Cassie McCue | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ask An Adult: How Do I Get Rid Of A Mouse Infestation In My Shared Flat?

The Debrief: They may be furry, cute and unexpectedly animated in the movies, but they're also pricks. Here's how to cope when you've got way more housemates than you bargained for.

Illustration by Daniel Clarke

There are some life lessons we just have to learn through necessity: when you’re fed up of ready meals and have fully exhausted all varieties of ‘heat-me-up tortellini’ (with every sauce combination), you know it’s finally time to open that cookbook your parents gave you as a going away present for Uni. When you’ve re-used your last pair of pants (for the third time) and stand, in bikini bottoms, before the towering portholes of alien washing appliances, you know it’s probably time you learned how to use one of them. But when you notice a strange smell (that isn’t ‘the bins’), hear the floorboards creak a little more often at night and realise those gourmet chocolate drops your housemate left on the kitchen table probably aren’t chocolate drops, you can go months without realising you've got a mouse problem. 

Here's our guide - after extensive research and interviews with numerous pest control gurus - to getting rid of the bastards without any amateur dramatics/crying:

How do I know I have a problem?

There are several accepted phases in coming to terms with the reality you’re cohabiting with rodents:

Phase One: Blame 

It’s easy to dismiss the dark grey marks and smears left on surfaces (by the repeated contact with the oils in mouse fur) as residual dirt caused by that lazy housemate who never uses the cif. Or to see the half-gnawed cornflakes packet, trail of raisins and ravaged jar of peanut butter (possibly even the nibbled electrical cables) as the result of that drunken late-night snack rampage. But when the gnawed debris extends to wood, carpets and furniture, then you've got yourself some mousey flatmates. 

Phase Two: Denial

‘If you can’t see the problem, it doesn’t exist' -  common places to find mouse droppings include under the kitchen sink, around central heating boilers and in roof spaces. Nests are often found under floorboards, in lofts and in airing cupboards. Not generally the ‘top hits’ on any house tour, but worth having a look around before the problem gets out of hand. 

Even if you don’t want to acknowledge the new homes-within-your-home, the incessant night-time scuttling and scratching emanating from walls and floorboards, continual sleepless nights and the discovery of tiny imprints on your ‘rustically’ dusty bookshelves might just be enough to tip you over the edge into…

Phase Three: The Kill Phase

You’ll know this has hit when you’re wailing down the phone to Rentokil offering ridiculous sums of money just so you don’t have to disinfect the sideboard for the twelfth time in three days. 

Note: It takes a lot to enter this phase, to acknowledge that real mice aren’t nearly as ‘cute’ or communicative as their fictional counterparts. Common triggers include: discovering the carcass of a dead mouse amongst your Ritz crackers, the flash of a pink tail disappearing behind the skirting board or learning the definition of a ‘urine pillar’ (for anyone interested: in heavy infestations, dirt, combined with body grease and urine, builds up into small mounds up to 4cm high and 1cm wide). 

Why should I enter the Kill Phase? Can't we all just live in harmony?

Sorry - did you not read the bit about the 4cm wide urine mounds?! In reality, mousemates (see what we did there) have been known to spread diseases such as salmonella and listeria, leading to food poisoning and stomach upsets. Inhaling even the smallest of particles from their droppings, urine or saliva can make you sick. This is easily done when they’ve pissed all over your kitchen, and in just six months two mice can leave up to 18,000 droppings. 

Also, think you flat is immune? Mice only need a gap the diameter of a pencil to travel into and around homes, and once they're inside, a single female can have 5-10 litters of 5/6 mice a year, and given that those mice can start to breed at only 30 days... that's a hell of a lot of mice.

AAAARGH OK HOW DO I GET RID OF THEM? 

You have several options, according to a lovely pest control man I spoke to called Brian.

Traps

Surprisingly more complicated than the multi-coloured interactive board-game, mouse traps come in all shapes and sizes, including traditional spring-loaded (for a real snap), electric traps and glue traps. Available online and from hardware stores (who knew?), they’re all used in pretty much the same way: load with bait, then sit and wait. Or maybe don’t, as it could take up to a few hours, or days, to work. Glue traps are generally considered the least humane (occasionally rodents will chew their own feet off to escape then die in unknown locations). But you can also get ‘live capture’ traps that lure their subjects into a little plastic prison which you then take outside (or to a very remote location far, far away) and have the satisfactory ‘Born Free’ moment of releasing the little thing back into the wild. Or if you fancy a craft project, there are myriad examples of DIY humane traps online; for hours of Blue Peter-style fun involving leftover kitchen roll tubes and intelligently placed buckets. Just have a Google. 

For the most effective chance of catching the little squeakers, place multiple traps around highly contaminated areas. Popular bait includes peanut butter (lauded for its strong, ‘seductive’ odour), dental floss (it’s apparently like offering it bricks to build an extension) and treats such as raisins, cheese, pineapple chunks and even bacon are said to be welcomed among rodent gourmands. 

The downside is that traps can be dangerous to humans and pets if not placed properly (ouch). If you’re using a traditional trap, you also have to live with the indelible image of a tiny mouse helplessly pinned to a piece of wood. The aching guilt of seeing, and disposing of, a captured cadaver has been known to plague individuals for months afterwards. One friend actually declared that she was suffering from mouse-related PTSD.

Poison

Rodenticide (no its not a Harry Potter charm), also known as mouse poison can be acquired from most garden centres and hardware stores. ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS after use. Can take 4-12 days to take effect and may result in a new ambient home fragrance known as ‘rotting carcass’. 

Thing is, poisons aren’t always effective. It’s a big risk, especially if there are pets or small children around who could eat the poison, or the dead mouse. Also, when mice are poisoned they usually like to take themselves off somewhere remote and very inaccessible to die (it’s probably the wandering, romantic spirit in them). But it won’t be long before the rotting mouse body starts to emit the foulest smell hitherto unknown to man. And then, how do you get a dead mouse out of your bedroom wall? 

Buy a cat

Whilst filling your home with several large cats, using mouse repellant sprays and plug-ins in every available socket and cramming all communal areas with peppermint, cloves, chili and lavender (things that mice allegedly dislike-I wonder who did that survey?!) might seem like a logical, practical solution… 

'These old wives tales may give the placebo effect that you’re tackling the problem, and in some cases act as a minor deterrent,' says Brian. 'But in actuality, none can fully guarantee you a mouse-free home' So, if all else fails and you’re actually feeling quite emotionally unstable about the whole thing, you’ll know it’s time to… 

Call in The Heavies 

Also known as pest control professionals. Available in most good yellow pages or through a good, old-fashioned Google. Although the more expensive option, these mousebusters promise a full ‘inspection and consultation’ before tackling the issue. At present, I can’t possibly imagine what this would include beyond a: 'Yeah love, I think you’ve got a mouse problem', but friends who’ve used them in the past assure me of longterm effectiveness. Just be sure to follow up with subsequent ‘deep-cleans’ to prevent further visitations and maybe take out the bins once in a while, just to be on the safe side. 

So there you have it. Mouse problem solved faster than you can say Speedy Gonzales. Just one more experiential lesson we could probably live without. 

Enjoy your lunch. 

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Illustration by Daniel Clarke  

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Tags: Housing Woes, Animals