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Cockroach Smell: Smelling and Repelling Roaches

cockroach on food

Many people are curious about cockroaches and scent, especially if they’ve seen a roach or noticed a strange odor in their home. Specifically, worried homeowners and apartment dwellers often have questions like: Is there a specific cockroach smell these pests emit? On the flip side, what smells help drive them away?
In this article, you’ll learn the answer to those questions. You’ll also learn related information, like why roaches smell the way they do and what exacerbates the problem. By the end, you’ll know what scents serve as a warning sign that your residence may be hosting roaches and what you can do about the issue.


If you think you smell a roach, you may not be imagining things. There is, in fact, a specific cockroach smell, and it’s a bad one. Roaches make their trademark odor by releasing chemicals that call to other roaches but cause an unpleasant atmosphere for humans. Adding to the nastiness is this fact: The odor can hang around in dead skin and droppings, helping contribute to a foul-smelling home or apartment.

That goes for the smell that roaches give off when they’re alive, but they also emit odors when they die. One smell they give off is meant as a warning to other roaches. Essentially, when still-living roaches smell it, they know that the area contains a dead roach and is therefore potentially dangerous.

Roaches’ so-called death stench is created by fatty acids that are tough for the human nose to detect. However, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook smell-wise once a roach dies. Roaches will also give off a rotting smell over time as they decompose, and of course, a single dead roach may be a sign of a smelly colony somewhere else.

bad smell


The signature cockroach smell — the one they emit while still alive — has been described as oily, musty, and even sweet in some cases. Roaches use their unpleasant odor to communicate with each other, helping them find food, safe places to live, and breeding opportunities.

Nobody wants to smell pests of any kind, but the smell of roaches is a true warning sign. These insects can cause diseases that harm humans, spoil food supplies, and exacerbate preexisting health problems like asthma. Whether you detect roaches by sight or smell, you’ll want to take steps to drive them off.


Given that cockroaches can make your home smell bad, a natural question is if it’s possible to turn the tide on them by introducing a smell they dislike. The answer is that cockroaches do have a sense of smell, and they may be turned off by certain scents, so much so that they may avoid the area entirely.

Bay leaves are thought by some to be among the smells roaches hate. If you want to try using them, fresh bay leaves are best. Consider scattering them near cockroach gathering points. While the bay leaves won’t kill cockroaches, they may help drive them off, as cockroaches are not fans of bay leaves’ scent. Sources are on the fence about how effective this method is, so your mileage may vary. 

Peppermint oil is also on the list of scents roaches don’t like. Studies have suggested that peppermint oil goes beyond just driving roaches away; it’s also toxic to them. Frequent reapplication is necessary, though, as peppermint’s smell doesn’t linger for long. To apply it, mix peppermint oil with water in a spray bottle. Then, spray it wherever you suspect cockroaches have been active. Another option is cotton balls saturated with a peppermint, oil, and water mixture. You can place them strategically in cupboards and other roach-prone areas.

Other oils, including cedar and eucalyptus, have been suggested for their anti-cockroach potential as well. Interestingly, roaches may also find catnip repellant. That gives you another natural option to try out in your anti-cockroach efforts.

peppermint oil


Because a musty, oily scent is a signal to other roaches that food and shelter are nearby — not to mention fellow roaches — a buildup of their scent can contribute to the creation of a roach nest. That’s not something you want going on in your home, as the scent will only get worse as more roaches join the party. Therefore, if you notice a strong, musty, sweet, or oily odor, there’s a chance you have a roach infestation on your hands, and it may grow worse with time.

Note that roaches are attracted to damp areas. Those often feature mildew and mold, which are in and of themselves stinky. While the roaches may not cause those odors, they can certainly pile more unpleasantness on top of them by nesting and defecating in already-smelly areas.


To get rid of the smell of cockroaches, you’ll want to drive off its cause: the bugs. One option is to try the aforementioned smells cockroaches hate. You can take many steps beyond that, though, up to and including bringing in pest control professionals.

As for do-it-yourself anti-cockroach measures, making your home inhospitable to these pests goes a long way. For instance, roaches are often drawn to messy kitchens, where clutter gives them hiding spots to scurry under and uneaten food for nourishment.


Do away with any leftover food mess, put away dishes and other items, and then clean surfaces like the floor, countertops, and cabinet interiors. Thoroughly removing crumbs and clutter robs roaches of both food and shelter. Similar cleaning measures in other rooms of the home can help as well.

Additional specific anti-roach tactics include the use of borax traps and other poisonous remedies, though be cautious if you have pets or children. After you’ve driven the infestation off, be sure you’ve cleaned up any remaining dead bugs and droppings. That will help mitigate any lingering cockroach smell.

Note that roaches are hardy and persistent, so you’ll want to keep an eye out in the days following your deep clean to make sure they don’t reappear. You may also wish to apply cockroach repellent around your home. And do your best to keep your dwelling clean going forward. The roaches won’t thank you, which is a good thing.

Contact Clegg’s Pest Control 

Whether you try DIY remedies or not, sometimes it’s best to bring in a professional to have a look at your roach problem. If cockroaches and their unpleasant odor are impacting the enjoyment of your home, please consider contacting Clegg’s Pest Control for assistance. Visit our cockroach control page to learn more about the habits of cockroaches and why we are the experts when it comes to getting rid of these pests.


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