Home Remedies for Roaches: Fact vs. Fiction

Many home remedies for cockroaches are not as effective as the internet makes them out to be.

Some are downright myths, but others might actually help you get rid of—or at least reduce the number of—cockroaches infesting your home. So which home remedies actually work?

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 companies.

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 so-called “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:

Home Remedies for Roaches That Are True (or Partially True)

Boric Acid: True

Boric acid and sodium borate salts (borax) are natural pesticides and an effective home remedy for cockroaches. You can usually find it in the form of a white powder or dust at your local pharmacy or home goods store. It also sometimes comes as a gel pre-packaged in small syringes.

Boric acid works on roaches by destroying the linings of their gut and attacking their nervous system. It also acts as a desiccant, damaging their exoskeleton and causing them to dry out.

Sprinkle a light dusting of boric acid powder in places where cockroaches are active. When they walk through it, the powder clings to their bodies. The roaches end up ingesting the boric acid later when they groom themselves.

Another way to use boric acid as a remedy for roaches is mixing it with foods they like to eat as bait. You can find several recipes online for making boric acid bait balls out of various ingredients you already have in your kitchen.

Cockroaches will eat the poisoned bait, wander back to their nest, and die. Other roaches that eat the dead roaches will also get poisoned and die.

As an important safety reminder, boric acid is a substance marketed to kill roaches. It is dangerous to humans and animals if swallowed or breathed in. It can also be irritating to the skin. Always keep boric acid out of reach from children and pets, and avoid using it near food preparation areas.

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Diatomaceous Earth: True

Diatomaceous earth is also a useful home remedy for roaches, as well as other pests 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 diatomaceous earth is 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 the roaches to die.

One important thing to note, if you decide to try this remedy, is to only use diatomaceous marked as “food grade.” Other types of diatomaceous earth (“pool grade” or “garden grade”) are 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.

There isn’t enough data to give a conclusive evaluation of baking soda’s effectiveness as a roach-killer. One study found that baking soda and sugar were approximately as effective as boric acid when fed to cockroaches under laboratory conditions, but it’s unclear if those results would hold up in a real-life scenario.

One 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 the baking soda and sugar mixture might kill a few roaches, but after a while they may learn to avoid it.

Another potential drawback is that baking soda requires water to activate—which cockroaches don’t normally drink a lot of (they only need a single drop a day to survive). 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: Somewhat True

Another home remedy for cockroaches is to spray them with isopropyl alcohol.

But since this isn’t a recommended form of pest control, there isn’t much data on the exact amount and 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—not something you want to be spraying around your home willy-nilly.

Second, 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 not terribly effective at getting rid of an infestation.

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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. One study showed that while cucumber wasn’t a cockroach’s favorite food, it actually attracted 1 or 2 of them over a 6 hour period.

But another study by the Ohio Academy of Science 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 x 17 cm area, so there is no guarantee it would work on an entire apartment. 

So while it seems somewhat effective, your time and effort is probably best spent elsewhere (e.g. cleaning and vacuuming to prevent roaches in the first place) rather than leaving small piles of crushed cucumber slices around the house.

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Soaps and Detergents: Somewhat True

What about spraying cockroaches directly with soap or detergent? Some websites say to use 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, cockroaches tend to live in large groups, 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 websites 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 very 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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Bay Leaves: Mostly False

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—but we don’t know of any data that actually supports the repellent properties of bay leaves. Based on stories we’ve heard from our clients, this “remedy” doesn’t seem to make a noticeable difference.

Technically speaking, the essential oil from bay leaves has the potential to kill certain pests, but this requires applying oil distilled from the leaves directly onto the insects.

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

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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.

So strictly speaking, using lemon or citrus essential oils is not an effective remedy for cockroaches. But cleaning is always a great idea since it helps removes potential food sources and hiding places.

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Dryer Sheets: Mostly False

While some studies suggest that dryer sheets have some anti-pest uses in repelling fungus gnats, there’s no evidence that they’re effective against cockroaches.

So where did this rumor originate?

Linalool is an alcohol derived from plants, and it gives dryer sheets their distinctive scent. In sufficient concentrations, linalool 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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What’s the Best Way to Get Rid of Cockroaches?

Based on our experience as pest control professionals, 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.
  • Seal Entry Points: 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.
  • Declutter: 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.
  • Clean and Vacuum Regularly: 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 get rid of cockroaches in your home, grab a sponge and a bucket of soapy water (lemon juice optional). 

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About MMPC: Eco-Friendly Pest Control in NYC

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 us a call today!