While the colder seasons are prime time for hunkering down and enjoying your cozy home, it's also the season for other critters to do the same—including mice. This is prime time for hibernation, and many animals make their own homes and burrows to wait out the winter. Unfortunately for us, rodents aren't among them. Instead of building their own snug nests, they try to make their way into our warm, cozy homes. Luckily, it's never too late to start mouseproofing your home, according to Cindy Mannes, a spokesperson for the National Pest Management Association. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the pesky little critters, including how to get rid of mice if and when you do spot one.
Sorry to break the news: If you see one mouse, you almost definitely have more than one. "They're looking for the same things that humans are looking for in the winter: food, water, and shelter," says Mannes. "They've gotten so good at living with humans. When you get one, others will find their way in. Plus, they multiply very quickly." That's why it's so important to learn how to get rid of mice before there's a problem.
Signs of Mice
Trails of poop pellets (they look like this) are a clear sign that you have mice, but the best evidence might not always be scattered along your countertops. Another tipoff could be boxes in your pantry have been chewed through. "You may see debris on your shelf or gnaw marks on boxes or bags of food," says Mannes.
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Evidence of nibbles might sound cute, but these not-so-innocent critters can cause major damage if you're not careful. Not only can they chew through walls and boxes in your pantry, but mice can cause other extensive damage. In the worst cases, they can chew on wires, which can lead to house fires.
If that's not enough to persuade you to deal with your mouse problem, maybe the fact that they can make you sick is. "They carry a slew of illnesses and bacteria," Mannes warns. "A buildup of their droppings can worsen allergy and asthma situations."
What Is the Best Mouse Repellent?
We've seen all sorts of DIY ideas that claim to get rid of mice. The internet is overflowing with herbal and homemade deterrents including peppermint sprays, dryer sheet stuffings, and cotton balls soaked in oil and cayenne pepper. You may want to skip them, though. "There's no science or evidence behind any of these methods," says Mannes. "Mice are so used to living with humans, that smells associated with us are not usually repellent to mice."
So what does work, then? "The tried-and-true mousetrap is still very effective," says Mannes. She recommends baiting a spring-loaded trap with a dab of peanut butter. Want something a little, um, less out in the open? Try the d-Con Discreet No View, No Touch mousetrap, which conceals the little guy so you can just toss the whole thing.
How To Get Rid of Mice in Four Steps
Mannes recommends following these four easy steps to get rid of an existing mice infestation and stop them from coming back again.
Step One: Put Traps in the Right Places
You need to do a little reconnaissance before you grab the peanut butter. For a mousetrap to work, it needs to be where a mouse will trip it. "Figure out where they're coming from, because putting traps randomly all over your basement floor isn't going to do you any good," Mannes says. Look around to determine where they're living and building nests. Once you've found those places, set your traps in those general areas. A pro exterminator will be able to determine exactly where to put the traps and how many you need.
Step Two: Seal Any and All Crevices
Once you tamp down the infestation inside, you'll want to make sure no additional mice can find their way in. Mice can fit through an opening the size of a dime. And rats? Well, they can fit through one the size of a quarter—incredible! Even if a hole doesn't start out that large, rodents can gnaw their way to make the opening larger. The good news? "They can't eat through caulk and steel wool," says Mannes. Use those materials to fill any crevices you see. "Pay really close attention to where pipes enter the house and along basement foundations. Be sure to replace weather stripping. And make sure you've screened the vents and the openings of your chimneys."
In addition to your house, mice and rats love garages and wreak havoc there too. "If they get into the garage, they might just decide to live under your car hood, where the engine is nice and warm," warns Mannes. Once they're inside, they can start eating wires and cause serious damage to your car. Follow the same steps to seal your garage.
Step Three: Clean Up Your Landscaping
Shrubbery and branches should be cut back, away from the house. "Otherwise, they're like highways for mice and insects to get into your home," Mannes says. Keep stacks of firewood at least 20 feet from the house, since mice like to nest in the piles.
Step Four: Use Airtight Food Storage Containers
Put cereal and other pantry items into airtight canisters, and you're less likely to attract mice, according to Mannes. (This move helps ward off stink bugs and indoor flies too.) "Another thing people don't think about: pet food. If you leave it out in a dog bowl all day, that just gives rodents another source of food."
When Should You Call in a Pro?
Everyone has a different threshold of what they're willing to put up with or take on themselves. If you get to the point where you need a professional to get rid of mice, ask your friends and neighbors if they have recommendations; if they've never had an issue, you can always check the Thumbtack app. Then call to get an estimate to see what—if anything—they charge for a consultation. "Also ask if they're licensed by the state and if they're a member of a state or national association," says Mannes. "Those folks are usually taking the time to be credentialed properly, and they're learning the latest techniques for treatment."
Kate McGregor is House Beautiful’s SEO Editor. She has covered everything from curated decor round-ups and shopping guides, to glimpses into the home lives of inspiring creatives, for publications such as ELLE Decor, Domino, and Architectural Digest’s Clever.