How to Get Rid of Rats Naturally (Outdoor Rat Repellent + Prevention Guide)
If you have a rat issue but do not want to use poison or other lethal measures to eradicate the population, you need a natural outdoor rat repellent. Or, to be more specific, you are going to need a combination of tactics to repel or prevent a backyard rat colony.
Killing them off is, of course, the fastest and surest method for getting rid of outdoor rats, but there are several reasons you may not want to go this route. One of the main reasons folks do not want to resort to lethal methods is because they want the rats gone, but that does not necessarily mean that they want them dead. They simply want them to move on and live somewhere farther away from the outdoor living areas where their children play and they entertain guests.
Another reason to not use lethal methods is that they may affect other animals that are welcome in your yard. For example, squirrels or chipmunks may be killed by baited traps or may consume the rat poison and die. It is also possible that your dog, your cat or a raptor might catch a poisoned rat and become ill or die.
Then, of course, there are the dead rats to deal with when you use lethal methods. At the very least, this likely means that you will have to endure horrible smells coming from under your deck until the bodies decompose. In other cases, this could mean fishing dead rats out of your swimming pool or hot tub, or it could mean collecting rat carcasses littering your yard.
While you may not want to use lethal methods to rid your yard of rats, there are reasons to take steps to ensure that a rat colony does not become established in your backyard. For example, rats carry fleas that can transfer to your dogs or cats and that sometimes carry diseases (does bubonic plague ring a bell?). Plus, the rats, themselves, carry a handful of diseases that can be transferred to humans or other animals.
There is also the fact that most folks just do not like the idea of rats running across their outdoor dining tables or the counters in their outdoor kitchen, pooping on their patio cushions or racing across the yard in the middle of a dinner party.
So, here’s the deal: rats are pretty simple (but rather smart) creatures that mostly want food, water and shelter. If they are hanging out in your backyard, that is because you are unwittingly providing them with these basic needs.
In order to reclaim your outdoor living areas, you need to encourage your current rodent residents to move on to more hospital accommodations and to discourage new rats and mice from making themselves at home in your yard.
The key to doing this is making your backyard less appealing by removing those cozy spots to sleep and readily available food sources. Prevention is definitely best, but if you are reading this, it is pretty safe to bet that you already have a rat problem and are looking for some tips on eradicating it. So let’s get right down to it and go over some of the most popular natural, non-lethal rat repellent and prevention options available to you.
Natural Outdoor Rat Repellent and Prevention Methods
Inspect Structure Interiors
The first step is to make sure that your outdoor rat problem has not become an indoor rat problem. To do this, you will need to inspect your house, garage, guest house and any other structures on your property. Look for evidence of rats, such as droppings or items that look like they have been chewed or scratched. If you find evidence of rats, you will need to simultaneously work on clearing your rat population both inside and outside of your house. Some of the methods below can be used indoors. You might also consider non-lethal, indoor pest repellent methods, such as ultrasonic rodent repellers that plug into regular electrical outlets.
Fortify Your Structures
Once you are fairly confident that your mouse or rat population has not moved indoors, it is time to make sure they do not move inside when you begin to evict them from your yard. One of the most important things to do in this step is to make your structures as rat proof as possible. Look for potential entry points, which could be under doors, through windows, through crawl space entrances, through an attic fan, or even through cracks and holes that can be as small as a nickel (for mice) or a quarter (for rats).
Use weather stripping, door seals, steel wool, cedar planks, 1/8-inch hardware cloth or spray foam to seal every hole, crack or other potential entry point that you can find. Remember – you will need to do this for your house, garage and guest house, at minimum, but should also consider doing it for playhouses, garden sheds and other outbuildings.
Always make sure that there are no rats currently in the spaces that you are sealing off.
Clean Your Yard
The next step in removing rats from your backyard is to give your yard a good cleaning. This includes removing any trash, getting rid of any type of clutter, which can provide them with shelter, places to hide and trails to get around your yard undetected.
Secure or Replace Your Garbage Bins
If you keep your garbage bins in or near your backyard, make sure the lids securely fasten so that rats cannot use them as a hunting ground for food. If your trash cans cannot be properly sealed at all times, it is time to purchase new ones that can. Rats love trash cans. It is also important to keep the area around your trash cans free of trash, food scraps and spills that might attract rodents to your yard.
Move, Replace or Get Rid of Your Compost Bin
Backyard compost is a wonderful thing and is a great way to reduce waste that is sent to the landfill while creating nutrient-rich compost that will benefit your plants, flowers and trees. However, everything that is thrown in a compost bin – food scraps, cardboard, paper, etc. – is like treasure to rats. Having a convenient source of food and nesting material is exactly what you do not want when you are trying to get rid of backyard rats, and your compost bin could be one of the biggest draws.
This does not mean that you should not compost, but it does mean that you may need to get rid of any type of compost pile or bin that is on the ground. If you have a rat problem or are trying to avoid having one in the future, you need to purchase an above-ground compost bin that rats cannot get to and cannot enter. Keep it closed at all times and make sure it is set away from trees, fences or structures that could provide rats with access to it.
If you prefer to keep your compost bin on the ground, purchase a bin with solid sides and keep the lid securely in place at all times. You will need to install tight, thick, wire mesh beneath your bin to help keep rats out. Just keep in mind that they can chew through plastic, wood and thin wire, and it is very likely they will still find a way in.
Move Your Wood Pile
Next up is your wood pile, which is likely providing a nice little spot to sleep or at least to hide when you let your dogs outside. We love to keep our wood piles nicely tucked away in a corner near our house or a fence, but this provides shelter for rodents and has to be rectified if you have a rat problem in your yard. Even that small stack you keep near the fire pit or patio fireplace is enough to provide shelter for a mouse or rat and can give them a stopping point where they can hide as they maneuver through your yard.
So it is time to move your wood pile. Your best option is to find outdoor wood storage that is at least 18 to 24 inches off of the ground and at least a few feet away from structures.
Clear the Perimeter of Your House and Other Structures
Since you have already moved your wood pile away from your house, you probably know that it is now time to move everything else away from your home’s exterior walls as well. This includes deck boxes, storage cabinets, doghouses and planters. Anything that could provide shelter or a trail system for rats to get around your yard needs to be relocated. It is best to keep bushes, shrubs and larger plants away from your walls as well.
Prune Trees and Shrubs
First and foremost, you need to prune tree branches and large shrubs so that they are several feet away from your roofline, ledges, windowsills and balconies. While this is not going to help discourage rodents to leave your yard, it is going to help to ensure that your outdoor rats do not find their way indoors.
Giving your trees and shrubs an even bigger pruning may help deter rats from making their homes there, which should be high on your list if you have already found at least one rat’s nest in one of your trees.
Remove Animal Food
All animal feed, including dog food, cat food, rabbit food, chicken feed and any other type of animal food you have in your yard needs to be stored in a completely sealed container. It is best to move this food out of the area completely while you work on reducing your rat population, but if it must be in your backyard, make sure it is in a rat-proof container and that you keep the container closed at all times.
Feed for larger livestock is more difficult to secure, since it is highly unlikely that you will ever completely keep rats out of your hay, but hopefully you are able to store this type of feed safely away from your house.
If you free feed your dogs or cats outdoors, it is almost guaranteed that those food bowls are a primary source of food for your rats. If you have a rat problem, you are going to have to start feeding your animals indoors or scheduling morning and evening meals, but you cannot leave the bowls outside with food in them.
It is a bit more difficult with animals that likely spend all of their time outdoors, such as rabbits or chickens, but you can use tight, thick, wire mesh to help keep rats out of their enclosures.
Fortify Your Chicken Coop or Aviary
If rats are terrorizing your chickens or other birds, it is not just the chicken scratch or bird seed they are after; they very likely are also going after their eggs. One way to help keep rats out of your coop or aviary is to line the bottom section of the fence or walls with 1/8-inch hardware cloth. Some people also line some or all of the floor with this wire mesh, but this could be harmful to some birds, so you should research this further before taking this step.
Get Rid of Ivy and Other Ground Covers that Provide Cover for Rats
Ivy running along your fence might look lovely in your yard, but it is also providing a freeway for your rats to roam around safely and without detection. While ivy is definitely a culprit in many backyard rat infestations, it can happen with any ground cover, bushes or shrubs that provide decent coverage (with some exceptions that rats do not like, such as lavender). No matter how much you love your ivy, it is time to rip it all out if you want to get rid of your rat problem.
Move or Remove Bird Feeders
Attracting birds to your yard is a great way to keep insects down and enjoy a bit of bird watching while relaxing in your outdoor living areas. However, the same stuff that you are using to attract the birds – seeds, mostly – will attract rats. Even if you have a bird feeder that is high off of the ground, the seeds knocked out of it by the birds will land on the ground and attract rats. So, if you have a rat problem, you may need to move the bird feeder to your front yard or get rid of it completely.
Move Your Vegetable Garden Far from Your House
If you have a vegetable garden, move it as far away from your house and outdoor living areas as possible. As long as you have a vegetable garden offering foods they like to eat, rats may still be attracted to your yard. However, if it is tucked away in a back corner of your yard, at least that may help keep them away from areas where your children play or where you spend time with your family or guests.
Keep an Eye on Your Trees
Some rats are great climbers and will use trees as a method of moving around your yard or build nests in them. One of the above-mentioned steps already instructed you to prune branches away from structures, but you may need to take additional steps if your rats have made homes in your trees. Short of removing the trees all together, which is not ideal, you may be able to deter rats from climbing your trees by using rodent repellents at the base. We will go over several rodent repellents below.
Secure Barbecue Grills and Outdoor Kitchens
Grills, cabinets and outdoor kitchens, in general, may provide shelter – and even food – for rats. Make sure that your barbecue grill is securely closed when not in use, particularly if you do not use it often. Also make sure that under-grill storage areas, cabinets in your outdoor kitchen and any other available spaces can be securely closed and not opened by a rat. Never leave food on the counter or your outdoor dining table and always clean your grill to avoid providing rats a free lunch. After using your outdoor kitchen, wipe down counters and cooking surfaces to remove crumbs and food smells as well.
Let Your Dogs or Cats Spend More Time in Your Yard
If your yard is securely fenced and your cat cannot escape and find danger, you might consider letting your dogs or cats spend more time in your backyard. It is important to note that this is not as good of a deterrent as it sounds, but it might help. Many people think they can just get a dog or cat to take care of their rat problem. After all, there are plenty of barn cats that are kept solely for their mousing capabilities. While cats can help keep your rodent population down, it is highly unlikely that a cat or dog will completely eradicate it. Although, it is possible that your cats and dogs may be able to run off rats if your yard is mostly bare and there is nowhere for them to hide.
There are plenty of folks with large dogs, small dogs or multiple cats that still have rat problems. This is often the case even when the dogs or cats are good hunters or ratters. Rats are smart and there are just too many places for them to hide. Remember, your rats probably know your yard better than you do, so they likely have hiding places that would never even occur to you.
Some folks swear that just the smell of cats or dogs is enough to deter rodents from occupying an area, but there are more folks that will tell you the rats in their yards do not mind the smell of their pets at all.
There are a couple of other things to consider before you turn your pets loose to help manage your rat or mouse population. First, while mice will not hurt them, a rat can and will bite and fight for its life and could injure your pet. Second, just because you are not using poison does not mean that your neighbors aren’t, so your pet could get a hold of a poisoned rat and become sick or die. Third, rats do carry some diseases that can be transferred to other animals.
Keep Your Yard Free of Pet Waste
While we are on the topic of pets, it is time to talk about pet poop. As gross as it may sound, rats love to eat dog poop, cat poop and just about any other type of poop. Pet waste has nutrients that help rats survive, so take away this valuable food source by regularly picking up all pet waste in your backyard.
Store Patio Cushions When Not in Use
Keep your patio cushions in a secure cabinet, closet, shed or deck box when not in use. If you already have backyard rats, then you likely have seen the evidence that they love to nap on cushy surfaces just as much as we do. It is very common to find rat poop or urine on patio textiles, so it is best to store them to keep them clean and to take away one more spot where your rats like to hang out. Also keep in mind that covering your patio furniture is a great way to protect it from the elements, but it also creates convenient shelter for backyard rats and mice.
Block Passage Beneath Decks, Gazebos, Sheds and Other Structures
One of the most popular places for rats to make a home is underneath a structure that never moves. This could be your wood deck, a gazebo, your garden shed, ornamental bridges, doghouses or other structures. If that structure is also near another structure, that provides even more space for them to live, hide or move around your yard. For example, if your doghouses are against the exterior of your house or fence, this provides additional space for your rats to thrive.
If possible, move gazebos and sheds away from other structures so that there are several feet of open space on all sides. Next, you need to block entry to areas beneath your deck or other structures in your yard that could provide shelter to rats. You need to completely block access, because even the narrowest spaces can allow entry. Rats do not like the smell of cedar, so you might consider using cedar to block the perimeter of your deck, shed or gazebo.
Alternatively, you could use rocks, but you may need to also use mortar to fill any spaces in between. Another option is to pull out that roll of hardware cloth you purchased for the above steps and wrap it around any openings to block entry. It is best if you dig down at least a few inches so that the wire is buried in the ground and cannot be pushed out of the way by your rats.
Keep in mind that it is very likely that your backyard rats have made their home underneath one of these structures. This means that you will need to make sure they are not at home before you seal the area, or they will die of starvation or dehydration under your deck or shed.
Rat infestations can be a particular problem with wood decks that are close to the ground. While it is probably a bit extreme to rip out your deck to try to get rid of your rats, it is worth considering replacing it with something like a paving stone patio once it is time to replace it anyways.
Remove Water Sources
Removing convenient water sources can help you get rid of rats in your yard. This could mean moving your pet’s water bowls inside when your pets come inside for the night, making sure you never leave buckets of water outside, or rethinking that pond you have been considering. It also means fixing any leaking pipes, faucets or garden hoses. However, while some water sources are easy to remove, others are not. For example, rats may chew through drip irrigation lines to get to the water inside. So, even if you have removed all of the standing water from the area, this does not necessarily mean that you can remove all water sources.
Plant Lavender and Mint
Rats rely on their sense of smell for finding food, avoiding predators and other tasks essential to their survival. Because of this, rats do not usually like to hang around in areas where there are fragrances that mess with their ability to seek out food or know if a cat is around. Lavender and mint are two examples of plants that rats generally try to avoid, so it may be helpful to plant lavender or mint in areas where rats frequent, around decks and other structures that may provide shelter, or around the perimeter of your yard. You can also scatter fresh or dried lavender and mint around your yard, but this will require regular replenishing.
Stock Up on Scented Dryer Sheets
Much like the plants mentioned above, scented dryer sheets interfere with a rat’s ability to smell the things he or she needs to smell in order to survive. Therefore, if you stuff dryer sheets under your deck, behind doghouses or in other areas where you have seen rats, it may help deter them from hanging around your outdoor living areas.
If you have a dog that eats everything he or she can get in her mouth, you may want to skip this option.
Spray Your Yard with Peppermint Oil or Eucalyptus Oil
Staying on the fragrance train for a little longer, another option is to distribute peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil around your yard. This could mean making or purchasing a sprayable repellent that can be sprayed around outdoor living areas and areas where rats are frequently spotted (or suspected nest locations), or this could mean soaking rags or cotton balls and placing them under decks, behind doghouses or in your vegetable garden beds.
If you choose to use rags or cotton balls to distribute the scent, make sure that your dog is not going to eat them. Animals metabolize essential oils differently than humans and it can be harmful to their health.
Whether you spray or use cotton balls, you will need to replenish your repellent after it rains or if you irrigate the area.
Douse Your Yard in Predator Urine
Okay, maybe you don’t exactly have to douse your yard in urine, but you do need to distribute it pretty well if you plan on trying this natural rat repellent. Options include letting your dog urinate all over your yard, scooping out the urine-soaked cat litter from your cat box and placing it in areas where you think rats are living, or purchasing one of many types of predator urine, including mountain lion, bobcat or coyote urine.
All of these options are going to smell exactly like you think they are going to smell, so you may want to consider that before using them in outdoor living areas.
You may want to consider this as a one-time treatment to help rid your yard of rats, and then move on to preventive measures that smell a bit better, such as the peppermint oil or mint leaves.
Also keep in mind that there are plenty of homeowners who have dogs who urinate in the yard every day, and they still have a rat problem, so even this is not a fool-proof method.
Ammonia smells just as bad and is about as effective, which means it works for some folks and not for others. So, if you are interested in using something like predator urine that is not actually urine, you could also try ammonia.
Spread Pellet Rat Repellents Throughout Your Yard
The first thing to note here is that you need to be very careful in ensuring that you are purchasing an all-natural, non-toxic pellet repellent and not some type of poison. The containers can look almost identical, so make sure you thoroughly read the label or research the product before using it. It should clearly state on the label that it is safe for use in areas frequented by pets or children.
Pellet repellents usually either smell like predator urine or contain some of the natural oils that rats do not like, such as peppermint or eucalyptus oils. In most cases, you will need to regularly replenish your pellets, particularly after rain or irrigation.
Set Out Pouch Rat Repellents
Another option for naturally repelling rats is to set out pouch repellents. Mouse and rat deterrent pouches are usually made with oils or plants, such as those mentioned above, that naturally deter rodents. Since this works on the same scent-based repellent idea, pouches are mostly just an easier, cleaner way to spread the scent. Pouch repellents are typically most effective indoors, but you may find success in using them in smaller outbuildings or under decks and gazebos.
Install an Outdoor Electronic Rat Repeller
Ultrasonic pest repellents that can be plugged into regular electrical outlets are most commonly used indoors, but there are some models that are designed for outdoor use. Some of these outdoor models even have flashing lights and other sounds to help scare away pests. Most of them have settings to allow you to ward off only unwanted animals, but it should be noted that almost all outdoor ultrasonic repellers are designed to ward of all animals, including dogs, cats, deer, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels. Therefore, if you have pets or welcome other types of wildlife in your backyard, this might not be the right choice for you.
Employ Live Traps
Live trapping involves catching your rats in a non-lethal trap, and then taking them somewhere to release them. This is a popular method for removing unwanted animals without killing them, but it is a bit more complicated than it may first appear.
If you have gotten this far down this list of non-lethal rat deterrents, it is quite likely that you are truly trying to avoid killing your rat population. So, it is important for you to know that live traps must be checked multiple times each day to avoid rats dying from dehydration or starvation. You must also be ready to take full traps to the release location on short notice to avoid rats dying in them. On top of this, you must keep in mind that relocating a rat far from the area with which is it is familiar will likely lead to its death from starvation or a predator. Therefore, you need to release them far enough away that they will not find their way back but not so far away that they are in a completely different area.
Also keep in mind that rats will fight and will bite you, so be sure to wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves when handling live traps.
There are services available in most areas that will trap animals for you and remove them, so this may be a better option. Just be sure they will release the rats, and not just take them away to kill them, if you are committed to using non-lethal methods of rat removal.
Recap: Natural Rate Repellent Methods
- Inspect Structure Interiors
- Fortify Your Structures
- Clean Your Yard
- Secure or Replace Your Garbage Bins
- Move, Replace or Get Rid of Your Compost Bin
- Move Your Wood Pile
- Clear the Perimeter of Your House and Other Structures
- Prune Trees and Shrubs
- Remove Animal Food
- Fortify Your Chicken Coop or Aviary
- Get Rid of Ivy and Other Ground Covers that Provide Cover for Rats
- Move or Remove Bird Feeders
- Move Your Vegetable Garden Far from Your House
- Keep an Eye on Your Trees
- Secure Barbecue Grills and Outdoor Kitchens
- Let Your Dogs or Cats Spend More Time in Your Yard
- Keep Your Yard Free of Pet Waste
- Store Patio Cushions When Not in Use
- Block Passage Beneath Decks, Gazebos, Sheds and Other Structures
- Remove Water Sources
- Plant Lavender and Mint
- Stock Up on Scented Dryer Sheets
- Spray Your Yard with Peppermint Oil or Eucalyptus Oil
- Douse Your Yard in Predator Urine
- Spread Pellet Rat Repellents Throughout Your Yard
- Set Out Pouch Rat Repellents
- Install an Outdoor Electronic Rat Repeller
- Employ Live Traps
What did we miss? Tell us about your favorite rat repellents in the comments below to help readers get rid of their backyard rats without resorting to lethal measures.