How To Get Rid Of Rats In Your Home Fast: A Complete Guide [2023]

Last Modified on May 23, 2023 by Zachary Smith

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Rats: they’re unwelcome visitors to your home.

In addition to being unpleasant to look at, rats can carry diseases and create health risks.

They can also be incredibly destructive – chewing through walls, insulation, and electrical wiring. If you want to reclaim your home, the only option is to figure out how to get rid of rats fast, once and for all.

Don’t worry, though – it is possible to do this safely and effectively.

Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we’ve helped thousands of San Francisco Bay Area customers handle their rat problems. In this post, we’re sharing our top rodent control tips so you can do the same.

What Are Rats?

rat behavior

Most people are familiar with what rats look like, but let’s do a deeper dive into where they live, how they choose a habitat, and what they eat:

Rats are medium-sized, toothy rodents that originated in Asia and Australia and spread worldwide. According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), more than 60 rat species exist.

Rats can range from small – about 5 inches in length – to a truly frightening version that’s about the size of a large housecat and can weigh five pounds.

The two most common types of rats in the US are Norway Rats and Roof Rats.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each:

  • Norway Rats. Also known as sewer rats, brown rats, house rats, wharf rats, water rats, and gray rats, Norway rats are common throughout most of the US, except for the West Coast and the Southern US. They’re large rodents with bodies that are up to 16” long. Their tails are shorter than their bodies, and they weigh between ½-1 lb. Their body fur is coarse and varies from reddish to gray-brown. They have blunt noses, small ears, and gray bellies. They are ground-dwelling creatures who live in colonies and may nest inside homes and structures.
  • Roof Rats. Also known as black rats and ship rats, Roof Rats live on the West Coast and in the Southern US. Roof rats have hairless, scaly tails that are longer than their bodies. Adults are about 6-8” long and weigh less than a pound. Their fur is gray-black to solid black, and their bellies are gray or white. They have long ears and pointed heads. They live above ground and are good climbers, although they occasionally burrow underground.

Understanding Rat Behavior: What Do They Want?

rat in the attic

Rats are challenging pests to control since they live everywhere.

As long as humans are around to give rats the following three things, they’ll thrive:

1. Shelter

Seeking shelter is the number one reason rats enter your home.

In the wild, rats get shelter from weeds, grasses, and other plants.

In homes, rats will take refuge under furniture, behind walls, or in dark, seldom-used corners of the house.

They’re also famous for making nests inside and under appliances.

2. Food

Rats are omnivores, so they’ll eat anything available to them.

Although rats are best known for scavenging through trash and eating food that’s left out, some rats will kill small animals like birds and lizards for food.

3. Water

Rats can survive for a month or more without directly drinking water. This is because they consume enough water in the foods they eat.

When they need to drink water, rats can usually find enough in drains, pet dishes, or condensation in the pipes or walls.

Why You Need to Understand Rat Behavior to Eliminate Rats

Today, there are many misconceptions about controlling rats.

The most common misconception is that rats are hungry.

While it’s true that rats, like all animals, need food to survive, it’s important to remember that they’re versatile omnivores.

Because of this, they usually have more than enough food, which means we can’t control rats by assuming they’re ravenous.

While the myth is that putting a trap with peanut butter or some other food on it will attract a rat, that usually doesn’t work. Instead, rats often enter trap boxes and bait stations because they like the cozy shelter.

In our experience, you need to understand two things if you want to control rats effectively:

Rats are curious, and they are cautious.

To get rid of rats, we need to understand that they hate new things, exhibit obsessive habits, and are inherently inquisitive animals.

Because of these traits, you usually don’t need to bait traps with food if you put them in the right places and prepare them correctly.

Rats follow scent trails everywhere they go and avoid things that don’t smell like them. If you put a new trap in their environment and it doesn’t smell like any rats have been in or on it before, the rats will just avoid it.

For traps to work, we need to use rat scent to “season” them, and we often need to leave them for much longer than people imagine – days or even weeks in some cases.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that rats are crafty. Once they’ve seen a few rats get killed in a trap, they’ll avoid it, and we’ll need to update our approach.

As you can see, understanding rat behavior is essential to eliminate them as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is also why hiring a professional pest management company to help is such a good idea.

Professional pest management teams understand rat behavior well enough to help you outsmart the pests and reclaim your rat-free home.

What Kind of Damage Do Rats Cause?

rats crawling and chewing on books in a home

For such a small animal, rats can cause significant damage to a home. In addition to spreading diseases and threatening the health of everyone who lives in the house, rats can…

  • Cause structural damage to wood, drywall, insulation, and other building materials
  • Chew through electrical wires and increase fire and electrocution risk – experts estimate that damage from rats and mice causes about 20-25% of undetermined house and structure fires each year in the U.S.
  • Ruin furniture by burrowing into cushions and ripping out batting
  • Destroy books, papers, and clothes
  • Create noise that makes it difficult to sleep or relax in your home
  • Nest in walls, below the sink, or even in appliances – like the back of the refrigerator or underside of the washer

While no rat damage is good, large rat populations can quickly cause expensive and irreversible damage in the home.

What are the Signs Of A Rat Infestation In Your Home?

a rat crawling in a dirty sink in a house

If you think you might have a rat infestation in your home, look for these tell-tale signs:

1. Strange Smells & Sounds

Rats give off a powerful ammonia smell. They’re also very loud – making squeaking, scratching, and rustling noises as they move throughout your home.

Noticing either of these signs is an indication that rats are in the building.

2. Droppings & Smears

Rats leave droppings behind as they move through your home. You may notice small, dark, pellet-shaped droppings along main rat pathways.

Since rats have poor eyesight, they also create and maintain established routes along the walls.

As they travel these routes, they leave grease smears and smudges along the walls.

3. Footprints

Think you might have a rat problem? Take a look into a seldom-used, dusty corner of your home. Rats often leave foot and tail marks in the places they travel.

Tip: If you’re unsure whether rats are around, sprinkle a fine layer of baking soda on the floor and check for fresh tracks in the morning.

4. Damage

Last but not least, rats will leave damage in their wake. They may chew through electrical cords, gnaw on furniture, storage containers, or paper, and eat food left out on the counter.

As they do, they can leave droppings and urine throughout your home, increasing your risk of exposure to diseases.

What are the Signs Of Rats In Your Walls?

It can be challenging to detect the presence of rats when they’re living behind your walls.

Here are a few signs to look for:

  1. Strange sounds in the walls, including squeaking, scurrying, and running noises
  2. Piles of droppings in hidden areas, such as behind the stove, in your basement or attic, or the corners of the home
  3. Food packages, containers, or leftovers with bite marks
  4. Smudges along the walls, which look like a mixture of dirt and grease
  5. Nests made of insulation, shredded paper, bits of fabric, or other soft material
  6. The ductwork that seems to be gnawed on or damaged

In addition to the above indications, you may also see a live or dead rat somewhere in your home.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to contact a professional pest management team like Smith’s Pest Management.

How To Get Rid Of Rats In The House Fast: 7 Effective Ways

rat looking for shelter

Nobody wants to live with rats. Fortunately, these tips can help you figure out how to get rid of rats in your home:

Non-Chemical Methods

1. Locate all Entry Points

Before getting rid of rats, you must conduct a complete inspection to determine where they’re coming from.

Remember that rats don’t need a large entry point to enter your house.

In fact, they can squeeze through any hole you can stick your thumb through, so it’s important to locate and seal even tiny gaps.

Here’s what we recommend to locate all potential access points that rats can squeeze through:

  • Pay special attention to damaged drains, cracks in your garage door, gaps around vents, and spaces in the foundation.
  • Look for gaps around plumbing or utility lines that run into your home.
  • Look at the space surrounding vents, drains, and appliance lines.
  • Check the spaces inside, under, and beneath your cabinets.
  • Look into the corners and floor areas of interior closets and storage areas.
  • Check the area around your fireplace or wood stove.
  • Look for gaps around windows, doors, and pipes leading to sinks and washing machines.
  • Finally, check for openings near the floor and wall junctures.

The easiest way to identify active rat entry points is to look for the signs of rodents that we already discussed, including grease marks, runways, and urine stains.

Tip: If you can’t identify entry points, contact Smith’s Pest Management for an expert analysis of your property. We service homes and businesses in California’s San Francisco Bay Area and Central Coast. 

2. Seal The Gaps

Seal any gaps identified in the first step, such as your interior or exterior walls.

Fill these gaps with wire wool, metal kick plates, cement, or caulk for lasting results.

Check them at least once a month to ensure the patches are in good shape, and inspect your entire home at least once a year to identify any new access points.

3. Repel Rats

When it comes to getting rid of rats, a few simple, natural ingredients can go a long way.

Try these natural options:

  • Spread peppermint oil, cayenne pepper, black pepper, or cloves around the home’s exterior to prevent the rats from entering the house in the first place. Apply your substance of choice generously along the line between your foundation and the ground.
  • Sprinkle crushed pepper (or spray pepper spray) near rat openings and holes. This will irritate the rats’ noses and airways and discourage them from reentering your home.

4. Remove Food And Water Sources

Rodents of all kinds are attracted to food and water sources in homes and other buildings.

With this in mind, follow these tips to remove and secure food sources:

  • Keep all food sealed in thick plastic, metal, or glass containers with airtight lids.
  • Clean up any spilled food promptly.
  • Don’t leave dishes in the sink – wash plates, cups, and eating and cooking utensils immediately after use.
  • Secure bulk pet food and avoid leaving pet food and water bowls out overnight.
  • Keep garbage secured inside thick plastic or metal containers with tight-fitting lids.
  • Clean your garbage containers frequently using hot water and soap.
  • Dispose of trash, recycling, and compost regularly.

5. Remove Hiding Places

Rats love shelter and places to hide. One of the best ways to eliminate rats without poison is to eliminate their hiding places.

Here’s how:

  • Clean up the clutter in and around your home and move objects away from the walls.
  • Get rid of piles of out-of-season clothing, unsecured storage boxes, and newspapers or magazines that rats can shred and use as nest material.
  • Use risers to lift stored boxes off the floor.
  • Store out-of-season items in durable plastic containers with tight-fitting lids rather than cardboard boxes.

6. Set Traps

Not that you’ve sealed entry points and removed food sources, you’ll need to eliminate all the remaining rats in your home. Trapping rats is the best way to do this.

Trapping is a poison-free method of reducing rat populations.

As rodenticides and harsh poisons have fallen out of favor or been outlawed (as they were recently in California), trapping with snap traps has become the most effective way to eliminate rats; it is what kills rats fast and effectively and relatively humanely.

Glue traps are another, albeit less humane, option to reduce rat populations. Glue traps allow you to monitor rodent populations, and identify high-traffic areas that may benefit from the placement of snap traps.

To use glue traps effectively, place them in rodent runways and check and replace them often.

If you place your own traps, use plenty of them and position them in high-activity areas. Use peanut butter, unsalted seeds, bananas, or apples as bait.

If you notice rats eating something specific in your home, you might consider baiting the trap with that instead. For example, rats eating apples off the counter may respond well to a trap set with sliced apples.

Tip: If you prefer not to set the traps on your own, contact a professional pest management team to do it for you.

Chemical Methods

7. Baiting with Poisons

Baiting with rodenticides is an effective way to get rid of rats, but these substances must be used with caution. Today, rat baits are divided into two primary categories, anticoagulants and non-anticoagulants.

Anticoagulants like warfarin, chlorophacinone, and diphacinone are the most popular (and effective) rodent baits. They kill rodents by interrupting the blood-clotting process.

Non-anticoagulants, on the other hand, are usually single-dose poisons that kill rodents by disrupting the energy production mechanisms within the cells of the body.

Modern baits come in a variety of formulations, including blocks, food baits, pellet baits, and liquid baits that can be used in conjunction with fresh foods.

If you’re considering using baits to kill rats, there are a few essential factors to keep in mind.

First, rodenticides are illegal in some places, and may not be available to non-professionals.

Secondly, safety is essential when using rat baits and poisons, and it’s critical to follow all label directions.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Try these Unproven Methods

While there are many methods that will work to get rid of rats, there are also lots of rat control myths out there. With that in mind, don’t waste your time, money, or energy on these unproven tactics:

1. Ultrasonic machines

Some people like to recommend ultrasonic repellent devices to get rid of rats, but there’s no evidence that these work. Remember, rats are smart and adaptable. While an annoying noise may startle them at first, they’ll quickly get used to ultrasonic machines, and when they do, they’ll keep breeding, nesting, and eating like they always do.

2. Electromagnetic devices

Like ultrasonic machines, electromagnetic devices just don’t work to discourage rats long-term. Instead, rats will quickly get used to the presence of the machine. No matter how many of these you install, they won’t do anything to control your rat population.

3. Cats & dogs

Some people believe that domestic pets like cats and dogs can help control rat populations. And while cats and dogs may kill a rat here and there, this isn’t a good long-term solution. For starters, no cat or dog can wipe out an entire rat infestation. Additionally, rats carry diseases that can transmit to domestic pets and people, so encouraging contact between your four-legged friends and rats just isn’t a good idea.

How Do Pest Control Professionals Get Rid Of Rats?

a young rat crawling outside a home

Considering hiring a pest control professional to help you get rid of rats? Here are the steps the team at Smith’s takes:

1. Inspection

Each of our rat removal jobs begins with a comprehensive inspection and evaluation.

During this step, we identify all rat harborage areas, pinpoint feeding areas and access points, and develop a customized pest management plan to eliminate rats and deliver quick, efficient results.

2. Treatment

Next, we’ll deploy the rat control treatments that will be most effective for your property.

In most cases, we use a combination of approaches, including trapping, sanitation, and baiting, to control rat populations.

3. Exclusion

Once we’ve treated the existing rat populations, we’ll focus on exclusion methods to prevent rats from entering your property in the future.

We’ll seal the entry points rats use to access your home and address any pre-existing factors drawing the rats to your property.

How To Clean Up Rat Droppings And Nest Material

rat infestation in attic

Once all the rats are gone, you’ve still got to clean up after them.

Here’s a six-step plan for cleaning up after rats safely and effectively:

1. Put on protective gear

Rat and rodent droppings and nest materials can contain harmful bacteria and pathogens, including Hantavirus.

Because of this, it’s critical to wear protective gear as you clean up after rats.

At a minimum, you should wear heavy-duty rubber or latex gloves, a mask, and disposable coveralls to minimize exposure to harmful materials.

2. Ventilate the affected area

Before you begin the cleaning process, open all doors and windows in the area for at least 30 minutes.

This allows fresh air to circulate through the space.

3. Soak and spray all contaminated materials

Using a commercial disinfectant or a homemade solution of 1 part bleach mixed with 10 parts water, thoroughly saturate all nesting materials, droppings, and urine patches.

Allow the mixture to soak for 5 minutes.

4. Wipe up all nesting materials, feces, and urine

Using a paper towel or disposable cleaning cloth, wipe up the soaked materials and place them in a plastic bag.

Seal the bag tightly before disposing of it in an outdoor trash can.

When you’re finished, place all used gloves, coveralls, masks, and other cleaning items in a plastic bag.

Seal it tightly and place it in an outdoor trash bin.

Tip: Never sweep or vacuum up rat droppings, nesting material, or urine since this can cause dust and other particles to become airborne, which increases the risk of inhalation and cross-contamination. 

5. Wash your hands and contaminated clothing

Wash the clothing you wore under your coveralls separately with hot water and strong detergent.

Wash your hands and exposed skin with soap and warm water as soon as you’re done cleaning.

6. Monitor your health

Finally, monitor yourself for signs of illness after cleaning up rat droppings and nesting materials.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice symptoms like fever, chills, or muscle aches.

Rat Control FAQs

1. When Should I call an Exterminator?

If your rat problem is too large to handle on your own, contact a professional pest management company like Smith’s Pest Management to help you eliminate them.

They will help identify the entry points for rats, locate their nesting and food cache areas, and get them out of your walls without causing more damage to your home.

Professionals can also help you identify the root cause of the infestation and keep rats from coming back in the future.

2. What are the differences between Norway rats and roof rats?

You can usually differentiate between Norway and Roof rats just by looking at them. For starters, Norway rats are generally larger. They also have small ears, short tails, and blunt noses. They burrow into the ground and like to live near basements and the lower level of buildings. Roof rats, on the other hand, are smaller and lighter, with more slender bodies. Their noses are pointed, their ears are large, and their tails are long. They’re excellent climbers and may nest in elevated areas, including roofs, attics, and trees.

3. How quickly do rats reproduce?

Female rats can mate up to 500 times in just six hours, and brown rats can give birth to up to 2,000 babies in a single year – with up to 22 young in a single litter. Considering rats have a gestational period of less than a month, it’s easy to see how populations quickly get out of control.

As rat populations start to grow in or around your home, you’ll also notice an increase in droppings and damage.

4. What diseases do rats carry?

Increasing rat populations also puts you at risk of contracting rodent-borne illnesses. Rats are famous for carrying a variety of dangerous diseases. Rats are carriers of Hepatitis E and can infect people with the strain. Many of them carry the disease typhus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Flea-borne (murine) typhus is a disease caused by a bacteria called Rickettsia typhi. Flea-borne typhus spreads to people through contact with infected fleas. Fleas become infected when they bite infected animals, such as rats, cats, or opossums. When an infected flea bites a person or animal, the bite breaks the skin, causing a wound. Fleas poop when they feed. The poop (also called flea dirt) can then be rubbed into the bite wound or other wounds, causing infection. People can also breathe in infected flea dirt or rub it into their eyes. 

Are Rats Taking Over Your San Francisco Bay Area Home? We’re Here To Help!

Smith’s Pest Management helps residential and commercial customers throughout Northern California manage and control their rat populations.

To keep your home and family safe, we offer a rodenticide-free rat exclusion program that will allow you to reclaim your space rapidly and completely.

Smith’s Pest Management also works with commercial facilities to eradicate rats in an eco-conscious way.

Ready to learn more about our rat control services or request a quote? Contact us today: (408) 871-6988

Author Bio: Zach Smith

Landscape Pro Turned Gopher Pro: Owner, Zach Smith, graduate of Cal Poly’s Horticulture program worked nine years as a landscape professional- dealing with gophers, moles, and ground squirrels and was quickly recruited by other local gardeners. Fast forward to the past 10+ years, where Zach and his team trap and remove burrowing pests from residential, municipal and commercial properties throughout the San Francisco Bay area, from Marin to Monterey.