Dead mouse or squirrel inside wall


Q.  We have a horrible smell coming from a closet area which we are attributing to a dead mouse/squirrel between the studs.

Other than tearing out the Sheetrock to remove the carcass, any suggestions to reduce/eliminate the smell–which I understand can last for months.

A.  A dead mouse will only smell for a few days, a week at most. A dead squirrel is a different story; it will smell for a lot longer — but not for months. Try the product I recommend frequently to eliminate bad odors – Nok-Out. Nothing else I know of would be as effective, short of cutting out the drywall and removing the carcass and disinfecting the area.

Getting rid of snakes

Q.    How do you get rid of snakes, garden and poisonous types? I had used Snake-A-Way before with success, but they don’t make it anymore. I am deathly afraid of snakes. One house I know of is for sale because of snakes. Common garden snakes found in your part of the country (New England) are harmless and beneficial.

Garden Snake
Common garden snakes found in New England are harmless and beneficial.

A.    Snakes are a valuable ally in the control of mice and other rodents, and are part of our natural world. Poisonous snakes are not welcomed, of course, and you could ask your local authorities for the name of a control expert or call a family-owned pest control operator and ask if they deal with snake problems.

Snakes find stone walls and wood piles attractive, so eliminating those should help. As long as snakes don’t get inside your house, they should be harmless and welcomed. In your area (New England) very few snakes are dangerous to people.

One way to keep them out of your house is to spread wood ashes around the foundation; the only drawback is that you need to do it after each rain. But if you prefer to use Snake-A-Way, it is still available. You’ll find it at

Bugs keep returning to basement

Q.  For the past 3 years, we have been inundated with rolly-polly bugs in our basement during the summer. We have a standard poured concrete basement and the house is 11 years old.

Rolly-polly bugs
Rolly-polly bugs

I have not been able to determine exactly how they enter, other than it seems like they either come in where the wall meets the floor, or, they just come through the walls! There are no obvious cracks for them to enter. I have tried over-the-counter bug sprays around the interior wall/floor seams, but all this does is kill them after they enter.

I have also put down a band of bug spray all around the exterior where the earth touches the foundation, but this has had no effect. Now the weather is warning up, they are coming in again. Do you have any suggestions?

A.  My guess is that the rolly-polly bugs are sowbugs or pillbugs, depending upon where you live, as they are not common in cold regions. To be sure, collect a few in a plastic container and take them to the extension service of your local university or to a pest management professional for identification.

Both sowbugs and pillbugs like moisture and feed on decomposing vegetable matter. Do you store firewood close to the house or have heavy organic mulch against the foundation? They can enter the basement from there, and they will be happy in it if it is damp.

Wasps invade crawl space

Q.    We have a house with a cement tile roof and a vinyl type stucco siding. Wasps seem to be attracted to the siding and yellow jackets recently entered our crawl space through a small hole behind a copper sheathing.   Recently  we’ve had several enter our living space and we were stung while we slept.

We taped all possible entrances such as light fixtures and fans and have now noticed several in our basement. Initially we sprayed with RAID but could not reach the hive from any direction and it left stains on the bottom of the plywood-stucco eaves. We then placed a strong vacuum in front of the hole and have now siphoned off thousands but there is still activity. Will those remaining bees continue to hunt for a means of escape if I plug the hole? Will steel wool work best as a plug? What else can we do?

Wasp Trap
Raid brand wasp trap

A.    In the fall, the yellow jacket queen comes out of the nest to mate before hiding for the winter, and the workers die. This is the time to set a RAID pheromone trap that attracts the males, thus interrupting the mating cycle. You should be able to find these traps in garden-supply stores and some supermarkets.

Once cold weather has set in, and after you have either vacuumed the rest of the nest or had a pest-management professional deal with the hidden nest, seal the hole they use to get in and out with an appropriate material. If the hole is small, caulking may be the best way to do so. Use a polyurethane caulk of a color closest to the synthetic stucco or copper flashing.

Considering the severity of the problem, I would advise you to hire an independent, locally-owned professional pest-management firm.

Waterproofing of basement attracts centipedes

Q.  I live in central New Jersey and had a water problem in my basement. I had a waterproofing company install the type of system where they jackhammer out the concrete along the walls, pierce the foundation block to let the water out, create a pitched trench, use blue stone as a base, and perforated pipe on top of that to catch the water, add a plastic sheet on the wall which goes into the trench and fill the trench with concrete.


The pitched trench leads to a sump pump in the corner and the water is pumped to the outside. The system works fine and we have not had any water problems since. However, we do have something else, which I am not so sure is worth the trade-off of the water.

Since the system was put in, we see centipedes in the basement and some of them make their way to my first-floor kitchen and occasionally to my second floor. These centipedes are extremely unnerving to me. They are about 2 inches, sometimes 3 inches in length, with a thick body, lots of legs and move quite rapidly.

I feel very certain that they are coming from the area of the sump pump, which has a cover, or perhaps up the wall of the trench behind the hard plastic piece. We have pets, so I am hesitant about using an exterminator, although I’m not sure even that will help.

Please let me know your suggestions. These creatures have made living in my home much more unpleasant than the water in the basement.

A.  Centipedes are fond of damp areas. It follows that when the plastic was applied to the walls, it created a damp environment between the plastic and the foundation. I have always questioned the use of lining foundation walls with plastic sheets for that very reason. It is fine to dig a trench in the concrete along the walls and install a drain leading to a sump pump, but why bother with the plastic?

Although I always warn against waterproofing block walls, it is OK if there is a way for the blocks to drain, as they would with the system you had installed. Waterproofing the block walls would not have created the damp environment the plastic lining provides.

To control the centipedes, you have the choice of using residual sprays better applied by a pest management professional who will know where it will be most effective, or drying the basement by removing the plastic, something you may be reluctant to do, understandably, considering what you paid for it. Keep in mind that the best control for many predator insects is the removal of their food supply found in damp environments.

Eliminating skunk odors

Q.  A skunk let go in our backyard and the odor is horrendous. We have tried a variety of deodorizers without success. Do you know of a treatment we can use that will be completely effective?

A. The most effective treatment I know of is Nok-Out, which, as regular readers know, I have found effective in treating a wide range of odors.

Some years ago, a skunk decided to set house under the porch of a house shared by several friends, including a relative. She called me in great distress, as the odor permeated her bedroom, which was next to the porch. I sent her a gallon of Nok-Out. She sprayed the entire area under the porch and the odor instantly vanished for good.

You can buy Nok-Out on the Web site At the time of this writing, you can save by ordering with the coupon on the right side of this page and using the coupon code HDM. Nok-Out is a complete deodorizer, used in many industrial and residential applications. I haven’t heard or experienced a single case of failure with it.

Remedies for “flour beetles”

Q.  I enjoy your column and just recently found your book online and have purchased it for the very useful information you provide.

I know that you have mentioned it before, but I can’t recall the name of the product you recommended for the tiny dark flour beetles that appear in the kitchen. I would appreciate it if you would mention the product again in your blog, and also where it can be purchased.

A.  Thanks for your confidence; it is nice to hear back when the information is helpful.

I am not sure what you call flour beetles. If they are about ¼-inch long, they are probably larder beetles that show up in houses in May and June, seeking food stuff on which to deposit their eggs. They may also be brought in the house in bags of dry pet foods that contain mixtures of cereal and animal products.

The best form of control, if they are not too abundant, is to put a piece of cheese on a dish. They love cheese and will congregate on it in large numbers where you can catch them by dropping a large piece of plastic wrap over the dish. Put them in the freezer for a short time to kill them.

Persistent problem with mice

Q.    I read your Q & A column regularly and find your answers helpful. We are homeowners and seem to always have trouble with mice.

And I am scared to death of the rodents. I can pick up any bug or worm with no problem but the thought of those sneaky little rodents running around terrifies me tremendously. Thank God for my husband who doesn’t have the same phobia as I and sets traps whenever I think they’re around. But why do they continue to come in our house and where do they come in at?

One day outside I actually saw one go down a little hole along side the foundation and imagined that was how they came in (a crack somewhere underneath?). We had the driveway redone flat alongside the foundation and I thought this would eliminate their entrance. But just the other night came the scratching in my attic (that keeps me up all night) so I knew they (when it’s one, it’s six of them) were back again.

My husband reset the traps in the basement, under our dishwasher, on the enclosed front porch, etc. and the very next day one was caught. There is never just one so I’m sure he’ll catch others. They seem to start in the attic and eventually move to the basement. I imagine they climb the inside walls to the attic following the previous rodent’s trail. What are they scratching so furiously at?

Don’t suggest I go in the attic. I’ve lived in the house over 20 years and never have and never will – what if I see a mouse? I’ll die!! What is a mouse-phobic to do?  Please give me some suggestions so I can get a good night’s sleep. Thank you.

P.S.  I don’t like cats either so that’s not an option. Should I just hire an exterminator to come and check things out?  If I have to spend the money, I guess I will.

A.    Mice are seeking comfy homes for the winter; can you blame them? I do understand your dislike for them, and I think you know that they are potential disease carriers. They can also chew on wiring and cause fires.

In your case, given your fears,  it is probably best to call in a local, independent pest-management professional. He or she should be experienced in finding where they come in and seal their entrance holes, as they don’t need to be big. Search the Web or the Yellow Pages under “Pest Control Services” and see if you can find a family-owned firm (I prefer them over national franchises) that advertises mice control – most do.