Just the sight of one of these multi-legged, hard-shelled visitors crawling across the floor is enough to make your toes curl, and your screams can hit high notes you didn't realize were possible. But what are you dealing with?
Roaches are a large, disgusting insect, with six legs, and 18 knee joints. (We were sure you'd want to know that.) There are more than 5,000 species in the world, but the most common are the German cockroach, and the American cockroach.
Initially cockroaches may infest your home from the outside, finding cracks, gaps under doors, and other ways to enter the home, attracted by warmth, darkness, and spoiling food or standing water, in things like open garbage pails, unwashed dishes. As big as they may seem, a cockroach can insinuate itself through an opening as thin as a dime when young, or a quarter as an adult. They don't like light, which is why many homeowners can't believe it when the cat or dog presents them with the remains of their latest victim. But you can't depend on your pets to control the population.
The first measure in getting rid of cockroaches is hygiene. If you have stored vegetables that are rotting, open containers of food in cupboards, or unsecured garbage pails, remove all refuse and replace containers with those that seal tightly. Check under appliances, in cupboards, basement corners, and other dark places for traces of a black gritty dirt that has an oily appearance. This is roach feces and a sign that you do have a problem.
Once your home is cleaned, your choices in removing them are to do it yourself, or to have the home professionally treated by a pest control company. Which you choose, may depend on the severity of the infestation. The primary means of destroying roaches are contact poisons/sprays, and residual sprays which leave time released ingredients in your cupboards and on the surfaces where sprayed, that will work over a period of 2-3 weeks. There are also the infamous "roach motels" that can be placed in your cupboards. Sometimes it may take a combination of several methods, such as an immediate contact kill substance, and then roach motels in places where you have evidence of previous inhabitants. Once your immediate problem is eliminated, you can also take preventative measures, such as sprinkling powdered boric acid in between walls, and around foundations where they may have entered the house. This is generally a safe product, and will be carried on the roaches feet, to wherever they are hiding and breeding.
One note of caution: Pesticides can be highly toxic to humans and pets. Spray treatments should never be carried out without proper respiratory protection, and first removing of all food, pets and dishes or other items that your food may come in contact with.