Keep the husband, lose the mice
November 9, 2010 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Please make my mice go away! (Keep the husband, lose the mice.)

So last night I woke up thinking "why am I chewing on plastic?"

Of course, I wasn't chewing on anything, but there was a terrible crinkling noise coming out of my trash can, and I stared at it in sleepy terror until a small brown mouse ran out. And then I heard running in the ceiling. Under the bed. And now I can't sleep.

Before last night, I once spotted a mouse poop about 4 months ago, but never heard any sound of mouse movement. Since yesterday I hear it constantly. We just had a cold snap, and I think all the neighborhood rodents may have moved in to my house.

Previous threads have suggested some brilliant traps, but I'm not too keen on killing the guys or leaving them to suffer, and after working in a lab, I'm a little afraid of mouse bites.

So I was thinking:
1. Eliminate all accessible food
2. Borrow a cat
3. Repel them with smells

2. Two friends have feisty young rescue cats who I suspect would be good mousers. I think they would let me borrow them for the night. Mr. Ladypants, who is away during the week, is allergic to the kitties. Typically, he can tolerate a house full of cats for one hour before his eyes start to water. Will one night of cat presence irreperably contaminate the house for him? And will 1-3 nights of kitty make a difference in the mouse problem? Do cats just kill the mice, or does their presence scare them away?

3. I've seen that folks on MeFi have suggested mothballs or ammonia as rodent repellants. I'm not crazy about either smell. Are there other volatile substances that mice hate? Oil of wintergreen? Halston z-14? (I have a bottle kicking around) Cinnamon oil? Grapefruit oil? Pine oil? Eucalyptol? Tiger balm? I'm willing to stink the place up - but I'd like an alternative to mothballs, bleach or ammonia.

Thanks for your help!
posted by ladypants to Pets & Animals (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You may be able to borrow a cat without having allergy issues. Some people are allergic to dander, other to a protein in the cat's saliva. Depending on the cat, they may kill the mice, or the presence of the cat may scare them away. Give it a shot.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:05 AM on November 9, 2010

One thing you can do to possibly alleviate allergic response is to wipe the cat down with a damp washcloth every so often. Removes allergens.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:05 AM on November 9, 2010

Have you considered a Havahart trap?

We used one of the larger models to catch a squirrel in our attic. Baiting the traps with peanut butter has been known to work well.

(Also, when you release the mouse back into the wild, make sure it's a considerable distance from your house. If you can cross a river or creek to do so, that's even better.)
posted by schmod at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think the cat's worth trying for you-- cats are usually rodent population suppressors rather than eliminators. If you have a cat around, you usually don't see the mice until s/he presents you with a dead one. They keep the mice cautious, but they don't seem to kill the entire population.

Anecdote: I went away for a week and left the cat with my parents. I came home for two days before I was able to make it back to my folks' and get my cat. Before I left, I didn't think that I had any significant rodent problem, just a dead mouse left on the kitchen table by my cat once a month. The night I got back, I went to have some cereal for dinner and there were mouse droppings in the cupboard. The next morning I'm sure I actually saw a mouse dart under the basement door when I came downstairs. I had never seen mice or scat the two previous years that my cat and I had been living there. My cat came home, mouse activity went back to normal.

So having a cat is a great long-term solution to keeping mice away. Borrowing a cat won't do much except keep the mice at bay while s/he's visiting. Unless the cat has a really remarkable temperament, I wouldn't expect a transplanted cat to start mousing quickly either. If someone in your house is allergic, there's no way that this is going to be less trouble than it's worth.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:18 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

In between cats, we used a humane trap similar to this one. Put some peanut butter in it at night, and woke up to 5 or 6 mice all looking at me. I took them to an abandoned lot and let them go. Rinse, and repeat. Never touched them.
posted by typewriter at 11:18 AM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, I have cat allergies too. If my partner brought home a cat, I'd DTMFA. Don't do this -- it'll be impossible to get the allergens out of your furniture and/or carpeting.
posted by schmod at 11:21 AM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I was you 10 years ago. Either you start killing the mice now or later.

#1 - The mice don't care about the food - they have free access to your house through holes and can forage outside, then come back into the nice warm house to reproduce and set up nests.
#2 - How is a cat killing the mice more humane than traps? The cat is much more likely to cause significant suffering rather than a snap trap.
#3 - No experience with mothballs etc. but I assume they would have to be at unbearable levels to get the mice to freeze outside rather than hang out in your walls.

If they've been traipsing through the house for 4 months that means there are a lot of them already - the generation time for mice is pretty fast. If you leave the mice much longer they will double in numbers again. I doubt the cat will be able to get all of them in a few days, it would have to hang out for a few weeks to get all of them, especially if they have external food sources.

Just to give some perspective, I lived in a run-down place with numerous holes in it and had the same winter refugee mice problem. I started out as humane and well-intentioned as you, but after a few weeks of mice exploding out of my clothes and kitchen items, I was killing them like a wild-eyed Russian gangster with glue traps. I didn't think releasing mice to die of probable hypothermia was terribly kind either. If it's not that cold out perhaps releasing them in the woods is ok, but if it's -20C I don't think they will last long.
posted by benzenedream at 11:29 AM on November 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You are probably killing them, even if you catch and relocate them (or else if you just put them outside, they will probably beat you back into the house). Cats will not be very cognizant of giving a mouse a "good death."

After trying different options, I have come to believe that a snap trap (use two along a wall, pointed 180 degrees from the other) is the most humane alternative to sharing your house with them. If you catch some, glove up, and toss the trap and all into a bag then into the outside trash.
posted by Danf at 11:30 AM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also, if you are averse to killing the mice, a cat seems like a terrible idea -- they not only kill the mouse, they do it often slowly and even if they get a clean kill, they freak the mice out beforehand. Your basic mousetrap is quick and humane, and the mice don't see it coming so they die happy. There are also no-kill traps. There are also exterminators so you don't have to deal with them.

If they're in your house because of the cold, getting rid of available food won't help that much, they'll still build the nests in your ceiling and whatnot. You can trap them all you want, but really the only way to get rid of mice permanently is to find and patch all the holes in your house.
posted by brainmouse at 11:30 AM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A friend of mine borrowed a cat for an apartment mouse problem. The cat, an indoor/outdoor country cat known to catch mice and birds and all manner of creatures, settled contentedly into a life lived exclusively on the bed. No mice were caught. When the cat was returned to her regular life, she caught a mouse immediately and left it as a gift on the doorstep.

I had a mouse problem once. I was a vegan at the time and tried the humane traps (agreed that peanut butter was a big success), but when the mice started eating my potholders and pooping on my silverware (in the drawer), we called the exterminator. That took care of it. I recommend the nuclear option. There's humane and then there's mouse poop on your silverware.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:31 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I had a persistent mouse problem a few years ago, I did a hardcore deep clean. Especially the kitchen. Especially the kitchen cupboards, and a serious weedout of the pantry. Any dry goods I wasn't using regularly went in the trash. Pantry items I was using often enough that I had to keep them around went into mason jars and assorted impermeable canisters.

Once I removed their access to food, they gradually disappeared.
posted by Sara C. at 11:32 AM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I can tell you, 100% for certain, that you will not repel mice with either smells, or sounds, or even cats.

A few years ago I moved out to The Woods. Out here, mice take shelter in your car all winter long. I tried every single suggestion I could find online, and none of it worked. Used cat litter, peppermint oil, ammonia, dryer sheets, lemon scent... I don't even remember half the things I tried.

There is no such thing as mouse repellent. If there were, someone would be selling a branded version at Home Depot and right this second they would be lying on the floor and giggling while they made Money Angels in a big ol' room full of cash, Scrooge McDuck-style. Trust me.

As for dogs and cats, my neighbor's house is constantly plagued with mice. And she has two cats, and five gigantic Newfoundland dogs. Neither cats nor dogs repel mice. Mice are pretty sneaky that way, all living in the walls and stuff.

You have three options:

1. Poison
2. Kill trap
3. No-kill trap

I wish it weren't so, because I'm an ethical vegetarian. But it's literally either me or them, because mice nibbling on things in the engine compartment? Not good.

So every year at about this time, I set up kill traps (just your basic Victor snap trap) inside paper lunch sacks in the trunk of my car, so that I can just pick up the whole thing and throw it away. Reminds me, it IS that time again...
posted by ErikaB at 11:32 AM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't understand, you don't want to kill them yet you want to borrow a cat? Cats kill rodents.

So if you are ok with killing them and I'm just reading that wrong, then get the old-fashioned wooden snap-traps and bait them with peanut butter. They work better than newer redesigned ones do, and the mice are killed instantly, not maimed. I don't like doing it either, but mice are not allowed in my house, period. They own the garage though.
posted by headnsouth at 11:33 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Traps of any kind are good for one thing: making money for trap companies.

If you want to solve the problem, as opposed to treating symptoms, a couple things you can do is buy some steel wool and, maybe, spray insulation foam (*).

What you do is go to your kitchen and pull out your stove, dishwasher and fridge and fill in any holes in the baseboard where there are gaps any larger than a dime. Go into the cupboard underneath the sink and fill in gaps around drainpipes.

Then you radiate away from the kitchen and look at the trim, look at venting, piping, etc. Look all around you along the wall, where mice have enough space to pop out.

Look everywhere. Fill in those gaps.

If you fill in the gaps, mice have fewer places to go. For lack of food they will move on.

*: Foam is nice because it it is easy. But it expands. A lot. So use it judiciously and in an inconspicuous spot until you get a feel for how it behaves coming out of the can, expanding, and drying.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 AM on November 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

Snap traps if you don't mind killing them or Havahart traps if you're able to relocate them.

Glue traps are uncessarily cruel and so is poison (it can take hours for a rat to die from poisoning, and sometimes they do it in your walls - decomposing rodent is a very unpleasant smell.)
posted by elsietheeel at 11:37 AM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I know you mentioned that you do not want to kill the mice. We took this approach at first as well. We did as you do, sealing up all access to food, cleaning up nightly. But it was never enough, they always managed to find crumbs or they would chew through plastic bags holding food. After 2 months of losing food to mice in our pantry, with no mice caught in the no kill traps, it was time to move on.

I highly recommend this trap: Victor M2524 Electronic Mouse Trap. I bought it off of amazon, but I think local home depots might sell it as well. Its a trap powered by 4 AA batteries. The mouse is killed in less then 5 seconds, so it will not suffer. Disposal is simple, you never have to even see the mouse if you are squeamish about that kind of thing. You just rotate the top open and dump it in to a trash bin.

I tried baiting the trap with peanut butter to begin with,but had no luck. A few days later, I tried dog food and bread. Bingo, I caught a mouse every single night for 5 days straight. Now, my mouse problem is gone.

PS, its true, if you have even see a mouse, you are likely infested. We thought for sure there was only 1 mouse in the house and were amazed when every night we kept trapping a new mouse.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2010

Cats are not your answer. They are less humane killers than a snap trap. They won't solve your problem in one night, and anyway they will probably spend the night cowering in a corner being freaked out at being in a strange house. Plus your SO will have allergy issues unless you can erase every bit of dander and hair from your house afterwards.

You need to do two things - stop mice getting into your house, and get rid of the mice that already inside. You need to plug all the tiny holes that they are entering to get inside the house. This is tedious, and you have to find them all too. I personally recommend an exterminator, because they know what to look for. Then you use traps (of whichever variety you like) to kill or capture the mice inside.

Whatever you do, DO NOT USE MOTHBALLS. I stupidly followed someone's advice to do this to drive out roof rats. I could tell you about my Christmas morning spent crawling around in the attic picking up shards of shattered mothball, but I'll just leave it to your imagination.
posted by Joh at 12:00 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: The Hav-A-Hart traps work. There are a couple tips, though, that increase success:

(i) get enough of them in the initial wave, because mice are canny bastards who learn,
(ii) get the tiniest size, so that the mouse won't escape,
(iii) bait them properly (we used peanuts and/or hamster kibble, which is what they were coming into the house for, and stuck it to the bait tray with peanut butter; this wasn't always the easiest to rinse off, but works like a charm and keeps mice from slipping into the trap and swiping things)
(iv) set them properly (the instructions can be terrible, but call the Hav-A-Hart hotline during the business day, and they'll walk you through how to do it),
(v) release the animals at least a mile or two from the house,


(vi) attack it early, before the female mice really settle down to breeding.

It sounds like a lot, but it's worth it in order not to have to use snap traps (which can be cruel and horrifying) and glue traps (which are always cruel and horrifying). Snap traps do not always kill quickly or cleanly, so we're talking paralyzed mice. And if you're soft-hearted, you do not want to see what a mouse will do to itself in an attempt to escape. I say these things as somebody who worked in multiple vivisection labs.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:13 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a decades-long veteran of the mouse-wars at our country cottage, I can say that only Blazecock Pileon has the true answer. Sealing all the little holes both inside and out is the only real solution. Spray-foam is weapon #1 for this fight. Varnish and/or paint is important too. Check around door and window frames, where brick meets siding, along the foundation edge, anywhere there is a transition from one material to another. Piles of droppings will give you hints as well. Mice can get in a hole the size of a dime.

The great part is that when you do get the house sealed, it stays sealed. We finally became mouse-free a couple of years ago, and they haven't been back.

Cats can work, but only if the mouse population is small and the cats good mousers. I've only known two cats in of the two dozen or more that I've shared houses with at one time or other who were capable of this level of mousing. Most of the time, the mice will out-breed a cat's ability to catch them. You reach a lower number equilibrium, but you're still not mouse-free.

Containerizing food is a good intermediate control strategy, but doesn't eliminate mice either. Mice don't just want food from you, the shelter and safe burrows in your walls are probably more important to them. You have to get rid of the nests to get rid of the mice.
posted by bonehead at 12:18 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah the snap traps are great when they work, which is most of the time. On the other hand, you might end up chasing a freaking-out mouse around the house with a trap attached to its tail. If you are squeamish, call an exterminator (bonus, they are also good for spotting the holes where the mice are coming into your house so you can block them).
posted by mikepop at 12:22 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: For the record, I tried using humane traps in my old place and 4 times out of 5 they died anyway, presumably of a heart attack. Go for the quick kill.
posted by torisaur at 12:28 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here's David Mitchell's take.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:32 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: The city mice that have taken up residence in our apartment are canny motherfuckers. They scoff at the three different kinds of traps we put out. We even bated one with homemade nutella! They probably thrive off the scent of peppermint oil because that did nothing to deter them. They left no evidence of eating our food (though I sealed up everything anyway). The only thing that stopped the mouse poop from appearing was me going nuts with the steel wool (the course kind should run you $3/bag at the hardware store). Wherever I found evidence of mice, I felt around for cracks/holes and stuffed them with steel wool. I wore latex gloves to protect my hands from scratches and learned how to pull apart the steel wool pads and stuff the appropriate amount into the gaps. For cracks I used a flathead screwdriver to aid me. It took a few weeks of regular apartment inspection (and we live in a pretty small place), but I finally managed to block all of the spots those fuckers were using. Getting them out of the walls is proving more complicated.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:37 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

er, baited
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:38 PM on November 9, 2010

Completely agree with benzenedream: Either you start killing the mice now or later.

Rather than borrowing a cat, I suggest borrowing a friend who can assist with mouse-killing duties if you are not up for it. Maybe you could barter for the help.
posted by alb at 12:41 PM on November 9, 2010

Call the exterminator. They will use multiple methods: baits, traps, etc. They will put out enough of everything because they are trying to get the job done; homeowners generally don't use enough traps or whatever. Then they will lecture you about holes; my ex went kind of wild with expanding foam and sealed up every single crack in the basement, including the coalcellar door. The next time the exterminator came by, he stopped dead in the middle of the basement, stared at my ex, and said "Sir, you are the first person who has ever followed my instructions." (We bought a vacant 19th century house during a New England winter. It was mouseariffic. I HATE MICE.)
posted by catlet at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I heard a grinding noise coming from the top of my kitchen, where it shared a wall with my garage. I saw a tiny little hole and stared at it for a few minutes until I saw little nose poke out. The mice were literally digging through the drywall.

Killing them is the only option. I used poison but the electronic trap mentioned above looks pretty awesome.
posted by exhilaration at 1:40 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I use the Rat Zapper (good for mice too!). Check out the testimonials page.
posted by coupdefoudre at 1:46 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I'm pretty familiar with this battle as I have a couple of woodsy retreats.

A bunch of people have said so already, but finding and plugging all holes is the only way you'll ever completely get rid of them. Steel wool works great, and they usually won't chew expanding foam. The hard part is finding every tiny hole. They can squeeze through incredibly small spaces, and sense warmth so they *will* find the holes. I just bought this thermal leak detector for about $50. My hope is that, although not exactly what it's intended for, I can use it to find potential mouse entry points. Seems like it should work, but I need a big temperature difference between inside and out. Looking forward to the cold winter months.

I'm a fan of snap traps, but they're not all same. Some super-cheap ones look and seem like they'd be as good as any, but I never catch mice in them while another trap with the same bait (peanut butter) consistently works. I've had the best luck with the pre-baited ones that have a ridiculous plastic cheese-looking thing. They'll work for years with no additional bait.
posted by LowellLarson at 1:47 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Humane traps mean that you take the mouse out of your house to die somewhere else, not that the mouse has a happy life elsewhere. If you need that shard of hypocrisy, go for it; otherwise, nuke them from orbit or whatever you have to do because they are incredibly resilient to anything but a) blocking all access and b) death death death.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:53 PM on November 9, 2010

I like Dcon. They eat it, back at the nest, and they all die. I live in downtown LA, near the produce district (which is like heaven for vermin) and we have a colony of feral cats who did a good job of pest control until my hipster neighbor started feeding them Lil Friskies. Since she got all Mother Theresa with the cats, we've have an explosion of mice/rats. D-con kills them, away from my sight, and without smell.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:21 PM on November 9, 2010

I have terrible cat allergies, and it's not just the presence of a cat that activates them - they leave invisible dander everywhere - if you house a cat for a few days, your husband will probably come home to misery
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you guys! You've convinced me that a borrowed cat has much higher risks than benefits. So no kitty.

I stopped by the supermarket and got a few snap traps. I put out four traps (the packaging claims that they kill mice instantly) for tonight, baited with chopped almonds and sesame oil. We'll see what happens.

I think my mission for tomorrow is to hit up the hardware store for steel wool and one of the multi-mouse humane or zap traps. My main goal is to get rid of these mofos without the torture of glue traps and snap trap maimings, and the multi-mouse traps you've suggested sound like just the ticket. I'll let you know how it goes.
posted by ladypants at 3:58 PM on November 9, 2010

Why do I not look at what I write? *coarse* steel wool. Those mice just get me so damned worked up.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:50 PM on November 9, 2010

I fought off an invasion of mice into my apartment last year, killing nearly 50 of them before it was all over. A few things I learned:

1) Coarse steel wool as others said. Mice travel through your house through the tiny holes in the walls from your heading pipes. Plug the holes with the wool and you'll be isolating the mice. Even better is plugging the entry to your home. In your kitchen you'll have to plug holes behind both the dishwasher and the oven, and possibly the fridge if you have water piped to the fridge for ice/water dispensing.

2) Remove their food supply. Place traps--the old school, cheapo, snap traps are the best, baited with peanut butter--where their food supply was. Check traps several times a day and just dump the dead mice into the trash can. You can reuse traps. Just wash your hands. Mice aren't actually that gross.

3) If you have enough mice, the survivors get smart on your traps eventually. If, at some point, you have traps set out and they're no longer catching mice, you'll have to start varying the location of the traps and the bait to catch the last couple.

I had a cat during this time, and she definitely caught a few mice, but, honestly, the traps do the trick.

Glue traps are really stupid and useless.

"Humane" traps that allow the mice to live simply make the mouse someone else's problem when you put it outside. Kill the buggers.

I did not find any need to use poison traps.
posted by kryptonik at 6:01 AM on November 10, 2010

Response by poster: Mice caught: 2
Remaining mice: >2

Off to hardware store. Coarse steel wool and megatraps coming up.
posted by ladypants at 6:45 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fine steel wool is easier to cram into tight spots, and I'd second the careful use of a flathead screwdriver or putty knife, but that's just my experience.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:52 PM on November 10, 2010

We just went thru this a month ago (our first serious mouse invasion since moving into this house almost 4 years ago). We sparingly deployed our few traps, but they got used up (thrown away with mouse) pretty quickly w/o seeming to put a dent in the problem: time to carpet-bomb! Fortunately the local hardware store had 4-packs of standard wood and metal-wire snap-traps on sale for $1.49, so I bought $15 worth and deployed 1/2 of them (the remainder are "money in the bank" for future wars, which I'm sure there'll be). The commercial snap-trap-bait in a little squeeze bottle seemed pretty effective (my main hope was that it'd be effective for a longer time interval), but maybe peanut butter is as good? Anyway, saturation deployment of snap-traps seems to have taken care of the problem this time. BTW, I too spent some time with spray foam around the perimeter; I'm not sure it did any good (i.e. if I truly found the ingress routes of the vermin).
posted by knobby_berry at 9:19 PM on November 10, 2010

Response by poster: So in the two nights after I posted, I caught a total of 5 mice. Since then I haven't heard any noises or seen any droppings, and my baited traps lie empty. Hooray for MeFi!
posted by ladypants at 3:52 PM on December 3, 2010

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