How to Catch & Trap Rats like a Pro: 7 Easy Steps

Last Modified on January 29, 2024 by Zachary Smith

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If you’ve got rats in your house, you want to eliminate them as quickly as possible.

After all, rats are destructive pests that carry diseases and can make your living space unpleasant.

Fortunately, trapping rats is an effective way to get rid of invasive rodents and reclaim your home.

At Smith’s Pest Management, we help customers in the San Francisco Bay area and Central Coast get rid of rats daily, so we know how to design effective trapping programs to eliminate infestations.

In this blog, we’ll share our top tips for trapping rats quickly and effectively.

Why Are Rat Traps Ideal?

rat traps

With so many rat control methods out there, why should you choose rat traps?

Here are a few of the benefits traps offer:

  • Quick results for small infestations. While traps alone aren’t practical for getting rid of large infestations, they can provide quick results for small infestations.
  • Non-chemical and pesticide-free. So many of the rat control products available today contain dangerous, toxic chemicals, pesticides, and rodenticides. Fortunately, rat traps are chemical- and pesticide-free, which makes them safer for you and the environment.
  • Allows for immediate disposal. Rat traps contain the rodents they kill, so you can dispose of dead rats immediately and avoid potential odor problems in inaccessible areas.
  • Safer than baits. When used carelessly, baits can prove deadly. Fortunately, rat traps don’t use chemical baits, which makes them safer to use and less risky for kids, pets, and non-target species.

We recommend using rat traps in conjunction with other rat elimination efforts, like exclusion and sanitization for most infestations.

For more information, check out our comprehensive blogs on how to get rid of rats in your home and how to get rid of rats in your yard.

What Type of Rat Trap Should I Use?

There are many different types of rat traps available on the market. While they may seem similar, they don’t all work the same way.

Here’s an overview of the most common rat traps and what they’re best used for:

1. Wooden snap traps

wooden snap trap

Wooden snap traps are some of the most common and affordable traps available today.

These traps are available at most home goods and hardware stores and can be placed and disposed of quickly and easily.

You can also purchase reusable plastic snap traps if you prefer an updated variety.

Pros: Affordable; strong snap; instant kill; disposable; easy to use

Cons: Dead rats are highly visible; these traps may present a snap risk for kids or pets; on older traps, rodents can sometimes steal the bait without triggering the trap

Best For: Controlling small infestations in hard-to-reach areas, like attics, the space under cabinets, or beneath appliances.

2. Multiple catch traps (automatic)

There are two basic types of automatic, multiple-catch traps: wind-up-style and low-profile-style traps.

Wind-up-style traps flip rats into a holding chamber when they step onto a spring-loaded trap platform, while low-profile traps use a trap door to catch and contain rats.

Modern multiple-catch traps also offer various design options, including see-through inspection covers and removable plastic trays, which make for fast and easy clean-up and inspection.

Pros: Good for eliminating larger infestations; traps can be placed in hard-to-reach areas like in suspended ceilings or even parallel or perpendicular to a wall; easy to use; reusable

Cons: Multiple-catch traps require the hands-on disposal of rats; multiple-catch traps must be positioned correctly to be effective.

Best for: Controlling larger infestations either indoors or outdoors.

3. Glue traps

Glue traps are flat traps coated in a sticky substance that traps rats who step onto them.

While they tend to be less effective than snap traps or multiple-catch traps, glue traps can be an excellent complement to other kinds of traps.

Pros: Affordable; non-toxic; easy to use

Cons: Not humane; not a good fit for places where dust, dirt, or water are common concerns; glue traps must be placed within some other type of trap station or secured to the floor to be effective; glue traps are generally considered more effective for mice than rats; rats may learn to avoid glue traps after a “close call.”

Best for: Use inside multiple-catch traps or as monitoring devices to track rodent levels in a particular area.

4. Live traps

live trap

Live traps catch and contain live rats until you can release them humanely. If you use live traps, first make sure they’re legal in your area since relocating wildlife is prohibited in some cities and states, including California.

Pros: Humane; chemical-free; easy to use

Cons: Requires relocation of trapped rats; may be less effective than snap or multiple-catch traps.

Best for: Controlling small populations in areas where wildlife relocation is legal.

For a full overview of the best rat traps available, check out our other blog here.

Important Safety Tips When Handling Rat Traps

While traps are generally considered safer than rodenticides, you must be cautious when using and handling them.

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Use gloves when setting and handling rat traps.
  • Follow manufacturer directions on all traps you use.
  • Use caution when setting snap traps. When possible, use your foot or a stick to set the trap to avoid snapping your fingers or hands.
  • Keep traps away from areas frequented by kids, pets, or people.

How to Catch and Trap a Rat: A Step-by-Step Guide

how to trap a rat

Rat traps can be an effective way to control rat infestations as long as you use them correctly.

With that in mind, here’s our step-by-step guide to help you start your own rat-trapping program:

1. Identify signs of rat activity

Before you start setting traps, identify signs of rat activity, including the following:

  • Strange sounds and smells. Rats make loud squeaking, rustling, and scratching sounds and often give off strong ammonia smells. These sounds and smells are most common in areas rats frequent, like closets and cabinets.
  • Signs of rat damage. Rats chew everything from electrical cords to storage containers. Look for signs of gnaw marks or damage like urine or droppings left in high-traffic areas.
  • Footprints. Look for rat footprints in unused, dusty areas of the home. You may also notice “tail drag” lines between the prints.
  • Smears. Rats have poor eyesight, so they tend to follow often-used trails and tracks. As they travel these “rat highways,” they leave grease streaks (known as smears) along the walls.
  • Nests. In some cases, you may notice rat nets in the walls, attic, insulation, or even your car engine.

In addition to helping you identify target areas for placing traps, looking for signs of rat activity will help you choose the right kind of trap(s).

2. Place the trap in the right area

In most cases, you’ll want to use multiple traps (both indoors and outdoors) to get rid of rat infestations.

Here are a few tips for using the proper traps in the right place:

  • Place multiple-catch traps in areas of high rat activity, such as near exterior doors or near utility openings that run through walls.
  • Install multiple-catch traps inside rat-size bait stations, which protects the trap from the elements and makes the trap more appealing to rats.
  • Use glue boards inside multiple-catch traps, or secure them to the floor along walls or beneath objects.
  • Remember that all traps are most effective when placed directly in high-activity rodent runways.
  • Never install any traps where kids or pets can encounter them. Traps should never be placed in areas visible to people, especially in residential settings.

3. Bait the traps

Here are our top tips:

  • Use lethal traps and food lures whenever possible. Use strong-smelling food lures like vanilla extract, nuts, fish, moldy cheese, or peanut butter to bait traps if food is scarce. Use poison-free baits whenever possible.
  • Make sure the rats are hungry. Hungry rats are easier to attract than rats that have ample food options. With this in mind, remove as many nearby food sources as possible before you bait your traps. This will encourage rats to explore and forage for the food lures you use to bait your traps.
  • Bait your traps according to rat foraging ranges. A 15-50’ spacing is ideal for rats. If your infestation is severe, place traps closer (rather than further) apart.
  • Be intentional about bait placement. Whenever possible, place bait between the rats’ harborage areas and their foraging areas.
  • Choose food lures accordingly. Always bait your traps according to a rat’s diet. Black rats, for example, are herbivores, while brown rats (also known as Norway Rats) are omnivores. To encourage bait acceptance, experiment with your food lures– change them frequently if you find the bait you’ve chosen is not working.

4. Check traps for activity

Check traps for activity at least once a day.

Dispose of dead rats, re-bait traps, and re-position any traps that have moved or shifted during use.

5. Dispose of dead rats

When you find a dead rat in your trap, you must dispose of it safely and responsibly.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • ALWAYS wear plastic or latex gloves when handling rat traps or dead rats.
  • Use plastic bags to contain disposable wooden snap traps. Tie the bag securely and throw it away in an outdoor trash can.
  • Double-bag dead rodents and dispose of them in an outdoor trash can.
  • Dispose of used latex gloves and wash your hands in hot, soapy water after contact with dead rodents.

6. Set new traps as needed until activity subsides

Once you’ve started catching rats, keep setting new traps until your rat activity decreases.

You can use glue boards and live catch traps to monitor rat populations and assess the efficacy of your trapping program.

7. Contact a Pest Management Company

Should your attempts to trap the rats prove unsuccessful, consider reaching out to a reputable pest control service like Smith’s Pest Management.

Such professionals will perform a thorough inspection of your property and create a comprehensive plan to address your rat problem effectively.

How to Keep Rats Away from Your Home


You can make your trapping program more effective by preventing rats from entering your home in the first place.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Identify and seal all potential rat entry points
  • Once you’ve sealed entry points, spray them with store-bought rat repellent to keep rats away
  • Remove or secure food sources or nesting materials
  • Eliminate clutter
  • Clean up all spills promptly
  • Take out the trash nightly and secure all trash in containers with tight-fitting lids

Remember that rats can fit through openings just 2” in diameter (about the size of your thumb), so it’s critical to patch even tiny cracks and gaps that could allow them into your home.

Are Rats Taking Over Your San Francisco Home? We can Help!

Stop sharing your space with rats! The Smith’s Pest Management team can help you trap rats and eliminate infestations as quickly and humanely as possible.

Contact us today at (408) 471-6988 to learn more about our rat-trapping services and how we can help you eliminate rats in your space.


When should I opt for baits or rodenticides?

Consider baiting if you have a significant rat infestation. For large infestations, baiting is more economical and efficient. As long as you secure bait in tamper-proof bait stations and place them in concealed or unreachable areas, it may also be safer for households with kids and pets. Here are a few additional tips for using rodenticides safely:

  • Choose rodenticide baits carefully. If you’re using toxic baits, use loose pellet or crumbled block baits rather than packets or intact blocks. Be sure to read all label directions carefully, and never use toxic baits indoors.
  • Do not change or move active bait stations. Once a rat colony begins feeding on a bait station, making abrupt changes to the bait or location of the station can actually delay your control efforts, causing the rats to reject the bait or stop using the station altogether.
  • Provide enough rodenticide bait Remember that adult rats can consume a minimum of 2 oz. of food each night. With this in mind, make sure you provide enough of your food lure to ensure rats get a lethal dose of the bait you’re using. If you’re using first-generation anticoagulants like chlorophacinone or diphacinone, make sure the toxic baits are continuously available for a period of days – or until all feeding activity ceases.
  • Choose the right bait formulation. If you’re using toxic baits in damp locations, use rodenticide bait blocks since they’ll provide the most possible durability. In dry settings, liquid rodenticide baits are ideal

How long does it take to trap a rat?

It can take days or weeks to start trapping rats. That’s because rats are smart, adaptable creatures. While many people assume that trapping rats is as easy as putting out some traps with tasty baits, that’s a misconception.

The fact is that rats aren’t glutinous, and they’re usually not hungry. Because rats eat almost anything and are highly effective scavengers, they usually have more than enough food.

This is bad news for anyone who wants to trap rats since it means we can’t rely solely on food to attract pests. Instead, we need to understand rat behavior – specifically that rats are cautious and curious.

While rats are apt to explore new things in their environment, they’re also intelligent and good at evading possible threats, which means they’ll quickly learn to avoid traps. Because of this, we recommend leaving traps set for 4-6 weeks and changing baits or altering trap positions as needed.

We also recommend using a combination of different traps, including snap traps and multiple-catch traps, for maximum efficacy.

What is the best way to catch wary rats?

To catch wary rats, we recommend using “the sandwich technique.”

Here’s how it works:

Place three identical snap traps close together in a line. Leave the two traps on the outside unset but bait them with food that will entice rats, like greasy chicken.

Set the middle snap trap with the same food as the two outside traps. If possible, use rat feces from other rat-infested areas in your building around the perimeter of the three traps since this will make the trap smell familiar to wary rats who may otherwise avoid them.

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.