A couple of years ago, while investigating an unpleasant smell in my garage, I discovered that one mouse had passed away and the rest of the family had apparently shown up for the wake.

Some of them decided to raise a winter litter, shredding books, old tax returns and other papers of mine in order to make their nests.

Needless to say, I wanted my garage vermin-free. But how to get rid of the creatures without using poison or cruel and messy spring or glue traps?

I talked to Humane Wildlife Control, a pest control company based in the San Francisco Bay Area, for answers. The company uses only animal-friendly methods endorsed by The Humane Society of the United States to rid houses of mice and other unwanted wildlife. Here’s what the owners recommend.

Related: Natural Ways to Bug-Proof Your Home

Seal up every hole, nook and cranny in the house. Since mice don’t have collarbones they can fit through holes about the size of their tiny skulls, so screen your windows and shore up any holes that might provide an entryway into your house (or, as the pest company calls it, “intrusion points”). If you like to leave the back door open on summer days, invest in a screen door.

“Your goal should be to make your home like an eggshell, breathable but nothing can get in,” says co-owner Rebecca Dmytryk Titus. “Once that’s done and done well, and when the animals are finally removed, you won’t have any trouble for years upon years, and you won’t need to be sticking stuff in drawers and cabinets.”

Other experts have suggested filling interior holes first and waiting a few days to plug up exterior holes so mice in the walls have a chance to escape.

Clean up your act. Make a point to vacuum, put food in the cabinet in varmint-proof containers and clean up crumbs that might be attracting rodents in the first place. If you have to clean up after your unwanted guests, which can carry disease, federal health agencies recommend you wear an N95 respirator mask and gloves.

Trap any remaining mice in live traps and release them outside. Some alternative pest control advice on the Internet suggests taking mice 300 feet to a mile from the house before releasing them. The owners of Humane Wildlife Control disagree.

“In California the relocation of wildlife is prohibited for good reasons because the animals don’t survive; they try to get back to the home,” says Titus. “I keep going back to this, but it’s critical to shore up your home and make sure nothing can get in. Once you’ve done that, you just put the mice outside. You wouldn’t need to move them anywhere except just outside the front door if the exclusion has been done right.”

Related: How to Compost Without Attracting Pests

Use essential oils to discourage mice from coming back. Some alternative pest control companies recommend putting peppermint oil on cotton balls and putting them around doorways to discourage mice, which apparently dislike the smell of mint.

“We’ve found that peppermint oil can be effective,” says Titus, “but we find that citronella essential oil seems to work best.”

If you’re going to paint your house, she says, consider adding NBS-30 (a combination of essential oils) to the paint.

Try ultrasonics. Experiment with a store-bought ultrasonic sound machine to frighten off mice if you like, Titus says, “but get the ones that have either alternating or multiple sounds and different frequencies.” Apparently mice get used to the same frequency after a while.

Avoid mothballs. Some homeowners who dislike mousetraps will use mothballs to drive away mice. “Unfortunately [the advice about mothballs] is out there on the Internet, and it’s really bad news because this is toxic,” says Titus. “We’ve had people tell us that they’ve experienced severe headaches and nausea.” She also recommends against “horrible” sticky traps or rodent poisons such as anticoagulants, pointing out they pose a threat to pets and children as well as the environment.

Think twice before playing cat-and-mouse. Getting a cat for mouse control is not a good idea, says Titus. “When someone thinks, ‘I’m just going to go and get a cat to solve my mouse problem,’ they’re exposing the cat to diseases that wild animals carry. Plus, if the cat gets hold of a mouse that a neighbor has poisoned with an anticoagulant, the cat could die. We really want people to stay away from anticoagulants because it’s doing such damage to our wild predators as well as dogs and cats.”

Related: Hidden Dangers of Unusual Pets

Don’t forget to protect your garage and car. In some garages, mice get into car engines and chew up wiring, glove boxes, hoses and insulation. In case plugging up holes in your garage doesn’t get rid of the pests, “we do have a trick,” says Titus. She suggests a DIY project that involves building a rodent-proof corral out of 2 by 4’s and metal flashing that covers the boards and is about 2 feet high.

After you finish the rodent-proof corral, “you just pull your car into that area and close it off,” Titus says. “You have to open one side of it (and close it once your car is in), but once you do that they cannot get in. Spend one weekend doing this and you’ll never have another problem.”

And that’s good. Living in harmony with nature is one thing, but no one wants to find droppings in the car or tiny footprints in the butter dish.

Luke James is a freelance writer and musician who writes about music, soccer, kids, pets and life with his family in northern California.