Despite their rather fancy-sounding names, palmetto bugs are nothing but a type of cockroach!

The term is used to refer to different species in different parts of the country, so depending on where you live, a palmetto bug could mean either an American cockroach (southeastern United States), smoky brown (South Carolina), or Florida woods cockroach (Florida)!

An infestation of palmetto bugs is no laughing matter—it can set the stage for your family’s health. Here’s what you need to know about palmetto bugs and getting rid of them.

Identifying Palmetto Bugs

Palmetto bugs get their name from palmetto trees—tropical plants common to the southeastern United States that form the bugs’ preferred habitat. However, just like all cockroaches, these bugs will also make do with any moist/humid, warm spot with plenty of rotting things to feed on.

Though the term is used to refer to different cockroach species, most experts agree that it is the Florida woods cockroach that is synonymous with palmetto bugs. (Therefore, palmetto bugs in this article will refer to Florida woods cockroaches.)

Physical Markers

Palmetto bugs are large insects, which is the first indicator that you may be dealing with the type. These pests can reach lengths anywhere between 1.2 and 1.7 inches, with oval, shiny, reddish-brown/deep brown bodies and spotted heads.

Palmetto bugs don’t have well-developed wings and hence, are among the slowest-moving cockroaches in the world.

When threatened or alarmed, these bugs can eject a foul-smelling spray much like skunks, earning them the monikers Florida skunk roach, skunk cockroach, stinking cockroach, skunk roach, stink roach, and Florida stink roach.

Determine Your Palmetto Bug Infestation

If you have an infestation of palmetto bugs in your house, the first thing to do is assess the extent of the infestation.

Palmetto bugs, like all cockroaches, love damp, warm spots. They typically prefer dwelling outdoors, living in tree holes, leaf litter, crevices, palmetto trees, and wooded areas, but unfavorable weather conditions might force them to make their way into your bathrooms and kitchen.

Though they’re not considered indoor pests because of their affinity for the outdoors, palmetto bugs can spread pathogens.

A severe infestation can spread illnesses by them spreading salmonella and other pathogens they’re carrying, which they spread by walking over, defecating, or urinating on utensils, food, and cooking areas.

Additionally, cockroach eggshells, feces, molted skins, and urine can cause asthmatic attacks and allergic reactions when they turn into dust. Palmetto bugs are also hosts for tons of parasites that affect humans and pets, such as hookworms, pinworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms.

Last but not least is the liquid they eject, which can cause skin irritation in addition to stinking up the place!

Palmetto bugs are nocturnal, so it may be too late by the time you spot one and spring into action. The following signs will help you identify the presence of these pests much earlier:

  • A strong musty smell, especially in certain spots, could indicate a nest of palmetto bugs
  • Pepper-grain-like black droppings on your surfaces
  • Smeared trails that can trace their paths to and from their scavenging and hiding spots
  • Damaged wallpaper, books, leather, or other organic materials
  • Damaged food containers that they may have chewed their way through
  • If the infestation is heavy enough, you may see some palmetto bugs running around even during daylight hours

For solid proof of an infestation, you can create a simple bug trap. Place a bit of bread in a shallow dish and drench it with beer. Place the container in a spot you suspect to be infested. If you find trapped bugs the next morning, calling your exterminator is a good idea!

Preventing a Palmetto Bug Infestation

Prevention is always better than having to exterminate the bugs yourself or by calling an exterminator. Instead of having to clean up an infestation, a few consistent steps will help you prevent such a situation and the worry that accompanies it!

1. Seal Entry Points

Like all cockroaches, palmetto bugs love the drainage system and sewage pipes, which they will also use to gatecrash the party in your house! Fixing any damaged pipes and leaks will block such entry points and keep the bugs out.

Additionally, seal any cracks that could be possible entry points for the bugs, including your windows and doors. Installing sweeps on your doors, sealing the gaps between bathroom tiles, and caulking any cracks along the windowsills will reduce the chances of these bugs making their way in.

2. Proper Food Storage

What attracts palmetto bugs are open sources of food and water. Properly store food in airtight, tightly sealed plastic or metal containers so that these palmetto bugs can’t sneak in.

storage containers to prevent bugs

3. Keeping Your Yard and Home Clean

Roaches love their trash. Messy homes and yards are Vegas to these bugs—the motherlode of sustenance!

Unless you want to raise a colony of these pests, keep your yard clean of dead branches, leaf litter, tall grass, pet waste, and any other trash or debris. Trim any branches that touch your house or hang over the roof and keep the grass mown to reduce hiding spots for the bugs.

Keeping your kitchen and pantry clean will also prevent these bugs from making their way into your living spaces. Ensure that all food and liquid spills are cleaned up as soon as possible. Keep pet food away until the morning.

Make sure your garbage bins have tight-fitting lids to shut them with, and if you can, get rid of your indoor trash every night by placing it in a bin (with proper, tight closure) outside. Get rid of cardboard, newspapers, and magazines, as all these present excellent hiding spots for these bugs.

Eliminating Palmetto Bugs

When it comes to eliminating palmetto bugs, both chemical and non-chemical options are at your disposal. Generally, chemical solutions are the best for most palmetto bug infestations.

Here’s the lowdown on both on how to get rid of palmetto bugs.

1. Non-Chemical Options

To get rid of palmetto bugs without chemicals, you can use bait traps (like the one mentioned earlier), bug sprays, and powders that are specifically formulated to get rid of these bugs.

Borax might work as poison bait when mixed with powdered sugar. Mix equal parts of the two and spread the powder in places that you suspect are infested, such as behind appliances, under the sink, and around the water heater.

Make sure the powder doesn’t get into food or affect your pets and other residents (meaning no walls, countertops, or baseboards).

Bait stations with boric acid are also a good idea. Look for smear marks and place these stations in such spots, again ensuring that they’re well away from the reach of pets and children.

You can also use store-bought bait solutions, leaving small drops in all the areas where you think these roaches are present. Insecticides are also an option, though you have to be extremely careful while using these.

2. Exterminator or DIY Pest Control

If none of the above works for you, it’s time to bring in a professional exterminator. These are the heavyweights that will use chemical solutions to get rid of the bugs, such as deltamethrin, cypermethrin, bifenthrin, and cyfluthrin.

If you do not have the money to hire a professional you can DIY. We have listed below some of the items you will need to get rid of Palmetto bugs yourself.

Our Pick
Roach Kit

Roach Kit


Keep pesky cockroaches away for good with this Roach Control Kit! This multi-pronged approach to pest control combines:

  • Catchmaster 100i roach Monitor glue boards,
  • Maxforce FC Magnum roach bait gel,
  • Gentrol Point Source Stations
  • Temprid FX insecticide concentrate.
  • Everything you need in one kit
  • Easy to use
  • Eliminates roaches fast
  • Cheaper than exterminator

Post-Elimination Maintenance

Once the bugs have been eliminated, it’s extremely important that you maintain your living space and keep it clean to prevent future infestations. Regularly inspect suspicious spots and keep your eyes peeled for any sign of a new colony. If you find any signs, address them immediately.

Consistently practicing the prevention methods discussed above will help stop future palmetto bug infestations, or even better, prevent one from happening in the first place.

The Bottom Line

Palmetto bugs can be very annoying to deal with, which is why it’s recommended that you do everything possible to prevent an infestation instead of spending time, mental peace, and money on eliminating one.

Cleanliness is one of the most effective ways to keep away these bugs; along with a few other simple steps, there’s every chance you may never have to see an infestation!