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Find out whatcockroacheseat, what attracts these unwelcome dinner guests, and how to eliminate their favorite food sources.

A cockroach feeding on a piece of cake.

Cockroaches are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. They particularly like starches, sweets, greasy foods, and meats, but roaches are not picky eaters. They’ll feast on almost anything that is derived from something that was once a living organism, such as plants and animals. This includes cardboard boxes, book bindings, wallpaper glue, stamps, leather, feces, fingernails, hair, toothpaste, soap, their own cast-off skins, and even other cockroaches.1,2,3

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A side-by-side view of a German Cockroach and an American Cockroach.

German Cockroach vs American Cockroach

While cockroaches will eat just about anything, they can go a surprisingly long time without food. American cockroaches, also known as large roaches, can survive two or three months without feeding, but can only live about a month without water.1 German cockroaches—one of the most common species found in homes throughout the world—can only go 12 days without water, but can survive for about 42 days without food.4


Because cockroaches will just as readily feast on feces in a sewer or a cat litter box as they will on that homemade cake left out on the counter, they can transfer pathogenic microbes to our food and cooking surfaces simply by walking across them, causing food poisoning, diarrhea, dysentery, and other illnesses.1

In addition, some cockroach species emit an odorous pheromone in their feces to attract mates and let other roaches know they’ve found a good place to nest and eat. When roach populations are high, these stinky secretions can be detected by humans and also leave a foul taste on the food that we eat.5

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Cardboard boxes not only make a tasty snack for hungry cockroaches, they also provide a cozy space for these creepy critters to hide and breed. To help prevent cockroaches, use plastic bins for storage instead and be sure to toss or recycle cardboard boxes outside the home immediately.6


Effective cockroach control starts by making your home unappetizing for these pesky creatures. Store all food in air-tight containers, wipe up spills immediately, and regularly clean your kitchen. Eliminating competing food sources also helps make cockroach baits more effective because the roaches will be even more attracted to the bait if they have nothing else to eat. Find more expert tips for how to help get rid of cockroaches.