Build Mouse Traps to Protect your Garden

Mouse traps are the best way to get rid of troublesome mice.

My 5-gallon bucket mouse traps are cheap and easy to build, easy to use and easy to service. Follow the instructions below to build a homemade trap of your own. Once you see how effective they are, you’ll want to build more than one as part of defensive measures for your vegetable garden, your garage and even your home.

Mice are everywhere, and they focus on only a few activities; they constantly look for food, make nests, make more mice, chew up things, and leave their droppings and urine everywhere. Mice can crawl up a wall or under the crack of a door, so don’t underestimate their ability to invade.

Building cheap mouse traps is a good way to control these dirty little invaders that focus on nibbling away at your produce and stripping leaves off your seedlings. It’s time to build mouse traps that kill mice and halt the invasion. The choice is simple - work to feed them or work to feed you and yours.

Here's the Idea

Let’s look at how these cheap homemade mouse traps work to kill mice:

  • Mice crawl up a wooden incline in search of food. The incline has a thin film of peanut butter to attract them.
  • At the top, there is a level landing that enters a 5-gallon bucket filled with 2 to 3 gallons of water. The mice hop onto a can that has a thick layer of peanut butter all around it on the far end.
Here is what it looks like from the perspective of the mice heading for these mouse traps.
  • The can is suspended in the middle of the bucket by a rod. The can is level with the landing, so it isn’t difficult for the mice to get on. The can is a little bit away from the landing so the mice have to jump onto the can to get the peanut butter.
  • When they land on the can, it spins on the rod and dumps the mouse into the deep water. They paddle around for a couple of minutes, tire of going around in circles and drown.

Mice continue to hop onto the can and drown until there are no more mice in the area. This is a self-resetting trap that can catch mice all day and all night, and rarely needs to have its bait refreshed.

Here's How it's Done

Below is a cross section diagram of the mouse traps that I build for my greenhouses, gardens, garage and shop. Using a 5-gallon bucket makes these homemade traps portable. I have even brought one indoors when the occasional mouse-in-the-house needs a midnight swim.

Diagram of one of my 5 gallon bucket mouse traps.

Okay, Let's Build One of These Mouse Traps

Follow these general steps. Don't worry if you don't do it exactly right. Your mouse traps will probably still work just fine even with a few goofs. You'll notice the photos of my trap show that it isn't built exactly as I describe how to do it. So, even I can't follow directions (and this people have told me, many times).

Step 1. Take a 5-gallon bucket and drill one 2.5 inch diameter hole in it about 3/4 up from the bottom on any side that isn’t obstructed by the handle. (My finished product has the bottom of the hole 7.25 inches from the bottom of the bucket, and the top of the hole is 10.5 inches from the bottom of the bucket.)

Leave the handle (bail) in place to carry the trap because it is a little heavy once you have water in it.

Keep the lid handy. It will keep other animals out of your mouse traps once you have them baited with peanut butter.

Mouse entry point for these mouse traps. Notice the small notch in the bottom of the hole for the rod to rest in.  Notice the holes on the opposite side of the bucket for the rod to fit into.

Notice in the picture above, that there is one elongated hole, instead of a large hole. This is my goof. Mice don't care if you make mistakes or improvise, they just want the peanut butter. Here, an elongated hole allows the ramp to fit, and the smooth round notch at the bottom allows the metal rod to rest there. Look closely and you'll see a couple of out of focus holes on the opposite side of the large entry hole. This is where the rod will fit on the other side of the bucket. Only one hole is necessary. Use two if you want to show off your goofs to others on the Internet.

Step 2. Find a small diameter metal rod (about ¼ inch or less) that will span the diameter of the bucket plus 1 inch. You can even use a coat hanger if it will hold the can in place without sagging. (My finished product uses a 3/16 inch rod that is 12.5 inches long.)

Step 3. Drill a hole slightly larger than the diameter of the metal rod, centered about 1 inch below the 2.5 inch diameter hole. (Unless you have goofed up, like in the photo above and drilled a large elongated hole. In that case, just use the drill bit to make a smooth notch at the bottom of your elongated hole.) Drill another hole the same size and level with the second hole (or the notch), but on the opposite side of the bucket. So, you should now have one large hole and one small hole below it on one side of the bucket, and a matching small hole on the opposite side of the bucket. (My finished product, if you care to call it that, has the small holes drilled about 7 inches up from the bottom of the bucket.)

Backside of bucket used for these type of mouse traps. Use one hole to hold rod in place level to the surface the bucket sits on.

If you find that the hole on the opposite side of the bucket is a bit higher than optimal, then you can drill another hole just below it, as shown in the photo. Again, the mice don't care about mistakes, and I don't care if you see mine.

Step 4. Take a soda or vegetable can (or something similar) and drill a hole in the center of the top and bottom that is the same size as the hole you drilled for the metal rod. If you use an opened vegetable can, you’ll have to drill the holes in the bottom and lid and then reattach the lid with duct tape. (My finished product uses a 4 inch diameter powdered lemonade container. This is the maximum that I would recommend because anything larger will start to limit the amount of water you can put into the bucket without having the can drag in the water.)

Step 5. Build a ramp for the trap out of wood lath. You can use any kind of wood, but wood lath is easy to work with and just the right width. Wood lath is what snow fences are made of. If you don't have something suitable, an old broken wooden yard stick will do just fine. Ideally, ramps for these mouse traps should be made of two pieces; one piece makes a gentle incline up to the large hole, and the other piece provides a flat landing that goes from the inclined piece through the large hole and into the bucket a couple inches. (On my finished product, the ramp is 10 inches long and the horizontal portion is 6 inches long, with 2 inches sticking inside the bucket.)

Yes, these are handicapped accessible mouse traps, but they have no handrails, so they're not OSHA compliant.

Step 6. Notch the underside of the ramp so it will grip the wall of the bucket in the large hole. This will allow it to stand securely on its own. (My notches are about 4 inches from the joint, and 2 inches from the end.)

These type of mouse traps need a walkway. Notice under the walkway the notch to hold it in place and the reinforcing metal piece to make the wooden walkway last much longer.

In the photo above, you can see that the ramp is made with a metal reinforcement piece (optional) to extend its useful life. Instead of metal reinforcement, you can use brads and glue to make the joint. Notches are made to help keep the ramp hooked onto the bucket.

All this work is done with a chop saw, but it can be done with a hand saw as well.

Step 7. Use a 45 degree angle to make the bottom of the lath ramp lay flat against the ground. Use a 45 degree angle to make the top part of the lath ramp fit under the small notched lath piece that will be in the horizontal position as it enters the bucket. Another 45 degree angle on the horizontal piece allows this to match up with the 45 degree angled ramp.

It all sounds complicated, but making these mouse traps is quite simple and doesn't require any special skill. Just hold the pieces of lath in place and you'll quickly figure out how long they should be and how to cut the angles.

Step 8. Insert the can on the metal rod and make certain it turns freely. Insert the metal rod into the small hole on the bucket and then through the can and into the other small hole on the opposite side of the bucket so it's level. Make certain the can turns freely. There should be no dip in the rod that will encourage the can to slide around or prevent the can from spinning.

If you mess up with placement of your holes, just drill new ones off to the side a bit. The mouse traps work even if they have unnecessary holes in the bucket (see my many examples), as long as they aren’t below the anticipated water line.

This is what these mouse traps look like from the top when assembled and ready to fill and bait. There is no water inside yet, and no peanut butter smeared anywhere, so I encourage you to use your imagination.

In the photo above, the rod is just about 1/2 inch below the horizontal piece of wood, so it can turn freely as needed. Ideally, the can will be even with the horizontal platform, but it can be a little above or below. Mice don't care, they just want to get inside and get at that peanut butter.

Step 9.

Disassemble everything and fill the bucket up with a couple gallons of water. Add some anti-freeze if you are going to use the mouse traps outside in the winter. (My water line is about 4.5 inches from the bottom.)

An alternative to anti-freeze (for those concerned about domestic animals drinking it) is bleach or canning salt or rock salt. Both will lower the freezing point of water, not nearly as much as anti-freeze, but perhaps sufficiently for your purposes. One could also mount such mouse traps on heater bases such as what might be used for chicken waterers.

Step 10. Smear a little peanut butter up the full length of the ramp. Not too much, just a thin film will do it.

Step 11. Spread peanut butter around the far end of the can (the end nearest the single small hole, not the large entry hole). Try not to glob it as this affects balance of the can. The peanut butter should be about the width of your index finger, but not more than ¼ inch thick. Make certain the amount of peanut butter is evenly distributed to retain a balanced spin to the can. The can has to freely spin on the rod without any serious “flat spots” where it might come to rest.

Step 12. Reassemble the metal rod through the small holes and through the can so the can hangs in the middle of the bucket and spins freely. Redistribute the peanut butter if the can is heavy on one side.

Step 13. Place the flat part of the ramp into the 2.5 inch hole using the notches in the wood to hold it still. Position the clean end of the bait can about 1.5 inches from the ramp.

Step 14. Set the mouse traps on a level surface in your greenhouse or garden and they will kill mice for months without needing any help from you, except to empty the dead mice every day or so.

You might be surprised at how many mice this cheap contraption will catch. If you have a healthy mouse population to deal with, catching five mice in one night with mouse traps like this isn’t a challenge. I have heard of a man catching 18 mice in a single night with one trap...he placed it inside his truck cab where he was having trouble with a mouse invasion.

The Results

Ready for the results of these mouse traps set in my greenhouse overnight? I thought you might be, so I took some pictures to show you how these mouse traps work, in spite of my goofs during fabrication.

Here you can see mouse tracks in the peanut butter.  The long tracks show that they were trying to hang on while the can rotated and slid them off into the water.

Above is a picture of tracks in the peanut butter from mice as they attempted to hang onto the round can. With no edges to speak of, and the can being a spinning object, there just isn't much of an opportunity to hang on.

The only hope for the mice is an ability to balance carefully while feeding. This is why the peanut butter needs to be placed on the far end of the can. The mice have to balance well on the way there and the way back. Something I think few are capable of...unless they're circus mice.

Below is what you will likely find in the morning. Here are three mice in the drink. The one on the right is completely submerged. The one on the left is floating on top. And, there is one underneath the can that can't be seen in the picture. Trust me, it's there.

Notice the distance from the flat part of the ramp to the edge of the can, it's about an inch or so. This may have to be adjusted periodically as the visiting mice will on occasion move the can that easily slides on the rod.

Evidence that these mouse traps work quite well. Here you can see two mice that drowned in the trap overnight.  A third mouse is underneath the can and out of view.

Okay, it isn't pleasant, but you can't just ask them to leave. Besides, I thought you might like to see that these mouse traps work as advertised. Built one day, setup the same evening, and voilà, you have continuously operating mouse traps that catch mice...continuously.

They're cheap and effective.

If you don't like this approach, you can smash their heads and necks in a traditional spring trap, or you can have them die a slow death stuck to a glue trap. The other alternative is they dehydrate slowly inside a spring-loaded mechanism that catches and retains them.

Traditional mouse traps are great, but not nearly as convenient as these 5-gallon bucket traps.

Any way you choose, they won't be bothering you again.

By the way, I set this up in my shop and caught 15 one night. There was so much activity from mice jumping onto the can that they pushed the can over to one side of the bucket and that stopped it from spinning. Since it didn't spin, the mice ate the peanut butter off of the top of the can.

I reapplied peanut butter to keep the can in balance. Even an out of balance can, and one with no peanut butter on the top, will still work okay. The mice lean over the edge to get the bait, and the out of balance situation allows the can to move enough to dump them off into the drink.

By the way, the traditional snap type mouse traps aren't necessarily quick kill devices. I watched one day as a mouse approached one and got its neck caught by it. The critter wiggled around for a while after it snapped down on his neck, moving the trap around the floor a bit.

Here are a few tips for those interested in using these mouse traps:

  • If you put a little bleach in the bucket, it will keep the water fresher for quite a while. What with peanut butter, mice and mouse droppings in there, it doesn't take too long before the water is unpleasant.
  • Use a screened serving or dipping utensil that you found at a garage sale to dip out the mice and put them in a suitable container for disposal. Don't use something from the kitchen or you might find yourself living in the garage, shop or greenhouse with the mice.
  • Dump the water out of the trap every week or so, much less frequently if you use some bleach in there. If you use anti-freeze, it will likely stay usable for a very long time, so no need to dispose of it on a regular basis. I've had mine for years with anti-freeze, and I just keep adding more water as the water in the mixture evaporates.

Good luck and happy mousing! I enjoy sharing my food and housing with those of my choice, and mice aren't on my list. That's why I build and operate mouse traps like these.

Done with Mouse Traps, take me back to Vegetable Gardening Tips


Do it Yourself

It's easier to simply buy a commercial mouse trap, and sometimes this is preferable, especially if you'd like to dispose of the mouse and the trap all at once. If building your own trap isn't your style, here are some devices to consider.