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What are the Signs of a Cockroach Infestation?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated May 16, 2024
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It is important to know about the signs that cockroaches have invaded. The most conclusive sign of a cockroach infestation is simply seeing them in the home, but because they are nocturnal insects they are not always easy to spot. Luckily, roaches also leave a tell-tale odor as well as other signs of infestation.

When a very severe infestation is present, cockroaches can often be seen during the day. These unpleasant insects are quite distinctive and are easily identified. Between half an inch (1.3 cm) and two inches (5 cm) long, roaches have flat elongated bodies and are colored light or dark brown or black. Along with six legs and a set of long antennae, these characteristics ensure that identifying a cockroach is usually a simple matter.

The more severe the infestation, the more cockroach sightings are likely during daylight hours. This is not the case 100% of the time, of course, and regular daytime sightings aren’t that common for minor infestations. Given that cockroaches are nocturnal and normally stay hidden during daylight hours, knowing how to recognize other signs of cockroach infestation is essential.

One of the most common signs that cockroaches are present in the home is the presence of what are known as shell casings. These are egg cases from recently hatched cockroaches, and appear as small dark brown oval-shaped casings. Another common sign is the presence of cockroach specks. These dark-colored specks are fecal pellets and regurgitated food, and look like grains of ground pepper.

Finally, there’s the smell. Cockroaches give off a strong, very oily odor, which becomes extremely pungent when large numbers of the insects are present. Aside from all the hygiene issues associated with a cockroach infestation, the smell itself is unpleasant and can permeate food that is left exposed to the air.

The problem is, controlling a cockroach infestation isn’t only about killing visible cockroaches, as even a minor infestation is usually much more extensive than it appears. More important than finding and eradicating a cockroach nest is making the home inhospitable to roaches so that they won’t want to come back. The use of a cockroach trap or cockroach bait can be essential for homes in cooler climates because roaches prefer warm habitats and often move inside during the winter. A serious cockroach infestation where several nests are involved will often mean pest control requires the help of an exterminator.

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Discussion Comments
By anon985175 — On Jan 14, 2015

I love roaches and enjoy sharing my home with them. They do their own thing at night, so do I. They have been here for millions of years I respect that. Not sure how they always end up dead on their back though.

By anon976836 — On Nov 06, 2014

I live in an old home in Florida and my yard is covered in vegetation and live oaks -- the perfect setting for roaches. It was infested when I moved in. I had a professional come out and he treated in the corner of every cabinet with a gel, used a granular bait behind every light/ electric outlet, and used a DE substance around the baseboards (I have two dogs and did not want poison on my floors.)

It cost $250 and two years later, I just saw the first live one I've seen since. I've probably seen seven or eight dead ones in those two years, so it was clearly working. I'm happy to pay the $250 for them to come back out.

If you can keep the American cockroach out of an old Florida home, then you are truly working miracles. I've heard that I can buy the gel and the granular and do it myself to save money, but I'll stick with the pros.

By anon958740 — On Jun 29, 2014

This will probably sound insane but here goes. When I found one of these critters in my kitchen, I immediately super cleaned everything including the oven. There was not one crumb available. Since I'm insanely afraid of them, I put borax detergent along the back of every cupboard in a thin line of course as well as the baseboards. So far it seems to be working quite well. Make sure it's the detergent though.

By anon358901 — On Dec 13, 2013

I swear some people just don't know when to keep their mouths closed.

I just moved into an apartment and a person who was 'helping' me said that a smell in the complex is because of an enormous cockroach infestation. The movers claimed that it was new carpet and the glue used in it.

I've seen two bugs and neither really looked like a cockroach. One was in the light and the other was fast but squished easily, and after checking all the cupboards, I saw there were no other intruders.

All I'm seeing now are cockroaches and you can be sure that I'm keeping my new apartment squeaky clean.

Another thing is that city inspectors have been here quite frequently. I'd think an apartment building infested with cockroaches would be condemned and demolished, maybe?

Needless to say, I've considered this a 'temporary living situation' and in a couple of years will be looking to buy a home.

By anon353918 — On Nov 04, 2013

We moved into a rental home and didn't notice the odor due to fresh paint smell. Now we smell the evidence of previous infestation. How do we get rid of the smell?

By anon346888 — On Sep 01, 2013

@SarahGen: You should definitely have told her. I've heard of these things making people sick or killing them when it's that many of them at once.

By anon344730 — On Aug 12, 2013

Recently I have had a problem with roaches in my house and I don't understand why. No our house is not the cleanest, but it's seen worse days and we didn't have roaches then! I don't understand why they are now just suddenly appearing. I never leave dishes in the sink anymore and I have scrubbed my kitchen from my ceiling to the floor. Still nothing.

My mother does have a lot of papers lying around the house, though; could that be the problem? But I usually only see them in the kitchen and occasionally in the bathroom and dining room table (where the papers are). Please if anyone can give me some advice or something, I can't live like this any longer and I don't have the funds to call an exterminator.

By anon334775 — On May 15, 2013

I saw what I thought was a roach, so I put out Raid bait stations. They said I would see dead roaches within a couple of hours, but it has been three days and no signs of any dead bodies or live ones. So I picked up a couple of roach motels and placed them in prime locations (beside the refrigerator and under the sink). Both are still empty. Is it realistic to think that I don't really have a roach problem or am I just being sublimely ignorant?

By anon329323 — On Apr 09, 2013

I find that Harris Roach Tablets sold in places like Home Depot or Loews or wherever you buy wood and doors, and tubs etc. worked really well. They contain Boric Acid but not as a loose powder which can harm kids and pets, they are in tablet form. You stash it wherever you think the infestation is a problem. In my case, I bought a car and unbeknownst to me, pests were in it. I bought the tablets, and in three days I saw dead bodies and nothing else.

By anon310346 — On Dec 21, 2012

I just had new carpet put in though entire house -- about 2,600 feet due to a broken pipe about two months ago. I've never experienced a roach problem. In fact, the leftover piece I put in my truck to do a carpet kit install because the old carpet is getting wear and tear also has larva and shining spots (eggs) that have never seen the inside of my father's house.

What should I do? To me, it seems like I purchased carpet that wasn't wrapped and stored properly.

By amypollick — On Dec 06, 2012

@anon307623: Sometimes, you can find effective remedies at the store. Look for a "roach motel" type of bait that says it takes care of the eggs, too. The roach takes the bait back to the nest and shares it. The adults die, the juveniles die, and more importantly, the ones who don't die can no longer reproduce.

I know another safe pesticide is pyrethrin spray. This is a natural insecticide that is very effective, and also safe for the environment. You can look it up to see where it might be available in your area.

I've had to deal with these suckers and I know it's no fun. Good luck.

By anon307623 — On Dec 06, 2012

Help. I recently found out we have cockroaches. We never have had this problem but we moved from a cold country to a hot country now. It barely was a problem if I left dishes overnight, but now that's something I can't even dream of.

We sprayed or fogged the kitchen twice and the apartment twice, but I am not sure which it was. I saw about five behind the washing machine, all dead after the whole apartment was done. Then after about a week, I saw a little dead cockroach near our cabinets and in the early morning near the sink, I saw a live one (also small).

A week passed and I saw a little cockroach again, this time near a spill of water from our water dispenser. It wasn't leaking before, but yesterday there was a spill so I killed it with a spray. I am making sure everything is dry. I haven't seen what I think are adult ones but also, haven't seen tiny ones, just like something small but not super small.

I am so worried. I have nothing in my kitchen. I barely cook now and I wash the dishes every night. I use bleach but I don't know. Are they still here? How can there be live ones? The pest control guy said they'd be gone and I'd never see one again. I am so upset. It will be Christmas soon and I like to cook and be in the kitchen but not like this.

By bluedolphin — On Dec 04, 2012

@simrin-- If you want to be sure of whether you have an infestation or not, you can call pest control. They know what signs to look out for.

I personally think that the best way to get rid of cockroaches is hygiene. If you keep the house clean, throw away all trash and never keep food out, the roaches should go away. They don't really stay where they can't eat.

People who have cockroach infestations usually do because they don't do a good job of cleaning the kitchen. If even a few food particles remain on the ground, that's dinner for the roaches.

By SteamLouis — On Dec 04, 2012

I think I have a cockroach infestation but I'm not sure. I've only seen one cockroach in the house but I have seen some of those shell things the article mentioned. If there is an infestation, how do I get rid of these roaches before their numbers get out of hand?

By SarahGen — On Dec 03, 2012

I stayed at a friend's house one night several months ago. Neither my friend nor I had any idea that there were cockroaches in the home. I had not seen anything at all during the day.

I always feel thirst at night so I got up in the middle of the night and went to the kitchen to get some water. I've never been so shocked in my life. I turned the light on and there were cockroaches everywhere. Probably about thirty or more all around the kitchen counters. I cannot explain how grossed out I felt at that moment, especially because I had eaten the food cooked in that kitchen during the day.

I think my friend is not aware that she has a cockroach infestation because she doesn't wake up at night. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to embarrass her. Let's just say that I will never stay at her house again.

By irontoenail — On Nov 19, 2012

It's taken me a while, but I've tried really hard to not see cockroaches as being completely unpleasant. I mean, I wouldn't let them take up residence in my home, by any means. But, there are some native cockroaches here that are completely harmless and don't infest homes the way that the other kinds of cockroaches do.

But every time I would see them in the garden, I would have a gut reaction to try and crush them. I try not to take life unless there's a reason and so I've been trying to stop myself from having that gut reaction. It's a bad idea to hate anything just because it reminds you of something bad. Just something to think about.

By MrsPramm — On Nov 19, 2012

@klorine - It might depend on your area, but I don't think you are completely limited to chemicals. An exterminator may have organic, environmentally friendly options as well. It's a matter of calling around different cockroach pest control folk and finding the best option.

You might also want to look up the best way to get rid of roaches online, as there are probably all kinds of creative solutions available.

By croydon — On Nov 18, 2012

@anon291672 - If you can't find evidence of any others, I wouldn't worry too much. Sometimes a cockroach is alone. However, if you are worried, there are definitely home pest control people who will come over and give you a free consultation before offering their services.

You just need to make sure that you've found one that's going to be honest with you and not try to talk you into buying services that you don't need.

But they might be able to find traces of an infestation that you've missed and if you're truly worried, it will give you peace of mind either way.

By anon291672 — On Sep 15, 2012

I found one large cockroach on my counter a few days ago, but that's the only one I've seen. I've checked all my cupboards, behind the fridge and stove and have found no traces of any others. Should I call an exterminator anyway? Or just be lucky it was only one? I know they say where there is one, there are more, but I've lived here for two years and this was the only one I've seen.

By Albona — On Jul 15, 2010

@klorine - I’m afraid more drastic action is necessary to rid your home of the pests. If they keep coming back like that, you have an infestation that won’t be staved off by killing them one by one no matter how many of them you’ve killed.

Cockroaches are scavengers, and they aren’t above eating the dead bodies of their own kind. So by killing them that way, you are in fact doing the rest of infestation a huge favor by giving them food. I would seek out an exterminator.

By klorine — On Jul 15, 2010

My house has a bad cockroach problem. We have an outdoor sunroom that we all like to hang out it in, especially at night when it’s cooler. But every time I go out there, I swear there are no less than five new cockroaches. I squash them whenever I see them, but they just keep coming back. I’m pretty sure they like to eat the dead bodies of their fellow cockroaches. Am I making the problem worse by creating cockroach food? Is the only next step a chemical solution?

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