8 Ways To Keep Mice Out Of Your House Naturally And Humanely

They might be cute in pictures, but a mouse in the house is a hazard to your health and your home.

January 30, 2018
mouse in house
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Mice are an exasperating year-round problem, but cool temperatures and and less outdoor food make the fall and winter especially fraught. Not only are mice irritating, but they can carry more than 35 dangerous diseases (like the plague!) and spread them to humans and pets. (If you have mice urine and droppings inside, it’s important to follow the CDC’s cleaning recommendations to properly protect yourself and your family.) And health concerns are just the beginning—they can also cause severe damage to your home.

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“House mice can cause serious property damage by chewing through materials,” said Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., chief entomologist and vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association. “They have been known to spark electrical fires by gnawing on wires inside homes.”

You want to act fast at the first sign of a mouse in the house. A female house mouse can have up to 12 babies every three weeks, or 150 babies in a single year, according to Fredericks. So what do you do when find droppings or run into an unwanted guest in the night?

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Why Poisons and Non-humane Traps Aren’t the Answer

At its most basic level, killing mice isn’t the solution. No matter the method, simply trying to get rid of all of the mice around your home is never going to work because it doesn’t stop the ones that survive from coming inside.

Even so, pesticides and poisons are one of the first things people think of when they discover a mouse infestation. But these pesticides are dangerous with children in the house and often poison other animals like dogs, cats, and birds. Rodenticides are the second most common cause of poisoning in pets according to a recent study. They can also leach into groundwater or, if a poisoned mouse exits your house before dying, end up poisoning wild predators like mountain lions, bobcats, raptors, and coyotes that find the ill mouse as an easy kill. 

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Even if the mouse doesn't make it outside before dying, poisons are still a recipe for disaster. The mice can die in hard to reach places like inside your walls and create a powerful smell that is difficult, not to mention expensive, to get rid of.

Non-humane traps like glue traps and snap traps should also be avoided. While snap traps often fail to quickly and painlessly kill mice as they are designed to do, sticky traps are the worst offenders. Sticky traps can rip off fur and skin while the mouse struggles. Some mice have even attempted to chew off their feet to break free. Once stuck, the mice slowly die of dehydration.

The Best Ways To Get Rid Of Mice–And Keep Them Out For Good

Instead of reaching for the poison in desperation, take preventative steps to ensure mice don’t become an issue in the first place. Follow these recommendations from pest control experts to take care of your mouse problem humanely.

caulking gun
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Seal all possible entries

The number one method to keeping mice out of your home is to make sure they can’t get in. Mice can fit through any hole the size of a nickel or larger. The areas around pipes, wires, vents, and screens are good places to start. Check around all of your doors and windows. Don’t forget to look under decks, in the eaves, and along the entire foundation for small spaces they could squeeze through.

“By sealing holes or gaps, you not only seal the mice out, but also eliminate any enticing food smells or air currents that may be attractive to mice and cause them to enter,” said Fredericks.

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Seal holes with things mice can’t chew through like sheet metal, caulking, cement, and metal screens. But don’t forget about the biggest entries to your house—your windows and doors. Never leave a door open unattended without a tight-fitting screen over it. Add door sweeps and weather stripping around doors and windows to prevent any mice from wiggling in when everything’s closed. 

steel wool
Invest in steel wool

Unlike plastic, vinyl, wood, and rubber, mice can’t chew through steel wool. Stuff holes in your basement, crawl space, laundry room, or other areas that share a wall with the outside with bits of steel wool. You can also use it to keep mice from making nests in your garage or shed. Hold the steel wool in place with glue or caulking if necessary. For smaller holes you can use the kind of steel wool that you would use for heavy-duty scrubbing. Metal mesh also works well for larger holes or bigger projects, and you can buy it in 30’ or 100’ rolls.

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humane mouse trap
Photograph courtesy of Amazon.com
Try humane traps

Once you’ve sealed the entries and exits, it’s vital to remove the mice that might still be hiding inside. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a bigger, smellier mess that will end with an unpleasant scavenger hunt and potential contractor bills.

The best way to remove mice already inside is with a humane live mouse trap. There are plenty of humane live mouse traps on the market, but the Humane Society and PETA have both endorsed the Smart Mouse Trap. The trap has transparent green walls so you can easily see inside and safely release mice through the removable door when the time comes.

Live traps are easy to set up, and you can reuse them. Place the traps wherever there are mouse droppings. You may also have better luck if you keep them along the base of walls or furniture, since that’s where they prefer to travel. Rebecca Dmytryk, owner of Humane Wildlife Control, recommends using a small piece of cat food for bait and skipping peanut butter which can be overly-oily and dehydrating.

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The most important part of using live traps is remembering to check them frequently. PETA recommends checking the traps every hour, but looking first thing in the morning and right before bed is the absolute minimum. Release any trapped mice outside immediately.

While it can seem like a good idea to release the mice as far away from your home as possible, it’s best to let them go in a safe space in your yard. PETA recommends releasing them within 100 yards of where you trapped them to prevent separating them from family and to keep them in familiar territory. It’s also a good test of your handy work according to Dmytryk. If they get back in you know you still have places to seal up.

If you continue to have mice inside after several days of live trapping, do a second sweep of the inside and outside of your house for possibly entry points. You’ll know you got all of the mice out when baited traps go untouched for a week and there are no signs of mice like droppings or new scratch marks. 

mouse in weeds
Alan Tunnicliffe Photography/Getty
Do some landscaping

Take out ‘mice highways’ by trimming back plants, bushes, or trees that brush up against the house. Remove any vines from the house since they are the best way for mice to climb up to your roof or into the attic. Consider removing all vines from the area around your house since they make great homes for mice. Fredericks also recommends keeping firewood and other debris at least 20 feet from your house.

Related: How (And When) To Prune Your Trees And Shrubs Properly

Starve them out

Mice can survive on crumbs. An important part of keeping mice out, or convincing them to move out, is to get rid of the free lunch. Sweep or vacuum floors at the end of each day to pick up stray food particles. Never leave pet food outside and pick up the indoor bowls before bed each night. Avoid shaking table cloths or rugs outside to prevent feeding the outdoor population. If you have bird feeders, make sure they are mouse- and squirrel-proof. You also want to avoid sprinkling birdseed on the ground for the same reason.

owl hunting for mice
Gerhard Hofmann / EyeEm/Getty
Attract natural predators

Things get a little less straightforward when you start to consider bringing in a natural predator to control local mice populations. The best natural rodent predators are owls, hawks, and snakes. Before you go live-releasing any of these in your backyard or fretting about how to find the right outdoor pet snake, the best predators are the ones that are naturally already in your neighborhood.

If you have a large, open property with a fair bit of grass or low underbrush, you may be able to befriend a local barn owl. There are quite a few things you can do to attract owls into your yard, but one of the best is to give them a place to stay. A properly built and placed barn owl box may encourage owls to eat on your property and keep the local rodent population in check.

While it may seem tempting to pick up an adorable kitten or barn cat, you want to think twice.

“Cats kill everything,” said Dmytryk. “Songbirds are decimated in the spring. It’s horrible what happens to our wildlife when this invasive predator is introduced that animals have not evolved with. Where there are cats roaming free, it’s almost impossible for small mammals, birds, and reptiles to sustain.” (If you do have outdoor cats, consider getting them a clown scrunchie to wear on their collar that alerts prey to their whereabouts.)

peppermint essential oil
Use natural repellents

While there’s little research that mice repellents work on their own, they can play a part in your overall strategy. You can buy ultrasonic rodent repellers that put out sound that humans can’t hear and that are safe for cats and dog, but the effect wears off over time as the mice become used to the noise.

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The internet is also full of advice about scents that mice hate, with the most commonly cited being peppermint oil, citronella, cloves, and pepper. There’s currently no research about how any of these scents work, but they can help keep mice away from your home or outdoor storage according to Dmytryk. She recommends using peppermint oil or citronella along the perimeter of your home or shed once a month to deter any curious mice. You can buy mice repellent pellets made with essential oils or go full DIY by soaking cotton balls or making a spray with the oils and spices. Better yet, use peppermint castile soap or essential oil in your cleaning products to get double piece of mind. 

Call in reinforcements

Just want the mice gone without having to go through the rigmarole by yourself or you’ve already sealed up every hole you could possibly find and they’re still getting in? Look for a licensed pest control professional who specializes in ‘exclusion services’ and humane integrated pest control methods. You want a company that will safely remove the live mice, close up entries, and guarantee against re-entry for at least one year so you can stop worrying about anything making themselves at home without an invitation.