Cockroaches are one of the worst pests to have in the home. They’re quick, can fit into extremely small spaces, and tend to do all their havoc-wreaking when we’re not looking or when we’re asleep. If you’re dealing with your own roach problem, you’re probably wondering how the heck to get rid of those creepy crawlers?
Cockroaches have an incredible sense of smell that they use to find food. You can take advantage of this fact by using scents they dislike such as thyme, citrus, basil, mint, and citronella to repel them from your home.
Below we’ll walk you through exactly how to repel cockroaches with scents they dislike. We’ll go over where to put these scents and what else you can do to repel these pests from your home for good!
Why Use Scents To Repel Cockroaches?
When it comes to your home, there’s no question about it: cockroaches do NOT belong inside it! So, when you see those skittering critters you may want to run to the store and grab the strongest stuff you can to get rid of them.
So why even bother using scents they dislike?
Roaches are Persistent and Resistant
Cockroaches have a certain reputation. They are survivors.
If you are dealing with a roach problem in your home, then you know those buggers are persistent. It’s this persistent trait that makes some commercial insecticides useless. Cockroaches reproduce so rapidly that they can quickly develop a resistance to certain insecticides.
Because of this, it’s not a bad idea to try something different. Something that’s not mass-produced on the market that a cockroach is likely already resistant to.
Scents Can Be Used Naturally
We all know the icky chemical smell associated with pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. We’ve all read the warning labels on such products and seen the giant exclamation mark that grabs our attention.
Using scents and smells to repel cockroaches is a more natural and sometimes organic approach to pest management. The chemicals and ingredients in the scents are found in nature, such as limonene, which is a scent repellent that comes from citrus fruits.
You won’t have to worry about your home smelling like a chemical lab. Many of the scents and smells are appealing to humans, like peppermint, but repulsing to roaches.
Scents Help Prevent a Cockroach Infestation
Scents are an excellent option for those that do not have a roach infestation yet. If you see one or two scuttling about, that’s the time to start using repellent scents.
If a home becomes infested with cockroaches, using scent repellents must be paired with other management strategies to effectively eliminate the pests. More on that later!
For now, just know that scents and smells are a good deterrent for cockroaches. It will not eliminate your problem if it’s already out of hand. In that case, you’ll want to consult a professional to help get rid of your pest problem.
Before getting into the specific scents, I highly recommend bookmarking our guide on getting rid of roaches already INSIDE your house – it’s great a tool that offers supplemental advice that works hand in hand with the scents we’ll recommend below.
8 Scents That Roaches Hate (And How To Use Them)
Roaches can cause all kinds of problems within the house. Just because you only see one or two scurrying about doesn’t mean there aren’t dozens or *gulp* hundreds of them lurking about.
Those who are sensitive to allergies can have a real tough time when cockroaches are around. The excrement and shed skin of cockroaches can cause allergic reactions and asthma.
Additionally, cockroaches didn’t get their reputation for being dirty pests for no reason. These pests will eat ANYTHING, including feces. Because of this, they don’t really see a difference between food left on the counter and the animal droppings from mice or other pests.
When cockroaches move between feces and food, they can spread pathogens that can cause illness.
Needless to say, roaches need repelling! Here are some scents you can use to repel these creepy crawlers from your home.
Minty Smells Repulse Cockroaches
Everyone loves the fresh smell of mint. Some like it in their chocolate, their ice cream, or in their hard candy. Whatever your preference, humans seem to enjoy the smell of mint.
Roaches? Not so much.
But that’s good news for us! In a study done with German Cockroaches, corn mint oil was found to be highly effective at repelling roaches.
Without getting too bogged down in the science, corn mint oil contains menthol and menthone, which both repel cockroaches. You can purchase it online such as Plant Guru’s Cornmint Essential Oil.
Essential oils are typically concentrated, undiluted oils derived from plants. Because of this, you can make the container last longer by diluting it with water.
To use corn mint oil to repel cockroaches, place 12-16 drops of the essential oil for every cup of water. Place the mixture in a glass spray bottle. Once you’ve established the cockroach hotspots using your sticky traps, spray the areas vigorously.
We recommend reapplying your spray at least once a week, but every 3-5 days is better. As we said before, aim for cracks, openings, holes, and any other small space that roaches might be. Spraying large open spaces will not be as effective as spraying the cracks where roaches hide.
Another mint-family relative is catnip. Even though catnip may attract your cats and have them zonk out after its calming effects take place, it definitely has repellent properties for cockroaches.
Garlic & Lavender Essential Oils Effectively Reduces Cockroach Eggs
In a recent study we found, researchers out of Thailand tested the effectiveness of eight plant essential oils. They found that A. sativum (garlic essential oil) resulted in a 96.75% cockroach egg mortality.
This figure was actually the highest out out of any essential oil they tested, with lavender and kitchen mint being some of the more effective oils as well.
However, their findings indicated particularly that garlic essential oil and mandarin orange oil showed the most potential as botanical based insecticides against cockroaches.
So, your best bet here is to use some diluted garlic oil while cleaning around the house – or you can simply soak some rags in a diluted garlic oil mixture around the house in closed off areas where you want to prevent cockroaches from coming in. You can also do the same with lavender and even use dried lavender sachets!
Just remember that these scents were effective in eliminating cockroach eggs and not JUST as repellents.
Cockroaches Hate Citronella
We’ve all heard of how awesome citronella candles are at repelling mosquitoes. Can they really repel cockroaches too?
Citronella candles aren’t very effective at repelling cockroaches. BUT citronella oil is! The reason the candles are not effective is that, even though cockroaches have wings, they rarely fly. The candles target flying insects like mosquitoes and gnats.
That’s alright because we can still use citronella oil to keep cockroaches at bay. Something like UpNature Citronella Essential Oil can help repel those roaches. You can use it in a spray by adding 10-15 drops for every cup of water.
Alternatively, you can dilute the oil in the same manner and then soak a piece of cloth or paper towel in the mixture. Place these items near cockroach lairs to repel them.
Another citronella scent you can use is called citronellic acid and is actually derived from lemongrass.
The Sweet Scent of Pine To Repel Roaches
Pinene is a word you may not be familiar with, but we all know the scent of it. When we’re walking through a lush pine forest, crunching over fallen pine needles, and take a deep breath…ah, pine scent!
Beta-pinene has a scent similar to basil and hops and comes from pine trees, cedar trees, parsley, and tons of other plants. Without getting too bogged down with science again, beta-pinene is a terpene, which has been known to repel cockroaches and in some instances eliminate them.
The best part? This amazing-smelling oil can be used to repel cockroaches. You can buy it in oil form like FOGG Isolates Beta Pinene. Simply add a dozen drops to a cup of water and you’re ready to start spraying!
Beta pinene’s cousin, alpha-pinene, is also repellent to cockroaches, but it’s not quite as effective.
Thyme To Repel Cockroaches
It’s thyme, er, time, to repel those cockroaches for good! An easy way to do this is by using the herb thyme.
Thyme contains a chemical called carvacrol which roaches seem to despise. Like many of the scents on our list, thyme comes as an essential oil that you can dilute and then place in a spray.
Another way you can use thyme to repel cockroaches is by actually planting the herb. This method is best used if you do not have a roach problem yet, but are worried about them coming inside.
You can also sprinkle dried and crushed thyme in roach hot spots to keep them repelled from certain areas.
Use Basil To Keep Roaches Away
Remember our pal beta-pinene? Basil has a similar scent and can be used to repel roaches from your home. It contains the chemical linalool, which is the repellent factor in basil.
Just like thyme, basil comes as an essential oil that you can concoct into a spray, but you can also simply plant the herb around your house to repel cockroaches before they enter.
Just be sure they’re not already inside your home, or they may be repelled from going back out!
Citrus Fruits Can Repel Roaches
Last on our list of scents and smells that roaches hate is citrus smells. We put this one last because it tends to be the least effective in studies. However, in the study we mentioned in the garlic section, researchers did find that mandarin orange oil did show some cockroach repelling promise.
However, it does still have a repellent effect, and you may have citrus fruits around the house that you can use today while you figure out a more permanent solution.
You can use the rinds of citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes. Tuck the rinds into corners and cracks where the roaches seem the most concentrated. You’ll want to replace the rinds at least once a week to remain effective.
How To Use Scents and Smells To Repel Cockroaches
So… Where the heck do you put these scents?
This depends on what kind of cockroach you’re dealing with. You don’t necessarily need to know which species of cockroach it is (There are thousands…yep, I said thousands), but identification may help if you decide to go the professional route.
If you’re finding roaches in your kitchen or bathroom, you’re most likely dealing with the most common household cockroach: the German cockroach. They hang out in warm, moist areas like the space beneath a leaky bathroom sink, behind toilets, and under appliances that give off warmth.
Finding roaches in your basement or floor drains? It’s probably an Oriental or American cockroach.
You get the point.
Certain roaches will gravitate toward certain areas. If you can figure out what kind of cockroach you’re dealing with, you may be able to figure out the best area to use your repellent.
It’s not recommended to use any repellent or insecticide on countertops, floors, or baseboards, as it’s not likely to be effective. You’ll need to target the specific area where the cockroaches are congregating.
With that being said, it’s always a safe bet to spray any cracks, entryways, pipe entrances, holes, or any opening that leads inside the walls or ceilings such as electrical wiring entry points. Roaches use these openings as a highway to move around your house and between apartments.
These conspicuous openings are the main reason why some well-kept clean apartments and homes find themselves infested with roaches. The buggers will scurry through cracks as small as 1/16th of an inch, zipping from apartment to apartment looking for food.
No thank you!
Use Bait Traps Before Using Scents For Roaches
So, how exactly can you figure out where cockroaches are hanging out? Many professionals suggest starting with bait traps before you begin repelling.
Bait traps like the Greener Mindset Roach Trap will give you a good idea of where the thickest group of cockroaches are in your home. This comes with 12 traps that you can place around your home. Think underneath the kitchen sink, beneath or behind large appliances, in the basement near a floor drain, or in your cabinets.
After a few days to a week, you can check the sticky traps and see which ones have caught the most. This is where you’ll want to concentrate your repellent efforts.
Another important note about using scents and smells is that you’ll need to reapply them often. Repellents work by teaching the cockroach to stay away from the areas that you’ve used repellents on.
If the repellent doesn’t stay in place, the roach will not learn to stay away from that area and will keep coming back. In the same line of thinking, you’ll want to make sure to use repellents on ALL areas where cockroaches are. Otherwise, they’ll just move to a different area of the house and continue reproducing.
Now that we’re all thoroughly creeped out, let’s take a look at some of the scents and smells you can use to deter cockroaches from coming near your home or apartment.
How To Repel Roaches Long Term
Cockroaches aren’t like other pests. They tend to hide where we can’t see them and reproduce quickly enough to become immune to certain repellents.
In less than a year, a single German cockroach can produce thousands of new cockroaches. Yuck.
While scents and sprays can be effective at repelling cockroaches from certain areas, it’s not a solution to your problem. To really get rid of cockroaches you’ll need to combine several different methods.
Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it all so you can be rid of your cockroach problem for good!
If you’re interested, you can read our full in-depth guide on the best sprays, baits, and traps for german cockroaches here.
Keep It Clean!
Roaches are attracted to food and moisture. Dirty dishes laying in a semi-wet sink are like a flashing ‘Eat Here’ light attracting cockroaches.
Spilled food or liquids should be cleaned up promptly. If you know you have a roach problem, avoid leaving foods such as fruits, vegetables, and bread out on the counter. Be sure to pick up pet food at night if you have it on the floor.
Garbage is a buffet to cockroaches. Not only is the smell strong enough to attract them, but the garbage can also be moist and warm from food scraps. Be sure to take your garbage out every few days to keep the smell and moisture down.
Believe it or not, many cockroaches find their way into your home through grocery bags, furniture, and paper. If you have newspapers lying around, think about storing them somewhere else or in a sealed container. Check your groceries before bringing them inside.
Seal It Up!
As we mentioned before, cockroaches use small cracks and holes as highways to move between rooms, cabinets, and even between apartments.
Check the areas where your plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom meets the wall. If there is even a tiny bit of space, a roach can fit through it. Seal it up with caulking.
Another place to look is where any electrical wiring meets the wall. This can be a way that roaches are making their way into your home and should be sealed properly.
Take Care Of Your Yard
Some cockroaches like the Wood Cockroach cannot survive indoors. However, they will occasionally make their way indoors during the warmer seasons like spring and summer.
Be sure to check for any cracks in your foundation, any openings from the outside, and make sure all screens in windows are properly sealed.
If you have woodpiles or stacks of building material in your yard, be sure to check them before bringing them inside the house. Keep them neatly stacked and, if possible, off the ground.
Clear away any vegetation or vines that are close to your house as these can house roaches and other unwanted guests.
Boric Acid & Diatomaceous Earth Dusts
Roaches can be repelled and even eliminated with the use of insecticidal dust treatments. Something like Harris Boric Acid Powder is an excellent product for cockroaches. It comes with a duster to help distribute the product easily in your home.
The way these dust products work is the particles will get attached to the cockroach as they move over them. Later, when the roach is preening itself it will ingest the product. The roach is either eliminated or made very sick, warning it never to go back to that area.
As with any product you buy, be sure to read the label for directions on how to apply and any precautions you might need to take. You may want to go gung-ho with this product, but less is better as roaches will avoid heavily-dusted areas.
What Smell Do Roaches Love?
Now that we know what scents cockroaches hate, let’s talk about what they love. This way, you can avoid having anything with these scents out in the open.
Roaches love the smell of sweets. Anything with sugar including chocolate, cookies, and fruits is a major attractant for cockroaches. If you keep sugar on the counter for baking, be sure it’s sealed properly to keep the roaches away!
Food, in general, will attract cockroaches, but they are particularly attracted to starches. This means bread, potatoes, cereal, pasta…anything with starch in it. Make sure these foods are sealed up tight.
Do Dead Cockroaches Attract More?
Roaches are pretty savage. They’ll eat anything from human and animal waste to rotting vegetables.
And yes, they’ll even eat dead cockroaches of their own kind. Because of this, dead roaches have the potential to attract more cockroaches simply by the decaying smell.
Roaches have a very good sense of smell, and because they don’t discriminate with their food, smelling a dead roach is no different than smelling a freshly baked cookie to them. Food is food.
Wrapping Things Up
It’s never fun dealing with a pest that you just can’t seem to get rid of. Cockroaches are tough little buggers and are hard to eliminate.
There are several ways you can attempt to take care of the problem yourself before resorting to professional help. Using scents and smells they dislike is an easy and cost-friendly way to repel roaches.
To recap, here are some of the scents that roaches hate:
- Corn Mint Oil
- Garlic Oil
- Citronella Oil
- Lemongrass (Citronellic Acid)
- Pine (alpha- & beta-pinene)
- Citrus Fruit Rinds
Ultimately, scents must be combined with other tactics to truly eliminate your roach problem. Keep your house clean, store papers properly, check groceries and firewood before bringing them inside, and keep in mind the things that attract roaches to avoid leaving them out.
As always, if you are ever in doubt or feel you cannot handle your roach problem on your own, contact a professional!
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Roth, L. M., & Willis, E. R. (1952, January). A Study of Cockroach Behavior. The American Midland Naturalist, 47(1), 66-129. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2421700
Schultz, G., Peterson, C., & Coats, J. R. (2006). Natural Insect Repellents: Activity against Mosquitoes and Cockroaches. In Natural Products for Pest Management (Vol. 927, pp. 168-181). Entomology Publications.
Wharton, D. R. A. (1971). Ultraviolet repellent and lethal action on the American cockroach. Journal of Economic Entomology, 64(1).
Yoon, C., Kang, S.-H., Yang, J.-O., Noh, D.-J., Indiragandhi, P., & Kim, G.-H. (2009, April 28). Repellent activity of citrus oils against the cockroaches Blattella germanica, Periplaneta americana and P. fuliginosa. Journal of Pesticide Science, 34(2).
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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