Interior Attics

Not-So-Subtle Signs Raccoons Live In Your Attic—And What to Do About Them

A raccoon can cause significant damage to a home. Discover how to get rid of raccoons in the attic and how to prevent future infestations.
Two raccoons sit on top of a roof.

Photo: istockphoto.com

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Q: Something is moving around in my attic, and I think it may be a raccoon. How can I identify my unwelcome guest, and if my suspicions are correct, how do I get rid of a raccoon in the attic?

A: Raccoons in the attic are a common problem for homeowners. Garbage or food left outdoors can lure a raccoon to the property, and the animal may then seek shelter in a garage or attic. Raccoons don’t just cause a mess and make noise; they also carry diseases that can be transmitted to people and their pets. Whether homeowners are looking for how to get rid of raccoons under the house or in the attic, they can learn the best ways to deal with these furry fiends and keep them away.

Signs of raccoons in an attic include footsteps, scratching noises, pawprints, and scratch marks.

Raccoons in the attic often leave several signs of their presence. While at first it may be difficult to tell if there are raccoons or squirrels in the attic, raccoons’ size will probably give them away. Unlike squirrels, which may make a sound like light scurrying, a raccoon in the attic sounds like thumping, similar to the weight of a child’s steps. The creatures may also shout out a high-pitched cry, especially if mothers are separated from their babies.

Because raccoons are nocturnal animals, homeowners may sleep through raccoon sounds. However, there are typically also visual signs of raccoons in the attic. Dirty paw prints or raccoon tracks in trails of dust in the attic are a telltale sign of these unwanted guests. If a raccoon feels trapped in the attic, it will panic and destroy everything in its way trying to get out. Homeowners may also want to look up what raccoon poop looks like and check the attic for feces.

“The telltale sign is damaged or overturned garbage cans, garden damage, or holes in your yard,” explains Meg Pearson, training manager at Critter Control, a humane nuisance wildlife removal company specializing in removing raccoons, among other animals. “Homeowners can also find damage on the siding of their house, in the eaves, soffit, and along the roof.”

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Raccoons can find their way into a home through very small gaps—as little as 4 inches wide.

It doesn’t take much for a raccoon to enter a home. Raccoons can squeeze their way through very tight spaces, as little as 4 inches wide. They can find their way into an attic through different building materials, such as a vent or shingles. Along their way in, they can cause significant structural damage to a home by pulling apart ducts and roofing to get inside.

“Raccoons will use their intelligence and know where to use their strength to exploit your home’s weaknesses; their paws allow them to grip and rip into materials commonly found on homes,” says Pearson. “They can tear up the shingles in your roof to get into your attic, and once inside, they can destroy vents, soffits, insulation, and much more while establishing their dens.”

A raccoon hides in a ceiling.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Although they look sweet, raccoons in an attic can cause a lot of damage.

It’s best not to underestimate the havoc raccoons can cause once they are inside a home. For one, the entry holes that raccoons create leave the attic vulnerable to water infiltration, which can quickly lead to mold growth. These holes can also allow easy access for other types of pests such as birds and insects. Once a raccoon is in the house, it can cause further damage by destroying insulation, scratching walls and flooring, and getting into items in storage.

While raccoon attic damage is often expensive or inconvenient to repair, in some cases it can also be dangerous. Raccoons have a tendency to chew through wiring in the attic, which poses a major fire hazard. Additionally, the feces and urine raccoons leave behind can spread disease to humans and pets.

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Protection from the elements and food can lure a raccoon near or into a home.

Raccoons often enter a home for two reasons: protection from outdoor elements and food. Mother raccoons especially will seek shelter if they are caring for newborns. An attic offers raccoons a cool, dry, and comfortable place to live. When a storm or other inclement weather conditions drive a raccoon into a home, it may get so comfortable that it decides to stay.

Food is another factor that lures raccoons into a home. Raccoons have highly sensitive noses, which is why they are often found going through trash looking for food. If a raccoon is locked in on a particular smell, it’ll follow it into a home. Not knowing where it’s headed, it may accidentally get trapped inside an attic looking for the odor.

“Raccoons, like most animals, are attracted to homes and yards that provide a source of food or shelter,” says Pearson. “Raccoons are omnivorous and are not picky when it comes to food. [They] will gladly take garbage and other waste that can oftentimes be found around homes. If you have any easily accessible sources of food in your yard, such as vegetables gardens, compost, outdoor pet food dishes, or, most famously, unsecured trash cans, it is likely you will run into nuisance raccoon issues at some point.”

Homeowners with an infestation may wonder, “Will raccoons leave on their own?” Generally speaking, these pests won’t leave without intervention because they have found food and shelter in the home, allowing them to avoid their natural predators during scavenging.

Homeowners can attempt to deter raccoons with loud noises or bright lights.

Raccoons dislike loud noises and bright lights. Installing an ultrasound animal repeller will keep raccoons and other critters away from a home. These devices transmit sounds inaudible to human ears but are unpleasant to certain animals. Additionally, a motion detector that emits bright lights can be used as a raccoon deterrent. Another option is to apply some natural raccoon repellents such as apple cider vinegar or coyote urine around the attic entrance to keep them away. However, once the raccoons have already established a nest inside, odors may not be an effective enough deterrent.

“Deterrents can be hit or miss; it all depends on the raccoon,” warns Pearson. “Remember, these are very intelligent animals; what works to deter them one day might not work the next. If they want to get into your house, they might try several different ways and look for many different entrance points, so deterrents, both natural and man-made, might not always be effective.” For this reason, it’s usually best to leave raccoon removal to the professionals.

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If there’s a family of raccoons in the attic, make sure you locate and remove the mother and the pups.

Many times, raccoons seek shelter in attics in order to give birth. If pups have already been born by the time the raccoon issue is identified, a mother raccoon is not likely to leave her pups behind willingly. For this reason, it’s important that any removal efforts include both the mother raccoon and all of her pups.

Typically, pups will remain tucked away in a den somewhere in the attic while they are young with the mother venturing out during the day to find food. This can be a good time for a homeowner or a pro to start the removal process. Pups can be placed in a live raccoon trap while the mother is away, essentially becoming bait. It’s important for the person placing the trap to wear thick gloves and long sleeves, especially if they’re handling pups, because even very young raccoons have sharp claws. Once the mother returns and enters the trap with the pups, they can be relocated.

Mother raccoons can be quite defensive. If any part of this process feels intimidating or there is lingering uncertainty about how to get rid of a raccoon problem, it’s best for the homeowner to have a wildlife removal specialist carry out these steps. It’s also a good idea for homeowners to check local regulations regarding trapping, as this practice is not legal in every state.

A close up of a raccoon.
Photo: istockphoto.com

A wildlife removal company can efficiently and humanely get a raccoon out of the attic.

The best way to get rid of unwanted critters is by hiring a professional. One of the best wildlife removal services, like Critter Control or Trutech, will know exactly how to get rid of raccoons safely and humanely. Humane removal companies never use pesticides or other toxins to remove critters. They remove the animals themselves, then make recommendations and perform repairs to prevent future infestations. Homeowners may be tempted to deal with a raccoon issue themselves to keep costs down. While it is possible for a homeowner to remove raccoons themselves, they run the risk of injuring themselves or the animal.

“Raccoons are very dangerous to interact with,” explains Pearson. “Though they are typically shy animals that retreat when they sense nearby humans, many of them are growing more and more accustomed to human interaction as their natural habitats are threatened and decreased.”

She goes on to explain that “They are most likely to behave aggressively if backed into a corner or are in a situation where they are protecting their young. Before attacking, they will try to intimidate you by rounding their backs, sticking their fur out, elevating their tails, jumping repeatedly, and showing off their claws. They’ll also growl, hiss, and shriek at you, in an effort to get you to back off, before they’re forced to physically engage. Even if a raccoon seems cute and friendly, homeowners should never approach them inside or outside their home. At the first sign of a raccoon intrusion, it is recommended to reach out to a wildlife control professional right away.”

A professional removal service knows how to get raccoons out of the attic properly without harming the animal or themselves. The cost of removing an animal from an attic can be anywhere from $200 to $1,500, but homeowners may want to look up “raccoon in attic removal cost near me” to get a sense of prices in their area.

Once the raccoon is removed, seal all entry points and decontaminate the attic.

After removing the raccoon, homeowners will want to ensure that all the entry points that a raccoon could enter are secured. “Seal all vulnerable areas such as roof returns, any loose soffit, and holes that a raccoon might see as a way to enter your home,” advises Pearson. In areas with a high population of raccoons, homeowners also need to make sure that their garbage is secure. Raccoons often will tamper with trash cans while looking for food. This may lead them further inside, causing them to get stuck in an attic. Conveniently, keeping garbage secure and cleaning up the yard is also an effective way to get rid of possums and other nuisance wildlife that may be hanging around the home.

At this point, the attic will need to be decontaminated of all droppings and urine that raccoons have left behind. Animal waste has a foul odor and may also carry disease, so homeowners will want to protect themselves with masks and gloves if they plan on cleaning up the areas themselves.

While droppings can simply be picked or swept up and disposed of, urine may be more challenging to find and clean. Insulation contaminated with raccoon urine will likely need to be replaced. For walls and flooring, it may be necessary to have a professional use strong sanitizing products to neutralize the odor and kill any dangerous bacteria or pathogens that may be lingering. The best cleaning services (such as The Maids or Merry Maids) will have the right tools and cleaning supplies to ensure that the area is as good as new. Homeowners who go this route can expect attic cleaning costs to total between $150 and $1,000 depending on the attic size and the extent of the mess.

Repair any damage to the attic

Repair is one of the most overlooked wildlife removal costs. Even if entry holes have been patched up, more permanent repairs may be necessary to keep raccoons (and other pests for that matter) from getting back inside. Depending on where the raccoons entered, homeowners may need to hire a roofer, siding repair professional, or handyman to seal up the damage.

Additionally, there may be damage inside the attic to take care of. If raccoons have nested in insulation, it may need to be replaced by an insulation installer. Hiring one of the best insulation contractors (such as Dr. Energy Saver) to replace attic insulation costs about $2,500 on average. Any damage to the home’s HVAC system or wiring will also need to be addressed promptly by the appropriate professional.