With over 3,000 species of snakes on the planet, it can be hard to imagine an area on earth without them. In fact, snakes live on every continent except Antarctica. So how exactly can you avoid snakes and keep them away from your house?
The truth is, snakes have a strong sense of smell, which they use to find accessible food sources. You can take advantage of this trait by using scents they dislike, such as cinnamon, clove oil, and eugenol. These are the only scents recommended by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to repel snakes.
There are hundreds of claims about substances that repel snakes: sulfur, mothballs, cayenne pepper, cinnamon oil, cowboy rope, guard vines, clove oil, cedar oil, and even lime. Before we get to the scents that snakes hate, let’s talk about the nature of a snake and just why the heck one is in your yard.
Why Are Snakes in Your Yard?
Birds, deer, and cute little squirrels may be pleasant wildlife to view in your yard, but snakes tend to rub people the wrong way.
Snakes are incredibly valuable to the environment, controlling rodent populations and therefore disease transmissions. We may not like seeing them, but snakes have a positive impact in the wild.
If you’re in a hurry, we compiled a list of the best snake repellents on the market that meet our standards – you can read that article here.
But why are snakes near your house in the first place? Let’s find out what attracts these slithery reptiles to your home, and how you can reduce your encounters with them.
In Search of Water
If you live near a water source, you significantly increase your chance of seeing just about all the wildlife in your area. Fresh water sources such as creeks, streams, and rivers are a life source for wild animals.
Some snakes prefer to live in and near water. The majority of these snakes are harmless. The northern water snake and queen snake, for example, are non-venomous.
Northern water snakes enjoy basking in the sun on branches just above the water. When disturbed, they quickly sink down into the water and slither on their way. You can only find queen snakes in streams, not ponds or reservoirs. This is because they feed almost exclusively on crayfish.
Although you should be wary of all snakes in the water, water moccasins in particular can be a danger to humans. They are sometimes referred to as cottonmouths, swamp moccasin, or black moccasin.
These snakes are venomous. Bites from cottonmouths rarely end in fatalities, but they tend to be more aggressive than other venomous snakes. They have been found in both fresh water and salt water, and have even colonized a few remote islands. Yikes.
Water tends to attract certain animals such as frogs, toads, slugs, and worms. These are main food sources for a number of snakes, and can attract them to your home.
If you have snakes frequenting your property, leave it to a professional to handle the issue. Check out our nationwide pest control finder to get connected with a wildlife control professional near you in seconds for free. Using our partner network helps support pestpointers.com. Thanks, bunches!
Poor Yard Maintenance
Stories and songs have taught us that snakes love tall grass. There is merit behind those stories. Snakes are predators, but they are prey for even bigger predators such as hawks and owls.
Tall grass hides snakes better, and gives them a safe haven from watchful predatory birds. The same can be said for trees and shrubs. Vegetation that is low to the ground will provide a safe haven for snakes.
Snakes will also seek these low-laying trees and shrubs for their shade on hot days.
Bird feeders and outdoor pet food will attract snakes near your home. Birds tend to flick seeds on the ground as they eat, which attracts mice, rats, and squirrels to the area. This in turn will attract snakes, who feed on these animals.
The same issue can be said with outdoor pet food, which can attract the types of animals that snakes feed on. Snakes, like all wild animals, will look for easy sources of food with minimal effort.
Firewood that is stored on the ground provide excellent hiding places for snakes. Not to mention some insects and rodents will be attracted to these hiding places too, providing food for snakes.
Cracks and Crevices
Underground roots and weather can deteriorate building materials in a few short years. It’s hard to keep up with house maintenance, but if you don’t fill in those cracks and crevices, you could be inviting a scaly friend inside.
Most snakes can squeeze into an area the size of a dime. If you have patio stairs or a porch with an opening underneath, snakes will see this as a safe haven.
Snakes do not want to be in your home, but if you have a crack in your foundation or an opening inside your house, snakes may confuse this with a safe place to hibernate or sleep.
The 2 Scents That Snakes Hate
I’m sure most homeowners wish there were more than just 2 smells that snakes hate. Unfortunately, studies have shown that there’s not too much out there that bothers snakes.
And believe me, scientists have tried.
A study done in 1985 was presented at the Eastern Wildlife Damage Control Conference. In the study, they built a box specially designed to test for scents that would repel snakes.
They placed their test subjects inside the box and allowed the snakes to get used to it. After the snakes were adequately familiar with the box, they would open a latch and add in a scent under a grid line to test if the snakes were less reluctant to cross the gridline after the scent was added, as opposed to before the scent was added.
In total, scientists tested both smells and physical objects that were rumored to repel snakes. These included:
- Flour sulfur
- Garlic, onion and cayenne pepper (liquid form)
- Polybutenes and hydrogenated castor oil (bird tanglefoot)
- Gourd vines
- Coal tar and creosote oil
- Sisal rope (yep, cowboy rope)
- Cedar oil
- Chain king snake musk
- Hickory Smoke
The results? Snakes could care less about any of them. The test subjects showed no reluctance to cross the grid line after the repellents were placed in the box.
It’s important to note that these tests were designed to repel, not injure or harm the snakes in any way. Therefore, tests like ammonia or other harsh chemicals were not used, as these could be lethal to the snakes.
So, what in the world can you use to repel these scaly reptiles?
The only known tests were done that have proven successful at repelling snakes are cinnamon oil and clove oil. And even then, the test was done exclusively on the brown tree snake. The US Animal Plant and Health Inspection Services insist that along with both cinnamon and clove oil, eugenol can be used as well as an effective snake repellent under proper guidelines.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t a TON of scientific information out there on how to repel snakes.
Cinnamon and Clove Oil
Studies have been done on the brown tree snake and it’s been shown that cinnamon oil and clove oil are effective at repelling this species. There is no information prominent on how cinnamon and clove oil work to repel other species of snakes.
If you plan to use cinnamon or clove oil to repel snakes, use it in an area that cannot be accessed by pets.
However, it may be best to go with a formulated product and avoid any hassle and guesswork of using pure essential oils, especially since they can get costly, fast.
Take a look at our product guide for snake sprays (all the products contain some form of cinnamon and clove oil)
Snakes have an excellent sense of their environment, and if something smells or tastes off, they are likely to be repelled from the area. So, use this to your advantage!
Just letting you know once more – If you have snakes frequenting your property, you can use our nationwide pest control finder to get connected with a wildlife control professional near you in seconds for free. Using our partner network helps support pestpointers.com. Thank you tons!
What Commercial Snake Repellents Work?
There are plenty of options available that claim to repel snakes. There are sprays, granules, ultrasonic noise makers, and more. However, don’t get duped into buying something that doesn’t work.
Some repellents are designed to be sprayed or distributed around the house to repel snakes, while others offer immediate protection that can be sprayed directly on a slithering intruder.
Most commercial snake repellents, like the Bonide Stopper 8751 Snake Repellent, contain a combination of cinnamon and clove oils.
Some outlets recommend mothballs, which shouldn’t be used outside of their intended purpose.
Additionally, ultrasonic sound makers are quite likely not to work on snakes. This is due to snakes not actually having external ears. They rely on their inner ear, which is linked to their jaw.
Studies have shown that snakes respond most to low frequencies, and their hearing worsens as the frequency increases. High-frequency ultrasonic sound makers will not repel snakes.
However, ultrasonic noise has been shown in some studies to repel rats and mice. This could be the reason why some companies claim that ultrasonics repel snakes; it simply eliminates their food sources.
Other Ways to Keep Snakes Away
If you’ve tried commercial repellents, cinnamon oil, and clove oil, and nothing seems to work, try taking a look at your surrounding environment.
Even if those repellents DO work for you, these tips below could help you be even more effective at keeping snakes and other critters at bay!
Is your yard maintained? Are there easy hiding places for snakes? Have you accidentally built a snake haven by chopping and piling wood against your shed?
Let’s explore other ways to keep snakes away from your yard.
Practice Proper Lawn Maintence
Remember before how water attracts wildlife? This is true of snakes, who tend to flock toward watery, swampy areas with lots of good ol’ cover.
Is there clutter on your property? Old cars, sheds, bikes, or just things lying around?
The more cover and areas to hide that you allow a snake to have, the more invited they will be to enter your property.
So, naturally, you need to make sure your lawn and property is free of debris, which in turn, will make sure that your property is free of snakes!
Also, make sure that you’re, not overwatering your lawn and keeping your lawn nice and trim. The more swampy that your area gets, the more likely it is to attract snakes AND other wildlife critters and creatures.
If you use mulch, this can actually trap moisture and keep your lawn TOO wet, which can INVITE snakes in. So, avoid over-mulching your lawn.
Mulch can be good for repelling snakes as they hate sharp objects but, don’t use too much.
Additionally, snakes love tall grass, where they can slither freely away from the watchful eyes of potential predators. If you keep your lawn at military regulation, snakes are less likely to cruise through your yard.
By keeping your lawn short, you’ll also be deterring other animals like skunks, possums, gophers, raccoons, and other prey-type animals because they won’t want to risk getting exposed in the short grass.
A rare win-win for you. Your lawn gets to look nice AND you get to keep snakes away!
If you have pets, make SURE that you’re keeping their food inside. Also, if you’re composting, you’ll want to dump your compost as far away from your house as possible.
Both pet food and compost scraps will be attractive to snakes. The pet food itself won’t get eaten by the snakes BUT snakes will go after your pet, most certainly, if given the opportunity.
Lastly, make sure that you keep your hedges and greenery trimmed. Branches touching the ground provide excellent cover for snakes. Keep them trimmed so that there is open space beneath them where snakes cannot hide. The same methodology here goes for keeping your lawn nice and trim.
Less cover for snakes = less likely that they’ll want to slither into your lawn.
A last side note – people who have chicken coops are in a particularly vulnerable position concerning snakes. Snakes will always look for easy meals, and can hardly resist chicken eggs as its a delicious and nutritious meal for them.
If you have a chicken coop, try securing your coop with solid walls or mesh walls with holes less than ¼” wide. Note that some snakes can burrow underground, so make sure to extend the fence below the soil.
Practice Proper House Maintenance
Cracks in your foundation and holes in siding can be invitations for any wildlife, including snakes, to come inside. Snakes do not need much space to get inside, usually about ¼ of an inch to make their way into your home.
Additionally, this can be a HUGE entryway for rats and mice alike, so it’s best to examine your home and see where there are opportunity areas for snakes and other critters alike.
If you’re building a house or have building materials or firewood outside, make sure that you aren’t storing them DIRECTLY against the side of your building.
Snakes love to hide in dark, rigid places. It might not be possible to keep these elevated off the ground, so try to store them away from your house to avoid close encounters with snakes.
Preferably again, if you can keep them directly off the siding of your home, that should do wonders.
If you have screen doors, or windows, check them for any tears.
I once had a tear in a window screen for about 5 months, and I was actually getting bit by lady Asian beetles extensively and could not figure out WHAT the heck it was.
During that time, I had also found a carpet beetle with yellow shedding underneath some furniture, and it was the most confusing thing ever.
So snakes aside, just patch up those windows so you won’t have to deal with any of that!
How to Remove Snakes From Your Yard and House
If you find a snake in your garage or have problems with them in your yard, your best path will be to contact a local wildlife control professional, or contact someone you know with experience in dealing with snakes as you shouldn’t deal with snakes directly, especially if you haven’t before.
A wildlife control professional will be able to trap and relocate the snake to avoid any future encounters. They have extensive knowledge of snake species and how to handle them.
If you are familiar with snakes in your area and want to take care of a snake by yourself, there are proper ways to do it. Snakes should never be handled directly, even with gloves on. This can incite their defense mechanism and cause them to bite.
Here are some at-home steps you can take to remove snakes from your house and yard:
- Get a large empty container or trash can and a broom. Have the lid of the container ready.
- Alternatively, there are commercial traps available designed to live-trap mice for relocation. They can be used for snakes, but only for small-sized species.
- Alternatively, there are commercial traps available designed to live-trap mice for relocation. They can be used for snakes, but only for small-sized species.
- If the snake is on the move, try placing the container in its path to see if it crawls in on its own. If it is not moving, place the container in the direction the snake is facing and gently prod it using your broom.
- Once the snake is inside the container, place the lid over it and turn it upright so that the snake cannot escape.
This is the initial step for trapping the snake until you can contact a professional to come and relocate your slithering friend, for you.
Once you have caught your snake, you may be wondering where to relocate it. Should you just drive a few miles away and release it on the side of the road?
Again, the BEST recommendation here is to contact a local wildlife control professional.
I don’t even care if you go through our partner network, just have someone experienced to take care of the issue for you (that may even be you, but who knows!)
You can talk it over with your wildlife professional, but the best areas to relocate a snake will be places where your slithery friend can find food, water, and be safe from predators. This means a location with a stream or water source nearby, a place where mice, toads, or other food sources are available, and an area with cover for the snake to hide from owls and hawks.
That’s a Wrap!
We’ve talked about why snakes are in your yard, how to modify your yard to be less attractive to snakes, and whether snakes are actually dangerous or not.
The bottom line is: snakes are good for the ecosystem and are able to control pest animals such as insects, rats, and mice. The best thing to do if you see a snake is to leave it alone. If you must, relocate a snake instead of eliminating it.
Always check with local wildlife guidelines to see if snakes are protected in your area. And if you are ever in doubt of your ability to remove a snake, call a professional.
Knight, K. (2012). Snakes Hear Through Skull Vibration. Journal of Experimental Biology.
Messmer, T. (2018, June 29). 12 Ways To Stop Snakes From Slithering Into Your Yard. Retrieved from Utah State University Extension: https://extension.usu.edu/news_sections/gardening/12-ways-to-stop-snakes-from-slithering-into-yards
Poisonous and Venomous Snakes. (2014, November 29). Retrieved from Loyola University New Orleans: https://lucec.loyno.edu/natural-history-writings/poisonous-and-venomous-snakes
San Julian, G. J. (1985). What You Wanted To Know About All You Ever Heard Concerning Snake Repellents. Second Eastern Wildlife Damage Control Conference. Raleigh: Digital Commons.
Snake Characteristics. (n.d.). Retrieved from University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: https://kysnakes.ca.uky.edu/snake_characteristics%20
Snake Repellents. (2003, June). Retrieved from Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/Tech_Notes/TN_SnakeRepellents.pdf
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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