No matter how clean your home and garden are, you might find yourself hosting unwelcome guests such as rats, mice and fleas.
These common pests can all be attracted to your warm, cosy home and the ample sources of food that it provides.
The good news is that there are practical steps you can take to tackle all of these pests.
If you need professional help or advice, search for pest control companies near you that have passed the Which? Trusted Traders assessment.
How to get rid of rats and mice in your home
Rats and mice can cause significant damage to your home by chewing on fixtures, furniture and even electrical cables, potentially causing fires.
They’re also a health risk, as both types of rodents will leave droppings and use urine to mark their territory, which can spread potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses around your home.
Signs of rats and mice
Both are more active at night. You might not see them, but hear them scratching about or spot other signs such as:
- black, pellet-shaped droppings
- gnaw marks on materials such as wood, carpet, furniture and wires
- damage to food packets
- the smell of ammonia from their urine
- ‘smear marks’ from the oils in the rodents’ fur, left on surfaces as they pass.
Preventing rats and mice
The best way to stop mice and rats is to block up any holes where they could be getting access. You’ll need to be thorough, as mice in particular can squeeze through gaps of just 5mm wide – roughly the diameter of a pencil.
Check along outside walls for any spaces rodents could be squeezing in through, especially around pipes. You should seal possible entry points with wire wool embedded in quick-setting cement, as it’s less likely rats and mice could chew through this.
If you have air vents or grilles, fit mesh across them which has gaps narrower than 5mm. If you have wooden doors with gaps at the bottom, fit a bristle strip.
Pest control for rats and mice
Poison is the standard method used to get rid of rats and can also be used with mice. However, you need to make sure you use it correctly. At best, it could be ineffective and, at worst, a danger to your family, pets or other animals.
Don’t be tempted to cut corners. Ensure you read the instructions very carefully and follow them to the letter.
Traps, whether used with poison or other bait, should be placed at the edges of rooms, where mice and rats are more likely to encounter them.
If you’re using bait, don’t bother with cheese unless your home is infested with cartoon mice. Philip Voller, from The Pest Controller, told us: ‘Mice don’t actually like cheese that much. – that’s come from Disney. A bit of chocolate or peanut butter is much more effective.’
If you use humane traps for mice, you should check them every 12 hours, or the captured rodents might starve to death. Bear in mind that they might not survive when released, as they’ll be in an unfamiliar habitat without access to the safety of their nest, so this solution may not be as humane as it seems.
If DIY methods fail, you’re not comfortable handling it yourself or the infestation is serious, you may need to call in professionals.
How to get rid of rats and mice in your garden
Most people will have rats or mice in their garden at some point and there’s little you can do to stop them entirely.
But you can make your garden less attractive to them and reduce the likelihood that their presence becomes a problem.
- Avoid decking or prepare the ground properly: rodents will make nests underneath decking unless you have a concrete base underneath.
- Use concrete under your shed: similarly, you need to block access underneath your shed. Having a concrete base or burying wire around the perimeter can help.
- Clean up after eating: If you eat outside, make sure you clear the area thoroughly afterwards.
- Keep bird food at a height: make sure bird food is up high on a table or in a suspended feeder. Take in food at night, when rats and mice are more active, and remove any food that’s fallen to the ground.
- Don’t leave pet food out: if you have pets, keep their food in sealed containers and don’t leave it out overnight.
- Use solid bins and composters: make sure all waste is enclosed in hard plastic bins or compost containers.
- Don’t keep animals in your garden: ‘There’s an old saying: if you keep chickens you keep rats,’ explains Philip. ‘Poultry definitely attracts rats.’
You might be tempted to use poison if you do have a problem with rodents in your garden. But it’s very risky to use it outdoors, as it could be ingested directly, or indirectly, by other animals.
If rats and mice are causing a problem in your garden, consider hiring a professional pest controller who will be able to ensure that wildlife and pets aren’t put at risk.
How to get rid of fleas
Fleas are quite a common pest, particularly if you have a pet. You may also end up with them if you move into a property where a pet was living before, as fleas can remain dormant for up to 12 months.
Signs of fleas
- Adult fleas: they’re usually 2-3mm long, reddish-brown in colour and move by hopping or jumping rather than crawling.
- Eggs or faeces: the tiny pearly-white eggs and the dark-coloured faeces of adult fleas can create a 'salt and pepper' effect on light-coloured linens or bedding.
- Bites on your skin: often found on the lower leg, they usually look like a red welt rather than a raised lump. Some people develop a rash.
Where to look for fleas
- Pet bedding: cats and dogs are likely to come into contact with other animals carrying fleas. Fleas don’t tend to cling to their victims, so a pet’s bedding is a good place to look for adults and eggs.
- Clothes, bedding and luggage: any warm, dark place can be a hiding place for fleas. In addition to the clothes in your wardrobe, a washing basket is another favourite spot.
- Carpets: you might find fleas on top of or underneath a carpet.
Getting rid of fleas
Fleas are becoming more resistant to over-the-counter remedies. So if you have a pet and think they could have fleas, the first step is to visit a vet, who will be able to suggest a suitable treatment. Usually, treating your pet will eliminate the problem.
But if you don't have pets, or the flea problem continues, try these steps:
- Vacuum thoroughly and regularly: empty the contents of the vacuum outside into a plastic bag, and put this in an outside bin straight away.
- Wash clothes and bedding at a hot temperature: use at least 60°C as long as the material is suitable to be washed at this temperature.
- Freeze other materials: being in freezing temperatures for extended periods can kill fleas. So for delicate clothes, children’s stuffed toys and anything else that can’t be hot-washed or thrown away, wrap the items in a bin bag and put it in the freezer overnight.
- Flea spray: you should use this at the same time as washing and freezing your belongings, but be aware that fleas are becoming increasingly resistant to common chemical treatments.
- Flea powder: use this underneath the carpet to kill off the flea larvae. Larvae spend 80% of their time in the base of the carpet around the twisted pile fibres.
If these DIY treatments don’t work, a professional pest controller will be able to thoroughly treat the house, getting into all the nooks and crannies. You may need to stay out of the property for several hours while this is carried out, though.
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