A common side effect of mountain living is the possibility of cohabiting with mice. As days start to get shorter, and nights colder, it would make sense that these tiny rodents would begin looking for winter accommodations. Yet, contrary to what one might believe, these critters take advantage of warmer weather to scope out their winter digs.
“Mice do not look for a home when it gets cold,” Panda Pest Management’s Steven Roth explained to Moonshine Ink. “They don’t want to leave when it gets cold. They spend their time looking for a place to live all summer, storing food for the winter. Your home is perfect … it’s warm, safe, and free of predators. I catch plenty of mice all summer long.”
Without taking proper precautions before the cold weather really sets in, you could find yourself living with a family of furry roommates who like to party all night, skittering about in the walls of your abode — but there are ways you can let them know there’s no vacancy.
The first order of business is to eliminate points of entry where mice can find a way inside.
“It is [in] most homeowners’ best interest to make sure that all door sweeps and garage doors are properly maintained and service their purpose,” recommends TNT Pest Control owner Eric Kuch. “Have all vents and exterior bases checked for any openings and make sure that most food and water are put away at night.”
Loose or missing vent covers, gaps around windows, and cracks in the foundation are all spots where mice typically enter. Inspect both the exterior and interior of your home and cover up any potentially appealing entryways. Caulk and weather stripping are great for sealing smaller spaces, like gaps around pipes under the sink. Should you come across a larger hole and need a quick fix, try stuffing it with steel wool. Unlike cloth, weather stripping, or canned spray foam, mice won’t chew through steel wool.
Next up: Lead them not into temptation. Properly store human and pet food and be diligent about putting lids on garbage cans, especially if you keep them in the garage. If you have outdoor birdfeeders, which is tricky in bear country in the first place (you might recall the hummingbear drinking its fill from a feeder on Moonshine’s September 2021 cover), station them far enough from your home so that they don’t appear to be an all-you-can-eat buffet invite for mice. Be mindful of plantings around the home and select shrubs or plants that won’t serve as safe houses for critters to build a nest. Also, be sure to properly store any and everything that could make for a comfy nest: drop cloths, old newspapers, dust rags, pretty much any material that can be chewed and ripped to pieces.
You’ll know if mice have moved in with you. If hearing them scurrying through your walls at night doesn’t give away their presence, you’ll find other evidence like droppings, chewed up food, paper, plastic, even clothing items. You might even spy chew marks on dry wall.
“[It’s] definitely not … a bad idea to have a professional come take a look at it with a trained eye,” Kuch notes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mice can directly transmit several diseases, the most common of which is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. HPS is contracted by breathing in dust that is contaminated with rodent urine or droppings, or through direct contact with such. It can also be transmitted through bite wounds but the CDC notes that this is rare. Leptospirosis, salmonellosis, and plague are also transmitted by mice, so keeping the critters out of your personal space is a health and safety matter.
Should the little buggers find their way inside, there are several measures you can try to make things a bit less inviting. Some are tried and true; others, not so much. I write from experience because several years back, a mouse family decided to take up residence in my old Jeep. It. Was. Disgusting. I had two small kids at the time and was vacuuming, cleaning, and disinfecting every single day. I tried lavender sachets, peppermint and tea tree oils, scented fabric softener dryer sheets, you name it. My car smelled pleasant, but it did nothing to deter the rodents from breaking and entering. Yet I have heard of other folks who swear by these methods.
“I’ve seen it all,” notes TNT’s Kuch, who added that maybe the power of Pine Sol’s odor is successful but it’s always wise to hire a professional if you want them out for good.
Other similarly smelly tricks, which seem to be more effective, include placing ammonia or moth balls near the points of entry. Ammonia mimics the odor of urine, tricking mice into thinking predators are nearby, while moth balls are so potent, they can even drive away some of your fellow humans. So it’s best to use those away from inhabited spaces. The jury is still out on whether Irish Spring bar soap is an effective deterrent. Some swear by it, noting that only the original fragrance is effective, while others say mice like to eat soap. Personally, I recall as a child going to my aunt’s cabin in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains and opening the place following a long winter closure and finding that mice had eaten all the bar soap that had been left in the bathroom.
Plug-in devices that emit high sonic frequencies are believed to drive away rodents that have already made their way indoors. You can also turn to classic elimination methods like sticky pads and old-school mouse traps. But if you want to go the “all natural” route, your best bet is to head to the animal shelter and get yourself a cat. It really, truly works. Within two weeks of losing our first cat, mice moved back into our house. We got two cats soon after and in the eight years that they’ve been part of the family, any misguided mice who’ve made it inside haven’t stood a chance.