The internet offers many DIY methods for how to get rid of rats, most commonly with rat traps. Indeed, if you are dealing with only one or two rats, you can likely handle them yourself. However, rat populations are usually larger than you expect, especially if you’re seeing them during the day. They also multiply quickly when they have access to food and water. If you have a rat infestation, the best solution for getting rid of rats, therefore, is to contact a local pest control professional, not to just set out a bunch of rat traps. Alone, the traps probably won’t get rid of the rats.
Pest control professionals will handle the problem right the first time before it gets out of hand. They have the methods, equipment, and training to handle rats. And they have resources to eliminate them humanely, too, which home- or business owners may not be able to accomplish themselves.
Getting rid of rats is important to achieve quickly because rats spread disease. The CDC reports rodents spread more than 35 diseases worldwide. In the U.S., diseases rats spread directly include the plague, leptospirosis, rat-bite-fever, and food poisoning. Diseases spread indirectly from rats in the U.S. include spotted fevers, typhus, and relapsing fever.
Besides disease, rats actively cause damage. They gnaw on and chew through wiring in buildings and vehicles. Rats also chew through wood and other material they run into, material such as paper, cloth, books, and insulation. And they make nests in crevices and enclosed area, which can stifle ventilation and can attract more pests.
Whether you decide to hire a pest control professional or take on the infestation yourself, the steps to getting rid of rats are the same. And successfully killing rats, of course, depends first on understanding the rodent.
Meet the Brown Rat
Among the rat species in the U.S., the brown rat (also known as a common rat, street rat, Hanover rat, Norway rat, Norwegian rat, sewer rat, water rat, wharf rat, and gray rat) is the one you’re most likely to encounter in urban areas.
Brown Rat Identification
Adult brown rat males typically weigh about 12 oz. and adult females about 9 oz., but the rats can weight up to a pound. They’re 6 to 8 in. long, have blunt noses and small ears. Their fur is shaggy, coarse, and varies in colors. Their tail is shorter than the head and body combined and is scale-like. In areas of the country where roof rats are common, brown rats are identified by pulling their tale over back of their body. If the tail can’t reach the rat’s head, it’s a brown rat.
Brown Rat Habitat
Unlike mice and roof rats, which like to build nests, brown rats prefer to burrow. They’ll commonly burrow along foundations, beneath trash and shrubbery, and underneath concrete slabs. If they live inside, they usually build homes in basements or crawl spaces. However, if their population grows too large, they’ll move to attics and ceilings.
Active rat burrows are usually clear of vegetation, and they’ll have rat runways leading to them. Outdoors, rat runways are smooth and packed. Indoors, the runways are clear of debris and dust.
The diet of a brown rat is much different than that of its cousin the roof rat, which is found primarily along coastal areas. Roof rats like fresh fruit and vegetables and eat insects and other invertebrates. Brown rats, on the other hand, prefer carbohydrates and proteins. It’s for this reason that in rural areas you’ll most likely find rats near barns, silos, granaries, and livestock areas. Rats are not picky eaters, however. They thrive on free food and will munch on whatever they can access.
Rats are primarily nocturnal. Their activity levels peak just before dawn and after dusk. But if a population grows large, rats will begin looking for food and water during the day. It’s for this reason that you’re likely dealing with more than just a few rats if you see active rats during daylight hours.
Rats also don’t go far from their burrows. Typically, they will stray no more than 50 to 150 feet from their homes. When their population grows or they’re under stress, they will go up to 300 feet from their burrows in search of food and water.
Steps for Getting Rid of Rats
The first step to getting rid of rats is to perform an inspection. The inspection is important for several reasons. 1) Inspections confirm or reveal the pest. Accurately identifying the pest is important because methods for eliminating pests differ depending on what the pest is. A rat and a mouse, however similar they may appear, behave differently and require different techniques and tools to eliminate. 2) Inspections also identify where rats congregate and where they make their nests. Knowing where a rat population lives is important because they use the same paths to travel, and it’s best to put traps and bait where they commonly gather. 3) Inspections reveal food sources and access points.
It’s fairly easy to tell if you have rats even if you don’t see the animals. Signs of a rat infestation include burrows, runways, grease marks, urine stains, rodent sounds, rodent odors (a musky scent), gnaw marks, tail drags and footprints in dusty areas, and fecal pellets. Brown rat fecal pellets have blunt ends and average between ½ and ¾ in. Other signs include chewed-out holes. Rat holes are 2 in. or larger in diameter.
Once a rat population is confirmed, inspectors then look for their nest. To aid them in this task, they might use a UV rodent tracker or other UV light source to find urine, which glows under UV light. If the inspector has difficulty finding the rats’ nest, they might use a rodent-fluorescent-tracking powder to track them. UV tracking powder is nontoxic and catches onto rats’ bodies. After a few days of placing the powder, an inspector can return and better learn rats’ movements.
The second step pest control professionals and DIY maintenance workers employ in getting rid of rats is exclusion. Killing rats is no good if more can invade. Exclusion involves cutting off rats’ points of entry into a building. If rats live outdoors, this alone may be enough to eliminate them from your premises. To exclude rats, all holes ½” and larger need covered or filled with mesh, hardwire cloth, metal flashing, foam, or other material. Really, all holes larger than ¼” should be filled and covered, as mice can get in these smaller holes.
Common access points into a building include vents, holes near cabinets, and closet doors leading to the outside or crawl spaces. Other entry points include pipes, cracked foundations, holes around windows and doors, and missing screens or covers.
Also important in the exclusion process is eliminating (as much as possible) the rats’ food sources. Common food sources for rats include unsealed food, pet food and water left out overnight, fruits and vegetables left outside the fridge, leaky pipes and faucets, and open trash or compost containers. Putting away food, fixing leaks, and sealing waste containers are all good ways to prevent rats from making a home on your property.
After the rats’ food and access has been addressed, the next step is to sanitize the area. Garbage will need removed, and the landscape should be maintained. Other sanitation considerations include lifting wood piles at least 18 in. off the ground and placing tight covers on all garbage containers and dumpsters.
At this point, you or the pest control professional can address the rats directly. Depending on the severity of the infestation, several methods you or the professional may use one of several methods to eliminate the population.
By far the most common method of controlling rodents, rat traps and bait traps are relatively cheap ways to address a rat problem. There’s a definite technique to setting the traps, and it can take several weeks before the traps kill any rats. Rats are very intelligent animals, and they are cautious by nature. Before setting live rat traps, you or the professional you hire will have to set tripped traps with bait along the rat runways and in places they eat. It takes time for rats to trust new objects, and without patience this method of rat control won’t work.
We caution against using glue traps to capture rats for several reasons. The CDC warns that captured mice can urinate and increase the risk of spreading disease. Others are concerned that glue traps are inhumane, as they don’t kill the rats right away. The traps can also capture other animals, and they can become stuck to pets.
If you prefer animals not die, live traps are another method of capturing the rats. However, the CDC warns against live traps for the same reason as glue traps, and these traps will not work well at eliminating large rat populations. They may be good choices to employ if several alpha rats (extra cautious rats) avoid the snap traps.
Ultrasonic technology offers a humane, chemical-free way to get rid of rats. It does not kill them but drives them away with sounds inaudible to the human ear. However, while professional ultrasonic products guarantee a reduction in rodent populations, they don’t promise to completely eliminate the animals. One of the most common mistakes people make with ultrasonic pest control, says one manufacturer, is that people try and use ultrasonic technology alone to control infestations. Alongside ultrasound, people should also use exclusion and sanitation techniques, they say. People should also use baits and traps in conjunction with ultrasound, the manufacturer says.
For a larger rat infestation, it’s safer and more effective to contact a local pest control company in this situation. Traps and baits may not be enough, and professionals might have to employ rodenticides. Professionals know how to handle these chemicals and can apply them in the safest manner possible.
Rodenticides include grains, seeds, nuts and other foods that contain chemicals lethal to mammals. Most are used in bait traps or bait stations. Rodenticides are usually employed when other methods of eliminating rat populations have failed or when the population is especially large. Many types of rodenticides exist, and various techniques must be employed in successfully poisoning rats with rodenticide in order to successfully kill them.
Tracking powder is yet another method of killing larger rat populations. Powders such as DITRAC are used in limited situations and only by approved providers. They work by sticking to rats’ paws and fur and then entering the rat when it grooms. DITRAC’s manufacturer says the powder is best used in controlled environments where rodenticides haven’t worked well.
If DITRAC powder isn’t an option and bait has failed, pest control professionals also may fumigate a rat population. Fumigation involves sealing a structure with tent-like material and then pumping it full of fumigant, such as Vikane®. Fumigation with Vikane® results in the near-instantaneous death of rats in a building, and it doesn’t leave any residue after the building has been aired. While costly, fumigation is an effective and fast method to eliminate a dangerous rat population throughout an entire building.
After killing the rats, it’s time to clean up the infested area. According to the CDC, proper clean up after an indoor rat population has been eliminated begins with ventilation. The CDC suggests ventilating the air for at least 30 minutes and to use cross ventilation where possible. The CDC also advises not to touch rats with bare hands. Rats carry parasites and disease, so if you must handle rats, wear rubber latex, or vinyl gloves.
Also, do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming in an area where rats have been, as doing so will stir up urine and fecal matter that may be infected with disease. And when cleaning up urine and fecal matter, spray areas that need cleaned with disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water and let the solution soak for 5 minutes. Afterward, clean up the area with a paper towel, and throw the paper towel away. After picking up the fecal matter and urine, again disinfect the area. Do the same when clearing out nests.
For big infestations, OSHA and state/local health lays may affect clean up and treatment. In such circumstances, OSHA may require respiratory devices, gloves, overalls, shoe coverings, etc. for workers.
If you want to get rid of rats, call a pest control professional you can trust to get the job done right. Yes Pest Pros in Columbus and Bloomington, Indiana, have years of experience and are able to treat both large and small rodent infestations in both commercial and residential settings.