Palmetto Bug: What it is and How to Get Rid of it Quickly

Palmetto Bug: What it is and How to Get Rid of It Quickly

The large American cockroach is commonly referred to as the “palmetto bug.” It can be a terrifying experience to see a large roach walking across your kitchen floor or crawling out of a cupboard when you open the door. The first reaction may be to kill the palmetto bug quickly. However, if you have a palmetto bug infestation in your home, you should look at some natural, safe methods to get rid of the roaches quickly.

Many traditional methods of getting rid of roaches involve using harmful pesticides that can cause harmful side effects in humans. In this article, you will find out many effective natural ways to eradicate palmetto bugs from your home. These methods are generally safe to be used around humans and pets but are deadly to palmetto bugs.

What is Palmetto Bug?

Palmetto bug is a general name that is commonly used to refer to American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). The American cockroach is a species of cockroach and is sometimes called the Bombay canary or flying waterbug.

These cockroaches love to live in dark damp places and are common in warmer climates. According to the University of Michigan, the palmetto bug can grow to around 2 inches in length, are reddish brown in color, and have wings.1

What You Should Know About the Palmetto Bug

In order to get rid of palmetto bugs effectively and prevent a roach infestation, it’s important to know more about their habits and behavior.

The Michigan State University says that from hatching, it takes around 15 months for palmetto bugs to reach their adult state. Depending on temperature conditions, they can live for another 15 months.2

Do palmetto bugs bite?

Although it’s very rare, palmetto bugs can bite. According to experts on pest control, if you have an extreme bug infestation, the roaches can bite people if there is no access to food. However, they will only leave a small mark like a flea bite.

Do palmetto bugs fly?

Palmetto bugs are winged insects that can fly, which can be even more terrifying than seeing one scurry across the floor!

However, the good news is that palmetto bugs rarely fly. According to The Michigan State University, they seldom fly when disturbed and more usually glide from higher places.2 Palmetto bugs are known to glide from the tops of buildings or trees.

What attracts palmetto bugs?

Palmetto bugs will eat most things, including paper, sugar, cheese, bread, soap, fish, and even other roaches. The Michigan State University says that they especially like fermented food. They can live for up to a month without water and 3 months without food.2

They live in sewers, boiler rooms, around bathtubs and will commonly be found near decaying food matter. So, places that are dark, damp, and warm are the perfect habitat for palmetto bugs to live in.

Do palmetto bugs carry disease?

Because palmetto bug love to live in filthy sewers and gorge on decaying food, they carry diseases and can cause allergic reactions.

The Pennsylvania State University says that American cockroaches can carry bacteria on their legs and bodies and they can infect work surfaces and food. This can cause food poisoning, diarrhea and other symptoms of gastroenteritis. The journal Annals of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology reported that cockroaches were a major cause of infections in some hospitals and homes.3

Excrement and molted skins from palmetto bugs can also cause allergic reactions like asthma, blocked nasal passages, skin rashes, and sneezing. According to the journal Allergy, the Periplaneta americana cockroach is a major source of indoor allergens.4

Apart from being disease carriers, palmetto bugs secrete a nasty odor, which is one sign of a bug infestation.

How to Identify Palmetto Bug Infestation

Palmetto bug infestations can occur in the home if you live in warmer climates or in the fall when the temperature outside drops. As with most roaches, palmetto bugs are more active at night and will lurk in dark, damp places.

Outside the house, larger groups of palmetto bugs can be found under palm leaves (hence the name “palmetto bugs”), in woodpiles, in the foundations of your house, and under your roof shingles. Because they like to live in sewers, they can often enter your home through drains.

Inside the home, palmetto bugs can infest crawl spaces, drains, basements, under your bathtub, or around garbage cans. Because palmetto bugs are active at night, you might not realize your home is infested until there are visible signs of their presence. To prevent a palmetto bug infestation, here are the early signs to look out for:

  • A musty smell in dark, damp places.
  • Chew marks on items that have glue or starch, for example, stamps, envelopes and book bindings.
  • Droppings and shed skins around your home.

How to Get Rid of Palmetto Bug Infestation Naturally

If you have noticed the telltale signs of palmetto bug inhabiting your home, there are many ways to get rid of them successfully. Some of the best treatments for getting rid of palmetto bugs help to quickly repel the roaches and kill them off at the source.

Food grade diatomaceous earth for palmetto bug infestation

Use food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to eliminate palmetto bugs naturally and safely. Food grade DE is an effective pesticide because it cuts into the bugs bodies and makes them dehydrate causing them to die. You should sprinkle diatomaceous earth wherever you see the palmetto bugs to solve your roach infestation.

The Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine reported that diatomaceous earth is effective in eradicating cockroach infestations. It works by “mechanically” killing off the bugs, therefore, the roaches don’t build up resistance to the substance. The researchers said that diatomaceous earth is a substance harmless to humans that is suitable for insect control.5

When using diatomaceous earth for getting rid of palmetto bugs, you should remember that it loses its effectiveness if it becomes damp.

Diatomaceous earth is also good to treat flea infestation. If your pet has fleas, rub some food grade diatomaceous earth on their coats to naturally get rid of fleas from your pets.

Boric acid

You can make a bait to kill off palmetto bugs by using boric acid. Boric acid is poisonous to palmetto bugs when they ingest it and it also destroys their exoskeletal system, similar to how DE works. You should keep boric acid away from children and pets because it is toxic if ingested.

A study on the insecticidal properties of boric acid found that it is lethal to cockroaches and insects. It was reported that boric acid can help control a bug infestation because the roaches carry it back to the colony where it infects the other bugs.6 Another study into using boric acid for cockroach control found that it works better than traditional pesticides and is toxic to cockroaches.7

Mix boric acid with flour and cocoa powder using a 1:2:1 ratio. Place the mixture near crevices where you think palmetto bugs may be entering. Remember to replace any bait that has become damp. You can also use this mixture to get rid of waterbugs.

Borax and sugar palmetto bug bait

Borax is a compound that also includes boric acid and can help to get rid of palmetto bugs for good. You can make an effective roach bait by mixing 3 parts of borax and 1 part of sugar. The sugar attracts the palmetto bugs to the bait and the borax poisons them.

Neem oil

One of the many uses of neem oil is to use it as a cockroach poison to help eliminate cockroaches at their source. Neem baits can be effective if you have a large palmetto bug infestation. Neem works to interfere with the cockroach’s hormones to prevent them breeding. For this to work effectively, it is probably easiest to purchase natural baits that have neem seed extracts added.

A book on the effect of neem on insects found that baits containing neem seed extract were effective at killing off colonies of cockroaches. It eradicated the nymphs within 10 weeks and killed most of the cockroaches within 24 weeks.8

Mint oil natural bug spray

You can make your own mint oil insecticide to kill off palmetto bugs and other cockroaches. Mint oil is toxic to insects and will also help to eradicate any musty smell that the roaches have left.

The Auburn University from Alabama published a study showing that mint oil is an effective natural insecticide for eliminating American cockroaches.9

To use the mint spray to destroy palmetto bugs, you should add 20 drops of peppermint essential oil to a spray bottle filled with water. Shake well and spray around all the areas you think roaches may be living.

If you have a problem of ants invading your house, you can also use peppermint oil spray as a natural way to repel ants.


Catnip is also from the mint family and is an effective palmetto bug repellent. It’s also one of the best plants to repel mosquitoes. In fact, studies have shown that catnip essential oil is more effective than DEET – a compound in many insecticides which is associated with toxic harmful side effects.10  

You can make your own natural insecticide for cockroaches in the same way as the mint oil bug spray. Or you can make a catnip infusion by putting 1 tsp. catnip per 8 oz. boiling water and let it steep for 15 minutes. Fill a spray bottle with the natural pesticide and spray in places where you think roaches are inhabiting.

Catnip is also one of natural ingredients to get rid of German cockroaches.

Soapy water spray

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get rid of palmetto bugs quickly is to make a soapy water spray. All you have to do is fill a spray bottle with dish-washing liquid and some warm water. Just spray this around crevices, nooks, and spaces where you think roaches are hiding. You can make the soapy water solution even more effective by adding 20 drops of peppermint oil.

But is soapy water really effective at eradicating palmetto bugs? A study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology found that soapy water can be used to kill roach larvae. A soap solution was also shown to be effective at killing cockroaches.11

Soapy water is also a great way to eradicate aphids naturally and keep your plants free from infestations.

Coffee grounds

You can use your old coffee grounds to repel palmetto bugs and prevent an infestation in your home. Although there have been no scientific studies proving this to work, many people have found it to be effective in roach control.

Spread the coffee grounds in areas around your home where you think roaches are getting in or in any roach “problem areas”.

How to Prevent Palmetto Bugs from Infesting your Home

Of course, it is far easier to deal with palmetto bugs if you prevent them from infesting your home in the first place. Here are some helpful tips on how to prevent palmetto bugs setting up residence in your home.

  • Fix any external cracks in your home where the bugs could be entering.
  • Put mesh over any air vents or floor drains to prevent the roaches getting into your property.
  • Keep all spaces under baths and sinks dry and free of any debris. Fix any leaking pipes or faucets.
  • Keep all food leftovers covered or disposed of in a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Use baits and natural pesticides to repel palmetto bugs.

Read my other related articles:
1. How to Get Rid of Gnats
2. How to Get Rid of Ants Cheaply and Naturally
3. How to Get Rid of Spiders Naturally
4. 10 Natural Ways to Repel Mosquitoes
5. How to Naturally Get Rid of Fleas From Your Home, Garden and Pets
6. How to Get Rid of Frogs – The Best Natural Ways
7. How to Get Rid of Wasps Naturally
8. The Top 10 Home Remedies to Get Rid of Bed Bugs Naturally
9. How to Get Rid of Roaches Naturally

Article Sources:
    1. AnimalDiversity. Periplaneta Americana.
    2. PestID MSU. American cockroach.
    3. Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 2010 Sep;104(6):521-8.
    4. Allergy. 2015 Dec;70(12):1674-8
    5. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2014 May; 4(Suppl 1): S228–S232.
    6. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2013 Apr; 29(2): 117–129.
    7. J Econ Entomol. (2014) 59 (6): 1374-1388.
    8. NCBI NLM. Neem. A tree for solving global problems.
    9. ScentSOC. Repellency and toxicity of mint oil to American cockroaches.
    10. J Econ Entomol. 2002 Apr;95(2):377-80.
    11. J Econ Entomol. 2002 Apr;95(2):390-8.

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