Which Rat Deterrents Are Proven Effective Against Rats?

by | Jun 18, 2024

Rats have an uncanny ability to infiltrate our homes and surroundings. Their presence can lead to property destruction and the spread of diseases which makes it crucial to address rat infestations promptly. Fortunately, homeowners can leverage their keen sense of smell against them and use specific scents and deterrents to keep them at bay. In this guide, we’ll explore a handful of effective rat deterrents that utilize both natural and chemical methods to create an environment that rats find unwelcoming. We will also dispel several myths regarding ineffective rat repellents that are reported by many sources without any actual data to back up those claims. By understanding the scents and strategies that actually repel these pests, you can take proactive steps to protect your home and garden and ensure these unwelcome guests stay far away.

Table of Contents

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What Repels Rats?

chart that shows what effectively repels rats

It’s better to deter rat activity before it starts because it is a major pain to deal with them after they have infested your property. By using products that rats find unappealing, you can humanely reduce the risk they pose by being on your property. There are various repellents available including certain plants, essential oils, and even natural predators. These deterrents primarily function because the scents overpower the rat’s olfactory senses which makes the environment uncomfortable for them.

Unlike poisons and baits, most rat repellents are safe to use in areas where toxic substances might pose risks to children, pets, or non-target wildlife. Understanding the different types of repellents and their effectiveness can help you choose the best methods to keep your home and garden rat-free.

Mint

Mint, particularly peppermint, is a powerful natural rat repellent due to its strong scent [1]. To utilize mint, you can place cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil or fresh mint leaves in areas like near entry points, trash bins, and dark corners where rats are active. Additionally, placing pots of planted mint around your property can create a natural barrier that further discourages rats from entering your space.

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus has a strong, distinct aroma that rats find highly repulsive which makes it an effective natural rat deterrent. The intense scent of eucalyptus oil or crushed eucalyptus leaves overwhelms their sensitive noses and makes it difficult for them to stay in or approach treated areas [2]. By using eucalyptus oil, you can create an environment that rats find unpleasant which will drive them away.

The strong, piney scent of balsam fir oil which is extracted from the needles of the balsam fir tree is highly effective in repelling rats. This natural oil has been proven to be effective as a rat repellent which is why it is one of the primary ingredients in many household rat repellent products [3]. You can apply balsam fir oil to cotton balls, wood chips, old towels, or sponges and place them in areas where rats are active or likely to enter like entry points and nesting sites.

Predators

cat holding rat

Rats are naturally wary of areas that smell like their predators like cats, ferrets, snakes, raccoons, and weasels. While bringing wild animals into your home isn’t practical, having pets like cats and certain dog breeds can effectively deter rats. Studies have shown that the scent of predators can trigger significant stress and anxiety in rats, causing them to avoid areas with this predator’s smell [4].

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What Rat Repellents Don’t Work?

There are many rat repellents that are available that have no actual data to support the claims of their effectiveness. Many of these repellents may work for a short period of time but the effectiveness of their power may fade as scents wear off, if they are effective at all.

Garlic

Garlic is a common kitchen staple that is said to be highly effective in repelling rats due to its strong, pungent, sulphureous scent. While this may be supported by anecdotal evidence, there are no studies that support this [5]. While the effectiveness of garlic as a rat deterrent may be debatable, the offensive smell it releases is not. In large quantities, garlic would produce a smell that human inhabitants would also have to live with, which makes garlic a less than ideal rat deterrent.

Cayenne Pepper / Chili Flakes

Cayenne pepper and chili flakes are another supposed natural rat deterrent that is said to deter rats due to its strong, spicy scent. While it makes sense that rats and their sensitive noses would be bothered by cayenne pepper, studies indicate otherwise. A study showed that seeds coated in cayenne pepper were consumed by rats at the same rate as the control group that had no coating at all [6]. In the same study, ghost pepper powder was somewhat more effective and reduced seed consumption by roughly 50%. Even with that reduction in consumption, enough of the seed was consumed that it wouldn’t be an effective rat deterrent.  

Sagebrush

Sagebrush is commonly found in the Midwest, and it releases bio defensive terpenes [7] that are said to repel rats. These terpenes are a natural defense mechanism that are designed to prevent herbivores from feeding on the plant. While rats may avoid eating this plant due to its scent, there is little evidence that supports the claim that it is an effective rat repellent.

Vinegar

Vinegar’s strong, pungent smell is said to be an effective rat repellent, but this claim was likely misinterpreted from studies that indicated vinegar has a lethal dose that can kill rats when it is consumed at high enough levels [8]. Vinegar also requires regular application as it dissipates quickly. It also has an unpleasant sour smell that homeowners most likely wouldn’t want to deal with when there are other more effective rat control treatment options available. 

Herbs

Herbs with strong scents are also said to be effective in repelling rats when used in soil, plants, and crevices around your home. Oregano, bay leaves, rosemary, and black pepper are potent deterrents for other pests [9] which is likely why they are assumed to work on rats. However, there are no studies or data that can support the effectiveness of any of these herbs as rat deterrents. If anything, these herbs are commonly used to prepare food which rats will gladly feed on when given the opportunity.

Ammonia

Ammonia is said to mimic the scent of predator urine, which most people assume that rats will instinctively avoid. However, the smell of predator urine is not an effective rat deterrent in the wild as rats have been shown to not display any predator avoidance behavior when exposed to the urine scent of nine different predators [10].

Bleach

Bleach is a commonly used cleaning agent that emits a harsh, caustic smell which can be irritating to humans. However, studies showed that the impact of bleach and other cleaning materials had little to no effect on rodent behavior [11]. That doesn’t mean that bleach can’t be used in the battle against rats as it is a powerful disinfectant that can be used for rodent clean up.

Mothballs

Naphthalene mothballs emit a strong, lasting odor that is said to deter rats, mice, and various insects. However, their effectiveness as a rat repellent is inconsistent, and they pose significant health risks to humans and pets due to their toxic nature. Using mothballs to deter “off label” pests is also technically illegal given the product is not being used according to its label [12]. Given these concerns, mothballs may not be the most reliable or safest option for rat control. It’s important to consider alternative methods that are both effective and safe for household use.

Ultrasonic Rat Repellents

Ultrasonic rat repellents are designed to emit high-frequency sounds that are inaudible to humans but extremely irritating to rats. While the concept sounds promising, these devices have significant limitations. The ultrasonic sound waves cannot penetrate walls or other physical barriers, meaning multiple units would be necessary to cover an entire home effectively. Additionally, the sound only reaches a limited distance, typically around 10-20 feet from the device, reducing its overall efficacy.

Studies and expert reviews from the FTC suggest that ultrasonic rat repellents are generally ineffective over the long term [13]. While some homeowners may observe an initial decrease in rodent activity, rats tend to adapt quickly to the sound which renders the devices useless.

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Do Rat Deterrents Work?

The effectiveness of rat repellents varies, with most being only moderately successful. Rats can sometimes become acclimated to scent and sound-based deterrents, especially if they are desperate for essential resources like food and water. Commercial rat repellents are required by the FTC to provide scientific evidence supporting their claims, generally making them more reliable than natural or homemade remedies. While commercially sold repellents can curb rat activity under normal circumstances, they are often more effective than using herbs or essential oils alone.

Natural repellents like eucalyptus, balsam fir, and mint have shown limited effectiveness while the success of others is not supported by any actual data. These methods may deter rodents temporarily, but they often fail to address the entire rat population comprehensively. In cases of significant infestations, professional pest control services are recommended to provide customized solutions that go beyond the capabilities of standard repellents. Combining repellents with professional extermination and preventive measures typically yields the best results in managing and eliminating rat problems.

How Far Are Rat Repellents Effective For?

The effectiveness of rat repellents is often limited by the radius of their reach and the presence of solid barriers like walls. Scent-based repellents like essential oils or chemical sprays are most effective when placed near areas where rats are active, as their potency diminishes with distance.

In contrast, natural predators like cats provide a broader range of coverage because cats will hunt rodent populations. A cat’s roaming behavior helps to create multiple scent-based deterrents across a larger area which makes the environment less appealing to rats. Thus, while traditional repellents have limited effectiveness over distance, introducing natural predators can significantly enhance rat control by covering a wider area and maintaining pressure on the rat population.

Where to Place Rat Repellents

Strategically placing rat repellents is crucial for their effectiveness. Understanding how rats enter and move about your home will help you determine the best locations for these deterrents. Here are the most common and effective places to introduce rat repellents:

  • Outside:
    • Close to building entrances
    • Near burrows in landscaping
    • Around trashcans and other waste receptacles
    • Near vent caps and utility pipes
    • Around bird feeders, pet food, or other accessible food items
  • Inside:
    • Around doors and other entryways
    • In attics and around attic access points like vents and eaves
    • In basements and crawl spaces
    • In garages, sheds, and barns
    • Inside cupboards and drawers
    • Along rat pathways such as baseboards and wall cavities
    • Inside closets and storage areas

Are Rat Repellents Safe?

Natural rat repellents made from ingredients like essential oils and herbs are generally safe for human contact and environmentally friendly. Chemical rat deterrents can also be safe for humans when used in the correct amounts, but improper use can pose significant health risks. Additionally, many chemical repellents are hazardous to the environment and can potentially harm plant and animal life if not handled with care. Given this consideration and the lack of evidence that supports the effectiveness of most chemical rat deterrents, rodent control treatment options may be a better solution to a rat infestation.

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More Effective Rat Deterrent Strategies

Using rat repellents isn’t the only way to deter rats from invading your home. Rat repellents should be used in tandem with other rodent deterring strategies to maximize effectiveness and minimize the likelihood of a rat invasion.

Rat Exclusion

Rat exclusion involves implementing preventive measures to keep rats from entering your home, serving as the first line of defense against infestations. Effective exclusion strategies include:

  • Sealing cracks and crevices with expandable foam that contains steel wool to prevent rats from chewing through.
  • Capping vents and installing dryer and stove vent covers.
  • Placing chimney caps and plumbing caps to block entry points.
  • Installing door sweeps and replacing weather seals on doors.
  • Cutting back tree branches that provide access to the house.
  • Filling larger holes with galvanized screening and mesh.
  • Inspecting the foundation for any cracks or openings and sealing them with caulk or sealant.

By creating a physical barrier, these exclusion tactics effectively prevent rats from gaining entry which makes them a critical component of integrated pest management.

Eliminating Rat Attractants

In addition to exclusion strategies, eliminating attractants is crucial to deter rats from your property. Rats seek food, water, and shelter to nest and breed, so removing these resources is essential for getting rid of rats. Here are some key attractants to address:

  • Food Sources:
    • Cover trashcans securely to prevent access.
    • Keep gardens and orchards harvested, promptly removing foods that rats can eat like fallen fruit and nuts.
    • Store pet food in rodent-proof containers.
    • Clean barbecue grills and birdfeeders regularly to remove food residues.
  • Smells and Odors:
    • Dispose of pet waste properly.
    • Maintain clean garbage containers.
    • Avoid leaving unharvested fruit and nuts on plants.
  • Shelter and Hiding Places:
    • Trim bushes and trees regularly.
    • Maintain well-kept landscaping and clear debris from the property.
    • Remove piles of wood, brush, dense shrubbery, ground covers, and ivy.
    • Seal storage shelters with durable materials like concrete, metal flashing, steel wool, or heavy welded wire.
  • Water Sources:
    • Fix leaky faucets and irrigation lines.
    • Remove standing water from pet bowls, swimming pools, and other sources.
    • Ensure proper drainage around your property to eliminate puddles and other water accumulations.

By addressing these attractants, you create an environment that is less appealing to rats, significantly reducing the likelihood of an infestation.

Contact Absolute Pest Management if You Are Dealing with Rats

If you’re struggling with a rat problem and need professional rodent control services, don’t hesitate to contact Absolute Pest Management. Our experienced team is equipped with the knowledge and tools to effectively eliminate rats and prevent future infestations. We offer comprehensive rat control solutions tailored to your specific needs, ensuring a safe and rat-free environment for your home or business. We have offices in Austin and Buda, Texas and serve all of the surrounding communities. Reach out to Absolute Pest Management today and take the first step towards reclaiming your space from these unwelcome pests.

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Rat Repellent FAQs

  • What smell will keep rats away?
    • Rats can eat just about anything but they do have some favorite foods that include grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, and sweets like chocolate. They are also drawn to high-protein foods such as meat scraps, eggs, and pet food. These preferences make rats highly adaptable to various environments, whether they’re foraging in the wild or scavenging in urban areas.
  • What keeps rats away permanently?
    • To keep rats away permanently, it’s essential to combine exclusion methods, such as sealing entry points and removing attractants like food and water sources. Maintaining a clean environment and using natural repellents like peppermint oil can also help. For comprehensive and lasting results, consider professional pest control services.
  • What is the most effective rat repellent?
    • The most effective rat repellents are those that combine strong scents, such as peppermint oil or balsam fir oil, with strategic placement to deter rats from entering key areas. However, for long-term effectiveness, it’s often best to use these repellents in conjunction with exclusion methods and professional pest control services to address all potential entry points and attractants.
  • What is the best way to deter rats?
    • The best way to deter rats is to combine exclusion methods, such as sealing entry points and removing food and water sources, with the use of strong-scented repellents like peppermint oil. Additionally, maintaining a clean environment and regularly inspecting for potential rat activity can help keep these pests away. For comprehensive protection, consider seeking professional pest control services.

Sources

[1] https://ecommons.cornell.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/0a67cf6f-2c09-442f-adf1-2c60002e75f2/content

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3913499/

[3] https://www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/registration/decision_PC-129035_26-Apr-07.pdf

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5291527/

[5] https://www.hammertechltd.com/blog/does-garlic-make-a-good-rat-repellent

[6] https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=10054&context=etd

[7] https://scholarworks.boisestate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1062&context=as_13

[8] https://fairfield.osu.edu/news/vinegar-it-%E2%80%9Csafer%E2%80%9D-herbicide

[9] https://www.slc.gov/sustainability/pesticidefree-2/alternative-pesticides/

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6013492/

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6059223/

[12] https://ccmedia.fdacs.gov/content/download/33195/file/Mothballs-Brochure.pdf

[13] https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2001/05/ftc-warns-manufacturers-retailers-ultrasonic-pest-control-devices

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