You might be shocked to spot a mouse in your kitchen, and yet not think that single mouse much of a threat. If you see even one mouse in your home, however, it’s a good bet that you’ve got entire families of mice—in your walls, in your attic, in hard-to-reach places in your garage, and in other hidden places. And even you don’t already have a lot of these resilient pests in your house, spotting that one mouse indicates that probably will soon.
Why is Getting Rid of Mice a Priority?
According to a government publication from the UK:
- Wild mice become sexually mature at only six weeks of age.
- Litters usually contain up to eight baby mice, and females can reproduce up to eight times each year.
- One pair of breeding mice can, therefore, produce up to 64 direct descendants a year, and meanwhile all of their descendants can begin reproducing within six weeks. This means that a few mice can multiply into a huge population in a short time.
Still not convinced mice are a problem? Then have a look at this list from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of some of the diseases that mice and other rodents can transmit directly to you or your family:
- Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome: People typically contract this serious respiratory illness from breathing dust that has been mixed with rodent droppings.
- Rat Bite Fever: Mice are usually too timid to scratch or bite people, but you can also contract this disease by drinking or eating food or water that mice have contaminated with feces.
- Salmonella: Even the common house mouse can spread a strain of this dangerous bacteria. That’s one reason why many health professionals caution families against keeping pet rodents when they have very young children in the home.
Besides spreading diseases, mice—through their dander and through their droppings—aggravate allergies. They also bring in fleas, opening the door to another type of infestation and all the risks that come with it. Mice will spoil stored food, destroy property, and contaminate your home. They will also chew holes in essential structures and in electrical wiring and insulation, and so pose a risk to your safety as well as your health.
Mice and rats are common terms for different species of rodents that vary in behavior and appearance. The so-called house mouse (Mus musculus) is a frequent home invader, and sometimes different species of field mice will also seek shelter inside, so if you see a rodent you can’t immediately identify, there’s a good chance it’s a mouse. What’s more, you’re unlikely to have a mice and rat infestation at the same time, according to John W. Hermanson, professor of veterinary medicine at Cornell University. so if you have a mouse infestation, you’re unlikely to be hosting rats as well. So provided you can catch a glimpse of one of the rodents in your home, you can identify which kind of rodent you’re dealing with based on their physical characteristics:
- Mice have relatively large ears, their bodies are usually no more four inches long, and they have thin tails that may be longer than their bodies.
- Rats have relatively shorter and thicker tails and may grow up to ten inches long.
Rat and mouse infestations leave similar traces. At the same time, you are more likely to have a mouse infestation. Mice can find hiding holes in even the cleanest, most well kept houses, and they don’t require a lot of food to survive. Since they can obtain enough water from the food they eat, they don’t necessarily even require an obvious source of hydration, which makes your home the perfect abode for them as well.
DIY Mouse Control
Mice in the home have been a problem for as long as there have been homes, so it is no surprise that there are many different opinions on how to get rid of mice and a variety of methods on the market. Many of these traps are quite effective, but it is important to choose a trap with your specific circumstances in mind. Mouse poison, for instance, can be dangerous for pets and children, while live mouse traps require extra effort on your part to be emptied and reset for catching more mice. You also need to consider the level of mouse problem in your home – if you have hundreds of mice in the walls, it may be more practical to bring in a professional exterminator:
Popular mouse trap options include:
- Traditional mousetraps, snap traps, and beyond: Traditional mouse traps use bait and a spring-loaded bar to attract and kill mice. They have been around a long time because they work. Recently the rodent control arsenal has grown to include the snap trap—mechanical jaws that close on the mouse when it springs a trigger. These types of mouse traps, however, will only kill one mouse at a time. In addition, even the snap traps can be challenging to set without hurting yourself. Finally, both traditional and snap traps require you to detect and get rid of each dead mouse before you can use them again. Today’s newer mouse trap options, like bait boxes, poison, live traps and high-tech models – which use gas or electricity to kill mice – offer improvements that are worth paying extra for.
- Live traps: Live mouse traps use bait to attract mice and then trap the mouse alive. They are effective for trapping mice, but only catch one at a time – and require you to dispose of live mice yourself, usually by taking the traps out to an area far from your home and releasing the captive mice.
- Bait station: A bait station is typically a plastic box designed to hold mouse poison or other types of poison. Bait stations are used around the world to administer poison and pest control measures both in homes and in the wild.
The bait station box is designed in such a way that it allows mice to enter and take the bait, but makes it difficult for other animals – like your pets – to access the poison. One of the biggest concerns when using poison in the home is ensuring that pets and children do not ingest it. The bait station solves this problem.
- Mouse repellent: There are a number of different mouse repellents available, both chemical based and natural, non-chemical options (see below for some of these). There are also sonic repellent options out there, but according to researchers at the University of Arizona, “Scientific studies show commercially available devices to be ineffective. Devices developed by researchers demonstrate positive results, but have yet to be marketed.” It appears that the sonic mice repellents currently available for purchase are not capable of driving away mice in any measurable way.
- Mouse bait: Mouse bait is anything you use to attract mice to your traps. Poison bait is bait that includes poison, too – attracting mice to eat it and ingest the poison at the same time. If, as with live traps, you are not using poison bait, you will need to choose bait that is highly desirable to mice. Some good choices for baiting include peanut butter, wet pet food, chocolate, and soft sweet candies, like fruit gummies. Cheese is not a good bait for mice, contrary to popular belief. Mice are much more likely to seek out peanut butter or chocolate as a food source than a piece of cheddar.
- Glue traps: A glue trap is designed to trap mice who walk across it, leaving the mouse stuck to the trap until you can dispose of as you see fit. Studies have shown, however, that glue traps are most effective for catching younger mice who have not learned to avoid them. Adult mice may be more cautious around traps of all kinds, and thus less likely to get caught.
Many people who want to avoid the dangers of poison prefer glue traps. But glue traps are considered less humane than other mouse trap options, including poison or live traps, because mice can survive for days in the trap, an outcome many consider unnecessarily cruel. Glue trap users also often find themselves needing to dispose of live, struggling mice along with the trap, as there is no extracting the mouse once it has become entangled in the glue. Parents of young children and pet owners must be careful in the placement of glue traps as well, because anything that touches the trap is going to become stuck to it.
- Mouse poison: There are a variety of poisons on the market designed to kill mice and other rodents. Most mouse and rat poisons are anticoagulants, which thin the blood of the mouse and cause internal bleeding. Mouse poison is definitely effective, and can eliminate large populations in a short amount of time if placed correctly. However, it is important to ensure that children and pets do not ingest the poison. Poisoned mice are also poisonous to any animal that eats them—including household pets and wildlife in the surrounding area—which is why the EPA has worked to limit the sale of mouse poison in recent years.
As you put out these traps and poisons, one thing to keep in mind that is that they’re also effective for rat control, so keep any reusable items in case you have another rodent problem down the road.
Natural and Herbal Mouse Repellents
Whatever type of mouse trap you choose, it is important to understand that capturing and/or eliminating the mice in your home is only half the battle. If you want to successfully rid your home of rodents, you also need to find effective ways to keep mice away. Fortunately, there are a number of natural mouse repellent options. Natural oils, for example, have been shown in studies to effectively repel mouse and rat populations, and through these and other means you can avoid using hazardous chemicals to keep the mice away. Here’s a partial list of DIY mouse repellents and herbal mouse repellents that are not only effective, but natural and safer for you and your family.
- Mouse-proof food storage: The most effective natural mouse repellent is to stop feeding them. Mice are attracted to human houses because they are warm, dry, and filled with easy meals, and if you have a mouse problem, chances are they are feasting on something in your kitchen or home. For that reason, it is advisable to look carefully at all of your packages and other storage containers to identify these food sources. Even if you keep your food in containers, mice can chew through paper, cardboard, and plastic to get to your food, and this means you will need to purchase mouse-proof storage to protect your food and discourage rodents from visiting your kitchen.
- Pure peppermint oil: Pure peppermint oil can be combined with water or witch hazel in a spray bottle to create a mouse repellent spray to use around your home. You can spray this liquid to create a perimeter where mice will not want to cross. You can also soak cotton balls in pure oil and place them in areas that mice frequent, or near the places you suspect they’re building their nests, for an even more powerful deterrent. Another option that is supposed to last even longer than cotton balls is combining peppermint oil with diatomaceous earth. The diatomaceous earth tends to hold the smell longer, and can be reactivated by adding more water when the mixture dries out.
Look for 100% pure peppermint oil, as you want the most potent oil you can find for a good mouse repellent. Keep in mind that the potency of the oil will diminish over time, so you will need to reapply at least once a week for protection.
- Soap: Some people report success using soap in repelling mice. You can’t just reach for whatever is sitting in your soap dish, however. It appears that the most successful repellents consist of strongly smelling soaps like Irish Spring. It’s not clear why mice avoid deodorant soap, but it’s likely they work for the same reason as peppermint oil. The same powerful, fresh smells that humans enjoy, mice seem to hate. Whatever the reason, you can take a bar or two of the soap, cut it up into smaller cubes, and place it in areas like your crawl space or attic where you think mice are coming into your home.
- Cat urine: The idea that cat urine and other strong smells put out by predators would repel mice makes sense. Mice do not want to be eaten, and will therefore avoid areas where predators are. However, a recent study demonstrated that over a two month period, cat urine actually made male mice more aggressive. At first the rodents acted as expected. They smelled the cat urine and ran away. But when the cat urine was continuously present, the male mice eventually became more combative, which attracted more females. Based on the study, it appears that cat urine can be effective when applied once or possibly even several times, but for long term solutions you will need to choose another natural rodent repellent.
- Mothballs: There are plenty of people who swear by mothballs as a mouse repellent. Mothballs smell quite unpleasant, and are certainly effective for driving away and even killing moths – so why not mice? While mothballs may work for driving away mice, the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) does not recommend them for this purpose. In fact, according to the NPIC, mothballs should only be used according to the instructions on their packaging.
A moth ball is a solid form of pesticide, made of either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. These products are designed to be placed inside of garment bags and other containers to kill the eggs and adult moths that eat clothing. A moth ball will change slowly from a solid to a gas, releasing the pesticide into the air. As long as the gas is contained in the garment bag, it is relatively safe. But when mothballs are scattered throughout the home, they release pesticides into the air that can cause health problems. The balls also pose a danger to kids and pets.
- Pets: Can a dog or cat keep mice away? Many pets do catch and kill rodents out of instinct. It’s also likely that rodents will exercise some caution around these larger predators. But many domestic pets are neither hungry enough nor bred for the task of hunting rodents. There have been plenty of stories about mice stealing food right out of the cat’s dish while the cat watches curiously. Dogs and cats that roam outdoors may train their offspring to hunt, but pets raised only by humans do not have the benefit of this education.
One final note: many of even the most effective natural repellent approaches are specific to mice, so they may not help with a rat problem in the same way some traps and poisons will.
Keeping Mice Out of the House
According to Cornell’s Dr. Hermanson, even relatively clean houses may provide attractive nesting and hiding places for mice. These tiny creatures can survive on leftover food in a pet dish or a few crumbs that have been swept into a corner.
Before you begin using the natural repellent of your choice, you should therefore take a tour of your home inside and out to identify any areas where mice are likely to get in. Then create and execute a mouse-proofing plan.
These flexible creatures can slip through holes as small in diameter as a pencil. They have been spotted entering houses through open vents, pipes, and drains. Mice can chew through paper, soft plastic, and cardboard, too, so your repellent will be most effective if you place it in the areas where mice will enter the home, as opposed to applying it randomly.
You can also often place permanent barriers at common entry points, such as around pipes and electrical lines entering the home, holes in the siding, etc. You can find products designed to fill gaps, like spray foams, or use metal, wood, or plastic to fill in gaps where mice are coming in. It’s important to spend some energy on this first line of defense: the fewer opportunities you give mice to enter your home, the less need you will have of repellents and traps. In addition, once mice have made a home for themselves inside your house, other mice will be attracted by their scent.
When to Call a Professional Exterminator
Regulations in some places like the State of New York require landlords to have only licensed commercial exterminators apply pesticides inside occupied rental units. In these areas, tenants may be free to use their own measures, but they probably also have the right to ask their landlord to take care of the problem.
Amateur attempts to rid homes of rodents can sometimes backfire, with the invaders simply moving to a more secure location, so if you’re not sure how to get rid of mice in your home, that’s another reason to rely on a professional. On the other hand, exterminators can’t end your mouse problem if you don’t take their advice. For instance, your pest control technician may carefully apply traps or poisons, but you will still need to heed their suggestions to seal up tiny entrances, keep dirty dishes from piling up, and store food properly. Unless you work with exterminators as part of a team, the problem will return.
Getting Rid of Mice in Your House for Good
If your house becomes infested with these tiny creatures, remember how quickly they breed and cause destruction and even disease. In order to properly rid your home of mice, you need to evict the ones you already have and prevent others from entering.
Fortunately, many preventative measures against mice also protect against other pests…and will keep you and your family happy and healthy in your home. And always remember that there are professionals out there – people well-versed in how to get rid of mice – who can help you keep your home mouse-free.
https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/3204/ – state of NY