We “Tested” 5 Ways to Get Rid of Cockroaches and Found 2 That Actually Work

published Oct 20, 2022
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A kitchen pictured with different cleaning products for getting rid of cockroaches.
Credit: Photos: Cleaning Methods: Sarah Crowley; Kitchen: Getty Images/ Cavan Images; Cockroach: watchara panyajun/Shutterstock

While sticky counters, crumbs, and unpleasant odors might make us uncomfortable in the kitchen, pests incite a different kind of disgust. And it’s safe to say, no pest is more dreaded than the cockroach. After all, seeing a cockroach in the kitchen almost always means there are more where you can’t see them. 

If you spot one, it’s important to get act fast so they don’t breed and create an even bigger cockroach problem. But what’s the best way? To find out which cockroach-busting methods actually work, from DIY natural techniques to more traditional traps you can order from Amazon, we talked to entomologist Lynn Kimsey, PhD, from the University of California, Davis.

What Attracts Roaches

Roaches are attracted to three key things: moisture, darkness, and warmth. Messiness, which often means food or places to hide, will also encourage roaches to make themselves at home in your home, as will food left out on counters or kept in non-airtight containers in cabinets. Roaches love flour, especially, so take it out of the bag and seal it in a plastic container. Or, better yet, keep your flour in the freezer.

Another roach magnet? Cardboard. So make sure to get rid of any paper bags or cardboard boxes you have hanging around. And if you’re seeing roaches on your countertops, you may want to check your coffee maker.

How We Tested the Different Methods

This cleaning showdown is a bit different from the rest because we didn’t actually test them out. That would require a cockroach infestation and, thankfully, none of us have that problem right now.

Instead, we researched common methods online and then asked a bug expert to weigh in on which methods work, which don’t work, and why. We then assigned them ratings based on how effective they are — and whether or not we’d feel safe using them around kids and pets.

Spoiler: Dealing with cockroaches is not the best time to test out dubious home remedies. Leaving this problem to the bug-killing experts who formulate insecticides is the wisest, quickest path to getting your kitchen roach-free. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

1. Cockroach Eliminating Method: Baking Soda and Sugar

Rating: 0/5

The method: Mix equal parts baking soda and sugar in a shallow bowl and place near the site of your last cockroach sighting. The idea is that the sugar attracts the cockroaches and the baking soda will kill them.

What the expert says: When asked about this method, Dr. Kimsey’s answer was blunt. “Baking soda won’t do anything and, besides, you need something that would attract them to it.” She conceded that sugar “might” attract them. But there’s little point to the cockroaches being attracted to the sugar if the baking soda won’t do anything to harm them! 

Dr. Kimsey says that while baking soda won’t kill cockroaches, boric acid will. While boric acid “only kills the ones that eat it,” Dr. Kimsey points out that cockroaches are “very clean animals” and “groom themselves constantly.” In other words, if they walked through any boric acid, they would eventually ingest it. 

There’s another caveat with boric acid, though. Boric acid attracts cockroaches but not from very far. In order for this method to work, you have to know where they are and put the boric acid there. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

2. Cockroach Eliminating Method: Spray with Dish Soap and Water

Rating: 1/5

The method: Mix dish soap and water in a spray bottle. When you spot a cockroach, spritz it a few times with the soapy solution.

What the expert says: Dr. Kimsey says that spraying cockroaches with soap and water won’t kill them. The only way dish soap could play a part in killing cockroaches is if the pests fell into a bowl of water mixed with dish soap. Since dish soap is a surfactant, it would break the surface tension of the water, speeding up drowning. 

She also notes that using a spray bottle on cockroaches that you see only addresses the “tip of the iceberg.” She points out, “Especially during the daytime, cockroaches are going to be undercover. They’re largely nocturnal.” 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

3. Cockroach Eliminating Method: Spray with Fabric Softener and Water

Rating: 1/5

The method: Mix fabric softener and water in a spray bottle. When you spot a cockroach, spritz it a few times with the solution.

What the expert says: This method is exactly as effective as the previous dish soap method, which is to say not at all. Fabric softener is a surfactant, and could accelerate the drowning of a cockroach that fell into a bowl of it mixed with water. However, fabric softener alone won’t harm them and addressing only the pests you see won’t do much to diminish the cockroach population in your house. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

4. Cockroach Eliminating Method: Combat Bait Station

Rating: 4/5

The method: The traps use a combination of food and insecticide. All you have to do is place them in areas like under the sink, behind toilets, and behind appliances.

What the expert says: Dr. Kimsey didn’t have much to say about this method except to say that she was sure it would work since it’s formulated to kill cockroaches. Over 23,000 high reviews on Amazon are also reassuring.

One thing to note is that the bait station is child-resistant, indicating that the ingredients might not be the safest around children and pets. While children might not be able to ingest something in a child-resistant container, I would be cautious leaving bait stations where my dogs could get to them, opting instead to put them in spots only the cockroaches could reach. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

5. Cockroach Eliminating Method: Harris Roach Tablets

Rating: 4/5

The method: This cockroach-killing option uses a combination of food and boric acid. As with the traps, leave these tablets in hidden areas where roaches like to lurk.

What the expert says: They’re attracted to it, they eat it, and they die, Dr. Kimsey explains, adding that “for some reason, boric acid directly affects the nervous system of insects but doesn’t affect vertebrates” in the same way.

If you’re tempted to use boric acid straight, consider what Dr. Kimsey tells us: Too much boric acid is a repellant. The ratio has to be enough but not too much, so opting for a pre-made boric acid product like these tablets is the most straightforward option if you go the boric acid route. 

As for safety, boric acid is used by doctors as an eye wash, as Dr. Kimsey points out. On the other hand, the substance can be toxic if ingested. This combined with the fact that the tablets look like candy would give me pause before using it around children or pets, even if used in hidden areas.