How to Control Rats

Step One: Look for Evidence

The following signs may indicate the presence of rats.

Nests or burrows
Most rats live in nests or burrows. Burrows are holes in dirt or concrete approximately 1–4 inches wide, with smooth edges. Burrows can be found under bushes and plants, and will often have an entrance and exit hole.

Holes and gnaw marks
Rats can squeeze through holes as little as half an inch wide, and may gnaw or chew through wood fixtures and plastic garbage cans.

Rat droppings are often found close to trash bags or garbage cans. Common rat droppings are ½–¾ inch long, with blunt ends, and are found in small groups.

Rub marks
Check walls and grass for signs of runways. Rats run along the same path many times a day, and prefer to run along walls. This leaves dark, greasy track marks along the walls and worn down paths in grass.

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Step Two: Clean Up

Managing the rodent population is a community effort. There are several steps you and your neighbors can take to help prevent rats from moving onto your property, and push out those that may already be there.

Get rid of clutter
Clutter gives rats many places to hide, sleep, nest and reproduce without being seen or disturbed. Remove (and recycle) piles of newspapers, paper bags, cardboard and bottles that may be on your property, and clean out your basement and yard. Rats love basements and garages because they offer many hiding spaces. If you do use these areas for storage, store items away from walls and off the ground, if possible. Remember that rats can easily gnaw through cardboard boxes.

Control weeds, shrubs and bushes
Rats often make their burrows underneath bushes and plants, where they are protected from the elements and predators. If you see rats or rat burrows on your property, you may need to do a little yard clean-up. Remove any weeds or trash, and aim to keep 6 inches of bare ground around the foundation of your building. Avoid tall grass, bushes and shrubs growing near the building. Do not plant too densely —make sure you leave a little space between plants. If you do spot burrows, remove any plants around them (such as ivy) and trim underneath shrubs to prevent further burrowing.

Wash away droppings and track marks
Rats communicate and attract each other through their urine and droppings. By sweeping up droppings and cleaning up track marks, you help prevent this communication and encourage rats to move away. Wash areas with water and a mild bleach solution (1 part bleach, 10 parts water). Make sure you work with your neighbors to clean up, so rats don’t simply move from one place to another.

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Step Three: Eliminate Sources of Food

Rats only need one ounce of food and half an ounce of water each day. Don’t let your garbage become their next meal! Rats are quick to seek sustenance in garbage cans, and will drink from any source of standing water they can find.

Seal and manage your garbage
Bring garbage cans and bags to the curb as close to pick-up time as possible. Leaving them out overnight invites rats. Use City-approved garbage cans with tight-fi tting lids, and make sure you have enough cans to hold your trash between pickups. Landlords can help by insisting that tenants place their garbage inside the cans, and not next to them.

Keep food away
Keep all food in tightly sealed containers. When throwing out food, make sure that it’s properly wrapped and not easily accessible. Do not put food out for stray animals, and remove any bird feeders, if you have them. Birdseed is an instant supply of food for rats, and birdbaths are a source of water. Other sources of standing water include children’s toys, pet bowls, outdoor plants with saucers, gutters, pipes and trashcan lids. These serve as convenient water supplies for rats and should be emptied regularly.

Step Four: Shut Them Out

Rats chew holes into buildings, and can squeeze through cracks and holes as small as half an inch wide. To keep rodents out, seal all holes and cracks in foundations, walls, floors, underneath doors, and around windows. Most repairs can be completed by maintenance staff, superintendents, repair workers or pest control professionals.

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Seal cracks and small holes
Cracks and small holes can be sealed with caulk or roofing cement, which is durable and easily applied with a caulking gun. Close gaps under doors with rodent-resistant metal door sweeps like the one pictured to the right1. Metal kick plates can also be installed at the bottom of doors to stop rats from gnawing through. Close window gaps with metal flashing, and put screens on vents, especially on lower floors.

Fill large gaps and holes
The best way to close large gaps and holes depends on the building material and the amount of space behind the hole. Use mortar or ready-mix cement to fill gaps and holes in cement and stone foundations. Cover large holes with metal lathe or screening, and then seal with mortar or cement. Cover floor drains and vents with heavy-duty metal screening, secured with masonry nails or cement. Seal pipes leading into walls with escutcheon plates (pipe collars). Check pipes regularly for leaks.

Close inactive burrows
An inactive burrow will often have leaves, cobwebs or other debris around the entrance. These should be closed so that rats cannot get back in. You can close burrows by filling them with soil and tamping them down with a shovel or by stepping on them. Close burrows in cracked or broken sidewalks with metal filler and cement.

Step Five: Baiting and Treatment
Rodent Baiting
Rodent bait can be an effective way to control rats, but applying these poisons is a job for professionals. The Evanston Health and Human Services Department performs and contracts baiting and exterior treatment for free for residential properties. If you live in your own home without tenants, the law does allow you to place rodent bait yourself. However, commercial and multi-unit property owners must hire a pest control company–it’s against the law for them to place their own bait. It is also against the law to bait in alleys.

The City of Evanston seeks to serve as a model to the public for the use of sustainable pest control practices. In 2010, Evanston created the Sustainable Pest Control and Pesticide Reduction Policy to reduce the use of pesticides in the city through the implementation of sustainable pest control practices on City-owned or -leased property.

If you do hire a pest control company, make sure it follows these guidelines:
• Always read and follow the manufacturer’s label, and use the smallest effective amount of bait
• Use disposable gloves while handling bait and wash your hands afterwards
• Use secured bait chunks (called “bait blocks”) inside tamper-resistant stations. Secure or anchor bait stations to the ground or fence with cement, caulk or wire
• Place bait stations on the same path as rats normally travel – often along building walls and fence lines. Since rats always travel on the same path, they’re more likely to eat from stations placed along it
• Use a funnel to place loose pellet bait into burrows. This will help ensure pellets are placed deep into the burrow, so rats can’t push them out
• Bagged bait should not be used in burrows or bait stations. Rats can push or carry them out of burrows or stations, where children, pets or wildlife can get to them
• Store and place bait stations where children and pets cannot get to them
• Never use a product that does not have a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Registration Number
• Replace bait after it’s been eaten. Leave bait stations and bait in place for at least 2 weeks after all rat activity has stopped. Monitor on a monthly basis

• Never use Tres Pasitos or other illegal bait products. These may include toxic chemicals that could harm you, your family and neighbors, and pets

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