Do the raccoons rumbling around in your attic sound large enough that they ought to be helping with your mortgage? Are those raccoons chattering in your chimney a family you didn’t know you had agreed to take onboard? Or, maybe you’ve noticed that a bit of corn harvesting seems to take place overnight in your garden? Situations like these may have you searching for a way to repel raccoons, so let’s talk about how you may be unintentionally attracting raccoons to your home as well as the smart, effective options available to you.
First of all, let’s be real. There are no miracle products that will consistently and effectively repel raccoons—no matter what the labels and advertisements may claim. Save your money, because what you need is already at hand—it’s your own ability to check out what’s going on, to figure out why, and to take appropriate action. It’s a step-wise process, and it begins with an adjustment in expectations.
What to expect
Raccoons are pretty well adapted to most human environments, so it is not surprising if you have one or more looking around your property for the basic things they need to survive: food, water, cover, and a safe place to either raise their young or keep warm in harsh weather. This doesn’t mean that you have to freely accept them, but it does help to understand their motivation –which is usually similar to ours. Once you understand they too are just trying to survive, it makes it a little easier to bend a bit.
As an example, a little bit of pilfering in your garden won’t prevent you from getting a nice harvest for yourself. So, rather than going over the top in expense and effort to keep out every possible veggie thief, make reasonable efforts to protect your garden and assume that there will be a few things that get eaten by raccoons and others. The same goes with your birdfeeders. Although you intend for the birds to be your guests, in most situations, visits from the occasional raccoon (or squirrel) who manages to defeat your efforts to keep seed out of reach will not keep the birds from coming, nor prevent you from enjoying watching them. If losses are excessive, take the feeders down for a week or two, which should send the raccoons looking elsewhere. When you put them back up, make sure they are far from branches and protected by a stove-pipe or other effective raccoon baffle (which you can purchase at your local garden, hardware or home building store).
How you may be unintentionally attracting raccoons
Look for ways to make your property less attractive to raccoons. This will be more effective and longer lasting than any repellent product. Repellents can be dangerous to children, pets, and other unintended targets. They also have to be applied repeatedly to be effective at all, making them expensive and inconvenient. Gardens and birdfeeders are obvious attractants, but other temptations abound. Here are some key ways to avoid attracting raccoons:
- Make your trash less prowl-worthy by using a sturdy trashcan and securing the lid with a bungee cord. Better yet, get the raccoon-proof Animal Stopper garbage can by Rubbermaid which has a very secure top and built in bungee cords.
- Limit what you put in an open compost pile, or purchase a closed compost container that enables you to easily turn the pile, yet makes it inaccessible for wildlife.
- Prevent raccoons and other wildlife from sharing your pet’s food by feeding your pet indoors. If you must feed cats outside, do so in the middle of the day and pick up their dishes as soon as they walk away from them.
- If you must keep small animals outside, be sure to enclose them in sturdy shelters with hardware cloth screening and locking latches.
- Tool sheds offer attractive shelter for raccoons looking to escape the cold or find a safe place for raising young. After ensuring that no animals are inside, keep doors to sheds and outbuildings closed when you are not using them.
- Keep up with home repairs before weak spots become unintended entrances. Once animals are in, follow the steps below to safely exclude them before making repairs.
- After ensuring the chimney is clear, have a chimney cap installed if you don’t want raccoons to den in your flue.
Encourage them to leave
If raccoons are already living in your attic or chimney, you may want them to leave right away, but take into consideration whether there are dependent young before taking action. Likewise, harsh winter weather calls for careful consideration of timing. Your local wildlife rehabilitator can provide guidance on safe timing of evicting raccoons in your area. Never use a fireplace if animals are in the chimney—they may be burned or unable to exit safely and may exit into your room, causing obvious hazards for all. If there are safety concerns that require evicting raccoons while dependent young are present, hire a professional wildlife control service that will perform the job with a reunion box, ensuring that the family is not separated.
Once you can safely begin your campaign to get the raccoons to leave, here are some tips for making them want to leave. Raccoons like dark, quiet places, so create the opposite conditions. Shine bright lights into the space and play a radio loudly, preferably at dusk, so as not to send them out in bright daylight, when they are more vulnerable. Offending their nose may help, too. If in the chimney, place a bowl of apple cider vinegar inside the fireplace to send a pungent smell up. Combining these tactics will send the strongest message, but again, choose the timing of your actions with compassion.
How to keep them out
The job is not complete, of course, until you make sure neither they nor others can get back inside. First though, you must ensure all the animals are out. For chimneys, unless you can confirm it is completely clear from top to bottom, it’s usually best to hire a professional. Once it is confirmed that the chimney isn’t being occupied, immediately install a chimney cap.
For other entry points being used by small mammals, you can confirm use by lightly securing a piece of cardboard or a single sheet of newspaper over the hole with duct tape. If the cardboard or paper is undisturbed for at least 48 hours, it is typically safe to assume the area is clear. If the area is still being occupied, animals will be able to chew through the temporary material to escape or to access their young. If it is confirmed that the entry point is inactive, seal the hole with heavy wire mesh (16-gauge), sheet metal, metal flashing, or by replacing the original materials.
Having solved your raccoon situation in this sensible, step-wise manner means you will not be contending with the same problem next week, next month, or next year. Do keep an eye on home repairs, though, because weather and deterioration of materials can cause new possible entryways to develop.