How to Set a Mousetrap (5 Easy Ways)

Lawrence Bonk
Written by Lawrence Bonk
Updated September 22, 2022
Mouse looking out a hole in a house
Photo: Stefan / Adobe Stock

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here, mice 

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Do you hear that? It’s the tell-tale, late-night scurrying of household mice. Sure, mice are cute and generally non-aggressive, but they do carry diseases and will, if given a chance, chew holes in just about all of your food stores and insulation. Also, mice trigger allergy symptoms in some people, and their droppings can cause health issues—and are just plain gross. 

In other words, they gotta go. Aside from transmitting diseases, however, mice pose no actual threat, so you’ll want to kick them out humanely if you can. Luckily, you can easily learn how to set a mousetrap in a few ways to do just that. 

How to Identify a Mouse Problem 

Mice don’t exactly waltz into the living room and announce their presence. You will have to pick up on some context clues to find if these rodents are sneaking around and the severity of the infestation. Fortunately, there are many signs that mice are in your home.

  • Droppings: Mice leave behind feces wherever they nest or feed. These droppings appear as small brown pellets, near the size of a grain of rice. However, mice droppings are much smaller than rat droppings, so perform your due diligence to suss them out. 

  • Unexplained noises: If you hear mysterious scurrying in the middle of the night that seems to come from inside of the walls, it could be a mouse or two. 

  • Nests: Mouse nests are actually quite identifiable, as they use all kinds of household items as building materials, such as fabric, paper, and plants. These nests are rough and ball-like and are typically behind a refrigerator, inside of a hole in the wall, or somewhere in the basement. If you encounter a nest, do not remove it yourself—this is a good time to call in a pro. 

  • New holes: If you notice small holes in your walls and floors that weren’t there before, it likely means mice have been busy chewing. Rodents need ready access points throughout the home, and they chew just about anything to make that a reality. These holes are typically near where the floor meets the bottom of the wall and are only 1 to 4 inches across. 

  • Odd pet behavior: If your cats and dogs are acting strange, such as staring at a single corner of the wall for hours, it likely indicates the presence of rodents. Cats and dogs have a much more developed sense of smell than us, so they are probably zeroing in on an active nest. 

  • Sightings: If you happen upon one mouse, it could mean there are more hiding somewhere. Rodents hate being seen, so spotting even one likely indicates a large nest with many mice looking for food.

Mouse sneaks through sliding door
Photo: glebchik / Adobe Stock

The Best Humane Mouse Traps

Once you are relatively certain some mice are scampering through your home, it is time to learn how to set a mousetrap before your space becomes a bonafide mouse hotel. We are focusing on humane traps and release methods here, so you won’t find glue traps, for example, on this list of options. 

Other methods of rodent removal, including poisons and glue, can be used as well. However, some of these approaches are determined to be inhumane by organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Build a Bucket Trap

A large bucket and some common household items make for an effective and humane mouse trap.  For this method, you need a 5-gallon bucket, a metal wire, a screwdriver, an empty soda can, some peanut butter, a bit of oil or grease, a drill, and a small wooden beam or plank. 

  1. Start by poking a hole in the bottom of a soda can with a screwdriver. 

  2. Next, grease up the bucket's interior using the oil of your choice and an old towel or even a paper towel. This step is to prevent the mice from climbing out. 

  3. Drill two holes in the bucket directly across from each other, an inch below the rim. 

  4. Feed thin steel wire or a straightened clothes hanger through the empty soda can. Hook this wire through the newly drilled bucket holes. Move the can along the wire so it rests in the exact center. Also, make sure that the can easily spins on the wire. 

  5. Arrange a small piece of wood, so it angles against the bucket to create a welcoming incline for the unsuspecting mice.

  6. Spread peanut butter over the can and wait. Once the mice approach the peanut butter, the can spins and sends them careening to the bottom of the bucket. The oil prevents escape. 

  7. Carefully set any captured mice free in a location far enough from your home that they cannot return. 

Try the Toothpick Trick

This method is another homemade trap that uses simple household materials. This process requires only a toothpick, a food storage container, some cardboard, and a snack as a lure. As always, peanut butter makes the best lure. Mice love the stuff (so do people.)

  1. Spread a bit of peanut butter inside an otherwise empty food storage container.

  2. Prop the lid up with a toothpick and arrange it so the mouse must pass by the toothpick to get to the goodies at the bottom. When the critter comes for the peanut butter, it likely knocks down the toothpick and becomes trapped inside the storage container. 

  3. Once a mouse is trapped, flip the container over and slide a piece of cardboard underneath. 

  4. Bring the mouse to a remote location, free the cardboard, and let it roam. 

Use a 2-Liter Soda Bottle

A standard empty 2-liter soda bottle makes for an excellent mouse trap, though you will also need some wire, cardboard, heavy-duty scissors, and a pair of screws. 

  1. Cut the top off of the bottle using the scissors and flip it upside down in the same spot so the opening faces the rest of the bottle. 

  2. Use some thin steel wire to secure the upturned top in place. If necessary, poke a couple of holes on either side and loop the wire through. 

  3. Attach the bottom of the bottle to a piece of cardboard by affixing a couple of screws of any size. Just make sure the bottom is relatively sturdy, or sturdy enough for a mouse. 

  4. Drop bait into the bottle. Peanut butter works, but so does cheese, croutons, or just about anything else. 

  5. The design forces the mice in but will not allow them out. Once captured, bring the whole thing to a remote location, remove the cardboard, and let the mice go. 

Try a Paper Towel Roll 

An empty paper towel roll, along with a bucket, makes for a workable, humane mouse trap, particularly for mice on countertops or any elevated surface. 

  1. Balance the paper towel roll on the edge of a counter or table so that it is exactly half on the surface and sticking half off the surface. 

  2. Put a bucket beneath the extending half of the paper towel roll. 

  3. Smear a dab of, you guessed it, peanut butter on the suspended end of the roll.

  4. When the mouse enters the roll to get the peanut butter, it careens into the bucket. As long as the walls are smooth, the mouse is trapped. For extra assurance, apply a lighting coating of oil on the bucket walls. 

  5. Take the bucket far, far away, and let the mouse enjoy a new life somewhere else. 

Purchase Ready-Made Traps 

There are many humane mouse traps available at local hardware stores and online retailers. These traps feature similar designs to the homemade options listed above, so bring your own peanut butter. 

Follow the instructions with each trap. Once you capture some mice, bring the trap to a remote area and let them go. 

How to Prevent Mice From Entering the Home

Now that you have relocated your former roommates to literal, greener pastures, it is time to prepare your home to prevent future visits from these curious and hungry critters.

  • Look for gaps throughout the exterior. Perform this perimeter search often. Seal up any obvious entryways. Mice only need an opening the size of a dime, so be thorough. 

  • The same goes for the interior: Your previous visitors likely chewed up holes in the walls and the floors. Seal those up to ensure any lingering mice will have no way to your common areas. 

  • Remove edible items from the exterior, including bird seed and pet food. Switch to hard seed cakes for bird food, which mice find unappealing. Consider moving bird feeders to the furthest edge of your property. 

  • Move outdoor trash cans to the garage, if possible, or keep them tightly sealed at all times. 

  • Clean your home thoroughly. Mice have an advanced sense of smell, and the odor of the previous pests is likely to attract new unwelcome guests. Vacuum and mop regularly to eliminate errant crumbs.

  • Get a cat. Not only are these pets cuddly, but they are also an automatic mouse deterrent. Remember that advanced sense of smell rodents have? Mice also use it to locate felines.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

All of these DIY traps are worth trying before contacting a local pest control company. Homemade traps only remove one or two mice at a time, however. If you are dealing with a larger-than-average infestation, this will not make a sizable dent in the problem. 

If you keep catching mice with no noticeable slowdown in frequency, it is time to call in the professionals. They will find any hidden nests and work with you to solve the mouse problem humanely without sacrificing effectiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

As you know, mice adore peanut butter, but who doesn’t? Beyond that sandwich staple, rodents are drawn to berries, grains, seeds, meat, and, yes, even cheese. They also eat pet food in a pinch and feast on plant materials, leftovers, and anything in the trash. In other words, mice aren’t picky.

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