Human Services

Rodents - Frequently Asked Questions


The best ways to eliminate rodent infestations is to eliminate food sources, water, and shelter. 

Q. Where do rats live?

A. Outside:


  • Under wood piles or lumber that is not often used

  • Under bushes, vines, and in tall grasses that are not trimmed or cut back

  • Under rocks in the garden

  • In cars, appliances, and furniture that has been put outside and is no longer being used

  • In and around trash and garbage that has been left on the ground

  • In holes under buildings

  • In the insulation of walls or ceilings

  • Inside crawl spaces

  • Behind or under cupboards, counters, bathtubs, and shower stalls

  • Near hot water heaters and furnaces

  • In basements, attics, and wherever things are stored in boxes, paper, or cloth


Q. What foods bring rats into my yard and neighborhood?


  • Garbage that rats can get into, like garbage cans with loose lids, plastic or paper bags, and litter
  • Food for pets and birds that has not been eaten. Birdseed on the ground, pet food in pet dishes, bread crumbs, etc.
  • Fruits and berries that have fallen to the ground
  • Compost pile or worm bins that are not taken care of right away. Do not put meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products in the compost. For more information about composting, CLICK HERE
  • Dog droppings



Q. What do rats eat when they get inside the house?

A. The same foods we do!

  • Foods, fats, oils that have spilled or are left on counters, floors, appliances, and tables
  • Grains, like cereal, oats, rice, and vegetables like potatoes and carrots that are in cardboard boxes and plastic bags
  • Pet food in boxes or bags
  • Any garbage that is not in a can with a tight lid



Q. What can I do to keep these unwanted guests away?

A. The time to act is before the signs (droppings) of a rat or mouse.

  • Stack fire wood 18 inches off the ground and away from all buildings.
  • Birdhouses and seed should be on poles and in trays rats can't get at.
  • Keep garbage cans covered tightly.
  • Plant bushes so they will stay at least 3 feet from your house.
  • Keep yards and alleys clean. Take junk to the dump!
  • If you feed them, they will stay. Pick up fruit and vegetables in your yard.
  • Do not compost any animal products (fish, meat, chicken, cheese, butter).
  • Use only rodent resistant compost bins.
  • In basements, keep any food in closed containers that rats can't chew through.
  • Cover all openings to your house. Rats can get into very small places.
  • Do not leave your pet food outside. If your pet doesn't eat it, the rats will.
  • Roof rats get into your house from tree branches that hang over the roof. Keep trees cut back and cover any openings in the eaves.
  • Keep rats out of your sewer pipes! Rats live in sewers and can follow the food in pipes up to your toilet.
  • Keep your kitchen sink rinsed clean and use garbage disposals as little as possible.
  • Rinse out your kitchen sink once or twice a month with 1 cup of bleach and boiling water. (As an alternative to bleach, use 1 cup of baking soda followed by 1 cup of vinegar.)
  • Never throw grease down the drain.
  • Keep your toilet lid down when not in use.
  • If you find a rat in your toilet, flush it! (Hint: squirt a little dishwashing liquid under the lid into the bowl, wait a couple of minutes, then flush.)



Q. How do I kill a rat?

A. To kill a rat, use a rat trap. The best trap is the large, simple, cheap wooden "snap trap." They are sold in hardware stores. To use the trap:

  • Bait it with pieces of apple, potato, raw bacon, or with peanut butter spread on a cotton ball.
  • Attach it firmly to the ground or solid place to keep the rat from dragging the trap away.
  • Place the trap near where you have found the droppings. Make sure the trap is placed where people, children, pets, or animals cannot get hurt from it.
  • Poisons are not recommended for rat control, because children or animals may eat it by mistake. Also, poisoned rats can die in hard to reach places, causing a very bad smell.
  • Dead rats must be wrapped in newspaper or placed in a plastic bag before putting them in a tightly covered garbage can. Injured or sick rats must be killed, then wrapped and put in the garbage can. Try not to touch the dead rat. Use gloves if possible.
  • Wash your hands with hot water and soap after getting rid of dead rats (even if you used gloves).


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Last Modified: May 17, 2013
2100 Clarendon Blvd. Arlington, VA 22201 Tel: 703-228-3000 TTY: 703-228-4611