How to Get Rid of Rats

Intelligent, disease-carrying, and destructive, rats can wreak serious havoc on a home. It’s easy to panic when you notice signs of these unwelcome visitors. Beyond being squirm-inducing, rats can chew through electrical wires, spread dozens of diseases, cause infections, and even bite humans thousands of times per year in the U.S. It’s no wonder that when we notice signs of rats, we want them gone yesterday.

Thankfully, we’re not powerless against these rodents. If you notice signs of rats in your home, there are a number of steps you can take to get rid of them and reduce the likelihood that they will return in the future. The most effective solution for you will depend on your preferences, the features of your home, and the level of infestation, but following the steps below can help you get started.

1. Determine Where the Rats Are Coming From

In order to get rid of rats and prevent them from returning, it’s important to first understand where they are living and how they are entering your home. Even though rats are fairly large, they can often be hard to spot in person. However, signs of their presence are pretty noticeable. When assessing your rat problem, look out for droppings near food sources or trash, greasy rub marks on the walls, chew marks on wood or wires, strange noises in the walls, nests in hidden areas, and, of course, live or dead rats—a dead giveaway.

2. Block Rats From Entering Your Home

Once you understand where the rats are coming from, you can try to keep them out by blocking any openings. Rats can squeeze through holes as small as the size of a U.S. quarter, so all openings greater than half an inch should be sealed.

Scan your home for cracks, holes, and gaps, which are especially common where utility lines enter the walls, and around air conditioning units, vents, and drain pipes. To seal these entry points, use caulk, steel wool, heavy-gauge screening, quarter-inch hardware cloth, or some combination. You can also use copper mesh to stuff into cramped spaces that rats might chew.

Smart and scrappy, rats are also strong climbers, so make sure to clear away any tree branches that touch your home, which rats may be using to climb up into other entry points.

3. Remove Their Access to Food and Water

In addition to shelter, rats are entering your home to find the food and water they need to survive. If you remove or reduce their access to these necessities, you make your home much less attractive to these rodents.

To do this, start by getting rid of all trash in or near your home. Make sure all garbage containers have tight-fitting covers, and try to keep all trash bins as far from your home as possible. You will also want to keep landscaped areas in good condition, by trimming grass, clearing out junk, removing or elevating wood piles, and picking up dog droppings on a daily basis. Rats will feed on any food available, so make sure to store grass seed, bird seed, and pet food in sealed, rat-proof containers, and pick up any spilled food from bird feeders or pet dishes.

Inside the home, be sure to keep all food in sealed containers and clean up spills and crumbs promptly. Since rats also need access to water, check to make sure you have no leaks in your pipes or faucets.

4. Use Traps or Baits

If you’ve taken these measures and still have a rat problem, there are two main methods for physically removing these rodents: traps and baits.

Traps hold the rodent in place, and bring conclusive proof that it was caught—which can be good for your peace of mind. Common types of traps include snap traps, live traps, and glue traps. Snap traps, in particular, are a common do-it-yourself removal choice because of their simplicity, affordability, and effectiveness. To use a snap trap, simply place a dab of peanut butter on the traps, and then set the traps where you’ve seen droppings and along the wall. Be patient and check your traps regularly—it may take a few days to catch the rat, and you may have to experiment with where you place the traps.

Baits, meanwhile, generally use rodenticide and bait stations to poison and kill the rat, but do not trap the rat in place. If you choose to use a rodenticide, make sure to use tamper-resistant bait stations and keep them in areas where children and pets cannot access them. Since bait stations do not hold a rat in place, they leave open the possibility that a rat can scurry into an inaccessible area after ingesting the poison. As such, these baits should be used with caution and rat carcasses should be removed as soon as possible to prevent any further problems.

5. Call a Professional

If all else fails and these do-it-yourself approaches just aren’t cutting it, it’s time to call in the professionals to get the job done once and for all. These experts have the equipment, knowledge, and experience to assess your situation and determine which tools and approaches will be most effective.

While getting rid of rats can be frustrating, many of the steps you’ll take to handle an existing rat problem can also minimize the chances that these unwanted visitors will return in the future—so your work will pay off down the line to help you maintain a rat-free home. Rats, like most animals, are striving to satisfy their basic needs for food, water, and shelter. Once you make it harder for rats to find those necessities, your home becomes much less enticing.