Do not be fooled by their cute and fuzzy faces: mice are not something you want in your house. It’s one thing to see a little field mouse scurry down a path in a park, but another one entirely when they’re chewing your furniture, leaving droppings all over the place or gnawing electrical wirings in your walls. Not to mention that rodents in general are harbingers of many diseases. They’re also very clever, resourceful and difficult to get rid of.
My parents’ house has recently become the unfortunate home of these abominable critters, so we’ve been dealing with this nightmare. The experience has taught me that any home can become potential nesting grounds for rodents. They’re just looking for a safe home that offers warmth and food. While that’s great for them, they’re just frustrating and unsanitary for us.
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Confirm that you have a mouse problem
Mice are like tiny, four-legged ninjas who make themselves scarce, but when you have a potential rodent problem, you might spot one scampering away out of the corner of your eye. Once you see one inside your house, you should immediately suspect you have a nest somewhere—in your walls, in the attic, in the garage, wherever.
Most people don’t even realize they have mice until things get really bad. The most obvious signs of a mouse problem are droppings, which look like this. (I’ll never look at chocolate sprinkles or caraway seeds the same way again.) Though it’s temping to just wipe them up, make sure you take extra safety precautions, such as wearing gloves and masks when handling the droppings. This includes disinfecting the area afterward, and throwing away food that might’ve been contaminated. The last thing you want is to get sick at the same time you discover an infestation.
You may also find chewed up food packages or pieces of your wall along the floor from the mice having drilled through them. You may hear scratching in your walls or attic, or the pitter-patter of tiny little feet at night. And if all that wasn’t gross enough, you may also find pillars comprised of body grease, dirt and urine, which build up into small mounds up to two inches high and half an inch wide. And yes, these smell bad.
Any or all of these mean you’ve got a potential infestation on your hands. The good news is that getting rid of mice is simple in principle. The bad news is that it could take a lot of work or money.
Start by “mouse-proofing” your home
Getting rid of mice is not easy. Mice entered your home because it’s cozy, has food, and most of all, is easy to get into. Contrary to what you see in cartoons like Tom & Jerry, mice don’t need a gaping half-circle of a hole in your baseboard. They can squeeze through tiny cracks, holes and gaps that are smaller than the circumference of your pinky finger. Basically, if you can fit a pencil into a hole, a mouse can probably fit, too. They are very skilled contortionists.
The first step is to inspect the outside of your home to find possible places mice can squeeze through. Check stairs, the foundation, corners and any place that might have small crevices. When you find anything that can possibly be an entryway, close it off with wire mesh. For inside the house, you can use steel wool and caulk to plug up any holes you can find.
Mice can chew through practically any material except steel. In my experience, using a wire mesh wherever possible has been most effective. You’ll need to do this for anything resembling a hole. That includes cracks and gaps along the ceiling and even those high up on a wall. Just assume that these tenacious creatures can reach anywhere in your house.
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Set traps around the house
As they say, the best offense is a solid defense. You first need to cut off any points of entry into your home to prevent more mice from getting in. Next you have to deal with the ones that are already getting nice and comfortable by setting traps. This part the cartoons got right, but the mouse traps themselves are anything but shenanigans. Here are a few things to consider:
- Type of trap: Typically, you choose between a sticky or a spring-loaded lethal trap. My parents and relatives have had success with sticky traps, but the traditional Victor snap trap seems to be quite reliable for some people. The CDC, however, recommends against the sticky traps because the mouse is still alive and can urinate out of fear, and mice urine can spread disease.
- Type of bait: Once you have traps, you have to decide on mouse bait to lure them. Not surprisingly, cheese is one option, but there’s actually a long list of things that could tickle a mouse’s fancy, including peanut butter, chocolate, gumdrops, maple syrup and bacon. (Mice know what’s delicious.) This article by How to Get Rid of Mice goes over the various kinds of bait and other general tips and strategies for baiting and trapping mice.
- The location and position of the trap: Where you place the traps is vital. Mice are actually very careful and clever creatures. The CDC recommends placing traps perpendicular to a wall (like a T). Try laying traps where you think there’s a lot of mouse activity, like behind large pieces of furniture and dark places.
If your traps haven’t caught anything in many days and you still see signs of mice, there are two reasons: First, traps are only helpful in eliminating the shitheads that are already in your home, but won’t do anything to deter any more from coming in if you don’t properly seal up entry points from the outside. The second thing is that you sometimes have to move the traps around to different places, as mice try to avoid traps, especially if you’ve caught mice in the same area before.
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When you should call a professional
You can only hold off on calling a professional with DIY and a “wait and see” attitude for so long. Sure, you can try to find every single hole, then plug them up and trap the remaining mice, but the real question is: Is it worth your energy, sanity, and most importantly, your health?
This was the mistake my parents made. They wasted a lot of energy, unnecessary backaches and money on various home DIY methods and expensive mouse repellents that simply don’t work. At the same time, rodent control professionals can cost anywhere between $100 to $900. This obviously depends on the company, the size of your house, what the service entails, and the severity of the rodent invasion. I shopped around and had several exterminators come out to assess the situation, asking questions like how they’re going to deal with the mice and if there’s a guarantee, or at least included follow-up visits.
When you call a professional, make sure they specialize in dealing with rodents specifically and ask about their success rate. Most professionals should do a thorough inspection of the outside of your home to see where the mice might be getting in from. This article goes over some great tips on finding and talking to a professional.
Be wary of companies that try to recommend poison from the get-go. It may be initially effective, but it doesn’t guarantee completely getting rid of the problem. It might kill off the mice (and other things, sadly, so be careful of your pets, neighborhood animals, and other wildlife around your home), but that means you could have rotting mice carcasses around your home, in your walls, under the floor or in the attic.
The the tried-and-true way to evict these freeloaders is to prevent them from entering your home in the first place. A good company will offer to keep coming back out to check if the infestation has been resolved.
Even after a professional has visited, a mouse infestation isn’t a problem that goes away overnight. However, if you don’t find fresh droppings after a week of watching and waiting, it’s a good sign your problem is on its way out. To reduce the likelihood they’ll visit again, always make sure you tidy up, avoid leaving food and garbage out, and keep food in airtight containers.
This story was originally published on 9/9/16 and was updated on 7/11/19 to provide more thorough and current information.