How to get rid of rats in your home

Getting rid of rats in your home can take a bit of work. When you notice an infestation, act quickly to avoid damage and take steps to prevent future problems.
Written by Lynell Spencer
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If you see a rat or signs of an infestation in your home, it is best to act fast—start by minimizing entry points of your home, then use traps or bait to deal with the rats that are already inside.
Finding out you have a rat problem can be startling and, let's face it, horrifying. But once you are over the initial shock, you can take quick and decisive action to rid your home of these pests once and for all. 
While the best cure for rats is prevention, sometimes rats find a way in despite your best efforts—especially if you live in an area where they are common. Rats come into homes looking for food, water, and shelter. You can make sure these items are not accessible in your home, and then choose a method of removal. 
You’ll want to act fast—one rat can become an infestation in a flash.
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How to get rid of rats in your home

Once you know you have rats, your first decision is how to get rid of them. You may want to reach out to an exterminator immediately—especially if you suspect an infestation. Depending on the size of your problem, an exterminator will cost between $200-$1200
If you decide to take on the problem yourself, you need to choose between poison, kill traps, and humane traps and get started right away. The method you choose can depend on any number of factors, including the layout of your home, the presence of pets and children, and the size of the infestation

Methods to get rid of rats

If you have an infestation, you can use traditional methods or natural methods. While traditional methods can be more reliable, natural methods also have their benefits. 

Traditional methods

Each type of rat extermination method has pros and cons, based largely on how many rats you are dealing with, where they are nesting, and how comfortable you are with the disposal. Here is a quick look at each method:
You can treat multiple areas at once. Rodents take the bait back to their nests.
Rodents are likely to die in your walls or other places you don't see them. Bait doesn't work immediately, it takes time for rats to eat a high enough dosage to kill them.
Live traps
This is the most humane method
You have to take rats far from your home and release them. May not be effective if you have an infestation. You can only trap one rat at a time.
Kill traps
You have evidence when a rat is caught. No rats will die where you don't see them.
Disposal is up to you. Many traps can only be used once.
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The key to each of these methods is proper placement. If you aren’t sure where the common paths are, you may miss the most effective opportunities, so make sure you know where the rats are when you set bait or traps.

Natural methods

You can also try some natural options, like these:
  • Dry ice. Stuff about 2 pounds of dry ice chips or pellets into a rat's nest and seal the hole. This will suffocate the rats as the ice turns from a solid to a gas. 
  • Peppermint oil, cayenne pepper, black pepper, or cloves are offensive to rat noses and tastebuds.  Spread these around your home’s exterior to prevent the rats from entering your home in the first place. 
  • Crushed pepper (or spray pepper spray). Spread near rat openings and holes. This will irritate the rats’ noses and airways and discourage them from reentering your home.

How to spot an infestation

The extermination method you choose should be appropriate to the size of your problem. A single rat trap is not going to do the job if several rats have taken up residence in your home. So how do you know if your one rat is part of a pack? Here are some of the signs of an infestation:
  • Droppings: Look for black or brown pellet-like droppings near food sources
  • Tracks: Look for greasy trails along floors and baseboards or footprints leading away from food and water sources.
  • Gnawing: Rats gnaw constantly. They can do extensive damage to your home and your belongings. You may find evidence of chewing on things like electrical cords, cardboard boxes, wood furniture, or laundry baskets.
  • Odor: Rats have a heavy musky odor. The more rats you have, the more noticeable the odor will be.
  • Hearing squeaking or movement in walls: Rats often take up residence in your walls, using small holes and ductwork to travel around. You may not see them, but you will hear them.

Types of damage rats will do

Some pests can be easily ignored, but rats should not be on that list. Rats can do real structural damage to your home. They have an unparalleled ability to chew through wiring, drywall, even concrete—and because their teeth grow up to five inches per year, the constant gnawing keeps them short and razor-sharp.
Here is some of the damage that can be caused by rat infestations:
  • Fire: Rats and mice are estimated to cause 20-25% of structure fires that have an undetermined cause by chewing through electrical wiring. If rats have gained entry to your walls, they could be creating fire hazards that you don’t know about. 
  • Rats carry diseases (like the plague, salmonella, hepatitis E, and rat-bite fever) that can be transmitted through dust, water, dirt, and droppings. This can be especially dangerous for pets and children, who are likely to come in contact. 
  • Rats breed year-round, and the average female brown rat can have up to 2,000 babies per year. So this is a problem that can get out of hand quickly.
  • Damage to books, walls, furniture, art, food, and other household items. They eat literally everything. And what they don't eat, they chew on anyway, 

Maintain and repair your home as needed

Preventing entry (or re-entry) is one of the most important aspects of keeping these pests out of your home. Whether you use an exterminator or do it yourself, once the rats are out, here’s how to prevent them from coming back.

Block rats' common entrances to your home

Rats can get into your home through the roof or by tunneling under your house. They are actually quite good climbers and tunnelers. There are some landscaping changes you can make that will create natural barriers to entry. 
Prevent them from tunneling under your home by laying down pavers or a patio. By creating a stone ‘moat’ of sorts, you can make it difficult for rats to tunnel. You can also create space between your grass and your house—rats are less likely to cross that open distance. 
Keep them from entering through the roof by making sure there are no vines, tree branches, or other things to climb that will allow them access to your roof. Trim back branches and use plastic or metal tree wrap or tree guards to make access difficult. 

Store food and garbage properly

Make sure you are storing your food and garbage in ways that limit access for rodents. General cleanliness along with these strategies is key:
  • Sealed containers: Store food and garbage in tightly sealed containers. In your home, use garbage cans with lids, and keep dry goods (like cereals and grains) in tightly sealed plastic containers. 
  • Clean appliances (and behind large appliances): Make sure that kitchen appliances are free of spillage and debris, and regularly move large appliances to clean the walls and floors behind them.
  • Store garbage away from the house if possible. Even 5-10 feet of distance can discourage rats in your garbage from entering your home. 

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Rats want what everyone else wants—food, water, and shelter. The more accessible these things are in and around your home, the more rats will be drawn in. Eliminate food sources, standing water, and places to hide in and around your home to keep these pests away.
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