Manage my expectations for rodent control
November 27, 2018 11:37 AM   Subscribe

How should an exterminator deal with a mouse in the house? We recently called an established company to come out and deal with a mouse problem in our house. I want to know if the approach they took was standard operating procedure for rodent control.

The technician did a cursory inspection, found evidence of their existence and put out 7-8 traps of different styles. Several of them were standard spring traps and several were of the small box variety. When we asked if he would bait them, we were told it wasn't necessary. There was no discussion of prevention other than stuff steel wool in the hole in the cabinet, which wouldn't prevent them from coming in the house just not let them move freely when they got in. Since he was here last week, we've caught no mice and have seen and heard several more. My questions are:
-Is this standard procedure for rodent control? Kill them once they get in?
-Is it true you don't need to bait spring traps?
-This was part of a pest control "contract" that lasts a year and cost a significant amount of money. All they did was basically throw down 8 traps. I could do this with $30 and a trip to Home Depot. Should I cancel the contract?
-Assuming this is as ridiculous as I sense it is, how should one rid themselves of mice?
-Is hiring an exterminator worth it if we find the right one?
posted by blackjack514 to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
1) Not baiting the traps is crazy town. I have found that a mix of peanut butter and bird seed works wonders.
2) The FIRST step that they should have taken is close every entry way into the house. They are getting in and are going to keep getting in until you plug those holes.
3) THEN you put out the traps and keep setting traps until they come back empty.
4) This is when you find out if #2 above works. If you have an endless stream of dead rats/mice coming out of the traps, you know there's a hole still open.
5) #2 could be the most expensive part of the deal. Climbing on roofs, in hot attics, examining every nook and cranny could be by the hour cost. Remember mice and rats can climb through holes the side of a quarter; your house needs to be air tight.
6) Once they have done #2 you can do the trap setting yourself. They should be able to tell you where to set them, where there are claw marks, entry or climbing smudges, etc. I use the TomCat brand larger snap traps and they work wonderfully.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:49 AM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

What you're looking for is an "exclusion," which should start with plugging up any areas of ingress, and then go about catching/killing any rodents. If they are not sealing the house, they are not stopping you from getting more mice coming in. From what I have heard, a one year exclusion contract can run upwards of $1K-3K (USD), depending on geography and size of house.

Snap traps may not need bait if they are in a well-used pathway (typically against a wall or in a cabinet), but live-traps do need to be baited. I have also seen them put down glue traps for small mice, but not for anything larger.

(We had squirrels in the attic last year. I feel for you.)
posted by blurker at 11:53 AM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

- Find a good handyman (or do it yourself) to make a full tour of your property to find where the rodents are getting in. Repair any places the critters are gaining access.

- Bait traps and evict any critters inside.

- Keep up with the exterior maintenance of your home and remain critter free for life!

Additionally, I would also...

- Cancel the contract, do a chargeback with my bank by writing the firm a detailed letter citing everything the service provider did wrong and providing that letter to my bank + include in the letter where to pick up their traps (put them in a clearly labeled box outside for pick-up.)

... But I’m petty like that. If you can easily stop any payments or pay a minimum one-time fee, do that instead.
posted by jbenben at 12:49 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

We've had a mouse problem for a while, and I finally got real with it when a mouse popped out of the top of my stove, between the control panel and the glass cooktop. Like, a day or two before Thanksgiving. Yikes.

I took a bag of steel wool, wore plastic gloves, and poked that stuff everywhere, after unraveling it, that's why the gloves, it sheds. I suspected they had been getting in around my kitchen pipes, which go directly to the basement (in our case, dirt, as we are built on a hillside in a lake community). Then I put steel wool between the back of the cabinets at the "ground" level and the wall, plus up the sides, jamming it in there with a chopstick. I also (temporarily) put steel wool in the gap between the stove top and cook top (aside from the little chimney vent thing).

Then I put down a circular trap (the kind that closes once it's been tripped), baited with peanut butter. I put it near the side of the stove, as I'd just had a mouse there a day or two before, sitting up and eating a stray crouton (and I am clean! I swear! But one must have gotten away from me when browning them recently). I stupidly picked him up with my husband's grabber tool and flung him outside, so maybe that was the mouse who came back in and then crawled up the inside back of my oven and popped out through the top (screaming did take place, and he jumped up, squeezed himself back into the opening, and disappeared).

Since the steel wool mega-treatment, I have not seen one mouse, cats have stopped guarding the stove and bottom cupboards (where I have no food, and also cleaned with smelly Fantastik before doing said steel wool pushing). The trap has not been tripped.

I did this AFTER reading that pest guys just come out and set a bunch of traps and don't close up the openings. My advice to you is to either find the holes yourself, and plug them with steel wool or whatever means you think necessary (some people put spray foam on top of the steel wool, YMMV as to whether that's appropriate for your hole location), OR hire someone to do that job for you. Like a handyman. Unless these guys will come back out and plug the holes for you, yes, cancel it if you can and find someone else.

Mice look for light, and of course, they want food and water. I can't help dropping food next to my stove once in a while (my bottom drawer, where I had my sheet pans, is now empty, as they'd been in there too, yuck), and I have always put things like sugar in lock-top containers, etc. So, hopefully, I have blocked them (for now) and they will go invade some other unoccupied camp on my road.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:55 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

So I've been dealing with a mouse problem in my house since I bought it a year and a half ago. You're being ripped off. For my current exterminator's contract, they came out for the first visit and did a pretty thorough examination of the exterior foundation. They sprayfoamed a big gap they'd found by my dryer vent where mice were getting into my basement. They also set bait boxes around the rafters in the basement--keeping a careful tally of where and how many they set. Same for my attic. I set out a couple of spring traps myself and though I haven't caught anything since they closed that gap.

With the change in weather I had mouse activity in my basement again so I called the company. Without an extra charge they sent someone back out who went around my foundation on his knees in the snow. He found two more ingress points that he plugged up, and he checked all of the bait boxes.

I have an older house with two additions built on (I've since learned that additions are prime pest ingress points and are really hard to fully close off) so I've accepted that staying on top of any mouse problems will require constant vigilance. But at the very least an exterminator should be interested in exclusion. (I fired the first exterminator I hired who just threw some poison in my attic and called it a day).
posted by TwoStride at 4:39 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Assuming this is as ridiculous as I sense it is, how should one rid themselves of mice?

I've had the best luck by far with the Rat Zapper traps (which works great on mice). In my experience they nail mice with 100% efficiency, where snap traps were hit & miss and bucket traps from YouTube did not work at all. The Rat Zapper have a 75% kill rate for rats, as they're more wary, so you have to be very careful about following the guidelines to a T, including the instructions about putting out a free meal for one night. Dog food is the best thing to use with them. Peanut butter is excellent on snap traps, but will foul the Zapper. Cheese isn't good for bait.

The only downside with the Zapper is it has to be monitored; once there's a kill it won't work until it's reset. So in heavier infestations you'll want to use it alongside other kinds of traps. There's a red strobe light that flashes when the Zapper needs clearing, which is pretty good.

Anticoagulant poisons are my next choice for effectiveness. You'll see activity decrease sharply in a couple of days. Brodifacoum was the best anticoagulant in my opinion, but it was outlawed several years ago in the US; some Amazon third party sellers are making a fortune selling it at huge markups. However the other stuff works fine (diphacinone I believe was what I used as an alternative). Both pellets and blocks seem to work fine. I really dislike poisons because of the possibility of slow suffering, but having researched warfarin poisoning a bit I think anticoagulants are relatively humane, though not pleasant. Of course whether to use one is your choice.

Ultrasonic traps do not work at all, in my opinion, don't waste your money.

All in all, Amazon reviews are fairly good for sorting out which products work and which don't work, if you can weed out the morons and shills, so I'd look closely at that as a guide before forking over money.
posted by crapmatic at 5:57 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

A lot of good advice already. Definitely try to block all the possible entryways. I agree that traps without bait = ???

Rodents are smart and many know how to avoid traps. I've seen traps with the bait gone and still set to ready mode. I've seen traps that have gone off, bait eaten, and rodent escaped.

I am no expert at this, but here are some tips I've learned:
- Put some newspaper or junk flyers or a cut up paper bag underneath the trap(s). It makes it much easier to wrap up the trap later into a bag for disposal (use gloves of course).
- Snap traps should be perpendicular to the path of the mice, ideally along a wall or wherever you know they are traveling.
- When setting up a trap and baiting it, use gloves. Apparently this is to avoid getting your human scent on it and warning them off; no idea if it makes a big difference.
- As mentioned above by crapmatic: a "free meal" makes them less suspicious, so you can also do that with snap traps -- setting baited traps in places but *not* set to catch, and then re-baiting and setting them later.
- If you use peanut butter, don't use too much. One thing that worked sometimes was getting a raisin, and smearing peanut butter on it. Some spring traps have a little notch in the trigger/foot pedal, so you can slide the raisin under the notch. The idea is to make it harder to grab and run.
- If you use something like a Rat Zapper, you can use peanut butter as bait without mucking up the trap. Put a little bit of the peanut butter (less than a pea size amount) inside a little bottle cap (as long as it's not too large), like a plastic water or soda bottle cap like a little cup, place it on the bait plate, and turn on the trap. I think I learned this tip from an Amazon review. (If you buy a Rat Zapper, remember to buy batteries separately for it.)
- Finding out where they're coming in from: it could be multiple places. One thing you can do is sprinkle a little flour to see if you find tracks in it later -- around walls, etc. Check behind appliances (refrigerators, stoves) and see if you can spot tracks in the dust behind them.

Btw, the professional who helped us did a thorough check and fixed vent screens, filled in places with spray foam, and even had concrete to fill some trickier gaps. He showed us where they were getting in, and also took photos and zoomed in to show tracks outside we hadn't noticed. He also took photos to show the places he had fixed.

He also set up traps. He did want to try glue traps in some places, but I drew the line at those (after reading about horror stories in past AskMes), and he respected that. He used regular Victor wooden traps. He also said he would come by to dispose of dead rodents if we weren't comfortable handling them ourselves. You can absolutely tell whomever you hire (i.e. a different company) what you're comfortable with.


Also a note that I hate/hated having to set up traps and, and I was not totally prepared the first time I heard a rodent trapped in one (not all of them die instantly), nor having to dispose of it. I guess I was lucky not to have to worry about this sort of thing until later in life. In any case, if the snap traps are inside your house, it will be very obvious when one gets set off -- the snap is very loud! So unless nobody is at home, or there's music or other noise that can cover the sound, you'll know when it gets set off. Be sure to have a plan for what to do afterward. (If you have kids, talk to them about it too if they're old enough to observe/hear the traps.)

Good luck!
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:21 AM on November 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, put all your food away and box it. Try and figure out how they may be getting water as well. If you block their access to food and water, they'll leave.
posted by xammerboy at 6:38 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not baiting a trap has only worked for me in this one very specific instance. Four sticky traps in a row at a doorway I knew mice went thru. Not 10 minutes after going to sleep and I had 3 mice. Same deal next night and got the last one.

Any other trap needs bait.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:38 PM on December 5, 2018

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