My basement is a home for rats and not for people
January 22, 2021 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Long story really short, the basement is full of rats. It has been unoccupied by people and just by animals for 30-60 days. I just gained access. I need help.

We walk into the basement and we can't see them but we can definitely hear them. There are lots. I'm scared to open the cabinets where most of them seem to be coming from but can gather bravery. There is evidence of rat droppings. I could google, but there's a lot of information and I'm overwhelmed, so please be clear as possible with me.

#1) We aren't opposed to pest control people, but we don't want them to just put down traps then expect us to do the clean up anyway because we could totally do that ourselves.

#2) spouse is really stressed out by dead things, and I'm not too keen on it either but can handle it.

#3) we have a toddler and a cat. The toddler isn't going anywhere near the basement until this is all taken care of. The cat can be relocated to the basement, but only after we get some control over the situation as more of a preventative for newcomers than a fix for our current problem option. He's an indoor middle-aged guy who has lived a peaceful life and while interested in mousing isn't a skilled mouser or anything.

4) I'm aware of the obvious traps/find entrances/stay on top of it but I don't even know where to start. Is there a brand of trap, is there a cost range I could be expecting? Is there a bullet point method I can follow that if I just do that thing thoroughly and don't give up it will be okay?

5) Clean up of all this rat mess? Things we should look out for? I'm concerned about damage to the property as well (like electrical) but first, we have to get the rats out to even figure that out.

Other pieces 1) there is no electricity or heat in the basement at this time which means it's very cold and hard to see at the best of times [this is changeable but hasn't been done yet] 2) Any Safety concerns I should know about? 3) We don't have evidence of rats on the upper floors, but obviously, they're going to look for somewhere else to go, so we want to make sure we do this correctly to not move the problem.
posted by AlexiaSky to Home & Garden (27 answers total)
Ugh yikes I am so sorry you have to deal with this.

I had this problem in a Brooklyn basement maybe 10 years back. On the plus side, they never moved beyond the basement to the upper floors and now the basement is totally vermin free.

There were also some terrible parts. If You can afford it, I would absolutely hire a pro. They will come with their flashlights and make this problem a thing that you had dealt with.

sounds like it would be extra stressful for your whole family. Rats at gross and relentless. Exterminators are unsung heroes.

Ultimately for us it was professional exterminators coming by a couple times and then weekly for 3 weeks putting traps down and poison behind the walls + a contractor coming in and closing up the holes in the stoop where they were getting in from the outside (id’d by the exterminator). The contractor had to close some holes a couple times because the rats chewed throwing them concrete-only patch. Concrete+steel wool was the wining solution for this.

There was a certain amount of bad smells from
behind the walls that persisted for a solid summer. Honestly if you can get them dead in front of your walls I think it would be better, but on the plus side, the smells were temporary. 6 or 8 weeks maybe? 3 months? We bought a few dozen boxes of baking soda and threw those behind the walls and also got some things called bad air sponges, which did seem to help.

We did find a HUGE rat skeleton a year later when we took down a drop ceiling tile but there’s no way that was the only dead rat back there.

I don’t live in that apartment anymore but passed it onto friends and they’ve never had a rat problem since. The basement is once again a great workspace beloved by all and the rats are but a distant creepy memory. This too shall pass.
posted by wowenthusiast at 11:14 PM on January 22 [19 favorites]

Wear your mask when you go down there.
posted by aniola at 11:17 PM on January 22 [8 favorites]

Hire a pro. They will be able to set up the right kind of traps for your space and needs (cats are susceptible to rat poison) but also they can do a thorough inspection while wearing the right safety gear to find where they are getting in, set up recurring appointments to check for progress (and clean up), set bait traps away from the space to draw them out, and even sometimes hook you up with someone who can help close up gaps so once they’re gone they don’t make it back in. If you can afford it and you want to do it right the first way hire professionals.
posted by Mizu at 11:44 PM on January 22 [13 favorites]

Is it a storm cellar? Are you on septic? Are there drains? Windows? Leaky pipe? Vents? Restaurant nearby?

You can tie something to the cabinet doors and open them from the stairs. Something is attractive to them and they might leave if you get rid of it.

I'd get a bright painters light and an extension cord and set that up and get the cabinets open. A shopvac for the mess.

posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:46 PM on January 22

I'd like to speak up for the cat right now and say I think it is too much for him and might even be really scary for him.

I would hire an exterminator, let them set traps, they can advise you if there is anything they can do to prevent them from going upstairs. if you don't have to go down there I would seal the door with plastic and ductape. it won't stop them but you could see if they chew thru. in that case I would go stay in a hotel for a week. the exterminators can come over ever couple days to renew traps. Then they will know how to seal your house so this doesn't happen again. They'll know what to do.
posted by cda at 11:49 PM on January 22 [58 favorites]

You absolutely, absolutely need a professional exterminator. As expensive as it might be, it’s the only reasonable choice at this point: it falls into the essential house maintenance category.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:06 AM on January 23 [21 favorites]

This is not a DIY thing. For you and the family's sanity hire a professional exterminator. It will take some time and will be unpleasant, in parts, but this really needs a major force to handle for your peace of mind.
posted by jadepearl at 1:44 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]

Shawn Woods on Youtube reviews mouse (and rat, and squirrel) traps, and he tests a new one EVERY Monday. I bought one of the electric ones that seems to work well, and it did (Owltrar). Bought 2, as they're going into my pantry, and I caught 4 in 3 weeks, and that's the end of my mice infestation... for now. Previously I've tried glue, tin cat, normal snap trap (lots of variants) and lots of other solutions. None really worked until these two electric ones.
posted by kschang at 1:56 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to be clear, I'm aware our furry guy isn't a pest control option and wouldn't even put the best feral cat mouser down there right now, but more of a hey mice don't come back signaling AFTER the problem is solved and space is livable. I also mention this because I do want my cat to have access to that space at some point no matter what. Some posion options would likely be out.

If pest control is the best option that's fine- so what do we look for in a pest control company to handle this?

To answer questions: the basement is closer to an apartment unit than to a cellar, but it is the basement. It has windows. It has an outside door. There is nothing of value in the basement. It has tile floors. There are drains. It has a bathroom. The normal stuff you would expect in a basement is also down there, hot water heater, furnace, main breakers for the house.

It's Chicago, in a high-density urban area. There isn't an identified source, but you can't walk down the street in the evening time without seeing them. So, we aren't going to solve the problem that is rats and urban living, but do need to solve the IN the basement issue.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:13 AM on January 23

My concern would be that the varmints want to get warm(er) and work their way up stairs. Also, in Chicago with no heat down there and pipes, be careful of freezing pipes.

Get a pro. Because you can seal it off, let the pro know that you have no issue with poison and want to make sure they do not come back. I would call one of the national franchise firms. Orkin or the like.
posted by AugustWest at 2:21 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

It’s quite likely that your neighbors already have contracts with pest control companies, so if you’re talking to them you could ask for recommendations. But there are benefits to going with one of the bigger companies, like the likelihood of their having access to specialized equipment they might need, and these days even the speed of response. But you might prioritize supporting local businesses (a viable thing to do in Chicago) or ones that stress pet friendliness or a smaller environmental impact. It’s up to you. Most companies have a bunch of online reviews because it’s one of those things landlords love to complain about!
posted by Mizu at 2:43 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

My best music pal is a professional exterminator in NYC. You would not believe the stories and photos he shares. Your problem is on the easy side. Oh the things I’ve seen vicariously......

You absolutely *do* need a pro here. This stuff is a professional skill set few people appreciate until they need it. If you’re seeing them and hearing them there may well be dozens or even hundreds of rats.
posted by spitbull at 3:40 AM on January 23 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Pro it is. My wife had scouted out a local place nearby that we are going to preference if they're able to do get to it in a reasonable timeframe as there doesn't seem to be much other advice than just hire somebody who says they know what they are doing and has decent reviews. We can figure out the rest of it after that.

Thank you all for telling me to just pay for it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:04 AM on January 23 [11 favorites]

Any safety concerns I should know about?


Normally, I'm a DIY type too, but this is an 100% call in the pros situation. You absolutely don't want to get sick from trying to save a few bucks. A professional pest control company already has the proper safety gear and training to eliminate these rodents, hopefully without driving them further into your home, but if that happens, they'll be able to deal with that too.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:15 AM on January 23 [12 favorites]

When we hired pros, one offered insurance -- that they'd come back for free if we had a problem within 3(?) years, for a small additional fee (maybe 20% additional, which was maybe 1/3-1/2 of the cost of paying them for small additional service). Our problem wasn't this size, and we did end up using the insurance, so I recommend it.
posted by slidell at 4:45 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]

I am also scared of your pipes freezing...we're headed into Feb soon, traditionally the worst cold Chicago sees all year. And yes, I would go with professionals. Chicago rats are no joke.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:10 AM on January 23

Glad you're going with professionals; as I was reading the thread I was thinking "Isn't AlexiaSky in Chicago?" and I see I remembered correctly. I had rats in a crawlspace under a sunroom in a house in Chicago, and mice or rats in some of the attic crawlspaces too. Oh my god the horror of hearing them scurry around in the middle of the night while you're trying to sleep...

The good thing about the pros is they will come back and deal with the (hopefully full) traps for you. And they'll find and block off where they were getting in in the first place. This is key because I'm sure you've seen those rat poison signs on the light poles in the alleys -- I'd hate for you to let your cat down there once things seem clear and then have him encounter a poisoned rat.

In my case, the crawlspace under the sunroom that had the worst infestation was not connected to our living space and was full of all kinds of debris from the previous owners. The exterminator did not clean all that up, just kind of worked around it, and eventually I hired a junk removal company to clear the area out. It was horrifying (rat-urine-soaked insulation and all kinds of stuff) but they were consummate pros. It sounds like your basement is finished and not full of debris but I mention this in case there is an area that is too much for you to clean once the rats are taken care of. If you don't have a debris problem but do end up with more of a biohazard problem that can also be hired out to the ServPro/remediation type companies if you need to.

Good luck; after we had the exterminators do their thing there was never a problem in the house again. And that house was up near Devon Ave in West Ridge - sooooo many restaurants in that area. Rats were everywhere in the neighborhood (and several old ladies who lived in the neighborhood and would dump their pot of leftover rice out next to a tree to "feed the squirrels" UGH) but once we closed up where the rats were getting in, we were good. I think the exterminator recommended keeping a bait trap or two in the backyard along the fence line but we ended up selling that house so I don't know how necessary that would have been long-term.
posted by misskaz at 6:52 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

Remove / hide /barricade all food sources.

Talk to your neighbors (or leave them a note) letting them know that you just moved in and are going to seriously address this problem -- they are probably dealing with rats too -- and asking them to please put all food out of reach of the critters. Breakfast cereal in the refrigerator, flour in the freezer, pasta in very strong containers (not left in plastic bags/grocery boxes). Put a time span in this draconian request - maybe 3 months (ask your exterminators)?

I remember when lockdown was first a thing in Chicago, and there were reports of rats moving away from newly-dormant restaurants and their trash areas towards residences and their newly more active trash areas. You could be dealing with the effects of this.
posted by amtho at 7:48 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

You can pay a professional hundreds of dollars to come put down a few Victor $4 traps with a little peanut butter on the trigger and come back to put them in a bag and then the trash if you want. You can pay hundreds more for them to jam steel wool in cracks they find. I DIY because I'd rather spend my money on other things.

The trick to placing the traps is to put them against the wall so the spring moves toward the wall. Buy thick plastic bags to put the whole rat and trap in. I wear a mask with organic filter, but only because I already own it. Living in the country, most aren't affording exterminators so you do it yourself.
posted by flimflam at 9:16 AM on January 23

If it makes you feel any better: this is absolutely something it's reasonable to ask a pro to deal with from start to finish. You will not be the first person they've talked to who just wants it all to go away. Some pros will try to get you started on a DIY path, which is generous of them, but it's fine to tell them you don't want to be involved at all other than writing the check.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:36 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

Definitely hire a pro. More than just trapping, they should focus on exclusion - figuring out where the rats are entering and then permanently sealing off those entrances.
posted by gnutron at 10:35 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I'm mostly here to offer moral support, but we live in Chicago and had lots of trouble with mice when we first bought our house, to the point that we now have regularly scheduled service from a pest control company twice a year. Our house was unoccupied and open to the outside for a while and there's a lot of tear down and construction activity in our neighborhood.

We tried to DIY it for months but only got it under control when we brought in a professional. Along with traps and poison, they identified and closed all the exterior entry points. They were also great at figuring out ways to get ride of mice while keeping our dog safe. We probably don't need ongoing service anymore, but the infestation experience was so miserable that we continue mostly for our mental health. Highly recommend professional assistance! (Feel free to DM me if you'd like the information for the company we use--we've been really happy with them.)

When our pest control person was out in the fall he told me that he has seen more residential rat infestations in Chicago since the pandemic started than he has in all his decades of doing pest control work. He thinks that the pandemic has led to less food trash in commercial dumpsters, driving hungry rats into residential neighborhoods. If it makes you feel any better, he came to our (very modest!) home right after treating a brand new multimillion dollar house with a severe rat infestation. No one is immune! Good luck and sorry you're going through this!
posted by cimton at 10:39 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]

I'm glad to hear you're going with a pro. I am also dealing with a rat problem in my attic, and I have a well respected "rodent exclusion" company coming next week to do a comprehensive job. It's a constant struggle and one has to remain vigilant.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 12:26 PM on January 23

You're going the professional route and that is great. After the professionals leave you may be in interested in this repellent. I used it with great success in my outbuilding in TX. We had chickens and the feed was a constant draw to rats, but they left the outbuilding alone after we started using the Fresh Cab. It's smells piney and fresh and it's non toxic.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:49 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Here in FL, rats are omnipresent. We have at least 4 different species around. I would recommend a DIY solution.
1. Essential first step - identify the point of entry. Then block it. Steel wool, hardware cloth, stucco/concrete, etc.
2. Rats travel along scent trails. By identifying the point of entry, you know the nexus of their travels. Traps placed in random places are useless. They should be placed in or adjacent to the rats’ scent corridors.
3. Further, handle the traps and bait with gloves - avoid putting your human scent on the trap.
4. The best bait is peanut butter. Make a loop of dental floss and embed in in the PB. This will increase the effectiveness of the trap.
5. Do not use glue traps or poison. First, relatively ineffective; second, dead rats in the walls.
6. Wear a mask, vacuum rat poop with a HEPA equipped vacuum, dispose of urine-contaminated material and nest material in a sealed bag, and use gloves when handling or extracting dead rats from the traps. As noted above, hantavirus.
Good luck
posted by sudogeek at 3:57 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

This has worked well for us:

Peanut butter for bait, gravity and water for the kill. We've caught multiple mice in a night with this thing! Here's the actual one we bought.
posted by nadise at 8:17 PM on January 23

People comparing an occasional mouse or a single rat situation with a full blown urban basement infestation ... have no idea.
posted by spitbull at 8:36 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

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