How to Use Common Mouse Traps

Success is in the details!

You discover a mouse problem. You pick up a trap. You bait and set it. You cross your fingers and hope it does its thing, right? Wrong. Turns out, there's a bit more to a mousetrap than meets the eye, and proper setup is key.

The secret is leaning into the mission at hand. While it's not difficult to set a trap, understanding a few common styles and how to use them will increase your chances of success. After all, mastering the art of mouse trapping may just lead to fewer instances in which you need to put that knowledge to use! If that sounds ideal, read on.

Which Type of Mouse Trap Should You Use?

There are many types of mouse traps to choose from, so it can help to know what sets each kind apart. Here's a quick guide to the differences among the three most common mechanical mouse traps.

Wooden Traps

No doubt you've seen a wooden mouse trap before ("Tom and Jerry" fans will recognize it instantly). The design is pretty basic, and that's what makes it so popular and easy to use. Wooden mouse traps typically have a U-shaped, spring-loaded bar and wire latch that is attached to a small board.

How to Set: Bait the trap, pull the spring bar back, and secure it with the wire latch. Place the trap where mice travel (look for droppings or oily marks along baseboards).

Advantages: Wooden mouse traps are both inexpensive and effective at taking care of mice quickly. They can be tossed in the trash, mouse and all. Or, the trap can be reused by pulling the spring bar back and releasing the animal into the trash. Just be sure to wear rubber gloves and clean the trap thoroughly.

Bonus Tip: When it comes to how to set up a mousetrap, keep in mind that with a wooden trap, the wire spring bar and latch are exposed. That means you'll want to keep little hands and paws away from any wooden mouse traps that you set. The Tomcat® Mouse Trap (Wooden) is a sturdy trap that's easy for adult hands to use.

Snap Traps

Snap traps are easy to set, too. Some, like Tomcat® Mouse Snap Traps, can even be set with just a single gloved hand. Snap traps feature a spring-loaded mechanism and are usually made of molded plastic.

How to Set: Squeeze the snap trap to the "open" position. Bait the trap, then place it where mice travel. Since mice like to hug walls and corners when they run, make sure the teeth of the trap face the wall.

Advantages: With snap traps, there's no need to ever touch a mouse because the trap can be squeezed open to release the rodent directly into the trash.

Bonus Tip: Snap traps are reusable, and safer around kids and pets than conventional wooden traps.

Press-and-Set Traps

When it comes to mouse traps, press-and-set traps are designed to work as their name implies: Press the trap and the trap is set. These molded plastic traps feature a bait well or divot, single- or double-grabber teeth, and a covered triggering mechanism.

How to Set: Place a small amount of bait in the well, then press it open until the trap clicks into the set position. Place the trap along the wall where mice travel.

Advantages: Simple to set and quick to trap, most of these traps can be pressed to re-open and release the mouse—but watch your fingers. For one that won't snap your fingers, try the Tomcat® Press 'N Set Mouse Trap; it has a grab tab for an easy, no-touch mouse disposal.

Bonus Tip: Press-and-set traps are reusable, as well as safe around kids and pets.

Preparing to Set a Mouse Trap

Now that you know more about these three common traps, here's a quick rundown of some things to keep in mind and have at the ready before you take action.

Bait: You need something to lure a mouse to the trap, preferably something fatty or sweet. Nut butter, nut meat, hazelnut-cocoa spread, chocolate candy, bacon, marshmallow, dry rolled oats, a bit of gumdrop, or a readymade gel, like Tomcat® Attractant Gel, are all good options.

Gloves: Find a pair of gloves you can wear both when setting the trap and when disposing of the rodent. Mice will avoid predator scents from dogs, cats, and people. Putting on gloves when you set up a mouse trap will help keep your human scent off the trap, making it more attractive to mice. You can use non-absorbent gardening or kitchen gloves, but many people prefer disposable, nitrile gloves.

Cleaning Supplies: Virus-killing disinfectant and plastic trash bags help keep things sterile.

Trap: Wearing gloves, grab your Tomcat® or another mousetrap, and unwrap or unbox it. Remove anything used to secure the trap in the packaging so you're ready to follow these how-to steps.

How to Set Up a Mouse Trap in 5 Easy Steps

1. Add Bait to the Trap

You've got your bait, so now it's time to put it in the trap. Portion size counts here. You want just enough bait to pique the mouse's curiosity, but not so much that the critter does a grab-and-go. A peanut-size portion is just right. For wooden mouse traps, spread the bait on the trigger pedal or plate. For snap traps or press-and-set traps, place it directly into the baitwell.

2. Place the Unset Trap For Mice to Find

Mice are pretty good snoops, especially when it comes to something new. In fact, they'll detect and avoid foreign objects like a trap. Fool them by introducing a baited-but-unset trap. Place it close to the wall or in areas where you've seen or suspect mouse activity. If you're using more than one trap, space them out by a few inches or a couple of feet, but no further than 6 feet from the first trap. Monitor the trap to see if a mouse (literally) takes the bait. In a day or so, when mice see the trap as familiar, move onto the next step.

3. Re-Bait and Set the Trap

Because mice prefer new food, remove and dispose of any old bait. Place a peanut-sized portion of fresh bait on the trigger plate or in the baitwell. To set a wooden trap, pull back on the spring bar then carefully secure it with the latch. To set a snap trap, gently squeeze the trap to the open position. To set a press-and-set trap, push the spring-loaded tab until you hear the click sound to indicate it's set. Place the trap in the same location you used previously for the baited-but-unset trap.

4. Check the Trap

Mice feed at night so inspect the trap in the morning. If you have a mouse, go to the next step. If not, give it another day or two. After three days with no mouse, re-bait and re-set the trap, moving it to another location. Look for signs of mouse activity, such as greasy rub marks or droppings. If you're not sure where to move it, try dusting a little flour, cornstarch, or talcum powder on the floor close to the wall. If you have mice in that area, you'll see footprints or tail marks in the powder.

5. Dispose and Disinfect

Because mice can carry harmful diseases, be sure to wear gloves before handling any trap or rodent. To dispose of both together, use a gloved hand and plastic trash bag to pick up the trap and its contents, then turn the bag inside out. Seal the bag and toss it in the garbage outside. Dispose of or disinfect your gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

To reuse a trap, you'll need to release the remains into a plastic garbage bag. For a wooden trap, lift the spring bar to release; for a snap trap, squeeze the trap; and for a press-and-set trap, press to open. Once the dead mouse has been released into the plastic bag, seal the bag, and toss it into the trash outside. Spray the trap with a virus-killing disinfectant. After disinfecting, you may want to pat the wire portion of a wooden trap dry to help prevent rust. Dispose of or disinfect your gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

The Real Secret of How to Set Up a Mouse Trap

Setting any type of mouse trap is never fun. While you want this process to be over quickly, the real secret of how to set up a mouse trap is to not just plop down peanut butter and flip a lever. Combine a little know-how about mice habits with the correct configuration of a trap, and your house will be mouse-free in no time.

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