15 Scents That Rats Hate (and How to Use Them)


Young rat (Rattus norvegicus) climbs into the dish on the sink at the kitchen.

Rats are one of the least-welcomed guests in domestic homes. They scuttle about in the night, making noises in the basement or attic, and when you see them in your home, it can make you cringe and think, ‘why me?!’ Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can keep the rats OUT so that your home remains rodent-free.

Rats have a powerful sense of smell. You can repel rats from your home and garden with scents they dislike, such as clover, garlic, onion, hot peppers containing capsaicin, house ammonia, used coffee grounds, peppermint, eucalyptus, predator (cat) scent, white vinegar, and citronella oil.

Read on to learn about what scents will keep rats away from your home and garden! We’ll also talk about other ways to keep your home rat-free.

What’s So Bad About Rats Anyway?

Are rats really that bad to have around? If you’ve ever dealt with a rat problem, you probably already know the answer.

Rats can cause all kinds of problems around the house. They chew on wood, furniture, siding, and electrical wiring. They love fruits, nuts, and vegetables and won’t say no to munching on your garden plants or the fruits in your fruit tree.

Rats that make their way into your home can leave droppings, causing sanitary issues. In the same vein, rats will not shy away from garbage and can sniff through garbage one minute and be running across your kitchen counter (where you prepare food) the next. 

They can also build nests around control boxes, in woodpiles, and beneath outbuildings. Rats will burrow beneath the foundation of your home and create intricate burrowing systems, too.

All in all, not great to have around the house!

Why Are Rats In My Home?

Just like every other animal, rats are just trying to survive. To do that, they need three things:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter

These three components are what rats, and any other unwelcome visitor, are looking for. If your home offers a cozy attic that’s never used, they’ll use that for their shelter. Leftover pet food can offer food, and drippy sinks or wet bathtubs can provide water.

To a rat, your home may look like a paradise, and you don’t even realize it!

Rats will most often show up in the house in late fall when the weather begins cooling down. Rats do not hibernate, but they don’t really want to be outside in the cold, either.

Is It a Rat or a Mouse?

Rats are rarely glimpsed in the wild. And when you see one, you might not even be sure it’s a rat – after all, they’re just a big mouse, right?

Kind of.

wild brown norway rat, rattus norvegicus, sitting outdoors

When compared to mice, rats are bigger. Their heads, front paws, and rear paws will be bigger in proportion to a mouse’s body and paws. Both mice and rats can have hairless tails. 

In terms of behavior, mice are bolder than rats. If you’ve ever set out a live trap for a mouse, you can often catch it the same day, if not the next. A rat will take several days to appear in a trap because they are so cautious and hesitant with new or novel objects.

If you are finding that you have mice instead of rats in your home, check out our guide on the scents that mice hate here.

The Scents That Rats Hate (and How to Use Them)

There are two main types of rats found in the United States. Norway rats and roof rats. You may have heard Norway rats called sewer rats, brown rats, or common rats. It’s all the same animal. Roof rats also go by black rats, ship rats, and house rats. Again, all the same animal.

The reason why this is important to know is that these two distinct rats hang out in very different parts of the house and yard. 

Norway rats, for example, like to be on the bottom level and are typically found in basements and garages. Roof rats, on the other hand, are found in attics, trees, and upper levels of the house.

When repelling rats, it’s important to understand where to repel them from. It won’t be very effective to repel Norway rats by putting your scent deterrents on an upper-level window, for example. 

Conversely, repelling roof rats by sprinkling chili powder around the garage will not be effective either, as these rats are more likely to be chilling upstairs in your attic.

So, identify your rat if you can, and get ready to repel them using natural scents!

Clover Plants Can Repel Rats

It’s your lucky day! Clover plants can be used to repel rats. You know, those little things called three-leaf and four-leaf clovers? Those are clover plants! More specifically, the little white flower that accompanies these so-called lucky clovers.

Clover plants are incredibly aromatic, which may be why they are so good at repelling rats. These deceivingly useful plants typically litter your yard in the spring – and who knew there was such a good use for them!

To use clover plants to repel rats, you can go two main routes. You can pick the flowers directly from your yard and place them in areas where you want to repel rats. This can be time-consuming, and the flowers will need replacing every 3-5 days to keep the smell strong.

Another downside – once spring is over, your clover plant supply will be gone.

Another option is to soak the plants in water. The aroma of the flowers will seep into the water, which you can then place in a spray bottle. Use the spray around areas you want to repel rats – drain openings, door frames, window sills, and roofing material.

This option may last a little longer and provide some better coverage, but picking the flowers directly will emit a stronger repelling scent.

Rats Hate Hot Sauce and Cayenne Pepper

Who doesn’t love a spicy dish? Spicy curry or tangy buffalo wings. Yum! But for rats? The feeling is NOT mutual. 

Rats rely heavily on their sense of smell, taste, and touch to survive. When something doesn’t smell or taste right, they tend to stay away from it because it activates their sense of danger.

Spicy scents like hot sauce and chili powder contain a compound called capsaicin. This is what makes hot peppers, well, hot! Pepper plants developed this as a defense against being eaten, but we humans tend to ignore that and gobble them down.

Rats and other mammals, on the other hand, are repelled by this spicy taste and smell. To them, the hot capsaicin feels like it’s causing pain and burning in their mouths and taste receptors.

To use chilis and hot peppers to repel rats, you can make a spray:

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 oz. hot sauce
  • 1 tsp dish soap

Combine all the ingredients into a glass spray bottle. The dish soap is used to make the mix stick to the surface. Spray in areas where you want to repel rats. 

Common entrances for roof rats include chimneys, attic windows, loose roofing tiles, and even branches that are close to the roof. You can spray all of these areas.

Common entrances for Norway rats include drainpipe openings, cellar drains, sewer drains, and even shower drains. If you have a cellar window or some other opening, spray those areas as well!

Alternatively, you can simply use chili powder or flakes like Indus Organics Cayenne Pepper Flakes. Crushed red pepper usually works as well because it is a combination of cayenne and hot peppers. 

Sprinkle this stuff around any openings or places you suspect rats are getting in from. You can also sprinkle it around your garden if you’re having problems there.

Regular red bell peppers do not contain capsaicin, so just be sure you’re using the right peppers to repel those rats!

Close-up a rat sits in ragged brown boot on the gray floors. The tail protrude from hole. The concept of rodent control.

Use Garlic and Onions to Repel Rats

Garlic isn’t restricted to repelling vampires. It works on several pests, including rats, raccoons, and deer. 

The main repellent in garlic is its strong scent. Ever had a garlicky meal and felt like the taste was on your tongue all day? 

That’s the allicin. It’s the molecule that gives garlic its distinctive odor. Like capsaicin in chili peppers, allicin is a developed defense mechanism of the plant to keep animals from eating it. Again, we humans ignore that and put garlic in everything. What is wrong with us?!

Onions are similar to garlic in that they have a very distinct and strong odor. This is due to their sulfur-containing compounds. Similar to allicin, these sulfuric compounds give off a strong scent that will make rats think twice about coming near.

Garlic is a pretty versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways. You can use entire cloves to place around vulnerable spots, but this can be costly, and eventually, the cloves will spoil and need to be replaced.

Instead, you can use both garlic and onion to make a spray:

  1. Bring 4 cups water to a boil
  2. Add 1 onion, chopped, and 2-4 cloves of garlic
  3. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes
  4. Turn heat off and let the mixture cool completely
  5. Strain mixture and place remaining water in a glass spray bottle

If you don’t have garlic cloves, you can replace them with 2 tsp garlic powder instead. Alternatively, use garlic powder similar to chili powder and simply sprinkle it around rat hot spots.

Rats Hate Ammonia

If you see a pattern here, it’s because there is one: strong scents.

Ammonia has a pretty harsh chemical smell to it. When used in the home, it comes in the form of ammonium hydroxide. Lots of people use it to clean surfaces like tubs, tiles, and sinks. 

Another way to use your household ammonia is to repel rats. The easiest way to repel rats with ammonium hydroxide is to soak some rags or cotton balls in it and place them in open bags or containers. 

Place the bags/containers in areas where you want to repel rats from. Think attic spaces or windowsills, basement drainpipes, or areas where you’ve seen rat droppings.

Used Coffee Grounds Deter Rats

Did you ever think you’d find a use for those old spent coffee grounds? Well, now you do! Instead of chucking them in your garbage, use them to repel your household pests.

Coffee grounds, especially hot-brewed coffee grounds, have a bitter flavor in addition to a strong scent. This double-whammy works as a great repellent for rats.

Now, obviously, you don’t want to just place those squishy wet coffee grounds directly on surfaces. Instead, take a similar approach to ammonia. Place your spent coffee grounds in an open plastic bag or container and set those around your hot spots.

If you need to repel rats from your garden, you can simply chuck them directly in the garden. Coffee grounds are great for composting, so they’re likely to help fertilize your garden in addition to repelling pests like rats and deer!

Peppermint, Wintergreen & Spearmint Will Repel Rats

These all sound like great chewing gum flavors, right? Minty-smelling things tend to keep pests away, whether it be oils or the plant itself.

Tomcat Repellents Rodent Repellent is an excellent ready-to-use commercial repellent with peppermint oil as one of the main ingredients. It’s advertised to last 30 days but advises more frequent application after heavy rain or if increased rat activity is present.

Another option is to plant peppermint plants around your home and garden. This is a long game but will pay off. Peppermint is a perennial plant, which means it only needs to be planted once, and it will return each spring on its own.

Try planting peppermint next to your more vulnerable vegetables in your garden like carrots, potatoes, squash, and pumpkin, all of which are favorites to a rat.

Essential oils are another option. 10-15 drops of Ethereal Nature 100% Pure Oil, Peppermint can be added to 1 cup of water and placed in a spray bottle. Spearmint oil and wintergreen oil work in a similar fashion.

Another way to use peppermint to repel rats is to soak cotton balls in the peppermint oil and strategically place cotton balls in areas where rats have nested or where they are prone to go.

If you don’t have peppermint oil and want to act fast – grab your peppermint toothpaste – and add that onto some cloth, and place the cloths wherever you are having the rat problem.

Cloves Deter Rats

Another great way to repel rats is by using cloves and clove oil! Rats hate the smell of cloves because not only can it smell clean, it also spells spicy – it’s a two-in-one!

Using whole cloves, you can wrap them in a cloth and place them in areas outdoors and indoors to get rid of rats. Placing whole cloves in vents and any openings that you see within the walls of your home can also be helpful.

If you are using clove oil, soaking cotton balls in the oil and placing the cotton balls around your outdoor and indoor spaces can work wonders!

Eucalyptus Shows Promise at Repelling Rats

Eucalyptus trees and shrubs are native to Australia and its neighboring islands. These tall trees are part of the myrtle family.

In a study conducted in 2014, eucalyptus oil was applied to food at three concentrations: 5%, 10%, and 20%. At all three concentrations, rats were repelled from the food.

To use eucalyptus oil yourself, you can purchase something like Ethereal Nature 100% Pure Oil, Eucalyptus. Place 10-15 drops of the oil in a cup of water and place the mixture in a spray bottle. Spray in areas where you notice rat damage or in areas you think they’re getting inside.

The Smell of Predators Will Scare Rats Away

In many cases, predator urine can be used to keep pests away from your yard and garden. However, rats are a special case and don’t seem to be bothered by the scent of cat or mongoose urine.

Besides, you definitely DON’T want that kind of scent in your home!

Wild rat foraging in the woods

A study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience found that rats exhibit defensive behavior when exposed to the scent of cats, including hiding, avoiding, and risk assessment. 

Your cat doesn’t have to be a mouser to aid you in your task of repelling rats. All it needs to do is have a bed, blanket, or old collar that it loves to sleep on and rub all over. 

If your rat problem is secluded to one area, you can place the cat-smelling object in that area. If you have multiple suspected problem areas, try cutting the blanket or bed up into pieces and spreading it around, stuffing it into open holes or near drain pipes.

Don’t have a cat? Ask your friends or neighbors for old cat toys or blankets they no longer use. You may get a weird look, but hey, if it works, it works!

Use Cat Fur to Repel Rats

Based on the study above, you can also use cat fur and place it in areas that rats may frequent to repel them!

If you have a cat, and even if you don’t – any pet hair will work; gathering some cat hair that has shed off your pet and sprinkling it around rat-prone areas and entryways will definitely keep rats away both indoor and outdoor.

Even if the rat doesn’t see the cat itself, it will smell it, and that is enough to keep them away from those spaces.

If your cat doesn’t shed too much, taking a brush and brushing your pet, and using whatever hair comes off, will be perfect!

White Vinegar as a Rat Repellent

White vinegar has a strong smell without question. It has a spice to it, a sting to it, and overall, it is just strong and unpleasant. But enough about me and why I don’t like the smell of white vinegar, what is important here is that rats hate the smell of white vinegar.

White vinegar not only smells bad for a rat, but it also can sting going down if they take a lick at it. The crazy thing about white vinegar is that it will make rats frightened, especially if you already have rats that are nesting.

Adding white vinegar by soaking cotton balls in white vinegar, or by making diluted water and white vinegar spray and spraying it outside your home (not recommended for indoor since it is totally overwhelming) – white vinegar will confuse any rats that have already been an issue.

White vinegar is so strong and so shocking to a rat – especially if it wasn’t one of the smells the rats had initially smelled where they decided to build their nest.

Adding white vinegar will simply make rats feel like something new is in their environment and something new and unknown means threat.

Citronella Oil Repels Rats

Rats hate citronella. It’s kind of funny if you think of it because apart from being an overwhelming scent to a rat – it kind of smells clean, doesn’t it? Clean and fresh is a no-go when it comes to rats, so we are not surprised that they hate citronella!

Citronella is a widely hated scent in the animal kingdom. Because it is so strong smelling, the scent will overwhelm a rat’s senses and will make it almost impossible for a rat to hunt for food and protect itself from predators.

A study published in Applied Biological Research showed that rats consumed significantly less food in areas where citronella oil was present vs. areas where it wasn’t. Additionally, researchers found that a concentration of 10% citronella oil led to an increase in the effectiveness of the repellent.

Rats are scent-driven, which means they rely on their scent for most things. Citronella is so strong that a rat will surely avoid it because not being able to smell will make them feel unsafe.

While you can try to plant citronella, you really need concentrated amounts of it to work. So, if you want to use citronella oil to repel rats, you can purchase your favorite 100% essential oil concentration and dilute it down to about 10% concentration.

You can then soak some rags in your mixture or even cotton balls (or a spray) and place the citronella scent around areas where you want to repel rats.

Other Ways to Keep Rats Away

The best natural pest repellents will be a combination of a few different techniques. Just because your scent deterrent doesn’t repel them completely does not mean it isn’t working. You may just need to add another deterrent to keep them away for good.

If you’re interested in keeping rats away from your shed, take a look at our piece on repelling rats and mice from your shed here.

Keep Clean & Tidy

Rats love a free buffet, and if you leave your garbage out without sealing it up tight, rats are bound to be attracted to it. Be sure to clean your countertops regularly and wipe up any spills as well.

Sanitation also includes keeping your yard clean. Keep building materials and wood off the ground if able—Trim hedges, trees, shrubs, and vines that are growing close to or on your house. Keep pet food and water dishes inside the house.

Practice Rat Exclusion

Rats can fit through any space that is ½ inch or larger. Be sure to seal up any spaces that are larger than this, such as vents, drain pipes, or electrical wiring openings. 

Rats can easily chew through caulking and wood (and duct tape, more on that here), so if you want to really seal up, those holes use sheet metal or metal wire fences with less than ½ inch openings.

If you already have openings like this and need to protect them, check out our piece on the 3 best rat traps here.

3 Ways to Check if You Have a Rat Problem

If you’re not sure if you have a rat problem but suspect that you may – it’s best to get ahead of the game and make sure that you don’t, because if you do have one, it’s only going to get worse the longer you allow rats to stay.

However, it’s not always easy to distinguish if you have a rat problem- especially if you do have a lot of clutter. So, there are a few ways to check if you have a rat problem.

Brown rat, Rattus norvegicus

Check for Rat Droppings

Rat droppings are the number 1 sign that you have a rat problem. If you see little, black droppings, there is a good chance there are rats nearby – and it’s time to call in a professional.

Inspect Outdoors for Rat Holes

Check your outdoor surroundings for holes. If you start to notice mysterious holes outside your home, not too large, but basically the size of a rat, you may have a rat problem.

Rats dig and burrow, and if you start to see holes, especially near foundations – it can be a sign that rats have invaded your space. 

Sprinkle Powder or Flour Where You Suspect Rats

Sprinkling powder or flour on the floor, or wherever you think rats are, is an easy way to check to see if rats are around because they will step in the substance and leave little footprints.

Placing powder in areas where you suspect a rat can be the easiest way to get an answer, and fast!

Bringing It All Together

Rats can be a nuisance around your home and garden. They chew wood, chew electrical wires, leave droppings, and chow down on your garden vegetables and fruit trees.

The two main types of rats in the United States are Norway rats and roof rats. Roof rats hang out on upper floors, powerlines, and trees. Norway rats prefer the basement and sewer pipes.

You can repel rats from your yard, house, and garden using scents they dislike. These include:

  • Clover Plant
  • Garlic 
  • Onion
  • Hot Sauce
  • Cayenne Peppers
  • House Ammonia
  • Used Coffee Grounds
  • Wintergreen
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Cloves
  • Predator (cat) Scent
  • White Vinegar
  • Citronella Oil

If you’re ever unsure about a rat problem or feel the situation has gotten out of control, you can always seek professional help to take care of the rats.

Remember that using a combination of scent-based and physical deterrents will give you the best results so you can have a rat-free home and yard in no time!

References

Baylis, S. M., Cassey, P., & Hauber, M. E. (2012, September 01). Capsaicin as a Deterrent Against Introduced Mammalian Nest Predators. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(3), 518-524. https://meridian.allenpress.com/wjo/article-abstract/124/3/518/129603/Capsaicin-as-a-Deterrent-Against-Introduced

Kandil, R. A., Mobarak, S. A., & Abdelhady, E. A. (2021). Testing the Repellent Effect of Clover Plant, Trifollium alexandrium Juice Against Black Rat, Rattus rattus, to Protect Stores. Egyptian Academic Journal of Biological Sciences, B. Zoology, 13(1), 173-181. https://journals.ekb.eg/article_171382.html

McGregor, L. S., Hargreaves, G. A., Apfelbach, R., & Hunt, G. E. (2004, April 28). Neural Correlates of Cat Odor-Induced Anxiety in Rats: Region-Specific Effects of the Benzodiazepine Midazolam. Journal of Neuroscience, 24(17), 4134-4144. https://www.jneurosci.org/content/24/17/4134

Singla, N., Thind, R. K., & Mahal, A. K. (2014). Potential of Eucalyptus Oil as Repellent against House Rat, Rattus rattus. Scientific World Journal. 249284

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