The 5 Best Ways to Get Rid of Rats in Your Home Fast

Last Modified on May 21, 2024 by Zachary Smith

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Rats are unwelcome visitors to your home.

These rodents not only can carry diseases and create health risks, they’re also incredibly destructive – chewing through walls, insulation, and electrical wiring.

For the past 15+ years, we’ve helped thousands of San Francisco Bay Area homeowners handle their rodent problems.

In this post, we’re sharing our top rat control tips so you can reclaim your property quickly.

What Attracts Rats?

a young rat crawling outside a home

When rats infest homes, they’re usually looking for these three things:

1. Shelter

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

Rats usually start out outside – under or above a home.

They like to dig under or around the foundation or enter the attic through vents before ultimately making their way into your living spaces.

Once inside, 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.

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.
  • Chew through water and sewer pipes.
  • 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.

How to Get Rid of Rats in the House Fast

1. Inspect for Signs of Rats

mouse droppings

Inspecting for rats is the first step in DIY rat control.

Because rats tend to live in hidden areas, like wall voids, attics, and crawl spaces, careful inspection is the only way to identify their harborage areas, runways, and feeding zones.

By tracing the signs of rats, you can also find and seal the entry points they’re using to get into your home.

Look for the following signs:

  • Piles of droppings (which look like black or brown cylindrical pellets that are ½-1” in length with at least one blunt end) in hidden areas, such as behind the stove, in your basement or attic, or the corners of the home.
  • Tracks or tail drag marks in dusty areas or places with moist soil. If you’re unsure which areas rats frequent, sprinkle a fine layer of baking soda on the floor and check for fresh tracks in the morning.
  • Ductwork, door joists, flooring, and studs that have been gnawed on or damaged or food packages, containers, or leftovers with bite marks. Because of their large incisors, rats gnaw holes that are 2” or more in diameter with rough, ragged edges.
  • Dirt burrows constructed near walls, sidewalks, or curbs, or along the foundation of your home. They may also appear under trees, bushes, or other landscaping plants.
  • The presence of runways, either outdoors or indoors. Outdoors, runways look like smooth, packed-down areas of dirt or soil. Indoors, a runway may be an area that’s free of dirt or dust. Norway rats usually leave runways.
  • Smudges along the walls near active runways, which look like a mixture of dirt and grease.
  • Dark urine stains.
  • Strange sounds in the walls, including squeaking, gnawing, scratching, digging, scurrying, rustling, and running noises.
  • Strong ammonia odors, which are usually associated with extensive rodent infestations.
  • Roof rat nests made of insulation, shredded paper, fabric, or other soft material.
  • Sightings of living or dead rodents – while roof rats are sleek and graceful in appearance, with gray to black fur and large eyes, Norway rats are large and robust, with brown to black fur and small eyes.

2. Eliminate Their Food & Shelter

a rat crawling in a dirty sink in a house

Where there are rats, there is abundant food and shelter, so focusing on sanitation is the most effective way to control rats.

If you don’t use sanitation as the foundation of your DIY rat control efforts, everything else you do will be a waste of time and energy.

How to do it: 

  • Find and eliminate all harborage areas – check hidden areas like the spaces behind and beneath shelves and cabinets, the backs of closets, and the space under appliances.
  • Don’t leave dishes in the sink – wash plates, cups, and eating and cooking utensils immediately after use.
  • Clean your garbage containers frequently using hot water and soap.
  • Store dry food in airtight, rodent-proof containers in your pantry.
  • Keep indoor and outdoor trash in containers with tight-fitting lids, avoid overfilling the garbage, and take it out regularly.
  • Keep compost in rodent-proof, tightly-lidded containers.
  • If you have ripe fruits and vegetables in your gardens, pick them up promptly instead of letting them linger on the ground.
  • Remove tall grass and weeds near your home and outdoor sheds, and keep your grass mowed. 
  • Remove wood and rock piles, old equipment, and unused construction materials like lumber and shingles. If you can’t get rid of them, store them at least 18” off the ground and at least 12” from walls or fences.

3. Prevent Rats from Getting In

prevent rats from getting in

Exclusion is the best way to control rats and make it impossible for them to gain entry into your home in the first place.

How to do it:

Consider every possible access point rats could use to get into your home and find a way to seal it.

Despite their large size, rats can squeeze through any opening you can stick your thumb through. Because of this, we recommend sealing any gap, crack, or space that’s ½” or larger.

Here are a few places to pay particular attention to.

  • Find the places where utility lines run through walls. Seal all gaps and cracks around water, electrical, air conditioning, and drain lines and pipes with sheet metal, stainless steel fill fabric, chew-proof hardware cloth, and mortar.
  • Use stainless steel wool or copper mesh to fill small gaps and holes around vents. If you use copper mesh, mix it with mortar to create a chew-proof barrier.
  • Seal pipes leading to outdoor water sources and water tanks with steel wool.
  • Use metal grills and rust-resistant screens to rodent-proof vents.
  • Fix or replace broken windows and warped doors. Add door sweeps and kick plates to prevent rodents from squeezing under door gaps.
  • Add rodent-proof metal guards to vertical pipes outdoors. The guards should be made of durable sheet metal and finished with a 12” strip of glossy paint around the outside, which makes it difficult for rats to climb them.
  • Inspect roofing shingles and repair any that are loose or displaced.
  • Use ¼” hardware cloth to cover chimneys, vents, and vent pipes and prevent rats from climbing down them.
  • Trim branches and shrubbery that grow too close to the home and could create a bridge to your property for rats.
  • Are you looking for a home remedy to make exclusion tactics more effective? Spray rat repellent on your fill fabric to keep rats away. Home remedies like eucalyptus, peppermint, and geranium oil will deter rats, as will store-bought rat repellents such as Detour Gel.
  • Once you’ve patched a gap or crack, check it at least once a month to ensure the patch is in good shape.
  • Inspect your home at least once a year to identify new access points.

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

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.

Pro Tip: DO NOT USE spray foam as a sealant in gaps or cracks. Rats can easily chew through this material, and it’s not a good long-term rodent solution. 

4. Set Traps

trap rats

Now that you’ve stopped new rats from entering your home through the exclusion tactics in the previous steps, it’s time to eliminate the existing rats in your home.

Trapping rats is the best way to do this. (See here for an overview of some of the best rat traps on the market).

How to do it: 

  • The first step is to select a trap. There are several different types of traps to choose from. These include snap traps, which kill rats instantly and are easy to set and dispose of, glue traps, which are flat cardboard traps lined in a sticky substance that catches rodents, and live traps, which capture and contain rodents until you can release them. That said, we recommend snap traps because they offer the fastest and most humane kill. They’re also easy to use and affordable.
  • To make your traps as effective as possible, place them in high-activity areas such as the space along walls, behind appliances, or under furniture. Use the location of droppings to find areas the rats have been frequenting, and position traps about 15-20 feet apart.
  • If you set traps parallel to walls, set them in pairs, with the triggers positioned so that they’ll catch rodents traveling from either direction.
  • If you have roof rats (see FAQ below to help you determine this), set traps on elevated surfaces, as well: place them on tree limbs, under the landscaping plants and shrubs in your backyard, and along your outdoor fences, trellises, and other manmade structures. You can also use wire to secure traps to raised indoor structures like rafters, pipes, and beams.
  • Use high-aroma foods to bait your traps. Rats are drawn to things like bacon, nuts, hot dogs, peanut butter, sardines, and chicken. To prevent rats from sealing bait without setting off the trap, use a small piece of dental floss to secure the bait to the trap.
  • Use several different food lures and change them regularly to match what rodents are feeding on in your home.
  • Rats are intelligent creatures, and they can become wary of traps. To combat this, use a technique called “the sandwich method.” To do this, place three identical traps next to one another. Leave the outside two traps baited but unset, and bait and set the inside trap. If possible, collect rat feces from around the active area and place it on and around the traps to make them smell more familiar to the rats.
  • Check traps daily and dispose of dead rats promptly.
  • Make sure all traps are set in out-of-the-way areas that kids and pets cannot reach.

For more information on how to trap rats, check out our comprehensive blog on the topic.

5. Check for Decreased Rat Activity

After several weeks, you should notice fewer signs of rat activity in your home.

However, if your DIY efforts fail, or you need more help with your rat infestation, contact a professional exterminator.

A pest management professional can provide additional insights, deploy traps and baits you may not have access to, and use their expertise to eradicate even the most resourceful rat population.

How to do it:

  • If rodent activity hasn’t subsided within 2-3 weeks, contact a pest management professional.
  • If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area or Central Coast, contact Smith’s Pest Management. Otherwise, check out our blog on how to find the right pest control company near you.

If Nothing Else Works: Control Rats With Poison Baits

rat bait

If trapping isn’t sufficient to control your rat population, there’s a last-resort option: baiting with rodenticides.

Rodenticides are a class of pesticides designed to kill rodents.

They are divided into two broad categories: anticoagulants (including warfarin, chlorophacinone, and diphacinone) and non-anticoagulants (including bromethalin, cholecalciferol, and zinc phosphide).

Most rodenticides are formulated as pellet or block baits, loose meal baits, liquid baits, or packet- or pouch-style baits.

Tracking powders are another common type of rodenticide. Most tracking powders contain toxicants like chlorophacinone or zinc phosphide.

These formulations are designed to be placed in active runways inside tracking containers or placed directly into active rat burrows. The fine powder sticks to rats’ feet and hair, and the rodents ingest fatal doses of the powder when they groom themselves.

While rodenticides are effective and fast-acting, they’re also extremely dangerous.

Some rodenticides contain highly toxic ingredients that can be fatal to people, pets, and livestock – even when consumed in small doses.

As such, we always recommend using chemicals as a last resort and only if you’re working with a pest management professional. 

Here are some tips to make baiting as effective as possible:

  • Since hungry rats are easier to bait than rats who have plenty of other food sources, eliminate as many of the rats’ other food sources as possible.
  • Depending on the rats’ foraging ranges, place baits between 15-50 feet apart. The more severe your infestation is, the closer together your baits should be.
  • When possible, place baits directly between rat harborage areas and their food sources.
  • Always secure bait inside enclosed, tamper-proof bait stations designed for rats.
  • Mark bait stations with “RODENT BAIT – DO NOT TOUCH,” and keep them out of reach of kids and pets.
  • If using packet baits, never stuff them into rat burrows or place them into false ceilings, behind heavy appliances, or into wall voids since rodents can easily move them into areas where people, pets, or kids can encounter them. Instead, use loose pellet bait or crumbled blocks in these spaces.
  • If you know what the rats have been eating, match the food you’re using for bait to the rats’ preferred food source.
  • If you’ve found that rats are wary about your baits, try “pre-baiting.” Pre-baiting involves setting out unpoisoned food bait for a few nights and allowing the rats to eat it. Once they’ve become accustomed to the easy meal, mix the food source with the toxicant. While fish-flavored cat foods and meat-flavored dog foods are ideal baits for Norway rats, roof rats will respond well to fruit- and vegetable-based baits.
  • ALWAYS follow all label directions when using fresh-food baits since using too much or too little toxicant can negatively impact the efficacy of your baiting program.
  • Once you’ve set a bait station and rats are visiting it, do not move or change it. Remember that rats may need to consume several doses of first-generation anticoagulant baits over the course of several days for the bait to be lethal, so you should provide the same bait formulation continuously until the rats stop feeding on the bait.
  • Make sure you’re providing enough bait for all rats to consume a lethal dose of the bait, keeping in mind that adult rats can eat at least 2 ounces of food each night.
  • If you’re dealing with roof rats, set many bait stations containing a smaller amount of bait.

Pro Tip: Any time you’re using baits, it’s possible that you’ll have rodents dying in hidden areas of your home (like attics and wall voids), which can cause a very unpleasant smell. Because of this, we always recommend that you start with exclusion and trapping. Once you’ve gotten all of the rats out of the house, you can start an outdoor baiting program to control populations and prevent re-infestations.

Rat Control Methods That Don’t Work

rat looking for shelter

While there are many methods that will work to get rid of rats, there are also lots of rat control myths out there even on seemingly reputable websites.

Based on our experience and industry knowledge, we advise you to not waste your time, money, or energy on these unproven tactics:

1. Ultrasonic machines

Some sources 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. Even natural predators, like owls, can’t decimate entire rat populations.

Additionally, rats carry diseases like leptospirosis, which can transmit to domestic pets and people, so encouraging contact between your four-legged friends and rats just isn’t a good idea.

Cleaning Up Rat Droppings & 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, an n95 or HEPA mask (make sure the mask fits tightly against your face for maximum protection), 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 ten 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.

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, from Marin to Monterey. We also help get rid of mice on properties!

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

FAQ

What safety considerations should I keep in mind?

Before you begin your DIY rat control, take steps to ensure the safety of yourself, your family, your home, and the environment including:

  • Store all pesticides, rodent baits, and traps in a secure, locked cabinet when not in use.
  • Avoid using rodent bait indoors whenever possible.
  • If you must use baits indoors, secure them in tamper-proof bait stations where kids, pets, and non-target species cannot reach them.
  • Follow all label directions carefully.
  • Always wear PPE (goggles, gloves, long pants) when disposing of dead rats or deploying chemical baits.

Am I dealing with Norway or roof rats?

norway rat vs roof rat

While more than 60 species of rats exist, only two tend to invade homes: Norway rats and roof rats.

  • 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 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.

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.

How Do Exterminators Deal with Rats?

smith's pest control

Considering hiring a pest control professional to help you get rid of rats?

Here are the steps our team here at Smith’s Pest Management 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.

4. Follow up

Getting rid of rats is a marathon, not a sprint. We understand that the process takes time, and we’re continually monitoring our efforts and adjusting our treatments as needed. After we’ve deployed our initial rat control treatments, we’ll revisit your property to assess levels of rodent activity and provide any follow-up treatments that may be needed to kill the colony.

During this visit, we’ll also make exclusion recommendations and assess for signs of new or worsening rodent damage.

How quickly do rats reproduce?

rat behavior

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.

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. 

In addition to Hepatitis E and typhus, rats may also carry bubonic plague, hantavirus, Tularemia, and Salmonella.

My traps aren’t working! How do you catch a stubborn rat?

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

  1. Rats are curious
  2. Rats are cautious

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

Because of these traits, the key to trapping wary rats is to place traps in the right spots 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 (this is why we recommend placing rat feces around new traps), 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.

If you’re finding that rats are avoiding your traps, 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.

Can I use fumigants to get rid of rats?

No. While fumigants are highly effective, they’re also some of the most hazardous pesticides out there, so they should NEVER be used by anyone but an experienced pest management professional.

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 15+ 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.