How to Eliminate Rats in the Home

A rat approaching a mouse trap with cheese as the bait.

Unless they’re purchased from a pet store and safely residing in a cage, chances are you don’t want rats in your house. After all, they are notorious disease carriers; rats were responsible for the famous Bubonic Plague that nearly wiped out medieval Europe. As if that weren’t bad enough, they can also destroy things in your home and even start electrical fires by gnawing through wires. They're pesky critters!

Signs You Have Rats

To determine whether there are rats in your house, you can look for the telltale signs. Rats love to gnaw on wood, so you may discover gnaw marks on baseboards or door frames. They will also chew through food packaging—people and pet food alike.

Droppings are a surefire sign that your house is inhabited by rodents as well. Small and dark, they tend to show up in drawers and cabinets. On top of that, if you have a keen ear, you may also hear them rustling in food sacks or scurrying back and forth behind walls.

Causes of a Rat Infestation

You’re probably wondering why rats chose your home as their new domain to begin with. Rats are attracted to easily accessible garbage cans and compost bins, open bags of dog or cat food, animal droppings, birdseed, and berries or other fruit that have dropped off their vines or trees. Once they have found a consistent source of food, the rats will make themselves cozy inside the house to see what other treats they can scavenge. When they’re inside, they’re drawn to spilled food on countertops or appliances, boxes and bags of cereal and other grains, boxes and bags of pet food or treats, sacks of potatoes, and open garbage cans. While they’re not eating, they’re taking up residence (and, most likely, breeding) in their favorite areas: insulation, attics, basements, and crawl spaces; behind cabinets, shower stalls, hot water heaters and furnaces.

Getting Rid of Rats

There are many ways to bid good riddance to rats, and the method you choose depends mostly on how humane you’d like to be. The safest choice, especially if you have children or animals, is to set a trap as opposed to using poison. Pets may eat poison, or the poisoned dead rat. Poison also leaves the potential for the rat to die in an inaccessible location—such as behind a cupboard—and stink up the place as it decomposes.

Several types of traps exist on the market for you to choose from. Standard wooden “snap traps” are the type that most people think about when they think of mouse and rat traps. These rate very low on the humane scale, as they will kill the animal.

Glue boards are thin slabs, usually wood or cardboard, that are covered with extremely sticky glue. When a rat runs across it, it will get stuck and either suffocate or starve to death. Again, not the most humane method, but it works.

Multi-catch traps are designed to catch more than one rat. They’re very humane—they don’t kill the rodents—but you’ll be left with a trap full of live animals to set free, so be careful. Single-catch traps are also humane, but instead of catching many pests at once, they can only catch one at a time, so the rodents will need to be set free often.

Whatever sort of trap you choose, be sure that it’s anchored firmly in place so that the rat can’t drag it away. Bait the trap with small bits of fruit, raw bacon, or a saltine cracker and place it near any evidence of rats (droppings or gnaw marks, for example). It is important to warn other family members about the presence of traps—otherwise you may catch a finger instead of a rat!

Pets can also help out with pest control, cats especially. They love to hunt rodents. It’s not always so pleasant, though, when your cat lays its latest catch across your slippers as a gift.

When it comes to handling a dead rat, always wear protective gloves. Wrap the rat in newspaper or seal it into a sturdy plastic bag before putting it in a tightly sealed trash receptacle. Also, use extreme caution when letting a live rat go; put on your gloves and keep as much distance between you and the rat as possible. Whenever you’ve handled a rat, whether dead or alive, it’s crucial to wash your hands afterward—even if you were wearing gloves.


To keep rats away once you’ve freed your house of them, make your home less rat friendly by removing their food sources so they won’t be tempted to come near. Purchase a metal or heavy-duty plastic canister for your pet’s food and keep the lid firmly in place. If your pet doesn’t finish its food, don’t leave it out; replace it in the canister or otherwise dispose of it. Keep bird seed high up in trays or bird feeders that rats can’t reach. Remove fallen fruit or berries from your yard. Make sure that garbage cans and compost bins are also well sealed and that the lids can’t be easily knocked off, and don’t compost any animal products such as meat, cheese, eggs, or dairy. In your home, promptly wipe up spilled food, and consider plastic or glass canisters for your cereals and other grains. By taking a few simple precautions, you can keep your home pest-free!