Cockroaches have the dirtiest habits of all their cousins. They spend time in sewers and consume feces and garbage. More importantly, they have been implicated in the transmission of a number of diseases.

The good news is that of more than 4,500 identified species of cockroaches, only about 30 actually affect humans. In the United States, only three main cockroach varieties pose a problem.

Risk of Disease and Illness from Roaches

According to the World Health Organization, cockroaches are considered disease vectors. A disease vector is any animal that carries a disease from one organism to another without catching the disease itself.

Living in drains, outbuildings, sheds, latrines and other places where human waste resides, cockroaches are primary carriers of filth and disease. They have been implicated in the spreading of a range of infections and symptoms like diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, leprosy, plague, typhoid fever and polio.

Cockroaches also cause respiratory issues, leaving behind allergens that are the leading cause of childhood asthma in some U.S. cities, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

However, general cleaning practices, proven extermination techniques and consistent maintenance methods can bring these allergen levels under control.

These insects also degrade the cleanliness of environments, which can itself heighten the risk of disease, even if the cockroaches themselves aren’t carrying it. They chew fabrics and furniture, leave litter and droppings, and create a noxious smell which can be very strong and long-lasting if not dealt with quickly.

Facts and Statistics

Disgusting as they may appear to humans, cockroaches are an impressive species. They can run up to three miles an hour, even when they are a day old.

They can hold their breaths for up to 40 minutes and can even withstand full submersion in water for up to 30 minutes. Of course, these are also testaments to how hard they are to kill and how quickly they can spread disease.

Unlike many other insects that mate and reproduce once per life cycle, most cockroaches reproduce multiple times in a lifetime. Each female German cockroach will lay up to eight egg capsules in her lifetime, each containing 40 or so eggs, reports the EPA. The American cockroach, on the other hand, may lay up to 14 capsules, each containing up to 16 eggs.

According to Pest World, Cockroaches are believed to have originated more than 280 million years ago in the Carboniferous era. As cold-blooded insects, they can live without food for one month but only one week without water. They spend 75% of their time resting and can withstand temperatures as cold as 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Identifying Cockroaches

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified the three common roaches affecting the United States:

The German cockroach (Blattella germanica) is between 1/2 to 5/8 inches long. It is tan or light brown, has long antennae, and a dark stripe on either side of its head. Because they like being near food and moisture, the most common locations for German cockroaches include the bathroom, kitchen, pantry and other areas where food is stored.

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is about 1.5 inches long and darker than its German counterpart, with a reddish-brown body and yellow outer edges. The hairs on its legs are spikier and more noticeable than those of other species. American cockroaches prefer decaying matter to food and are more commonly located in drains, basements, plumbing, sewers, underneath stoves and refrigerators, or in piles of fabrics.

The brownbanded cockroach (Supella longipalpa) is about a half inch long and brown, with two lighter bands running across the top of its abdomen. Not requiring as much moisture as the American and German cockroaches, it can be found farther from water sources. It often hides in furniture, nests behind wall hangings, and lives in cabinets or closets.

Roach Inspection

The first and greatest sign of cockroach presence is their feces, which appears as brown or black speckles similar to coffee grounds. Some larger species may drop what look like tiny cylinders. The more feces, the greater your infestation is likely to be.

Other telltale signs of these roaches are egg casings. These oval-shaped whitish sacs are often tucked into out-of-the-way places. Dead cockroaches and a strong, rancid or musty smell are more obvious signs that you have an infestation on your hands. If you spot a cockroach alive in your home, it likely isn’t the only one around.

Check under sinks, in cabinets, at the base of the floor in the pantry, in basements and garages, and anywhere else you smell a strong odor.

Roach Treatment

If you do have an infestation on your property, you have three options:

  1. Treat your home. This means using natural or chemical methods to kill cockroaches and get rid of the infestation.
  2. Manage your environment to make it less conducive to cockroaches. This usually includes getting rid of decaying matter such as old newspapers, clearing clutter in pantries and cabinets and under sinks, and cleaning up in and around your home.
  3. Call in a professional. In some cases, you simply won’t be able to deal with the problem yourself. It might be too long-established, or the cockroaches may be too resilient for you to handle it on your own.

The two most common methods of treating for cockroaches include baiting and the use of chemicals. While both can be effective, you should choose the one that is best for your home environment and the most useful against the specific cockroach species invading it.

Natural and Chemical Methods

Before you try chemicals, you might want to experiment with natural methods. Mother Earth News advises combining sugar and borax and using those in bait stations. Be aware that this is not any less dangerous to children and pets than cockroach bait – it is only less damaging to the environment.

You can also set out trays of baking soda, which is completely harmless to people and pets. However, the baking soda method makes roaches very gassy. Because they cannot expel gas, the insects will explode and create a gruesome mess.

There are also chemical treatments available to help you rid your home of these pests. The Pesticide Research Institute cautions against using aerosol sprays or foggers, due to the high probability of exposure during the application from inhaling them. Fogging also distributes pesticide residues throughout the home and is an explosion risk in homes with gas appliances. Outdoor sprays can drift away and pose a threat to non-target wildlife like bees or other beneficial insects.

If you do determine that you need a chemical formula, the Pest Smart app can help you identify your pest type and find the most appropriate and lowest-impact bait solution to defeat it. The safest way to use bait stations is by placing them behind objects, where they will not be stepped on or tracked, and where children and animals cannot access them. Beware of putting bait stations in plants, as most cockroach baits are toxic to them.

There are a few main bait types, including granules, blocks, gels and liquids. Gels and liquids are poured into bait containers, into which cockroaches will climb to get at the bait. Because these types are contained, they are safer for homes with children or pets. Granules cover a wider area, and may resolve the problem more quickly. Always follow package instructions carefully.

Place these formulas in locations where cockroaches commonly gather, including under sinks and in cabinets, behind the stove, and around food storage areas, making very sure to keep them out of contact with food.

Ongoing Prevention and Sanitation

After treating your home, you will still need to maintain a clean environment to keep cockroaches away. This means always wiping up after meals, cleaning the stove, and promptly putting away all food. When bringing in food from outside sources, always inspect it to ensure you have not accidentally carried roaches in with you. Wash dirty dishes regularly and don’t leave them in the sink overnight.

Promptly get rid of old newspapers, fabrics, cardboard, and recycling. Don’t let anything accumulate in a pantry, closet or garage when it could be properly disposed of. Remove garbage on a routine basis, and put it in a curbside container right away. Clean behind your refrigerator and stove regularly.

You can also prevent entry by using weather-sealed doors and caulking cracks between floors and walls, walls and ceilings and around windows, in your home and garage.

When to Call a Professional

Sometimes, of course, you won’t be able to deal with the cockroach infestation on your own. Some signs that you need to call in a professional include:

  • You’ve treated more than once, but the infestations just keep coming back.
  • You notice roaches appearing in new areas of your home or property, indicating a systemic problem.
  • You have cleared up and cleaned out your home environment to make it less roach-friendly, but it doesn’t seem to be making a difference.
  • The infestation is visibly getting worse.
  • Smells are getting stronger.
  • Your children seem to be having a reaction to the presence of cockroaches.

If you have experienced any of the above – and in many cases, you will notice multiple signs – ask a professional exterminator about the methods they might employ. Let them know if there are pets or children in the home. The exterminator will help you determine the best course of action to help prevent a recurrence of the infestation and get your home back to normal.