12 Ways To Keep Mice Out of Your Cabin During Winter

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From sealing entry points to herbal deterrents, here's how to keep mice from moving into your vacation cabin while you're away for the season.

We love cabins because they’re so cozy. That’s why mice like them, too.

“Mice are on a relentless search for food, warmth and shelter,” says Dr. Nancy Troyano, a certified entomologist and director of operations, education and training for Ehrlich Pest Control.

“Especially in the fall and winter, mice are trying to find a way inside. Mice and other rodents will scale walls, climb ladders, walk across wires and swim through sewers to get inside your home.”

Once inside, they can chew wires, spread disease and reproduce quickly. Here are some tips from Troyano and other experts for keeping mice on the outside.

Identify Entry Points

Mice can wriggle through gaps the size of a dime, so start by checking for openings that need to be sealed. Mice are likely to enter from:

  • Holes where gas, water, electrical and data lines enter the house;
  • Cracks between the wall, floorboards and baseboards;
  • Cracks in the foundation;
  • Openings around windows and doors;
  • Improperly sealed sink and bathtub drains;
  • House corners, specifically in gaps between j-channels and siding;
  • Basements or crawl spaces;
  • Dryer vents;
  • Damaged roofing and soffits.

Screen and Caulk

On larger gaps, dryer vents and soffits, use galvanized mesh wire or screen to block entry points. Use caulk as necessary to seal the edges of the screen. Caulk is also effective in blocking most small entry points.

Steel Wool and Foam

On harder-to-seal spaces, go with a tightly packed coarse-grade steel wire wool, which mice are unlikely to chew through. Expanding foam can also seal up entry holes. It works best when you first pack the hole with steel wool.

Expanding foam will also help keep out unwanted insects, spiders and cold air. But it isn’t smell-proof, so mice can still be lured inside by enticing scents. For best results, buy a mouse or pest-deterrent product such as DAP Mouse Shield foam or Great Stuff Pestblock.

Doors and Windows

Install door sweeps on the bottom of doors, especially in older cabins where there’s more likely to be a gap. Also check the weather seals along the garage door bottom to make sure they’re still intact.

Mice can chew through some types of screens as well. “Use steel screens or other heavy-duty materials for window screening,” says Ricky Young of Youngs Pest Control. Galvanized metal screens are widely considered the most effective.

Close the Flue

If you have a fireplace, clear the flue of debris and then close it tightly for the season.

To tell if it’s fully closed, look up the chimney from inside for signs of light, or reach up and touch the damper. Check for a draft. If you don’t feel one, carefully light a rolled-up newspaper and put it inside the top of the fireplace. If the flue is still open, it will pull the smoke and flames upward.

Leave Everything Tidy

Inside, deep clean the kitchen and pantry, including the cabinets, before taking off for the season. Vacuum or sweep all the floors and remove all garbage. The fewer crumbs, the less enticing it is for mice to move indoors.

Outside, trim tree branches back from the house and avoid letting plants grow up the sides of your cabin. “Overgrown vegetation close to walls will offer shelter to mice and potential nesting sites,” says Troyano.

Also, keep bird feeders far from the house. When you leave for the season, take them down, clean and store them. Leave the grass short to reduce shelter and seeds for food. Move woodpiles away from the cabin. Keep bushes and other landscaping a few feet from the foundation; this also minimizes wildfire risk.

Store Food in Containers

If they can smell it, they’ll try to come in and eat it. Minimize smells by putting all food in plastic, metal or glass containers with tight-fitting lids. Mice are particularly fond of dry goods like pasta and crackers. Store food higher on shelves, or in the refrigerator or stove.

“Or better yet, leave [the kitchen] empty during the winter,” says Young.

Use Repellents

Certain scents help keep mice at bay. Put mothballs underneath the porch or hang them in mesh bags or stockings around the cabin.

A nontoxic alternative, peppermint oil, also irritates a mouse’s nasal passages. Spray a modest mixture of peppermint essential oil and water on possible entry points. Clove oil can be substituted for peppermint.

“Some people also try hanging dried herbs such as peppermint and eucalyptus near entry points to keep mice out,” says Young. “If it doesn’t help, at least your cabin will smell nice.”

Use Preventative Measures During the Summer

Mice don’t just enter during the winter. So while you’re hanging out at your cabin, get in the mouse prevention habit:

  • Regularly clean up crumbs and food scraps from countertops and floors.
  • Don’t leave pet food on the ground overnight.
  • Keep doors closed, especially the garage door.
  • Consider adopting a new cat friend or mouse-chasing terrier.
  • Set a humane trap or two to see if mice are around. Check traps regularly so mice don’t die of dehydration or starvation. If you do catch a mouse, release it as far from the cabin as possible — 100 yards is fine, a mile even better.

Additional Good Ideas

Make friends with the neighbors

If you have neighbors who live near your cabin year-round, ask if they’ll check in on it from time to time and alert you if they see signs of mice. That way, if a mouse gets in, you’ll know you need to take action before there’s a full-on infestation.

Set up a camera

If you don’t have neighbors, install a few security or wildlife cameras to alert you when there’s movement. Note: Not just any trail-cam will work. Because mice are so fast and small, you’ll need higher-quality video or burst-photo capability. And place the camera where mice are likely to pass.

Set traps

Some people set up mouse traps while they’re away to catch rodents that elude the other safeguards. Young and Troyano recommend heavy-duty traditional spring traps, which are the most humane. Avoid sticky traps, which can cause mice to chew off their feet, or die slowly and inhumanely.

There are also poison traps that make mice seek water, drawing them outdoors before they die. But remember: Introducing such poisons into the food chain can jeopardize healthy ecosystems.

Karuna Eberl
Karuna writes about wildlife, nature, history and travel for magazines, newspapers and websites including National Geographic, National Parks, Discovery Channel, Atlas Obscura and the High Country News. She's also produced a number of independent films and directed the documentary The Guerrero Project, about the search for a sunken slave ship. She and her husband, Steve, wrote an award-winning guidebook to the Florida Keys and are currently completely renovating an abandoned house in a ghost town. She holds a B.A. in journalism and geology from the University of Montana. Member of OWAA, SATW.