Mice are small. Mice make cute noises. Mice are highly intelligent. Mice are cute.
Mice are also dangerous and destructive. They chew through wires, clothing, boxes, food and furniture, they contribute to problems experienced by asthma and allergy sufferers, and they transmit diseases like salmonella and hantaviruses. Their habitats even smell bad.
That’s why small children may be delighted to find a mouse in the house, but adults are usually either horrified or panicked. They’re even more desperate to figure out how to get rid of mice once they learn that there’s almost never “just one mouse.” Mice are the second-most common mammals found in developed areas (second only to humans); they generally live in groups, and females have litters averaging five to six young mice – as many as ten times per year. Mouse colonies can quickly grow to as many as 200 members, even inside a home.
It’s not difficult to know when you have a mouse problem, as long as you’re paying attention. The first sign may be the trail of small mouse droppings they’re fond of leaving under sinks, along the floor near walls or in cupboards. Or it may be the unexplainable gnawing you find on boxes in your cabinets or pantry and the strange and annoying scratching noises you hear at night. There’s also the telltale odor of mouse urine, with a smell that’s a mix of ammonia and old popcorn.
Before taking action to get rid of your mice, though, you have a key decision to make.
An Important Choice
More and more people are completely avoiding the use of hazardous materials or poisons to deal with pests of all sorts, whether it’s for purely humane reasons or a very legitimate concern for the children and pets living in a home.
There are some holistic approaches you can take to try to get rid of mice naturally so you don’t have to resort to traps or poisons – and don’t have to deal with the unpleasant task of disposing of mouse bodies. Unfortunately, none of these methods are guaranteed to work; “take no prisoners” approaches are the only fail-safe ways to get rid of mice. These are certainly worth a try, however, if you really don’t want to kill the little creatures. (One warning: don’t plug the mouse entry holes in your house yet, since some of these more humane approaches are aimed at getting mice to leave through the same holes they used to get in.)
Mice don’t like some smells; in fact, they try to avoid them whenever possible. Those scents include peppermint, cloves and hot peppers, so you can soak cotton balls with 20-30 drops of peppermint or clove essential oil and spread them around on the floor near mice colonies (if you want to try pepper, you’ll have to make your own hot pepper oil from chopped habaneros, pepper flakes and oil). Theoretically, the mice will be so repulsed that they’ll flee the house. You can also use dryer sheets, which some have found effective – or you can place aluminum folk around the colonies, which won’t smell bad but sometimes forces mice to abandon the area because they hate walking on foil.
If that’s a little too crunchy-granola for you (or if you have pets which might be endangered by the oils), you might want to try so-called humane traps. They have several baited chambers which catch several mice at a time, and you can then take the traps outdoors (hopefully, well away from your home) and let the mice release themselves by eating through a second piece of bait. This may be the most effective way to get rid of mice naturally.
Finally, you can take inspiration from decades of cartoons and get a cat to catch your mice. Of course, you may find that most domesticated cats don’t have a taste for mice (or just aren’t very good at mousing). In that case, the cats may just sleep while the mice enjoy a nice dinner of cat food. A more practical choice may be corn snakes, which love to eat mice – that is, of course, if you want to give a snake the run of your house.
Having no luck, or you don’t want to give the natural approach a try? That’s OK, most people don’t.
Let’s look at the more conventional methods of how to get rid of mice.
Step One: Mouse-Proof Your House
The best way to get rid of mice is to stop them from coming in to begin with. But even when your primary concern is how to get rid of the mice that have already set up shop in your home, it’s crucial to stop more from coming in to join them. That’s so important because a major reason they create such a terrible smell is to allow other mice to find their way to the nest. So before taking action to evict the rodents already living with you, you first have to mouse-proof your home. Otherwise, new mice will just continue to replace the ones you’re getting rid of, just like the clowns that never stop piling out of a tiny car.
Here’s the good news: you only have to do this once.
Before beginning, make sure there are no ready sources of food and water for the mice in your home. That will make it difficult for them to survive while they’re under attack.
Finding the spots where mice are getting into your house takes a little detective work. Entry spots won’t always be obvious, because mice can fit through holes the size of a dime (and they can gnaw at smaller ones to make them big enough to use). So it’s better to be proactive and fill any tiny holes you find.
Start with a supply of steel wool (cooper wool is even better if you can find it because it won’t rust), thin-mesh screening and caulk. Mice can’t chew through any of those substances. Patrol all the way around your foundation looking for small, pencil-sized holes, and patch all of them completely with the steel wool or caulk. Pay closest attention, of course, to areas near any mouse colonies you’ve already discovered inside, along with the spots where pipes or cables enter your home. A great high-tech way to find where mice have set up shop is to use a black light to find signs of rodent urine, which glows in ultraviolet light. There’s also a new powder on the market which can be placed around food or on cotton balls (which mice use in their nests); when the rodents step on the powder, they create a trail with their footprints that can be seen under UV light and traced right back to their colony.
Now use the mesh screening to cover all of the home’s vents, as well as all chimney openings. While screening vents and chimneys, check for any small holes which need to be plugged as well.
There’s one more set of tasks left. Get a pair of garden shears and trim all of the bushes and branches which are within five feet of your house, because they provide easy rodent access from your yard to your home. Then clean up your property by sealing all trash cans, moving firewood piles well away from the home (mice love to nest there) and making sure there are no messes of boxes or trash in the yard or garage where your unwanted visitors can set up shop.
Some people swear by repellent pellets that you can buy at home centers and spread around your foundation, or ultrasonic machines that supposedly send out sound waves to keep mice and rats away. Others use easier solutions like pepper or dryer sheets placed on the ground around the house. Most exterminators will tell you that none of those approaches do much good, but it may make you feel better to try them anyway.
Your home is now sealed off from invading hordes of rodents? Great. Let’s find out how to get rid of mice in your house.
The first thing that comes to mind when you have mice – is mouse traps. Traditional spring-loaded “snap” traps, with pieces of cheese resting on a block of wood, have been around since 1884. They can still tempt a mouse to step into deadly old-fashioned peril, though, and most experts will tell you they’re still one of the cheapest and most effective methods of doing the job. One hint, though: peanut butter, seeds, or even chocolate or bacon are better bait than the cheese that cartoon mice seem to love.
Those aren’t the only types of traps on the market. Inexpensive sticky trays that contain a strong adhesive made from resins and mineral oil, sometimes called “glue traps,” are quite effective at catching small rodents like mice most of the time. They’re controversial, however, because mice have been known to gnaw off their own limbs while trying to escape, and even if they can’t get out it can still take 3-4 days for them to die while stuck to the trap. Humane societies say sticky traps are the cruelest method to catch mice, even if they work well.
Just as deadly but quicker in their “execution” are the new wave of high-tech mouse traps on the market. There are rat-zappers that lure rodents into collectors with bait and then electrocute them, NOOSKI traps which tempt mice with bait and require them to poke their heads into collapsible, round rings that suffocate them, and RADAR box-traps that use infrared light to snap collector doors shut and then kill the mice with carbon dioxide. Harsh, but effective.
There are also the live traps we mentioned in our discussion of the ways to get rid of mice naturally. They allow you to catch several mice at once and release them – still alive – at a distance from your home.
It’s common sense but we’ll mention it anyway: be careful with the use of traps if you have pets or children in the home.
And be even more careful with these poisons, which of course can be extremely dangerous.
Three types of poisons are commonly available for rodents, some sold as pellets and some as a putty which mice and rats love to nibble. The bulk of rodent poisons are anticoagulants like fumarin and warfarin, which stop the mouse’s blood from clotting; they die within a few days. There are also neurotoxins like bromethalin which cause fluid to build in the rodent’s brain and sodium to build in the liver, and they do their dirty work within hours. Bait with metal phosphates will generate deadly phosphine gas in a mouse’s body, and poisons with high levels of vitamin D slowly drain calcium from the mouse’s bones and damages their internal organs, killing them within a day.
Those processes all sound gruesome, and they are. But they definitely work (and are what most exterminators will also use), as long as you don’t mind disposing of the dead mice’s bodies after the poison has had its effect. In that case, remember that you’re dealing with poison and poisoned rodents which may also be carrying disease. Be sure to use gloves and any other necessary protective clothing when cleaning up the bodies. Masks may be a good idea as well.
Anticoagulants and vitamin poisons can be counteracted by doctors or veterinarians if pets or children have been exposed in a worst-case scenario, and it can be helpful to keep some vitamin K1 (the front-line treatment) in the house if you’re using anticoagulants and have pets. However, there’s no easy treatment for neurotoxins and metal phosphates, and it’s definitely risky to use any of these poisons if kids or pets are around. Sticking with traps is a much safer option.
If it makes you feel any better, even cavemen had difficulty with rodent infestations so you’re far from alone in trying to figure out how to get rid of mice. Chemistry and electronic engineers may have come up with modern solutions to the issue, but those approaches bring new dangers to the process. The methods we’ve listed will let you take back your home from rodents, but don’t be impatient or careless; remember that you’re dealing with mammals (and possibly chemicals) which can cause major health problems, so safety should always come first.
And don’t forget to close up those entry points – or else you’ll be consulting this guide all over again in a matter of months.