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How to Get Rid of Cockroaches in Your Apartment

April 23, 2024

When you signed up for apartment life, you knew you might have to live with roommates, but not millions of them. And it's not just that cockroaches take up space without paying their fair share. They can carry disease, cause allergy flare-ups, and even make your home smell.

Getting rid of cockroaches involves some unique challenges - and urgencies. If you brought in cockroaches from outside, you want to deal with them as quickly as possible before they spread. If they're already there, you will probably need to work with your landlord to find a solution.

Unfortunately, cockroaches have a well-earned reputation for being both difficult to get rid of and seemingly indestructible. However, that’s not to say that once you have an infestation of roaches you won’t be able to drive them out. 

Here’s everything you need to know about how to get rid of roaches in an apartment. 

How to Get Rid of Roaches

What If I Brought Roaches Into My Apartment?

If you think about it, there's really only two ways you could have roaches on your property. Either they lived there before you, or someone brought them in.

If you don't believe the roach problem you have is pre-existing, then there are generally two things renters do that attracts roaches. 

Food and Dishes

Cockroaches are usually found near food sources, which means two things for renters. First, cockroaches can be brought into your home through outside food, particularly from open air grocery stores. If you only noticed the roaches after you started shopping in a certain location, try stopping to see if that improves your situation.

It also means that roaches will be attracted to food in homes as well as any dishes in your sink. If you make sure you seal all your food in airtight containers, take out your trash frequently, and always wash dishes promptly, you will reduce the chances of contamination in your kitchen. Furthermore, you can take advantage of roaches congregating in the kitchen by placing traps there.

Dirty Living Spaces

Dirty dishes can also attract roaches. A few dishes left in the sink overnight won’t necessarily cause an infestation. However, a kitchen sink that is perpetually full of dishes with leftover remnants of food could certainly attract roaches. A dirty carpet or floors that also have food and other unhygienic materials could easily attract pests as well.

Unquestionably, failing to maintain a clean and hygienic apartment could result in an infestation. Pests need food, water, and lots of places to hide, so make sure your apartment is clean, free of trash, and that your food is stored in air tight containers.

What If the Roaches Are Already in My Apartment?

If you suspect your roach problem originates from the building itself or a neighboring unit, rather than your own housekeeping, it's crucial to address the situation promptly with your landlord. Begin by documenting the issue. Take pictures or videos of any roaches you've seen, and note down the dates and locations of sightings. This record will be helpful when communicating the extent of the problem to your landlord.

Next, contact your landlord in writing, detailing your concerns and observations. Be clear that you believe the infestation is coming from a source beyond your control and reference any documentation you've prepared. Since pest control is often the landlord's responsibility, request a professional inspection and treatment plan. If your lease mentions pest control procedures, highlight the relevant clauses in your communication.

What Do Cockroaches Look Like?

Cockroaches are fairly distinct, though if you've never seen one before, you might confuse it with a beetle (especially if it's a smaller species). Besides its appearance, one distinct way people recognize roaches is their extremely quick movement, especially when first exposed to light (such as turning on a lamp in a dark room).

Beyond that, here are some physical signs of the most common roaches in the United States:

Type of RoachSize & ShapeColorRegion
German Cockroach½ - ¾ inch long, oval-shaped with long antennaeLight brown to tan with two dark stripes running along the backCosmopolitan (found worldwide, especially in human habitations)
American Cockroach1 - 2 ½ inches long, large and reddish-brownReddish-brownTropical and subtropical regions; introduced globally through trade
Brown-banded Cockroach½ - ¾ inch long, oval-shapedLight brown with dark brown bands across the bodyTropical and subtropical regions; introduced globally through trade
Oriental Cockroach1 - 1 ½ inches long, elongated ovalDark brown or blackCosmopolitan (found worldwide, especially in human habitations)
Asian Cockroach½ - ¾ inch long, oval-shapedDark brownSoutheast Asia; introduced to other parts of the world through trade

get-rid-of-cockroaches-species-chart

Signs You Have Cockroaches?

If you want to act promptly and effectively bring an infestation to a stop, then it’s imperative that you know how to recognize the signs of a cockroach infestation. You can keep an eye out for any of these clues. They’ll help you stay one step ahead of your pests and get them out fast. 

Here are some signs that indicate you’re dealing with a cockroach infestation. 

1. You See a Cockroach — Dead or Alive

When it comes to roaches, seeing even one is a sure sign that you’re dealing with an infestation. This goes for all roaches, dead, alive, or unhatched. Roaches leave their unhatched eggs laying about. If you notice any brown pill-shaped cockroach eggs lying around, you may have an infestation. 

Cockroaches are nocturnal insects. They often hide out during the day in dark, moist places. Often, they’ll invade the kitchen or other area at night when the lights are out. Turning on the light will cause these creatures to scatter quickly, hence the well-known phrase “scatter like roaches.” 

2. You Notice Roach Droppings

Roaches, like all pests, leave their droppings in conspicuous places. These tiny dark brown droppings will likely be left in clusters. However, even seeing a single dropping is a cause for concern. Be sure to deeply sanitize any area that you notice the droppings in. 

3. Roaches Bring in a Musty Smell

Roaches are also known for the distinctly musty smell they carry with them. You may notice a musty oily smell that you cannot find the source of, even after performing a deep clean. This scent will grow stronger as the infestation grows. If you have noticed this smell for a while, then it’s likely you have a significant infestation on your hands. 

Getting Rid of Roaches

Once you’ve become aware of an infestation, you should act quickly to help ensure that it doesn’t continue to fester and spread. Here’s how to get rid of roaches in your apartment.

1. Store-Bought Traps

The first step to getting rid of cockroaches is to buy store-bought traps that are designed to attract and then kill cockroaches. They are also the first step that a pest control professional might take to deal with an infestation, so it's a good place for you to start before calling in experts.

Some of these traps work by poisoning food that the roach will then bring back to the other roaches. These are called "Bait Traps" or just "Roach Bait." Others are simple sticky traps. We suggest trying bait traps first because, while a bit more aggressive, they will deal with the infestation at the source. The type of trap we suggest is pictured below. You can see that small holes allow the roach to enter, gather the "food," and leave in order to bring the bait back to the nest.

Once you’ve put these traps out on the first night, be sure to check them the next morning. If you notice that there are a ton of cockroaches on a single trap, then it may be a sign of a large infestation. 

get-rid-of-cockroaches-bait-trap

2. Boric Acid

Boric acid (commonly sold as "Borax") can be a great homemade solution for pest control, but it's important to handle it with care and keep it out of reach of children and pets. Boric acid is used to create bait traps, which allow the roaches to leave and carry bait back to the nest. Here's how to create a basic homemade bait trap:

Ingredients:

  • Boric acid powder (wear a mask when handling)
  • Food attractant (sugar, flour, powdered peanut butter)
  • Water (optional)
  • Shallow container (jar lid, bottle cap, shallow dish)

Instructions:

  1. Mix the bait: In a safe location, combine equal parts boric acid powder and your chosen food attractant. You can experiment with different ratios to see what roaches prefer in your area.
  2. Optional: Add moisture (for some attractants): If using dry ingredients like flour, a few drops of water can help create a slightly dough-like consistency that roaches might find more appealing. Don't add too much water, as you want the mixture to remain somewhat dry and powdery.
  3. Place the trap: Apply the boric acid mixture to the shallow container.
  4. Strategic Placement: Roaches are attracted to dark, moist areas. Place the traps in areas where you've seen roach activity, like under the sink, behind appliances, or in cabinet corners.

3. Diatomaceous earth (DE)

Diatomaceous earth (DE) can be a non-toxic option for killing and controlling cockroaches. It works by wearing down the roaches exoskeleton, ultimately killng them. You leave it in areas they are likely to walk through. Here's how to use diatomaceous earth for roaches:

  1. Identify entry points: Seal cracks, gaps, and holes around pipes, wires, and under doors to prevent roaches from entering your home.
  2. Target areas: Locate areas where you've seen roaches or suspect activity. This includes behind appliances, under sinks, in cabinets, along baseboards, and other dark, moist areas.
  3. Address moisture: DE loses effectiveness in damp areas. Fix leaky pipes and faucets and eliminate areas of condensation.
  4. Wear protective gear: While DE is considered safe for humans and pets when dry, inhaling the dust can irritate the lungs. Wear a mask and eye protection when applying, especially in large quantities.
  5. Light dust: Apply a thin, light layer of DE powder in targeted areas. Avoid over-application, as thick piles can be disruptive to roaches and may not be as effective.
  6. Reapplication: DE can be vacuumed up or lose effectiveness over time. Regularly reapply, especially in high-traffic areas for roaches or after cleaning.

Remember, always opt for food-grade diatomaceous earth to ensure safety, especially if you have pets or young children. While generally safe when dry, DE can irritate pets' lungs if they inhale it. Avoid applying it in areas pets frequent and monitor them closely after application.

Also, note that DE primarily kills roaches by contact, and it may not be effective on roach eggs. For an ongoing infestation, combine DE with other control methods

4. Give Your Apartment a Deep-Cleaning

This is one of the most important steps as it can help you uncover your roaches’ primary hiding spots and help to eliminate their food sources. 

Be sure to deep clean with products that are proven to sanitize and disinfect. Roaches are disease carriers and can make you sick! Start in the kitchen and work your way through the rest of the apartment. 

5. Exterminators

If you've tried commercial bait traps, deep cleaning, and sealing your food and trash, then it's probably time to call an exterminator. It's likely that the infestation is larger than it seems, or it could be fed by issues in adjacent apartments.

These professionals will use their tools and industrial-grade repellents and poisons to completely eliminate the problem. Be sure to contact your landlord before calling. That’s because they may require other tenants to leave the premises for an extended period. 

How to Prevent Cockroaches

It’s always better to be proactive as opposed to reactive. Here’s how to prevent cockroaches in your apartment. 

1. Clean the Apartment Regularly

Keeping your apartment clean is one of the most effective ways to prevent cockroaches. This method removes their source of food and reduces the chances of them making their way into your home. Be sure to:

  • Vacuum All Areas
  • Wash the Dishes
  • Sweep Up Crumbs on Floor
  • Clean Out Cabinets
  • Ensure all Food is Stored and Sealed Properly

2. Seal Any Cracks in Walls or Flooring and Leaks

Cockroaches are known to get in through even the smallest of openings, so preventing them means removing any and all of their entrances and exits. 

Ask your landlord or property manager to look for any cracks throughout your unit (and the property as a whole). They should seal any holes or cracks to prevent future infestations. 

3. Make Sure Windows are Properly Sealed

Sealing windows works to eliminate any entrances that cockroaches may have to your apartment. However, as roaches have the ability to fit through holes that are extremely small, it’s imperative to ensure that your windows are professionally sealed. 

Final Thoughts

Cockroaches are not only a gross nuisance, but they can also pose a significant threat to your health. That’s why it’s important to maintain a clean apartment at all times and take preventative steps to significantly reduce your chances of infestation. 

If you’re besieged by a roach infestation, talk to your landlord or property manager. They can help you get rid of the infestation and help prevent another one.

If you want to solve your roach problem by moving away from your apartment, why not get started with our easy quiz so you can get matched with a great place in your budget?

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Dr. Katherine Blake
CONTENT EDITOR
Dr. Katherine Blake is a content editor with Apartment List, where she helps ensure our renter and rental management content is fresh and informed by the latest data. Read More
Susan Finch
AUTHOR
Susan is an accomplished freelance writer whose passion for rental real estate, travel, and digital marketing has been the driving force behind her nearly 15-year career. Throughout her professional journey, Susan has become a seasoned veteran in creating compelling and informative content focused on the tenant/landlord relationship. Read More

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