

Once again, please remember boric acid is a substance marketed to kill roaches. Avoid using the same utensils and containers that you normally eat with.

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Diatomaceous Earth: True

Diatomaceous earth is also used as a common home remedy for roaches. It can be effective against other pest insects as well, such as bed bugs, ants, and fleas.

This powdery, white substance is what we call an insecticidal dust. It’s made from tiny, ground up fossils of single-celled marine algae called diatoms. When viewed under a microscope, diatomaceous earth looks like tiny cylinders with razor-sharp, jagged edges.

When roaches, or other insects, come into direct contact with diatomaceous earth, the sharp, microscopic particles scrape away the outer covering of their exoskeletons, which normally functions to retain moisture. As a result, the affected cockroaches gradually dry out and die from dehydration.

Although we consider diatomaceous earth a “true” home remedy for cockroaches, it isn’t a silver bullet that will get rid of roaches overnight. You’d have to sprinkle a lot of diatomaceous earth around and wait for them to walk into it. And even then, it can take a while for your roaches to die.

One important thing to note, if you decide to try this remedy, is to only use diatomaceous marked as “Food Grade.” The other type of diatomaceous earth (“Pool Grade”) is made for filtration purposes only and can be very dangerous to your health if you accidentally breathe it in.

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Baking Soda and Sugar: Somewhat True

Baking soda and sugar is a controversial home remedy. Some people swear by it, while others say it’s a myth that just makes things worse. So what’s the reason behind this disparity?

This method involves mixing baking soda together with sugar (which is used as the bait) and feeding the mixture to your roaches.

In theory, baking soda can act as an insecticide by reacting with water to form gas (carbon dioxide). When ingested by a cockroach, baking soda forms gas in its stomach that it can’t get rid of. Once pressure from the gas reaches a point that it’s body can’t handle, the cockroach dies — eventually.

Studies looking at baking soda’s effectiveness as a roach-killer are hard to come by, and the ones we found were vague. One study found that baking soda and sugar were approximately as effective as boric acid when fed to cockroaches under laboratory conditions, although it’s unclear whether those results would hold up in a real-life scenario.

One such real-life problem is that roaches can develop a genetic aversion to sugar used as bait in cockroach traps, which can be passed down to its offspring. This means that baking soda might kill a few roaches, but after a while they might learn to avoid it.

Another potential drawback is that it won’t kill them right away. A roach would need to eat a lot of baking soda in a short period of time in order for it to produce enough gas to kill the insect.

Baking soda also requires water to activate — which cockroaches don’t actually need a lot of. If you decide to try this remedy at home, place a small container of water next to the baking soda and sugar mixture to increase the effect of the baking soda.

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Isopropyl alcohol can prevent cockroaches but not without some dangerous side effects.

Isopropyl Alcohol: Somewhat True

Another commonly-found DIY remedy is to spray cockroaches with isopropyl alcohol.

But because this isn’t a recommended form of pest control, there haven’t been many studies on the exact concentration needed to kill cockroaches. This is a less-than-ideal solution for several reasons.

First, the fumes of isopropyl alcohol can cause respiratory irritation, and are also highly flammable, making it not something you want to be spraying around your home willy-nilly.

Secondly, you have to spray each roach directly, and roaches are fast at running away. Even if you manage to catch up to the roach, the larger species may be able to take squirt after squirt before they start to slow down.

To summarize, you might kill a roach or two, but isopropyl alcohol is dangerous and not terribly effective for an infestation.

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Cucumber slices may repel cockroaches to a degree.

Cucumber Slices: Somewhat True

This home remedy tells you to place slices of cucumber around your kitchen to repel cockroaches.

To us, this seems like giving cockroaches a free meal — a Benha University study found that while cucumber wasn’t a cockroach’s favorite food, it still attracted 1-2 of them over a 6 hour period.

But an Ohio Academy of Science study found that when cucumber slices were “well-crushed” they did indeed repel roaches due to several compounds found in cucumbers. However, this was only tested on a tiny 9 cm by 17 cm area, so there is no guarantee it would work on an entire apartment. 

We prefer to prevent the problem in the first place rather than leave small piles of crushed cucumber slices around the house.

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Spraying cockroaches with a dishwashing soap and water solution can kill cockroaches one by one.

Soaps and Detergents: Somewhat True

What about spraying cockroaches directly with soap or detergent?

In terms of what to spray, some websites say laundry detergent, some say fabric softener, and some say dish-washing liquid.

The latter was confirmed by this study, which found that 95% of adult German cockroaches could be killed by a 1% dishwashing soap solution in water. According to Kansas University, “The reason [soap] works is not well-documented,” but it does work.

However, in order for soaps or detergents to be effective, you still need to find and spray each roach individually. And they won’t die immediately either.

Furthermore, most cockroach species in the New York area live in colonies, so killing a few with soapy water will still leave you dozens or even hundreds to go.

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Home Remedies for Roaches That Are False or Misleading

Coffee Grounds: False

It’s said that coffee is toxic to cockroaches and its aroma is an effective natural repellent to these pests. As such, some website suggest placing coffee grounds around your home to keep roaches away.

However, in a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Science and Healthcare Research, researchers tested this out and found that coffee grounds were not in fact effective at repelling cockroaches.  

This myth likely stems from the fact that the caffeine in coffee has been shown to have some insecticidal properties. In fact, caffeine and similar substances are actually used by plants to ward off mosquito larvae, mealworms, and other similar pests.

Cockroaches, however, are not among them.

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Dried green bay leaves on a wooden plate. High quality photo

Bay Leaves: Mostly False

Bay Leaves are a commonly-cited DIY remedy for repelling cockroaches.

Supposedly, if you sprinkle bay leaves in your garbage can or the corners of kitchen cabinets, roaches will be repelled by the smell.

It sounds natural enough—like something your grandmother would do. However, a search of scholarly articles for “Laurus nobilis” (the scientific name for bay leaves) and “Blattella” (the genus of the German cockroach) on the National Center for Biology Information revealed no articles about repellent properties of the leaves themselves. The same is true when searching for the genus of the American cockroach (“Periplaneta”).

The essential oil from bay leaves has the potential to kill certain pests, but this involves applying oil distilled from the leaves in such a way that insects are exposed to it directly.

Scattering a few bay leaves just won’t do it.

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Lemon juice can be used to prevent cockroaches but will only be successful in the form of essential oil.

Lemon Juice: Misleading

Another popular home remedy for cockroaches is cleaning your house with lemon juice and water.

We agree that this is a good idea, but because of the cleaning part (see below), not because of the lemon.

Lemon contains limonene, which does in fact repel cockroaches. However, like with bay leaves, you’d have to obtain it in essential oil form at a sufficiently high concentration.

Furthermore, citrus essential oils are classified by essential oil connoisseurs as “top notes,” meaning they evaporate quickly. Technical grade limonene itself evaporates in 2/3rds of the time it would take the same amount of water to evaporate.

For this reason, we’re very skeptical that either lemon or citrus essential oils are a satisfactory DIY method.

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Dryer sheets are a less than satisfactory solution for cockroaches.

Dryer Sheets: Mostly False

Dryer sheets are sometimes said to kill cockroaches if you lay them on the ground for the cockroaches to walk over. They are also said to repel them.

While a single University of Kentucky study suggests dryer sheets do repel fungus gnats, we found no such study saying that they kill or repel cockroaches.

So where did this rumor originate?

Linalool is an alcohol derived from plants, and it gives dryer sheets their distinctive scent. It can indeed be used as a pest repellant, but your average dryer sheet doesn’t contain enough of it to actually work on roaches.

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Vacuuming up crumbs, hair, and other household scraps is the best prevention for cockroaches.

The Best Ways to Get Rid of Cockroaches

As pest control professionals experienced at dealing with cockroaches, here’s what we can say really works:

You can stop or prevent cockroach problems before they even happen by removing access to food and water, reducing access to your home, decluttering, and cleaning.

These methods won’t necessarily eliminate an existing cockroach infestation, but they will help to keep things from getting worse while you call the exterminator.

  • Remove Access to Food and Water: One of the best things you can do to keep cockroaches away is to remove their access to food. Invest in reusable storage containers that can be sealed and empty your trash and recycling bins regularly. Access to water is equally important; don’t leave any standing water around. Fix that leak under the sink, and wipe up any puddles from around the shower before you go to bed at night.
  • Reduce Access to your Home: While it’s hard to make a home 100% cockroach-proof, there are simple steps you can take to make your home more difficult to access. Install a door sweep on doors with outdoor access, stuff gaps around piping with steel wool, and repair cracks in your walls.
  • Decluttering: Cockroaches would prefer to not be seen by you. Decluttering reduces places they can hide, making them easier to spot when they invade. Keep the floor clear of clutter, organize under the cabinets, and throw out things you’re no longer using. We know you’re busy, but these simple steps can make a world of difference in pest control.
  • Cleaning: Cockroaches will chow down on hair, nail clippings, skin flakes, or even your paper and plastic bags. Cleaning is the number one DIY task you can perform to prevent cockroaches because it removes their sources of food. So if you really want to DIY your own cockroach solution, grab a sponge and a bucket of soapy water (lemon juice optional). 

While it’s hard to resist the temptation to try a few home remedies to get rid of cockroaches, once these pests get a foothold in your apartment, everyone needs a little help.

If you live in New York City or the Tri-State Area and you need help exterminating a cockroach problem, give MMPC a call today.

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