5 Ways Rats Got Into Your House (And How To Get Them Out)

Closeup of rat on a sewer could bee seen from drain grate

Rats are known for being dirty, smelly, and overall a bad houseguest. When I think of a rat, my initial thought is always a picture of a woman standing on a chair screaming while a rodent scurries across the floor in alarm.

Rats cause multiple problems when they welcome themselves into the home and sometimes, it’s hard to tell how they get in. There are 5 fundamental ways rats are getting into your home:

  • Through or around pipes
  • Under doorways
  • Holes in screens
  • Gaps in windows, doors, and around frames
  • Heating ducts

Rats are generally not welcome in houses, which is understandable. They have caused many issues for humans throughout the years like damaged property, eating food, chewing wires and countless others. Here are some things you can do to help identify and get rid of your rat problem!

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Knowing What Type Of Rat Got Into Your house

There are two main rats that you will see in the United States. They are the Norway rat (or Rattus Norvegicus) and the roof rat (R. Rattus). You might hear other names that these rats go by as well, like brown rat and sewer rat.

These rats look pretty similar, however, the University of California tells us the roof rat is a bit smaller than the Norway rat, and you are much more likely to see a Norway rat over a roof rat.

Norway rats live almost anywhere and can adapt to both cold and warm climates where a roof rat cannot and are the more bougie of the two, preferring to live in warmer climates with salty air near the ocean side. I mean, if I got a choice, I think I’d be with the roof rat on this one.  

There are a lot of rats, not only in America but across the globe. The State of Indiana explains there is approximately 1 rat per person, which seems insane. For every single person walking down the street, you can imagine one rat is running around in place of them. 

While we often see them in movies, I think it is important to explain what a rat looks like so you can identify your problem. A lot of times, people will assume they have rats when what they have is mice, and mice have different living habits than rats.

So, treating your home for mice is much different than treating for rats. It is important to know what you are dealing with.

Rats can cause a multitude of health and safety problems for humans. They are so dirty and can harbor some insane bacteria, which can contaminate food supplies.

They chew up anything they can for bedding or easier access and eat so much food. Rats can also bite if you are not careful enough.

Identifying Rats In Your Home

Rats are big. Much bigger than your typical mouse, with their tail alone measuring in at about 8 inches long, attached to a body about a foot long. Rats can weigh up to a pound, but if they have enough food, they can easily surpass this weight and become chubby rats running around.

Rats have small, beady, black eyes, and their ears rarely grow hair on them. They have blunt noses and they are dense creatures. Rats love to eat, so they usually are not skinny or bony when you can get your eyes on them.

Speaking of loving to eat, they have gigantic teeth. Their incisors (if they all stay intact) can get to be 4 inches long and can hang out of their mouths. Between how long their tail is and how big their teeth can get, rats are often seen as “scary looking”.

Rats can be very aggressive, and they protect their own. They can move things and push them around because of how strong they are, and mice cannot. Rats will help adapt their environment to them.

These rodents are usually dark brown or gray, and their fur is not soft. They are coarse and greasy animals, which leave behind oil residue when they are around, and a musty, dirty odor to go along with it.

These nocturnal creatures usually move around at night, so seeing them during the daytime is a bit rare, but happens. They have excellent senses for getting around in the dark and they are also very adaptive in their ability to get around.

Rats are great at just about any means of transportation including running, jumping, swimming, and climbing.

Rats can live a long time, up to 3 years old. However, the average rat lives for about a year before humans exterminate them or the elements get to them. But given the right environment providing them with food, water, and shelter, they can live fairly long lives.

How Rats Get Into Your House

Rats

Rats can come into your house in a multitude of ways, almost all of which contain some sort of squeezing themselves through a tiny space to get in. Rats only need a hole about a half of an inch in diameter to squeeze themselves through.  

once a rat gains entry to your house, in even the slightest bit of opening, they will use those 4 inch long teeth of theirs and gnaw more holes and means of entry.

Just because you only have one way in, does not mean a rat will not turn it into 10 ways to get in once they have weaseled their way inside and set up shop. One small opening can turn into multiple if not caught early enough.

1. Rats come in Through Pipes or the Space Around Pipes

Many times, rats can climb up through sewer pipes and enter homes. Like I said before, rats are amazing swimmers. They can swim through pipes and sewer ways, and enter dozens of homes in this manner. 

If a rat does not climb in through a sewer pipe, they might climb in around it. A lot of the time, where a sewer pipe enters a home has a bit of space around it, which a rat can nuzzle and squeeze its way through to get into your home.

2. Doorways (Especially Garage Doors) Let Rats In

Rats do not knock when they arrive, but barge right in and do not even ask if you are a shoes on or shoes off kind of household. They march themselves right in and many times, they just use the door. No fancy method of invasion, just waltzing right inside.  

I say garage doors especially because we tend to leave them open, even if it’s just a small crack.

Let’s say I open the door to the garage to grab something or maybe I leave it open to help air out the house while I clean. It creates a straight shot for rats to walk right in and invade my home.

Another scenario, if you have a garage door that doesn’t have a bottom seal, you’re missing out on added rat protection AND probably loosing some house heat (if your garage is heated.)

Furthermore, if your garage is heated and warm air is coming through the bottom of the door, you’ll be attracting rats and other creatures inside due to your garage being a warm and inviting place once they sense the heat!

3. Holes in Screens (Window Screens and Door Screens) Are Perfect Rat Entrances

During warmer months or even nice autumn and spring days, it’s a pleasure to have your doors or windows open with only the screen standing between the inside of the home and the elements outside. Letting in a breeze might seem harmless, but you could be just giving rats an all-exclusive pass to your home.

The thing about screens is usually once they get a small tear in them it is game over and it is just a matter of time before that tear turns into a full-blown hole in the screen, where rats can enter. Like I stated above, rats do not need a lot of leeway to get through, only half an inch.

If you have any sort of small holes in your screens, rats can easily take their large teeth and chomp a hole big enough for them to slide through and bring their friends with them, too.

So, take your window screen to your local window shop and rat proof your home!

4. Rats Enter Through Gaps In Windows, Doors, and Around Frames

Rats might not be able to get through your screens, but they can squeeze through a gap in a door or window, or around the frame of a door or window. You might think this is a long shot, or there is no way you have a gap in these places, but you may be mistaken.  

A lot of times, things like this go overlooked when you are inside of the house and there might be a small gap near the frame of your window allowing rats to hop inside. From there, they will do what they do best and gnaw their way inside.

It’s important to fix whatever gaps you have in your home to keep rats out. Whether it’s on your window, door or any other frame in your house. This will not only keep rats from entering, but will help keep countless other bugs and insects out as well!

5. Rats Enter Your Home Through Heating Ducts

This specifically may not be exactly how rats enter your house from the OUTSIDE, but it most certainly is how they enter different rooms from the inside of your home.

Once rats have access to your heating vents, this provides them a warm place to take shelter and travel to other areas of your home in search of food.

Unfortunately, I had the pleasure of dealing with this when rats climbed through our heating vents and made their way upstairs to drop a present on my bed. SO great.

If you do have rats in your heating vents or in another difficult area, you should look into contacting a professional pest control company before the situation gets worse.

Signs Of A Rat Infestation In Your House

Rats on wood in cell. Many rats

Rats not only just invite themselves in and outstay their welcome (if they had any welcome, to begin with) but they also leave a hefty trace when they live around you even though they are nocturnal, so you might not see the rat but you will probably see signs of the rat during the day.

The first thing you will notice is usually droppings from a rat. They can leave behind over 25,000 droppings a year per rat, which is a lot of rat poop. You will usually notice it in high-traffic places, like drawers or pantries in your kitchen, on tabletops, or near pet and animal food supplies.s

Additionally, You will probably notice little tooth marks or gnawing marks around your home, and this can be on just about anything. Rats will chew on and try to eat a vast array of things ranging from bars of soap to pet food to feces. They are not picky and will taste just about anything.

They will also gnaw open walls, furniture, doors, etc., to make a simpler form of transportation for them. If you notice piles of what might look like sawdust accompanied by tooth marks, you probably have rats.

You might see shreds of paper or things similar to paper showing up, and you might even see a rat’s nest or burrows. Usually, this looks like scraps of semi-soft things a rat will put together to sleep in or stay in when they aren’t on the move.

Rats leave a pretty solid route wherever they go, and surprisingly enough, rats dislike doing new things. They will leave a breadcrumb trail to ensure they take the same route every time rather than get lost trying an alternative route.

Along these routes, you might notice a musty, gross smell and an oily residue along the walls or on the sides of the furniture. Rats are oily creatures and because of this, they kick off a very unpleasant scent, which you can notice even in the daytime. 

Finally, if you notice holes in your food boxes or partially eaten food chilling around your house in places it should not be, it is also a good indicator you might have a rat problem.  

You can prevent rats from entering your home in the first place by using their sense of smell against them. In 15 Scents That Rats Hate (And How To Use Them), you can read all about it!

Getting Rats Out of Your Home (And Keeping Them Out)

rat dragging corn across the floor in house

There are multiple methods you can use for rat control and downsizing their populations. While it might seem daunting to start, rats are very averse to change and they likely will not want to stick around if you keep messing with their setup.

Once you know how they get in, getting them out is important. You can check out 5 Simple Ways To Get Rid Of Rats Fast In Your Home to learn more. For now, we will explain some of these ways!

Patching Up Holes Keeps Rats Out

As stated before, rats do not need a lot of space to wiggle into your home. Therefore, it is so important to make sure you are patching up the holes you notice near windows, doors, frames, and even screens.

While using caulk or spray foam might work for a lot of pests, it is not the best choice when dealing with a rat. Rats can easily gnaw through soft materials like spray foam or caulk.

It is better to use the metal from a coffee can if you have it to help patch up holes or to use a different type of metal. Metal is much harder for rats to munch through.

If you are using mesh to cover holes, it is acceptable as well, but try to find a thick mesh and make sure the holes are not more than ¼ of an inch in diameter. This makes it less tempting for a rat to chew through it. 

You can read more on their ability to chew through mesh in Can Mice And Rats Chew Through Stainless Steel Mesh?

Along with patching up holes you know already exist, it is probably a good time to take a walk around your house and examine the foundation, windows, and doors. Make sure there are no new holes the rats are using as a front door.

If you are like me and have the opening under your garage door, maybe get a garage door seal like this Universal Garage Door Bottom Threshold Seal Strip to help close the gap and keep the rats at bay.

Sanitation Helps Rid Your Home Of Rats

The University of California explains the fastest and simplest way to get rid of rats in the house is to cut off their supply of food, water, and shelter. Rats will eat just about anything, so this can be tricky, but there are a lot of things you can minimize around the house to deter them.

Rats like easily accessible food sources, like open containers of food or pet feed. If you can help minimize a rat’s ability to gain access to these things, you are less likely to have rats. Put pet food in safer, more stable containers and keep your pantries clean.

Mop up any extra water you see around and make sure you are keeping your home dry so you do not supply water sources to attract them. If you have a leaky faucet, fix it or clean it regularly. If you have a water hose near the house, try unscrewing it when it is not in use, or moving it if possible.  

Trapping Decreases Rat Populations Inside

There are a few different traps you can use when you are trying to catch a rat. However, when you are using a rat trap of any kind, it is important to know rats are averse to change and will not just walk into them, which is why you need to pre-bait them.

First, you can place a high-value treat (like peanut butter, fruit, or vanilla extract) on an unset trap or even just where you plan to place the trap first for about 5 days and ensure the food is being taken.

Once you feel confident the rat will trust this food supply, then you can move on to setting the traps so you can catch the rats. Be patient if it does not happen right away because any slight change might set the rat off to not want to touch the trap. They are pretty intelligent creatures and know when something is off.

For starters, there is your run-of-the-mill basic snap trap everyone has seen and has been told multiple times not to stick their finger in (probably, or maybe I was just too curious as a kid). This set of Large Indoor Rat Traps For The House comes with more than enough to set up and is easy to use.

If you don’t prefer those traps, you can take a look at our article: The 3 Best Types of Rat Traps to Get Rid of Rats

Get Cats To Take Care Of Rats In Your Home

This one might seem silly, but it can help. When I was growing up on a farm, cats were not inside animals and were kept in the barn. Why only the barn? Rats can be a big problem out in barns.

By keeping barn cats, you stopped your rat problem in its tracks and ensured you would not have one in the future. Cats in the house can help stop your rat problem and will also give you a companion. Which is a win-win situation the way I look at it (unless you are allergic, of course).

In Conclusion

Rats are gross and we all know it! By knowing how they are getting inside and knowing how to stop them, you have a significant chance of living a rat-free life soon enough.

Thanks so much for reading!

References: 

Kohn, Dennis F., and Charles B. Clifford. “Biology and Diseases of Rats.” Laboratory Animal ]Medicine (2002): 121–165. doi:10.1016/B978-012263951-7/50007-7

Krechevsky, I. (1932). “Hypotheses” in rats. Psychological Review, 39(6), 516–532.

Philip M. Iannaccone, Howard J. Jacob; Rats!. Dis Model Mech 30 April 2009; 2 (5-6): 206–210. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/dmm.002733

Sulivan, L.  (2022).  Roof Rat Control Around Homes and Other Structures.  College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona.   Pgs 1-4.

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