During the fall and winter months, mice will try to make their way indoors in search of food, warmth and shelter. Not only can mice chew through walls and destroy food boxes in kitchen cabinets, but they can also wreak serious havoc on your home and personal health: They gnaw on wires, carry a slew of bacteria and can worsen allergies and asthma for anyone living in the house.
Before taking any precautionary measures, it's important to know how to spot mouse droppings, often the first indicator that you have rodents in your space. Mouse droppings resemble dark grains of rice, about a quarter inch long. Rat droppings tend to be wider and longer — about half an inch in length. Trails of tiny poop pellets are a major sign that you have mice, but it's not the only thing to look out for: Scan through your pantry to see if there is any debris on shelves or gnaw marks on food boxes.
If you see one mouse, there are almost certainly others hiding somewhere in your home. Simply put, if one mouse can find a way in, others can — and likely will — do the same. Plus, they multiply very quickly. A single female mouse can have up to eight litters per year, producing as many as 100 young mice! That's according to the Building Performance Institute, which sets standards for the creation of healthy, pest-free homes.
Just like cockroaches and other pests, it's best to be proactive in deterring mice in the first place. But even with all the precautions in place, mice may slip through the cracks (quite literally!). Once you pick up on signs that you have unwelcome guests in your home, follow this step-by-step guide to remove mice as quickly — and painlessly — as possible.
How to Get Rid of Mice
Once you notice mouse droppings or gnawed food boxes, act quickly to get rid of mice before they do any more damage. Mice are curious creatures (unlike rats, which are inherently cautious), which makes them easier to catch.
1 Find their entry point.
Before you put down any traps or bait, do a little detective work. "Figure out where they're coming from, because putting traps randomly all over your basement floor isn't going to do you any good," says Cindy Mannes, a spokesperson for the National Pest Management Association. Try your best to determine where the mice are living and building nests, and then set your traps around those general areas.
2 Set mouse traps.
Mouse traps remain one of the most effective ways to get rid of mice that are already wrecking havoc inside your home. Place mouse traps in the more vulnerable areas of your house, like along walls and behind trash cans. There is a variety of mouse traps to choose from, all of which range in cost, function and design. (Due to the inhumane killing method of sticky or glue mouse traps, we do not recommend them. Similarly, we do not recommend rondenticides, which should never be used in homes because of the risk of accidental poisoning, especially of children.) Choose from the following mouse traps:
- Snap traps: By far the most common type of mouse trap, this quick-trigger system catches mice in their tracks. When used correctly, these mouse traps kill mice quickly, making it an efficient way to wipe out an entire population. There are different kinds of snap traps, including bar, clam and hidden kill.
- Electric traps: These mouse traps lure mice into the chamber before shocking them with fatal electric shocks. They are specifically engineered to prevent humans and pets from being shocked.
- Live catch traps: Similar to ones used for larger mammals, these traps catch, but don't kill, the mice. They are a specific type of chamber or cage with a trigger-activated door, which won't reopen until you release the captured rodent.
All mouse traps require bait of some kind — peanut butter is by far the most common bait, but you can also use chocolate, cheese, bird seed or nuts to lure mice into the trap.
3 Clear out the garage.
To mice, cars are just as appealing as houses. "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 start chewing on wires, they can seriously damage your car. Wrapping problem areas in rodent tape (which is treated with components also found in chili peppers) can help prevent mice from returning.
While setting a few mouse traps in your garage to rule out any unwanted pests is great, preventing them from entering your space is even better. "It's important to seal off the garage. Weather stripping under the garage door helps keep the pests out," says Dan DiClerico, the Good Housekeeping Institute's Home Improvement and Outdoor Director. Most importantly, you should keep any food that would attract pests out of reach. "Never store trash, pet food or any other items that attract mice in your garage," says DiClerico.
4 When all else fails, call an exterminator.
Everyone has a different threshold for what they're willing to put up with until they ask for help. If you get to the point of needing a professional, ask your friends and neighbors if they have any recommendations of exterminators, whether you're looking for someone who can effectively get the job done or a pro who will offer up a more humane approach. Expect to spend between $150 and $250 for treatment, depending on the size of your home and the extent of the outbreak.
"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."
How to Prevent Mice from Entering Your House
After you've removed any mice roaming through your house, work your way down this list to make sure they — and any other rodents, for that matter — don't return.
1 Seal up your home.
Once you handle the infestation inside, you'll want to make sure no additional mice can find their way in. Mice are able to fit through openings the size of a dime. Even if a hole doesn't start out that large, rodents can gnaw to make the opening larger. The good news: "They can't eat through caulk and steel wool," says Mannes. "Pay really close attention to where pipes enter the house, and check basement foundations. Be sure to replace weather stripping, and make sure you've screened the vents and the openings of your chimneys." For those who want a slightly easier solution to sealing holes, a foam insulation pest blocker may be a better solution.
2 Prune shrubbery away from your house.
Shrubbery and branches are basically inviting mice and insects into your home. Cut off their highway to the house by trimming shrubbery back from the exterior of your house. Make sure to keep stacks of firewood at least 20 feet from the house, as mice like to nest in the piles.
3 Take away their food supply.
In colder temperatures, mice are looking for warmth and a constant food supply. Since a messy, crumb-filled kitchen is their paradise, try to keep your kitchen shelves, cabinets and countertops clean, and store unsealed food in airtight food storage containers to limit their access. Same goes for pet food: Try not to leave food out in a cat or dog bowl all day long since it will attract rodents.
Mice will also munch on paper products and cardboard, so it's best to toss or recycle any excessive food packaging during your weekly kitchen cleanup.
4 Seal your trash can.
Like insects and other pests, mice are also attracted to trash cans. For a mouse-proof trash can, go with a can that has a tight lid or use rubber cords to keep it shut.
5 Break out the essential oils.
Although Mannes argues that homemade remedies aren't the best way to get rid of mice, there's no harm in trying out natural deterrents. Some claim that the smell of peppermint and clove oil repel mice. Soak cotton balls with these essential oils and stick them in areas that frequently attract mice like drawers, cabinets and entryways.
6 Consider a cat.
Mice aren't afraid of cats only in the cartoons. A study out of the Scripps Research Institute has found that "mice are hard-wired to feel fear if they smell pheromones from cat urine." Another academic report noted that the one-two combination of a cat and a dog at home is especially effective at scaring off rodents. Of course, this shouldn't be the only reason to get a four-legged friend, and there are tradeoffs to consider, from the cost of feeding and care to all that pet hair.
Mice are a major nuisance that can quickly multiply if left unchecked. As with most pest infestations, the cause may be the result of other household issues — for example, cracks around windows and doors that also let in water and cold air, or overgrown shrubbery that's an entry ramp for rodents that is also putting wear and tear on your siding. Fortunately, the fixes are usually straightforward, and when done in tandem with eliminating any and all food sources, they're almost certain to resolve your mouse problem.