The Ultimate Guide to Dealing with Ants, Mice and other Pesky Pests
The battle against invading pests seems to never end. But there are lots of things you can do to prepare and deter. Read through this super collection of our best tips for dealing with all kinds of pesky pests.
Keep Raccoons Out
- Cut back overhanging tree branches and brush so raccoons can’t get onto the roof.
- Add chimney caps, or replace them if they’re damaged. Fireplace chimneys make great dens for pregnant raccoons. If you hear raccoons in the firebox in the spring or summer, you may need to wait until the fall for the raccoons to leave before capping the chimney, or else call an animal control specialist.
- Block crawl spaces and other possible entry spots with securely nailed 1/4-in.-mesh hardware cloth. Wait until the fall after the babies are out but before hibernation, or until you’re sure the raccoons are gone.
- Raccoons eat garbage, pet food, fruits and vegetables, and fish from garden ponds. Make trash cans inaccessible. Cover fish ponds with netting. Don’t leave pet food outside.
- Protect vegetable gardens, especially if you’re planting sweet corn, with wire electric fencing (consult the manufacturer’s instructions for spacing and wiring instructions). Fencing is available from farm supply stores and Internet suppliers.
- If raccoons have already made a den in your attic or crawl space, put a radio, flashing lights, ammonia, mothballs or commercially available repellents in it, then give them a few nights to leave. To make sure they’re gone, stuff the entry with newspapers. If the paper is still in place after a few days, the raccoons have left.
Photo provided by Getty Images (RF)
Common mistakes with do it yourself pest control are poor placement of traps and using too few of them. Mice have poor vision and prefer to feel their way along walls. Place snap traps along walls in areas where you’ve seen the telltale brown pellets. For an average-size house, two dozen mousetraps would not be too many.
The best technique is to set two traps, parallel to the wall, with the triggers facing out. While mice can jump over one trap, they can’t jump two. Favorite baits of professional exterminators are chocolate syrup and peanut butter.
Live traps are best used in pairs in the same manner as conventional mousetraps. Place them back-to-back with the open doors on each end.
TIP: Before you sweep up mouse droppings, always spray them with a disinfectant spray such as Lysol. Mice can pass disease to humans through their waste.
How Common Household Pests Get In
Although your walls may appear solid, many walls are full of tiny pest passageways. Small insects can sneak through the tiniest cracks, so you may not be able to make your home absolutely bug-proof. But you can seal most gaps, especially the larger ones that let in mice and larger insects. Put on some old clothes, as you’ll have to get on the ground, slink behind bushes and even crawl under your deck to examine your home’s exterior. Take a flashlight and a mirror along. If mice are your main concern, also bring a pencil. If you can slide the pencil into a crack, it’s large enough for a young mouse to squeeze through. Take your time and examine every square foot of your home. The key areas to inspect include wall penetrations, doors and windows, the foundation, dryer vents, exhaust fans and roof vents.
Plug Gaps With Mesh
Stuff in a generous amount of copper mesh with a screwdriver, leaving about half an inch of space for expanding foam sealant. Seal gaps with foam.
Protect Wood From Moisture
Insects and other small pests need to draw life-sustaining moisture from their surroundings, so they avoid dry places and are attracted to moist ones. If the soil around your house, the foundation and the walls is dry, it’ll be less attractive to insects, spiders and centipedes. Rake moisture-wicking soil and mulch away from the window frames and low wood. Turn your mulch periodically to help keep dampness down, and keep bushes trimmed back as well.
You can virtually eliminate spiders in your basement by using a dehumidifier to maintain a 40 percent humidity level and vigilantly sweeping down cobwebs whenever they appear. Keep the basement windowsills brushed clean too. In a matter of weeks, the spider population will die down significantly.
Store Pet Food
Store pet food in a lidded metal trashcan, as mice cannot climb the slick, vertical sides of the can. Sealed plastic containers are also a good option.
Tucking paper bags under the kitchen sink is tempting, but unfortunately it creates a cockroach condo. Even worse, once the cockroaches move in, they deposit their pheromone laced fecal pellets. If you have cockroaches, it’s usually best to hire a professional exterminator. You can buy high-quality bait products, but they’re expensive and are only effective if you place them properly. If only 5 percent of the roaches survive your attack, they will completely repopulate in just a few months. For a little more, you can hire a pro who understands the habits of cockroaches and will place the bait in hard-to-reach crevices. Furthermore, a reputable exterminator will guarantee the job.
Stop Moles From Tearing up Your Yard
To their credit, moles do a good job of aerating the soil and controlling Japanese beetle larvae and other harmful bugs, and they don’t eat flowers or plants. If you can live with them, they generally won’t cause any serious, long-term damage to your yard. However, if you can’t, you’ll have to do some do it yourself pest control methods to trap or remove them. The population density of moles is generally no more than three per acre, so catching even one might take care of the problem.
Livetrapping by setting a deep bucket under an active tunnel is sometimes effective. To set up a live trap, dig a hole at the tunnel deep enough to set a 2- to 5-gallon bucket below the level of the tunnel. Pack the dirt around the edge of the bucket, then cover the hole with sod or plywood so you can check the hole daily. The mole will fall in, and then you can take it to a new location.
However, the most effective, time-tested method is to set up a spring-loaded prong or choker-loop trap that is activated when the mole pushes against it.
For the spring trap, flatten an area of the tunnel slightly bigger than the base of the trap and set the trap over it. Follow the manufacturer’s directions to arm the trap, then cover it with a 5-gallon bucket to keep kids and pets away. Remove it and the mole after it’s been triggered, or try a different tunnel if it hasn’t been triggered after several days.
Whether you set up a live or a spring-loaded trap, the first step is to locate the active tunnels. Step on the tunnels you see in one or two spots to collapse them, then check those spots the next day. If the tunnel has been dug out again, it’s an active one, and a good spot to set a trap.
Photo by Fotosearch
Box Elder Bug Swarm
When box elder bugs swarm in the fall, you may think they’re taking over your house—maybe even the world! Even though they’re harmless, here’s a solution. Look for major congregations of bugs outdoors and spray them with a strong solution of soapy water. Keep the spray bottle handy, and spray wherever they recongregate.
The first step in getting rid of roaches is to get rid of their food. Clean up every speck and crumb—from shelves, drawers, pantry, under appliances, under the sink. Store any accessible food in plastic containers. Equally important: Remove the roaches’ water supply. Fix leaky sink traps and drippy faucets. Elevate Rover’s water dish. Eliminate damp dish towels, sponges and scrub pads. Sealed bait containers like Roach Motel are most effective. Boric acid pesticide powder also works. Just sprinkle it lightly into all cracks and crevices. It’s long-lasting and relatively nontoxic. Look for it at hardware stores and home centers.
Look for Gaps at the Dryer Vent
Examine dryer vents to ensure the damper isn’t stuck open or broken off completely. Also check that the seal between the vent and the wall is tight.
Seal Gaps at Doors and Windows
Seal doors, windows and basement sashes with adhesive-backed weatherstripping. Clean the surface first so the weatherstrip will adhere well.
Foam Large Soffit Gaps
Pull nests from the soffit gaps and then fill these openings with expanding foam. After the foam hardens, cut off the excess with a utility knife.
I.D. the Ant
Keep it Clean to Deter Ants
A clean house is your first defense against ants. Sweep up food crumbs, wipe up spills, take out the garbage and don’t leave dirty dishes sitting around the house. This takes away the ants’ food source. Spray vinegar mixed with water around bowls of pet food to keep ants from feasting there.
Erase Ant Trails
Where you see one ant, you’re bound to see others. That’s because ants leave a scented trail that other ants follow. Sweeping or mopping isn’t enough to eliminate the scent. Instead, mix 1 part vinegar with 3 parts water in a spray bottle, then spray wherever you’ve seen ants in the past. This will stop outdoor nesting ants that entered the house to forage for food (ants that come inside are not necessarily trying to establish a nest).
Vinegar and water won’t stop ants that are already nesting indoors. You’ll need to kill them with ant bait.
Determine the Best Ant Bait
Prebait ants in areas you’ve previously seen them. Ants’ tastes change during the year. They usually prefer protein in the spring and sweets or fatty/oily foods in the summer. Set out sugar or honey, fried food and peanut butter, then see which food attracts ants. Use whichever food they prefer for bait.
Once you know what the ants like, buy and set out toxic ant bait that’s geared to their taste. Look on the bait package for words like “controls both sweet and grease eating ants.” Stop ants before they come inside with this outdoor ant bait.
Wipe Out Ant Colonies
Liquid bait is the best way to kill ants for many sweet-loving ants. Other ants prefer solid bait. If you still have ants in house after two weeks, replace the bait containers. If that doesn’t work, how to get rid of ants next means finding the nest.
Find Ant Nests
Cut small holes in water-damaged walls to track down the ant nest. (You’re going to have to repair the walls anyway.) When you find the nest, spray it with an insecticide that contains bifenthrin, permethrin or deltamethrin (look on the label). Ortho’s Home Defense Max is one brand. Be sure to fix the water leak and replace damaged wood. If you can’t track down the nest, hire a pest control service. Pros spend about 80 percent of their time hunting down nests. Their fees start at about $150, but tough cases with multiple treatments can cost $400 or more.
Image courtesy of Jeff Hahn, University of Minnesota
Spray Ant Entry Points
Spray on an Ant Barrier
Destroy Exterior Ant Nests
Image courtesy of Mike Merchant, Texas A&M
Kill Ants in Your Yard
Kill Fire Ants with Bait
Eliminate Safe Havens for Ants
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Buy and Set Lots of Mouse Traps
Peanut Butter is the Best Bait
Plus: How to Get Rid of Ants
Video: 11 Tips for Getting Rid of Mice
If your family cat has retired from mousing duty, watch this video from The Family Handyman editor, Travis Larson. He shares some of his best tips for catching mice without a cat. Can you beat 41 catches in three weeks?
Pet Food is a Problem and an Opportunity
Look for the Pathways
A mouse is like Tarzan when it comes to climbing. In fact, a mouse can jump up to 8 in. and climb up electrical cords to get to other places. So if you find droppings in high places, look low and put your traps there.
The spaces under cabinets are like a freeway for mice. Pull out your bottom drawers and look for droppings. Put traps down there on the floor, replace the drawers and check them every morning.
Look for Wall Penetrations
Mice love to live inside walls where they’re safe and warm. Look around to see where plumbing or anything else penetrates drywall or plaster and put traps just below it. That’s where they’ll come in at night to feed.
Look for Feeding Areas
Just like pet dishes, there are other sources of food. We have to admit that the stovetop in our shop isn’t as clean as the stove in the house. So when we found mouse scat there, we put some traps there and caught five mice on the countertop nearby.
Plus: Bad Smell in the House?
Keep ’em Out!
When the temperature starts dropping, mice are looking for a warm, dry place with food and good nesting conditions. In other words, they want to live inside your house. They enter through the smallest imaginable holes and cracks. Young ones can worm their way through a 1/4-in. opening. Take a very close look around the outside of your house, and then caulk, plug or do whatever it takes to close every entry point you can find.
Worn weather stripping under doors can be a perfect, easy entry point for mice looking for a warm place to winter. Replacing it is usually as simple as taking the door off the hinges and slipping a new weather strip into the slots. Take the old weather stripping to the home center to find a match.
Place Traps Next to Vertical Surfaces
Mice are prey after all, so they’re born scared. That means that they’re terrified to be out in the open and prefer traveling close to walls. Once again, the more traps the better, especially in areas where you know mice are hanging out, usually where there’s food.
Our Mouse-Trapping Philosophy
- Live traps. Mice, by nature, build nests and store food. So you trap them this fall and let them go outside where they start their life anew, right? Well, that’s not how it works. They have no food stored away and no nest to live in, and they’ll most likely die of starvation and/or exposure.
- Poison. Most poisons are ingested and cause severe dehydration or blood coagulation. It’s not a painless death.
- Live with the disease-carrying creatures. As they run around your floors, countertops, plates with leftovers and your pet’s food dishes, they’re leaving a trail of waste behind them. So, no.
- Sticky mouse traps. Then what? They’re not dead and you have to either kill them with your shoe or throw them into the trash can where they’ll die a slow, miserable death from thirst.
All this mouse-killing business isn’t for the faint-of-heart. Sometimes, but not too often, mice don’t get killed right away. And sometimes they suffer. But if you have a mouse problem and ignore it, you’re putting your family’s health at risk.