Vinegar: Why It Works To Repel Rats And How To Use It

Rat's have a strong sense of smell, and can smell vinegar!

Nobody wants to deal with rats in their house – and if you’ve ever had the displeasure of finding one (or signs of multiple) near your home, then we’ve got a simple and effective solution for you that starts with a short walk to your pantry.

White vinegar can mask and disrupt a rats strong strong sense of smell, causing them not to be able to detect areas that would otherwise attract them. Place 10-15 clusters of vinegar soaked cotton balls in your basement or garage to repel rats, replacing them when the smell diminishes.

Rats can be found living in some nasty places and will eat nearly anything, so it may seem strange that vinegar actually repels them! Don’t worry – it’s not as wild as it may sound. So, let’s go over a quick one here about how rats senses of smell work so you understand how scent based repellents (like vinegar) work!

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Rats Have A Very Sensitive Sense Of Smell

Rat on tire in garage

Rats are born blind and don’t start developing their sense of sight until two to three weeks after their birth. During this time they have to rely on their sense of smell for everything. This includes being able to find their mother so they can feed them.

As they grow older their sense of smell only gets better.

They use their incredible nose for nearly every aspect of their lives. Rats can sense predators through scent, find food, and can use their noses to find their way back.

Rats have such a strong sense of smell that along with vinegar, there are so many other scents that rats hate that can be used to repel them!If you want to check out a full list, head on over to our article about the scents rats hate and how you can use them!

Rats Use Their Noses To Find Food

Well, that’s not so amazing, you might be saying.

Sure, humans can follow our noses to find food, just ask the cartoon toucan who told us to follow our nose to a certain “fruity” cereal. But did you know that rats can smell food from over ten miles away?

They can also tell if there’s food available to them inside your house before they have even set foot or whisker inside. They can even smell us before they even see us moving around!

Rats need this incredible sense of smell to locate hard-to-reach food easier and quicker than other scavengers. If they weren’t able to detect food so quickly and accurately, they wouldn’t be as successful as they are.

Rats Can Smell Predators

Even though these rodents are big, scary, and can certainly give us goose pimples just thinking about them, they are inherent cowards and not known for their fighting prowess. They actually have many predators willing to make a meal of them!

A few rat predators include hawks, owls, herons, snakes, large lizards, alligators, wolves, cats, dogs, weasels, foxes, coyotes, skunks, and humans.

Basically, anything bigger than a rat can take it out, and many do with extreme prejudice. So, they have to be on their grubby toes.

Most times rats can smell predators before they see them. They can even detect predators from their droppings.

Rats Use Their Sense Of Smell To Find Mates

You may have heard that rats and mice have tiny bladders and that they even tend to “dribble” as they scurry from one dark corner to another.

As gross as that sounds, it’s very important to rats because they can determine a ton of information from small amounts of that dribble.

From dribble alone, rats can tell the gender, maturity level, social status, if it’s a friend or foe, whether a female rat is ready to mate and they can even determine the stress level of the rat that left the trail. It’s like opening up their social pages and seeing everything they post!

Male rats are the most prolific markers, but females will engage in letting loose this “dribble” to let the males know they’re ready to mate. Their sense of smell can tell a lot about each other.

Rats Can Smell A Change Of Weather

That’s right, their “sniffers” are so impressive they can smell the temperature change, and when a storm is coming.

They need to know when to get out of a bad storm because heavy rains, hail, or snow can be a game ender for rats.

Rats Have More Scent Receptors Than Dogs Do

According to the National Library of Medicine, rats can accurately tell where an odor is coming from in one to two sniffs. The odors are passed from one nostril to the other to give directional clues to tell where the smell is coming from.

A rat’s sense of smell is so important that they actually have more scent receptors in their small noses than dogs do!

We all know a dog can smell so much better and smell many more scents that we don’t even pick up, so imagine that a rat can smell even more, and gain more information from a scent than a dog.

How Vinegar Works To Repel Rats

Black rat isolated on white background. Funny animal. Vinegar works to repel rats.

Keep in mind we are talking about white distilled vinegar in this article. Apple cider vinegar may not work as effectively as white vinegar because it may help to attract rats and mice. The smell of fermenting apples may signal a meal for these rodents.

The same goes for balsamic, white, and red wine vinegar. They may smell pleasant to rats, or give the illusion of food nearby.

White vinegar is inexpensive and can be used in many applications; from cooking, cleaning, deodorizing, or repelling rodents, it’s a great product to keep in your house. Take a look at Member’s Mark Distilled White Vinegar if you’d like to have it delivered to your door instead of picking some up in store!

Vinegar Blocks A Rat’s Sense Of Smell

White vinegar has an overpowering, biting smell. If it’s too strong, it can even work to repel humans, and our sense of smell is nothing compared to rats. When rats smell vinegar, the pungent odor overpowers everything else, so all they can smell is vinegar.

They are unable to smell for predators, food, and any other information rats usually gather by sniffing the air or surfaces.

For this reason, rats will avoid areas that have a strong smell of vinegar.

When rats smell vinegar, it’s because the vapors are entering their nostrils, and as we now know, vinegar can disrupt and irritate mucous membranes. Rats don’t want anything to mess up their sense of smell, so it’s best to avoid areas with vinegar.

If you want to use vinegar to its highest potential to repel rats, you need to know where rats are going during the day so that you can add vinegar to those areas

Head on over to our article about where rats live during the day, that way, you know where to use the vinegar to repel them!

Vinegar Is Acidic

Even if rats power through the sharp smell of vinegar, if they get it on their feet, noses, or in their fur, it can cause uncomfortable irritation since it’s an acid.

Rats don’t have a way to wash off, so the irritation can last a little while and they’ll learn not to go into that area again. Now, frequent application for this specific trait to work is required as vinegar can of course dry while the scent remains.

White Vinegar Wipes Out Rat Pheromone Trails

When white vinegar is applied to areas frequented by rats, it can break down the dribble trails. The information network that rats leave behind for others is wiped away by vinegar. Just another reason to use it as a household cleaner!

Vinegar has been known for ages to be a great cleanser and deodorizer—and has no 40+ letter, hard to pronounce chemicals.

It erases the scents they leave behind, so rats can’t gain the massive amount of information they can get from pheromone trails. Also, with the pheromone scent trails gone, rats won’t be able to follow where others have been.

Now for actually cleaning the pheromone trails, there’s a bit more of info below for that but you’ll want to generally use a commercial based disinfectant if not just for cleaning / scent removal.

How To Use Vinegar To Repel Rats

You can repel rats by using vinegar.

Keep in mind, that these methods are used to keep rats away. If you notice evidence of rats outside and you don’t want them coming into your house these methods are effective.

If you already have a strong population of rats inside your house, vinegar may not be very effective in getting rid of them. In these instances, your best bet is to call a professional exterminator to get rid of them, and then use these vinegar methods to keep them from coming back.

Say you live on or near a farm, or near a grain storage area and you want to make sure you keep the rats out of your house, then using vinegar as a rat repellent is a great idea.

If you’re reading this in the winter, take a look at our guide on where rats go during the winter for more specifics.

Vinegar Soaked Cotton Balls For The Win

Simply soak the cotton balls in vinegar, and leave them where you don’t want the rats returning. Anywhere you see small cracks in your foundation, holes, or tunnels in the ground, leave a few vinegar-soaked cotton balls.

Where you have noticed droppings, smear marks, or chewing—rats have to constantly chew on surfaces to keep their teeth ground down because they never stop growing—drop a few vinegar-soaked cotton balls.

If you don’t have any cotton balls, you can get some jumbo-sized ones that will hold more vinegar here, Cliganic Super Jumbo Cotton Balls (200 Count).

Not only will the jumbo cotton balls hold more vinegar, but you won’t have to replace them as often because the smell will linger longer. Just remember where you place them as you’ll have to pick them all UP!

I highly recommend picking 10-15 spots around your foundation in the basement to place these and keep notes one where you put them.

This way, you can easily interchange the cotton balls without losing track.

Tips For Repelling Rats Inside Your House Using Vinegar And Cotton Balls

We hope you never have rats inside your house, but if you do and you want to repel them, here’s what you do. First, you need to clean and disinfect anywhere you have seen rats, their droppings, or other evidence.

While I’d love to use vinegar as an actual sanitizer, the CDC recommends using a preferred disinfectant, which is essentially any store brand with the word “disinfectant” on the label. Check out their page for advice on cleaning the droppings.

I recently had a rough mouse infestation in our basement when we moved into our new home. There were droppings EVERYWHERE to the point where after patching all outside holes and had a company come in to clean the rest due to the volume. So if you have tons of droppings, call a pro.

Once all evidence of the rats is cleaned up, soak the cotton balls in vinegar and then set them about. You can leave them on small plates, or in shallow cups so the vinegar doesn’t soak into the floor or surfaces. If you are setting the cotton balls on the ground or in their burrows, skip the containers – you may have to “recharge” the cotton balls every few days.

Pour Vinegar In A Dish

When you don’t have cotton balls, or you would rather not use them, you can simply leave out dishes of vinegar as a rat repellent. Use small cups, and bowls, or recycle used containers like yogurt cups, and leave them wherever you have noticed rat activity.

Good places to leave either cotton balls, or dishes of vinegar to repel rats are in dark corners that don’t get much traffic.

Rats and mice try to stick to dark hiding places. They feel vulnerable and exposed out in the open.

Think of places like behind the couch, near the bookcase, or behind appliances. When inside a building, rats will typically hug the walls because that’s where all the hiding places are. Leaving behind unwelcoming dishes of vinegar will run these intruders off.

Use A Vinegar Spray

Lastly, you can make a vinegar spray to keep rats away!

All you have to do is pour some white distilled vinegar into a spray bottle such as these Uineko Heavy Duty Spraying Bottles. These heavy-duty bottles prevent leaks and stand up to harsh solutions such as acidic vinegar.

Once you have your vinegar in the spray bottle, spray it wherever you want to lay down a scented barrier.

Just be sure to test an inconspicuous area first if you plan on using this spray indoors, as the acid could cause some discoloration on painted surfaces or fabrics.

With the spray, you will have to apply it more often as it will evaporate faster, but this is an option to repel rats.

Wrapping Up!

Rats can quickly cause a lot of damage to your house if they get inside. Using vinegar to repel rats is a safer option than chemicals, rat poisons, and dangerous traps.

Vinegar will irritate their sensitive sense of smell, prevent them from smelling food or predators, and it will repel them because of the strong scent. Whether you’re using vinegar-soaked cotton balls or a spray, this is a good option to repel rats and keep them from getting into your house.


Khan, A., Sarangi, M. & Bhalla, U. Rats track odour trails accurately using a multi-layered strategy with near-optimal sampling. Nat Commun 3, 703 (2012).

Quignon P, Giraud M, Rimbault M, Lavigne P, Tacher S, Morin E, Retout E, Valin AS, Lindblad-Toh K, Nicolas J, Galibert F. The dog and rat olfactory receptor repertoires. Genome Biol. 2005;6(10):R83. doi: 10.1186/gb-2005-6-10-r83. Epub 2005 Sep 28. PMID: 16207354; PMCID: PMC1257466.

Slotnick, Burton. “Animal cognition and the rat olfactory system.” Trends in cognitive sciences 5.5 (2001): 216-222.

Uchida, Naoshige, and Zachary F. Mainen. “Speed and accuracy of olfactory discrimination in the rat.” Nature neuroscience 6.11 (2003): 1224-1229.

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  1. Couldn’t download e-book.

    Found this interesting as I think I have a Pack Rat trying to make a home in my Rav4. Just purchased some 30% vinegar for weeds. I presume it would work for this situation too. Will return the blinking lite/ultrasonic device when it arrives… Thx!

    1. Hey Russell! I went ahead and added you. By the way – ultrasonic repellents aren’t very effective for rodents FYI. A can of spray foam and patching any holes with be your best bet 🙂

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