Houseguests can be great, except when they're the uninvited kind, especially those with more than two legs, a set of wings, or a penchant for gnawing on your deck. Ants, mice, termites, and bats living inside your house are not only annoying, but can cause real damage by ruining food, chewing wires and eating through walls and wood. The best defense is keeping them out, and, if they've already set up camp, knowing how to get them out quickly and effectively. Here are some tips for dealing with common household pests.
Mice and rats
Mice and rats generally come out at night and will eat whatever food is available, including candy, cereal, and even meat. If you suspect you have might a problem, look for one or more of the following signs: droppings (they look like black grains of rice), gnawed areas on food packaging, or scratching sounds in the wall, particularly at night. You can also test to see if you have mice by dusting a spot on the floor with flour and setting a cracker with peanut butter in the middle of it. In the morning, check for telltale tracks. If you do have mice, your first line of defense is to take away their food. Don't leave pet food out. Put food up on shelves or high in cabinets, store food in tightly-sealed containers instead of cardboard boxes, and store garbage in a container with a lid. Make sure not to leave dirty dishes out and wipe up spills immediately. Remove food sources outside too, including bird feeders, fallen fruit, and uncovered garbage cans.
Rats and mice can enter through incredibly tiny crevices. Survey the interior and exterior of the house, looking for ways they might get in, including holes for cables or vents and cracks in the foundation. Block their entrances by sealing around lower window frames, putting heavy-duty weather stripping under doors, and sealing openings around pipes.
To catch rodents, mechanical traps are better than poison. Poison is more dangerous and poisoned rodents may die inside walls, creating another problem. Old-fashioned spring mousetraps work well and are inexpensive. Buy plenty of them and bait with something with a strong tempting aroma like bacon or peanut butter. Make sure to put them close to the area of infestation. Mice don't like to wander far from their preferred area.
Once the problem is under control, stay vigilant with keeping spaces clean and food covered. Keep traps for the future. Or consider the time-tested solution of getting a cat.
Termites gnaw their way through homes in every state except Alaska and cause billions of dollars of damage annually. To determine if you have termites, look for one or more of the following signs: soft wood or wood that sounds hollow if you knock on it, swarms of termites in the spring, or tiny shelter tubes made of soil. If you do have termites, you will need to call in a professional to get rid of them.
There are, however, plenty of things homeowners can do to prevent a termite return. First, eliminate sources of moisture around the house. Repair leaky pipes, make sure spouts and gutters are working properly, and keep crawl spaces ventilated. Keep wood piles away from the house and try to minimize contact between wood on decks, doors, windows, ground, etc. Avoid putting garden beds right next to the house because the moisture will attract the bugs. Use termite-resistant materials for any new construction.
Depending on the type of ants, an ant invasion can range from mild nuisance to something that can cause structural damage to your house. To discourage ants from coming inside, remove rotting wood from the yard and trim bushes so branches don't touch the house. Seal cracks around the house and foundation, especially in places where there is moisture. Don't leave food or dirty dishes out or leave pet food in dishes. Wipe or mop up spills promptly.
Once ants find food, they form a line to get it and carry it back to the nest. Stop the line by creating a barrier with petroleum jelly or duct tape with the sticky side facing up. Wipe up the ants with a soapy cloth or all-purpose cleaner and seal the hole. If ants keep finding new entry points, you can set some bait next to, but not directly in, the trail. If one type of bait doesn't work for the type of ants you have, try another brand.
Ants can be discouraged from reentering by drawing a line with chalk around the house at their entry points. You can also try putting lemon juice, borax, or cayenne pepper into holes where ants are coming in.
Even though bats are good for keeping mosquitoes and other pests at bay, rare is the person who wants to see a bat flying around the bedroom at 3 a.m. The problem with bats is not that they attack people or seek human blood (neither are true), but their waste. Bat guano smells bad, can spread disease, and corrode wood and drywall.
Bats like to live in warm, dry spots, like attics and chimneys. If you see one bat flying around in the house, there are probably more. Look for other signs like an unexplained stain on the ceiling, scratch marks near holes, cracks on the outside of the house, and scratching noises in the walls.
To get rid of bats, figure out how they are coming in. Go outside at dusk to see where they are coming out. You can also look for cracks or holes with scratches around them. If there's more than one spot, seal all but one. Install a one-way exit by hanging a sheet of nylon netting (choose mesh ¼'' or smaller) loosely over the hole. Tack down the top and sides but leave the bottom open. The bats will be able to make their way out but can't come back in. Keep the netting up for several days since all the bats won't leave at the same time. After a few days, plug up the hole so they don't return. If you are feeling kindly to the bats, you can also set up a bat house near their old spot to give them a new home.