What Attracts Roaches in the First Place?

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: September 26, 2023
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Of all the things to see in your home or business, cockroaches are certainly one of the most feared and reviled. Many things attract roaches, both in the wild and at home. They’re notorious for their unpleasant odor and ability to spread disease, but would you believe that less than 1% of all cockroach species ever pose a problem to humans?

Roaches may have a bad reputation, but they’re a vital part of our global ecosystem. Without cockroaches, we wouldn’t have any means of disposing of rotting vegetation, food, and animal matter. That notwithstanding, we still prefer them to stay clear of our homes.

But what attracts roaches? Here, we’ll learn more about what makes them unable to stay away. We’ll take a deep dive into just what substances, smells, and habitats are most loved by these disease-carrying pests. Then, we’ll go over what to do if you suddenly find cockroaches, or if you find them inhabiting perhaps the worst place of all—your bedroom.

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After that we’ll analyze all the signs of a cockroach infestation, and what you can do to get rid of them. Finally, we’ll learn more about what keeps roaches away, and just how effective lights are against these six-legged insects.

How Do You Get Roaches in the First Place?

Left out food, waste, garbage, clutter, moisture, heat, and darkness are all things that attract roaches. As you might expect, this means they’re most likely to be found in areas like kitchens, basements, and cluttered or dirty areas. But—you don’t have to have a dirty home to have cockroaches. Cockroaches can invade homes for no reason other than they have easy access through sewage or plumbing lines. Some of the most common pest species are the American, German, and Oriental cockroaches.

What Smells Are Cockroaches Most Attracted To?

What do Cockroaches Eat

Leftover food, spilled liquids, human and animal waste, and warm, dark places to hide all attract roaches


Cockroaches are omnivores; food smells attract roaches more than any other smell. Like many home invaders, they go wherever they smell food. Secondary to food, cockroaches are attracted to the pheromones of other roaches. When cockroaches eat, breed, and poop, they release pungent pheromones that often leave stains. These smells attract other roaches—and disgust humans.

What Causes Roaches All of a Sudden?

You know what attracts roaches. But what could be responsible for several of them all running about as though they have a right to be in your home? The sudden appearance of cockroaches may herald a hidden infestation. If you see one, there are probably many more you can’t see. And once you’ve seen your first roach, you’ll start noticing them, and their sign, more and more. The cause may be as simple as a morsel of forgotten food that’s fallen behind the sofa—or a soggy cardboard box in the basement. Things like human skin cells, animal waste, and spilled liquids also attract roaches. 

What Attracts Roaches to Your Bedroom?

Imagine; you’re just getting ready to go to bed. You’ve got your pajamas on, you’ve brushed your teeth—and you see a cockroach scurry across your pillow. 

There are few things that evoke such a feeling of disgust as a roach in the bedroom, but what attracts roaches to this most sacred of domiciles in the first place? The answer is fairly broad: anything from a spilled drink to a crumb of food to a pile of unswept skin cells can draw a cockroach to your bedroom—or to any room in your house. Don’t worry though; there’s nothing special about roaches in the bedroom; you eliminate them just the same way you would were they in any other area of your home.

Signs of a Cockroach Infestation

Seeing a cockroach is only the first sign of a roach infestation. Other signs include the presence of shed exoskeletons, egg cases, baby cockroaches  (also called ‘nymphs’), and roach poop. Often, these signs will be most dense in the areas where cockroaches congregate: under the sink cabinets, behind refrigerators, in basements, behind and under furniture, and anywhere that provides them with darkness and warmth and easy access to food and water.

How Do You Get Rid of Roaches?

Cockroaches are one of the most common pests in homes and restaurants. If you suspect a roach infestation, your first step may be to call a professional pest exterminator. If you prefer to do things your own way, you may want to start with bait or glue traps. Glue traps enable you to track the worst sources of infestation, and target those areas specifically. Next, you’ll want to buy some pesticides, like boric acid, to kill the cockroaches at the source. Use caution though; most pesticides are toxic to humans and pets.

baby cockroach closeup

Roaches love leftovers; they also love cluttered, dirty areas


What Keeps Roaches Away?

Many things attract roaches; these include left out food, garbage, animal and human waste, and unclean surroundings. So, if you want to keep cockroaches out of your home or business, the first, and easiest step, is to clean up. Start by putting away all leftover food immediately, and washing dishes rather than leaving them out with food on them. Next, clean up any sources of clutter; corrugated cardboard in particular attracts roaches. 

Keeping a house or business clean is only one step to preventing cockroach infestations. You should also check all plumbing fixtures (feel free to call in a professional) to ensure that they are tightly sealed, with no room for roaches to enter around the pipes. Next, check to make sure that all other household holes, like old radiator holes, are plugged up.

Will Keeping the Lights On Keep Cockroaches Away?

Many people wonder: if I just keep the lights on, will it keep the roaches away? The answer, sadly, is no. Cockroaches are nocturnal and naturally avoid the light as a defense mechanism against predators; but the light doesn’t actually hurt them. Leaving the lights on may make it harder for you to see cockroaches—but they’re still there, they’re just a little better hidden. 

What Are Some Natural Ways to Deter Roaches?

Hiring an exterminator may be expensive, and roach traps and pesticides are another cost. On top of that, pesticides can be dangerous to humans and the environment. So, how can you deter roaches with natural remedies?

We discussed which smells attract cockroaches, so now let’s talk about the smells that deter roaches. For instance, roaches hate the smell of lavender. What luck! Humans love lavender, so you can get some lavender-fragranced candles or spray, or you can grow lavender plants in your garden and enjoy the calming scent while roaches run away!

Similar results can be had with citronella, eucalyptus, citrus, or mint: use candles, sprays, or oils, or grow the plants. In the case of citrus, you can spread lemon peels around your house (inside or outside).

An alternative to these pleasant scents is the use of garlic or oregano, both of which deter roaches. You can crush garlic and spread it inside or outside your home where you know the roaches tend to come in. You can put oregano oil with water to make a spray for areas where you have seen roaches.

All of these deterrents are low-cost, environmentally safe, and natural, and they can add a pleasant scent to your house while keeping away the roaches!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/gan chaonan

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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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