Fall and winter are prime time for rodents trying to make their way into warm, cozy homes, but it's never too early to start mouse-proofing, according to Cindy Mannes, a spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association.
Not only can they chew through walls and boxes in your pantry, but mice can wreak serious havoc on your home. Particularly, they can gnaw on wires, which can lead to house fires. "And they carry a slew of illnesses and bacteria," Mannes warns. "A build-up of their droppings can worsen allergy and asthma situations, too."
What do mouse droppings look like?
Mouse droppings resemble dark grains of rice, about a quarter inch long. Rat droppings look a little wider and longer — about half an inch in length.
Trails of little poop pellets are certainly a major sign that you have mice, but the best evidence might not always be scattered along your countertops. Another tip off 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.
If you see one mouse, does that mean there's more?
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."
What home remedy can you use to get rid of mice?
We've seen all sorts of DIY repellent ideas (including peppermint sprays, dryer sheet stuffings, and cotton balls soaked in oil and cayenne pepper), but you may want to skip the home remedies. "There's no science or evidence behind any of these methods," says Mannes. "And again, mice are so used to living with humans, those smells associated with us are not usually repellent to mice."
Okay, so how do you get rid of mice?
Here's what you need to do to eliminate these pesky little critters — as fast and as painless as possible.
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," Mannes says. Determine where they're living and building nests. Once you've found those places, set your traps around those general areas. Of course, professional exterminators will be able to determine exactly where to put them and how many you'll need.
2. Set store-bought traps.
"The tried-and-true mousetrap is still very effective," says Mannes, who adds that a little dab of peanut butter on each spring-loaded trap is all you need. 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 ($10 for 2, amazon.com).
You can also go the more humane route with a reusable trap ($13, amazon.com) that doesn't use any glue or poison, so you can release the critter.
3. Use caulk and steel wool to seal up the house.
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. And rats? Well, they can fit through something the size of a quarter — incredible! Even if a hole doesn't start out that large, the rodents can gnaw their way 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 along basement foundations. Be sure to replace weather stripping, and make sure you've screened the vents and the openings of your chimneys."
4. Check the garage.
"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 under there, they can start eating wires and cause serious damage to your car.
5. Prune shrubbery away your house.
Shrubbery and branches should be cut back from the exterior of your 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, as mice like to nest in the piles.
6. Seal food in airtight containers.
Put cereal and other pantry items into airtight canisters and you're less likely to attract mice, according to Mannes. "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."
7. Know when to call a professional — and what to ask.
Everyone has a different threshold of what they're willing to put up with or take on themselves. But, if you get to the point of needing a professional, ask your friends and neighbors if they have any recommendations. Then, call to get an estimate to see what — if anything — they'd 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."
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