If You’re Not Cleaning This, You’re Inviting Mice Into Your Home

There is no house guest as uninvited but as prevalent as the common mouse. These rodents infest around 21 million homes in the U.S. every year, most often as the weather gets colder, according to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). Mice aren’t just creepy, however. They can also transmit around 35 diseases to humans, trigger allergy or asthma symptoms, cause significant structural damage to homes, and put buildings at risk of electrical fires, per the association. And while it may seem like finding one of these critters in your home is inevitable, you could be inviting them in without even realizing. Read on to find out what one thing you need to clean nightly to keep mice away.

RELATED: 6 Things You’re Doing That Bring Rats into Your House.

Not cleaning up your pet’s food may be inviting mice to your home.

Domestic cat sitting next to food bowl at homeDomestic cat sitting next to food bowl at home
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Many of us are probably guilty of leaving our dog or cat’s food out in their bowl overnight without a second thought. But this practice can attract mice, warns Pedro M. Aponte, PhD, a veterinarian and owner of the pet blog Animal Hackers. According to Aponte, mice are attracted to dog and cat food because it typically contains grains and other nutrients these rodents need.

“Leaving food out in bowls overnight will definitely attract mice, because they are nocturnal animals. They have a very powerful sense of smell that will help them locate your pet’s food at night,” Aponte says. “Also, they have a fairly good nocturnal vision to navigate around your house.”

RELATED: If You’re Not Cleaning This, You’re Inviting Spiders to Your Home.

Leaving wet food out is especially troublesome.

Bowls of food on a white surface dirty with cat debris, cat food and muddy paw printsBowls of food on a white surface dirty with cat debris, cat food and muddy paw prints
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Wet food is even more beneficial to these critters because it “contains enough water for mice to survive on without needing any other water source,” according to M&M Pest Control, an eco-friendly pest control company based in New York City. Wet food contains the most water, naturally, but even dry food is around 10 percent water, which is usually enough for an adult mouse.

Wet food is more attractive to mice for another reason also. “The worst part about wet food when it comes to mice is the odor,” says Frank Yao, a spokesperson for M&M Pest Control. “While pet food usually doesn’t smell appetizing to humans, mice love foods with a strong odor. Mice have a sense of smell that’s several times better than humans, so I’d be worried about attracting even more mice from outside or neighboring apartments if it’s left out overnight.”

You should be cleaning your pet’s bowl out at the end of every night.

Unrecognizable woman hands washing dog bowl in the kitchen sink.Unrecognizable woman hands washing dog bowl in the kitchen sink.
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Aponte says you don’t have to worry about cleaning or emptying out your dog or cat’s bowl after every single meal. Instead, he says you should be cleaning your pet’s bowl every evening to avoid inviting mice into your home. Bowls can even be placed in the dishwasher at night, as long as they are dishwasher-safe, he says.

“Emptying and cleaning should be done at the end of the day, because rodents tend to have nocturnal habits and will avoid the day rush when they can encounter humans and pets,” Aponte explains.

The veterinarian also advises that pet owners store bagged pet food in mouse-proof containers, such as heavy metallic trash bins, metal cabinets, or heavy-duty plastic bins, boxes, and drums that are tightly closed. “Plastic containers or boxes with narrow walls—less than 3 millimeters thick, like those used to store or organize objects in your garage—will be gnawed and perforated by a starving mouse with no hesitation,” he warns. “Mice will also incredibly crawl through any tiny crack, crevice, or hole to get access.”

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It’s not just dog and cat food that you need to clean up.

a pet chameleon in a tanka pet chameleon in a tank
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If you have other pets, you’ll want to consider their food as well. Jeff Neal, a pet expert and founder of The Critter Depot, says these rodents are also attracted to the pet food many reptile owners keep, like live crickets and superworms. This is because these lizard snacks are also “loaded with protein and other critical nutrients,” according to Neal.

“Many reptile owners will keep their crickets or superworms in an open bucket in their house. We always discourage this, because the mice will absolutely find a way into that bucket to eat your feeder insects,” he says. Neal recommends that reptile owners keep a screened lid on these containers to keep mice away.

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