How to get rid of rats and mice
Rodents (rats and mice) are common pests in our area and can be dangerous. They can ruin your food, destroy things in your home and start electrical fires. Rats and mice also carry diseases that can make people sick.
To file a complaint about rodent infestations, rats in toilets or rodents (rats) associated with illegal dumping of garbage and solid waste, call us at 206-263-9566 or write us through Environmental Health's online services portal.
- Rats in toilets:
Public Health investigates complaints about rats in toilets. Investigators may follow up on your complaint by inspecting sewers near your residence and baiting them if they see evidence of rats. Learn more about the Seattle Sewer Baiting Program.
- Rodent complaints:
Public Health responds to complaints about rodent (rat and mice) infestations and neighborhood rodent issues. We can provide information to the property owner about rodent control, and in some cases we have enforcement of the King County Board of Health Title 8 requirements for rodent control.
- Homeowners and general questions about rats and rodent control:
If you are a homeowner and have a rodent or rat problem, please read our website information below about rodent prevention and control for homeowners and tenants. Public Health cannot come to your home to eliminate rodents.
Don't give food and shelter to these most unwanted guests! The time to act is before you see signs of rodents, which may include droppings, nests, gnaw marks, or a dead rodent.
Sources of food that rodents are attracted to include birdseed, pet food, fruits and berries on the ground, bread crumbs, food waste, grease (e.g. such as an outdoor grill), and garbage. If you feed them, they will stay.
- Bird feeders should be on poles and seed in trays that rats can't reach. If a squirrel can reach the bird feeder so can a rat.
- Keep garbage can lids closed tightly.
- Pick up fruits and vegetables in your yard.
- Do not leave your pet food outside.
- Keep all stored food in rodent-proof containers.
- Use only rodent-resistant composters keeping lids tight, and do not compost any animal products (fish, meat, chicken, cheese, butter).
- Pick up dog waste in your yard daily.
- Places where rats and rodents like to stay and seek shelter include firewood and wood piles, bushes, vines, tall grasses, and rockeries; unsecured buildings like garages, sheds, greenhouses, and barns; and vehicles, appliances, old furniture and junk.
- Stack firewood 18 inches off the ground and away from all buildings.
- Move your wood pile at least twice a year.
- Plant bushes so they will stay at least 3 feet from your house.
- Keep bushes, vines, and tree branches cut back at least 3 feet from your house (Roof rats get into your house from tree branches that hang over the roof).
- Mow your lawn regularly.
- Keep yards and alleys clean—take junk to the dump!
Prevent rodents from entering your home by checking inside and outside the house for gaps or holes.
- Seal Up! Rodents, CDC
Rats live in sewers and can follow the food in pipes up to your toilet.
- Keep your kitchen sink rinsed clean and use garbage disposals as little as possible .Rinse out your kitchen sink once or twice a month using 1 cup of bleach (an alternative to using bleach - 1 cup of baking soda followed by 1 cup of vinegar) and rinsing with boiling water.
- Never pour grease down the drain.
- Keep your toilet lid down when not in use.
- If you find a rat in your toilet, flush it! (hint: squirt a little dishwashing liquid under the lid into the bowl, wait a couple of minutes then flush).
If rodents have entered your home, shed, garage, vehicle, or other spaces, the best trap is the simple and cheap wooden "snap trap." They are sold in hardware stores. Snap traps for rats and mice are different sizes. When setting snap traps, it is important to bait the trap with food and place it near where you have found droppings. Inside buildings, poisons are not recommended for rat control as poisoned rats can die in hard to reach places and cause a very bad smell.
For controlling rats outside in areas along a building, fence, wood pile, etc. you may want to use bait stations. Always secure poison in bait stations so that it is not available to children, pets or wild animals. You must follow the instructions on the package label.
Dead rodents must be double bagged and placed in the garbage. Do not touch a dead rodent with your bare hands. Use gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water after removing gloves. Note: Only dead rodents can be disposed of in the garbage.
It is very important to follow safe cleaning steps to stay healthy and prevent spreading diseases from rodents. If you find dead rodents, rodent nests, or urine and droppings see the CDC's guidance for cleaning up after rodents.
Rodents, including squirrels, mice, and rats, may construct their nests in cars, trucks, campers, and other vehicles, especially if such vehicles are used infrequently. Rodent nesting materials can be found in many areas of a vehicle:
- the engine compartment, including in engine compartment insulation;
- the ducting and air filtration components of a vehicle's heating and air conditioning system;
- the trunk of a car, including the spare tire compartment;
- the passenger compartment, including the headliner, glovebox, and in or under the seats;
- tool compartments; and,
- taillight and headlight access areas and enclosures.
Some rodents, such as deer mice, can carry hantavirus, and their nesting materials, droppings, and urine may contain hantavirus. People cleaning or riding in the car may be in contact with these infected materials. Infectious virus particles blowing onto passengers through the air vents may pose a risk to people who use the vehicle.
Rodents can enter vehicles through:
- rust holes
- wire chases
- side vents
- rocker panels
An accumulation of nesting materials in the air intake system of a vehicle can also contribute to odors inside the passenger compartment, and could potentially impair engine performance, preventing the vehicle from starting, or causing it to run poorly. (These problems may also be caused by electrical wires and cables that the rodents have chewed on).
Preparing to inspect, detect, disinfect and remove potentially infectious nesting materials from a vehicle
While the car is in open air, open the hood to allow the engine compartment to air out for 20 minutes. Also, open vehicle doors and the trunk to facilitate airing out. Wearing plastic gloves and a long-sleeve shirt, inspect the engine compartment for evidence of nest building. Accumulations of nesting materials could occur anywhere but frequently occur between the battery and vehicle frame, in the area near the windshield wiper motors, or underneath air intake ducting or within the air filter.
Areas of the vehicle with evidence of rodent activity (e.g., presence of dead rodents, droppings, or nesting materials) should be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned to reduce the likelihood of exposure to hantavirus-infected materials.
To avoid generating potentially infectious aerosols, do not use a vacuum cleaner or sweep rodent urine, droppings, or contaminated surfaces until they have been disinfected. Also, do not use ‘power wash' high-pressure sprayers to soak or dislodge nests or droppings.
First, remove the cables from the battery, to reduce the likelihood of getting shocked while cleaning out the nesting material. Then, using either a commercially labeled disinfectant or a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, spray the materials until fully soaked and let sit 5 minutes, or follow the manufacturer's instructions for dilution and disinfection time. Then, use a paper towel to pick up the materials, and dispose of the waste in the garbage. After the rodent droppings and nesting materials have been removed, clean the rest of the area with additional disinfectant. When the recently-sprayed area is dry, reconnect the battery.
Nesting materials within automotive air intake systems
Rodents may travel through the vehicle's air intake system, building nests on top of accordion-style air filters or in hoses and ducting leading directly to the passenger compartment. For engine compartment air filters, open the unit to reveal the filter. If you see evidence of rodent activity, spray as above using either a commercially labeled disinfectant or a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Spray the materials until fully soaked and let sit 5 minutes, or follow the manufacturer's instructions for dilution and disinfection time. Then, remove both the nesting materials and the air filter, and discard in the garbage. Insert the new replacement filter, and close the unit.
Inspection, disinfection, and possible replacement of hoses, ductwork, other filters, fans, or other components of the system may be necessary if the rodent infestation is extensive, and should be carried out by qualified mechanics or automotive professionals, using appropriate precautions. Advise the mechanic of the potential for hantavirus.
Rodents can enter the passenger compartment through ducting, through rusted areas, through areas where cabling passes, and from the trunk. A variety of approaches can be used to seal out holes and cracks where rodents can enter, depending upon the materials available. Do not leave any kind of food anywhere in the car, as it can attract rodents.
Rodents can enter the trunk from holes in the body, through cable conduits, and from the back seats in certain vehicles. A variety of approaches can be used to seal out holes and cracks where rodents can enter, depending upon the materials available. Do not leave any kind of food anywhere in the car, as it can attract rodents.
After inspection and cleaning
Before removing your gloves, rinse your gloved hands with disinfectant, empty the remaining disinfectant in the garbage bag containing the disposed material and seal the bag. Rinse your gloved hands with water, removed your gloves and terminate the process by washing your hands with soap and water.
Prevention of colonization of vehicles
Regular exterior and interior inspection of a vehicle, whether in regular use, abandoned, or garaged for the season or otherwise stationary, will help prevent colonization or infestation of a vehicle. Snap traps and poison baits are effective in stopping rodent access into vehicles. When starting a vehicle that has been idle for an extended period, air it out first, and inspect the air intake and filters before starting the engine.
For more information on cleaning up after rodents, see: www.cdc.gov/rodents/cleaning
Some rodent problems, such as heavy rodent infestations (piles of feces, numerous nests or dead rodents), may be too extensive to control on your own. For these situations Public Health recommends that you consult with a professional pest control company.
Pest control professionals can be found by looking in the phone book and online. Inquire about "integrated pest management" or "IPM" services. IPM methods often use less poison and employ other techniques to control pests. A pest control operator should inspect, monitor, make recommendations, and possibly do the work for excluding rodents. Some crawl space/attic companies also offer pest control services. Interview companies and ask for references, including previous customers. When working with a professional pest control company, be clear about what you want done and monitor their performance.
Ask to see their license. All pest control companies should be licensed and registered with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). Washington pesticide law requires most businesses that commercially apply pesticides to be licensed as a Commercial Applicator.
Watch a video on how to prevent rats from getting into your home and what to do if you find rat droppings.
Link/share our site at www.kingcounty.gov/rats