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How to Get Rid of Roaches in a Car (and Prevent an Infestation)

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There are many pests that can infest your home: ants, cockroaches, termites… and most guides are geared towards treating these pests indoors. But sometimes pests crop up elsewhere, and dealing with the infestation may require a very different touch. Such is the case with cars.

Whether you own an SUV, sedan, truck, van, or station wagon (remember those?), it’s possible to open the door one day and see something skittering for cover. While bees, wasps, and ants are often found in cars, another little nasty is also known to infest cars – the cockroach.

If you’ve had the misfortune of running into one of these tiny terrors, don’t abandon your vehicle on the side of the road. Instead, let’s look at how they got there and what you can do about it.

Why Are There Roaches In My Car?

You might be surprised to learn that roach infestations in vehicles aren’t all that uncommon. But how they got there is often a mystery. So let’s begin by looking at circumstances surrounding these unwanted passengers.

How Did They Get Inside?

dirty car interior

Simply put, cockroaches are expert hitchhikers. They’ll hide in your clothes, in your purse or satchel, and when they don’t tag along themselves, they often send their eggs. Even worse, you may not even know you were exposed.

You could pick up a roach from home, work, a restaurant, the grocery store, hotels… the possibilities are endless. And once one is in your car, it will likely decide to stick around.

Another problem is that cars are full of entry points. Roaches can get in through open windows, cracks between the door and frame, in through wire holes from the engine compartment, etc. There’s no way to seal all of these points like you can for a house, so any attractants in the car could result in unwanted passengers.

Finally, cockroaches are technically outdoor critters that aid in breaking down decomposing matter. But when the weather gets bad, they will sometimes venture into a home or car in search of shelter and warmth. And once there, they can be very reluctant to leave.

Are Roaches in Cars Common?

Perhaps a more interesting question is regarding why cockroach infestations in cars aren’t MORE common.

We always hear about roaches in homes because this seems to be a common problem, but cars provide just about everything a home does, making it a very real possibility that your vehicle can become infested with roaches.

Dangers of Having Roaches In Your Car

There are a lot of potential risks involved with having cockroaches in your vehicle. The most obvious is the safety issue of having a creepy crawly suddenly make its way up your leg.

You might slam on the brake or gas, lose control of the vehicle, or be too distracted to see traffic lights or other external dangers. Likewise, a passenger caught off-guard by a sudden cockroach appearance can result in the driver becoming distracted.

Even worse is the disease risk. Cockroaches can be vectors for a wide range of diseases, some of which can be potentially life threatening. Among these are such diseases as:

  • Dysentery
  • E-coli
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Giardia
  • Listeriosis
  • Staphylococcus
  • Streptococcus

Of course, these diseases are spread by the frass (poop), not by cockroach bites, which are pretty rare. But wait, there’s more!

People with sensitivity to the roach poop or other things a roach might leave behind can suffer from rashes and other skin irritations. Food can quickly become contaminated, and there’s a chance you’ll accidentally deliver a roach or its eggs to your next destination.

Finally, there’s another costly risk to having cockroaches in the car – they like chewing things. Modern cars rely heavily upon on-board computers, and a roach may chew through the wires to these instruments, affecting both your car’s performance and your ability to use the gauges, radio, lights, etc.

Will They Go Away On Their Own?

This is a surprisingly common question, and we understand why. Nobody wants to have to face an infestation, especially when it involves a critter they may have a phobia of or there’s a chance they’ll need to hire an exterminator and pay a huge bill.

But the simple truth is that very few pests leave of their own accord, and none of the roaches found in the US are in that number. In fact, the longer you delay any attempts to remove them, the worse the infestation can become.

How to Get Rid of Roaches In a Car

cockroach in car

There are a few ways to deal with a roach infestation in your vehicle. First, let’s look at what won’t work, then get into the things that do, starting with chemical solutions and ending with the all-natural multistep approach.

Can I Use a Bug Bomb?

You might be tempted to use a fogger or other type of bug bomb in the car, but this won’t work for a few reasons.

  • For starters, cars aren’t as well-sealed as your home, so a lot of that pesticidal fog will end up escaping the car.
  • Second, if the roaches discover they’re in danger, they’ll try to flee, leaving them in spaces where the deadly mist won’t be strong enough to kill them.
  • Third, you won’t kill the eggs, so you’ll have to do an additional bombing run later on.
  • And finally, roaches have become resistant to a lot of the chemicals out there, meaning the bombs may have little to no effect even if you manage to isolate them.

Is an Exterminator Necessary?

Exterminators can be quite costly, especially with the economy so out of control right now. However, the good news is that they aren’t essential to ensure no roaches survive.

This is perhaps the fastest route available and it’s the only one that will ensure 100 percent elimination every time. When in doubt, it never hurts to get an assessment, but if you have the patience, you can skip an exterminator and do the job yourself.

Using Pesticides

Pesticides can be quite effective, but aren’t always guaranteed to work. You should always wear a mask when spraying in the car to avoid inhaling the fumes. You’ll also want to alternate between products to reduce the risk of the roaches becoming more resistant.

Alternatively, you can set bait traps under the seats and in compartments. These tend to work pretty well, especially if you clean the car first.

You will need to switch up the brand of bait trap you use to prevent the roaches from building resistance. However, roaches that find the bait station usually won’t survive very long.

The Multi-Step Approach

steam cleaning car seats

This method requires more work and takes longer, but it’s all-natural and far more effective in the long-run.

Step 1: Inspect the Vehicle

This step may seem unnecessary, but you really do want to get an idea of how bad the infestation is and where the roaches seem to be congregating. Places where there’s a stale odor, a lot of frass, or body parts can be a good indicator that the roaches are nearby.

Likewise, the amount you find of these things may give a suggestion of just how bad the infestation is.

Be sure to check every place you can get to that might have roaches, such as the door frame, car mats, seats, car vents, etc. Cupholders and compartments such as the glove box, trunk, and storage pockets may also be havens for these tiny monsters.

Step 2: Clean Up

Some of our cars tend to be garbage bins on wheels, and we’ve all been there at some point or other. However, this is a big part of why the roaches are hanging out. So it’s time to give your car a good cleaning.

Begin by removing all of the trash and large debris. Clear everything out that doesn’t belong, as well as removing any infant or toddler car seats to treat separately. Then vacuum thoroughly, getting all of the cracks and crevasses as best you can.

If you have a portable steam vac, that’s even better! Be sure to get the floors and upholstery removing the mats as you progress. Not only will the steam vac get a lot of those dried spills and help to deep clean the seats, it may also kill some of the roaches and extract eggs from wherever they’re nestled.

Be sure to also get the trunk of the car during this cleaning spree, and follow up with some car shampoo to go over all of the paneling and dashboard. And when you’re done with the interior, go ahead and get the outside of the car as well.

Be sure to air out the interior so it dries properly or you could end up with mold – which will just serve to attract more roaches.

Step 3: Use a Natural Pesticide or Sticky Traps

There are a LOT of options here, so let’s look at each one. We’ll start with the odd one out, which is the sticky trap (Catchmaster is a popular brand). These are simply small boards or card stock that have an adhesive on one side.

Place them under car seats or leave them overnight on top of the seats or floor mats. When a roach tries to scurry over it, they’ll become trapped and slowly die. Of course, this method won’t eliminate the infestation, but it can help reduce it.

Boric acid is another great option. Sprinkle this on the floor and seats, as well as in cup holders and other places the roaches might scurry. The boric acid will eat away at their insides and also cause dehydration.

Boric acid is generally considered safe, although you’ll want to avoid direct contact. This means you’re probably best of using this method over the weekend or when you have the next day off. Be sure to vacuum it up before using the car.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth (or DE for short) is a great alternative to boric acid. This natural substance is made by crushing the fossilized remains of microscopic diatoms. The result is a fine dust that won’t harm you or your family, but is deadly to insects.

At their size, the crushed shells are sharp and jagged, cutting through the protective wax coating on their exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate and die. Simply sprinkle it on your carpets and in small spaces, then let the slaughter begin!

Another great option is a baking soda bait. Simply mix equal parts baking soda and sugar (you can also add a little flour or peanut butter to make the bait extra attractive) and place it under the car seats or other spots the roaches are likely to gather.

You may want to put the bait in a bottle cap or jar lid to prevent spillage. This bait is safe for humans, but it will rapidly expand in the cockroach’s stomach, causing it to burst.

How to Prevent Roaches From Getting In Your Car

vacuum car interior

As always, the best way to make your vehicle roach-free is to never get them in the first place. Thankfully, you can greatly reduce the risk of roaches simply by breaking some bad habits.

Practice Prudent Parking

Think about where you’re going to park and what risks might be involved. For example, parking near drains or garbage bins means the roach taxi has arrived. Protecting your car without a garage has additional challenges.

If you must store your car outside, invest in a car cover to reduce your chances of pests taking up residence in your vehicle.

No Open Door Policy

Unless you absolutely have to do otherwise, always make sure your windows are closed when the car is parked. This may sound like a silly idea, but if you have the vents and windows closed, it makes it that much harder for roaches to get in.

This is especially important if you plan on storing your car long-term. One small crack that’s there over a few months can mean a large scale infestation of roaches and other critters.

No Food, No Worries

It’s always tempting to eat in the car, but this can lead to spills and food waste all over the cabin. If you eliminate the eating, your car will stay naturally cleaner. This also means roaches will be less inclined to take up residence.

Keep it Clean

Simply put, clean your vehicle’s cabin regularly. Don’t let garbage accumulate, and vacuum the interior regularly. The leaner the environment, the less there is for a roach to enjoy.

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