A palmetto bug, also known as the American cockroach or smokybrown cockroach, can infest homes when the weather gets cooler. Palmetto bugs carry a wide variety of disease-causing pathogens and can easily contaminate kitchen counters, clean dishes, and food. They can even cause digestive diseases in humans, causing vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.

Get rid of palmetto bugs quickly and efficiently with these natural and chemical solutions, and learn how to prevent them from infesting your home in the future.

What is a palmetto bug?

A palmetto bug is a large, reddish-brown insect with a cream-colored thorax and brown wings. Smokybrown and American cockroaches are similar in size (about 1.5–2 inches), but the American cockroach is about a half inch longer. Though both insects can fly, they’re not great fliers. Other nicknames for a palmetto bug include water bug, flying water bug, and Florida woods cockroach.

Do palmetto bugs bite?

Palmetto bugs stick to a diet of plants, food scraps, garbage, and decaying meat, so it’s very unusual for them to bite humans. However, if bitten, the bite will look like a small, red mark that should heal within a couple of days.

Identifying a palmetto bug infestation

Since palmetto bugs are rarely seen during the day, it may be difficult to know if you have an infestation. Look for these signs to help you determine if you have an infestation:

  • A distinct, musty smell in your bathroom or basement
  • Chew marks on curtains, stamps, or envelopes (palmetto bugs love to eat anything with glue or starch)
  • Shed skins and droppings that look like pepper flakes

Palmetto bugs prefer damp and moist conditions and can often be found outside under palm tree fronds and leaves (refer to our article titled Palm Fronds: The Ultimate Guide for detailed information on palm tree, fronds and leaves), among shrubs, and in sewers, woodpiles, and mulch. They can also gather under your foundation, roof shingles, and palm trees, and near your pool. These pests will enter your home by crawling under doors or through pipes and holes in your wall when outdoor temperatures drop. They’re also likely to be found in kitchens, attics, and crawl spaces, in tub drains, behind dishwashers, by garbage cans, and under refrigerators.

Because of their attraction to warm, tropical climates, palmetto bugs can be found in Florida and other parts of the southeastern United States.

They’re most active at night, when they’re most likely to look for food. Palmetto bugs are attracted to light and may fly toward porch lights in the evening in search of insects to eat. They can live up to three months without food and one month without water, so it’s important to take action—get rid of them as soon as you spot them.

How to get rid of palmetto bugs

Natural methods to get rid of & repel palmetto bugs

  • Make a homemade palmetto bug repellent—You can use mint oil as a natural insecticide to kill palmetto bugs and other roaches. Mint oil is toxic to insects and will eliminate any musty smells that they leave behind. Add 20 drops of peppermint essential oil to a spray bottle filled with water and spray in areas you think roaches are living. The scent will drive out the bugs.
  • Mix together water and soap for a natural spray—One of the easiest and cheapest methods to get rid of palmetto bugs is a solution composed of one part water and one part dish soap. Pour this solution into a spray bottle and spray around crevices and nooks where you think roaches are hiding.
  • Use old coffee grounds—Fill a large, glass jar with a cup of water and a cup of moistened coffee grounds. Place the jar against the wall in your kitchen, bathroom, or any other area where you’ve seen a palmetto bug. These pests are attracted to the scent of coffee grounds and will enter the jar, but won’t be able to escape. After a week, throw the contents of the jar in the trash.
  • Set out neem oil baits—Neem baits interfere with a cockroach’s hormones and prevent it from breeding. Purchase natural baits with neem seed extract and place them on your kitchen floors.
  • Vacuum regularly—Clean up any stray crumbs or food particles that have fallen on the floor in order to eliminate a potential food source for these pests.
  • Clean your kitchen—Wipe down counters after meals, put dishes in the dishwasher, and keep food stored in airtight containers.
  • Fix any leaks—Since roaches can live on water alone, check your plumbing system and fix leaks as soon as possible.
  • Use food-grade diatomaceous earth—The finite crystals in this powder will dehydrate palmetto bugs, causing them to die. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth anywhere you’ve seen a palmetto bug.

Palmetto bug killers & chemical methods to get rid of palmetto bugs

  • Use an insecticide—Common insecticides that are effective against palmetto bugs include chemicals like cypermethrin, cyfluthrin, deltamethrin, or bifenthrin. When using insecticides, always wear protective clothing and a face mask, and keep them away from children, pets, and food prep areas.
  • Set out a roach bait—Most roach baits contain active ingredients like fipronil or abamectin that work similarly to boric acid dust. Try Niban FG in attics, basements, or crawl spaces.
  • Dust cracks and crevices—Use a hand duster and apply Delta Dust or another insecticide underneath baseboards, in wall voids, and underneath appliances.
  • Sprinkle boric acid around your home—Spread this powder behind appliances and wait for palmetto bugs to ingest it. Boric acid destroys a palmetto bug’s exoskeletal system. After the bug dies, use a paper towel to wipe it up and throw it away. Because boric acid is slightly toxic, never place it on food prep areas and keep it away from children and pets.
  • Call a pest control service—If you want to be sure all palmetto bugs and cockroaches are eliminated, call a pest management professional. These experts will come to your home, identify the extent of the issue, and recommend solutions to rid your home of these pests.

Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Roach Bait

Delta Dust

Best pest control companies

Read more here: Orkin vs. Terminix: Cost, Services, & Review Guide

Preventing a palmetto bug infestation

To prevent future palmetto bug infestations, follow these recommended tips:

  • Put a door seal under your front door, ensuring there are no gaps for bugs to crawl through.
  • Put screens on attic vents, windows, and doors.
  • Seal cracks and holes in your walls and foundation with caulk.
  • Use a trash can with a lid to prevent bugs from being attracted to a potential food source.
  • Reduce the amount of mulch outside your home, as palmetto bugs are attracted to mulch.

Editorial Contributors
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Sam Wasson

Staff Writer

Sam Wasson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Sam brings over four years of content writing and media production experience to the Today’s Homeowner content team. He specializes in the pest control, landscaping, and moving categories. Sam aims to answer homeowners’ difficult questions by providing well-researched, accurate, transparent, and entertaining content to Today’s Homeowner readers.

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Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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