We hate to say it to you, but there are all kinds of ugly, little, hairy beasts running around in your home. Besides your sisters. Rather, these are pests that you're legally allowed to hit with a shoe.

In case you forgot to eat your Wheaties and have no clue what we're talking about, the beasts we are referring to are ants, roaches, mice, and any other pests that occupy your home. Most people, whether they realize it or not, have some kind of pest infestation problem. We often don't care because we don't see the bugs. But if your pest control has gotten out of control, we have tons of great advice for some simple ways to get rid of the four major household pests: rodents, cockroaches, fleas, and ants.

We know what you're thinking: "What about termites?" Our response: if you have termites, you have to hire a termite exterminator. Simple as that. But for the other crawlies, we can help. Read on.


Detecting if you have rodents

If you have rats or mice (which are basically small rats), you should try to get rid of them ASAP. Rodents have a notorious history of coexisting with their human hosts - and then spreading disease, pestilence, and the Black Plague. Rodents carry harmful bacteria into your house, especially in their hair, urine, and little poops that you might unknowingly breathe in or eat. This step will help you empty your house of them. Oh, and in case you're a member of PETA, don't start writing that angry letter yet; we'll teach you how to banish rodents without hurting them too much.

You can usually tell if you have rodents if:

  • You see gnaw marks. Rodents gnaw on wood, both to get around the inside of your house and to sharpen their teeth. You can tell how long you've had mice by looking at the wear-and-tear of the holes: new gnawings are rough, while old gnawings are smooth.

  • You see urine and/or droppings (a.k.a. "poopie"). Fresh droppings are soft and moist whereas, old droppings, dried and hard. Rodents tend to have 'toilet areas,' little corners of your happy home where they prefer to take a load off. They also void their bladders while running, leaving streaks of urine which glow under ultraviolet lights.

  • You see footprints. How Nancy Drew of you! But if the suckers walked through mud before crawling across your floor or counter, there may be such evidence. The front footprint is 4-toed and the longer hind print will have 5 toes.

  • You see damaged goods - fruits, cereals, meats in your home with gnaw marks on them, or maybe half a slice of pizza where there was a whole slice before.

  • You hear little footsteps, gnawing behind the walls, and a quiet rustling about the house. You either have rats or burglars.

  • You see rubmarks on the walls at mouse-height level (caused by the oil and grease on the rodent's fur as it shimmies against the wall).

Getting rid of rodents

Rodent-killing chemicals are dangerous for anyone but a pest control professional to use. If your infestation is intense enough to warrant a mass poisoning, then call an exterminator. We must reiterate, it's a BAD idea to try to use rat poison on your own; a pet could eat the poison (or the dead poisoned rat). However, there are some ways to get rid of rodents without resorting to rat poison:

  1. Keep all your food sealed. This is a rule that you'll see a lot of in this SYW; most pests are simply looking for a meal. So don't be a slob, clean up spills, and try not to keep foods (such as bananas) just sitting on the countertop.

  2. Cruelly trap the rodents. Many kinds to choose from here: snap traps, multicatch traps, single catch live traps, and glue board traps.
    Snap traps are the kind of mousetrap that you saw in those great Tom and Jerry cartoons: there's a little trigger with food on it, and when a mouse takes the bait, SNAP. One of the most efficient, successful (but expensive) snap traps is the "expanded trigger" trap, which can be set in rodent runways, and baited with foods like fruit and peanut butter. The bad news is that these traps are made to kill.

    Single-catch live traps do what you'd expect: catch one rodent alive. These are particularly popular among people who hate to hurt animals, because the mouse will be scared, but unharmed. You'll just have to deal with what to do with the mouse once you've caught it. If you live in an area where its likely that endangered rodent species will invade your home, get this kind of trap - that way, you can avoid a potentially hefty fine. Here's some more information about these humane traps.

    Multicatch traps… As you can probably guess, these traps are made to catch many rodents. These traps catch rodents, but don't kill them; when you wake up in the morning, you'll have a box of live rodents. This is not a method for the squeamish. Be sure to call Animal Control to find out if it's all right to release your charges to the wild.

    Glue traps are popular nowadays. They're pieces of cardboard or wood coated with very sticky glue. When rodents are trapped there, their fur, legs, and muscles become stuck to the board, and they usually suffocate to death. You may have to rate this one on your own personal cruel-o-meter, but at least it won't decapitate the suckers.
  3. Get some predators. Cats, dogs, and ferrets can be used to control a home infestation. Cats will instinctively attack rodents (and possibly bring their severed heads to your pillow), and they're fun to pet too (the cats, not the severed mouse heads).

  4. Don't get ultrasonic-sound devices. These machines produce an irritating high-pitched sound (audible only to the rodents) that will supposedly keep them away (and may in the short term), but the pests will eventually become accustomed to the noise and invade a shelter rich in food anyway. So don't waste your money.

When you do catch a mouse or a rat, be sure to let it go while wearing gloves or from a distance (tie a string to the gate). Finally, be super-cautious if the rodent looks to be sick or diseased; in such a case, immediately call Animal Control and let them deal with it. It's their job.

To read about some other non-chemical (but not necessarily humane) ways to kill and trap rodents, check out the CDC's tips.