Cockroaches – What are they?

Cockroaches have been an insect pest for about four million years with more than 3,500 species that exist worldwide including the Brown-banded cockroach, the Oriental cockroach, the American cockroach, the Smoky brown cockroach, the Wood cockroach and the German cockroach.

The German cockroach is one of the most common household cockroaches in the world. They are particularly fond of inhabiting restaurants, food processing facilities, hotel rooms and nursing homes. Although not very tolerant of the cold, this cockroach has been found in buildings as far north as Alert and Nunavut . Measuring about 1.3 cm to 1.6 cm (1/2 to 5/8 inch) long, it is tan to light brown with two dark parallel streaks running from the head to the base of the wings. Roaches have wings, but are unable to sustain flight.

Cockroaches will inhabit any area where food, water and shelter are available. They are attracted to buildings because of the warm, damp conditions offered by kitchens, bathrooms, basements and plumbing areas. Their presence does not necessarily mean unsanitary conditions exist. Roaches and their egg cases can hitch a ride into your home on various objects including used furniture, food items, empty beer and soft drink bottles and shipping cartons. Once inside a building, they travel quite easily. Because cockroaches are most active at night, they may go unnoticed for some time. Cockroaches are attracted to food sources which contain starches, sugars and protein, but will eat almost anything when hungry.

Cockroaches rarely cause structural damage. They can, however, contaminate food and spread disease by walking over, and excreting on, food or food preparation areas after having travelled through garbage and/or sewers. People with asthma may have a negative reaction to their feces and body parts.

Intensive sanitation measures and the use of pesticides should be used jointly to control cockroaches. Pesticides alone will not be successful as the habitat must be physically modified first.


Preventing access to food, water, shelter and maintaining a clean home are important steps in preventing any pest infestation.

  • Clean up spills immediately. Do not leave pet water and food out 24 hours a day.
  • Keep food in tightly sealed plastic or glass containers, rather than in paper or cardboard that roaches can chew through and lay eggs in.
  • Regularly clean dark and/or humid areas close to a food source, for example beneath and behind appliances, grease behind the stove and refrigerator.
  • Store garbage in sealed plastic containers and dispose of daily.
  • Do not allow dirty dishes to accumulate, especially overnight. If you cannot wash them immediately, leave them to soak in detergent and water.
  • Vacuum regularly to help remove food particles and insect egg masses.
  • Wrap or insulate pipes with excess condensation, repair leaky faucets and pipes, ventilate bathrooms and dehumidify moist areas to reduce sources of water.

Steam Cleaning, Vacuuming and Freezing

If furniture, toys or crafts are suspected of harbouring roaches, steam clean them if the material will not be damaged by moisture or heat. Regular vacuuming will remove food sources, cockroaches and egg cases. Ensure they are all destroyed by immersing the vacuum bag in soapy water. You can also freeze the infested items for 24 hours to a week at -8°C (17.6°F).


Traps, including sticky traps, allow you to monitor the population and location of roaches so that you know where to concentrate your efforts. Cockroach traps can be bought or easily built. Build one by spreading petroleum jelly on the interior of a small darkened jar and sticking masking tape on the outside for grip purposes. Place a small piece of food, like bread, inside the jar. Once a cockroach crawls in, it will not be able to crawl out. Cockroaches that have been caught can be killed in a bucket of soapy water, or by placing a lid on the jar and putting it in the freezer for at least 24 hours.

Sealing hiding spots and entry points

Seal and caulk all cracks, crevices and pipe openings to reduce cockroach hiding places. Put a fine mesh screen over cracks and crevices, vents, open pipes and drains to reduce their access to your home. Store garbage in metal or heavy plastic containers with tightly fitted lids and dispose of regularly. Store food in heavy plastic containers or glass jars.

Source: Health Canada – Cockroaches – Pest Note
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by
the Minister of Health Canada, 2009
HC Pub: 091050
ISBN: 978-1-100-15312-4
Catalogue Number: H113-1/6-2010E