Q: When we turned on our gas oven after not using it for a while, there was a disgusting smell that a friend identified as mouse pee. We’ve dealt with the mice, but even though we thoroughly cleaned underneath and behind the stove, the smell is still there when the oven is on. Our friend says the mice got into the insulation and that we’ll have to buy a new stove. Is there anything we can do? If we do have to buy a new stove, is there a way to prevent this from happening again? — A.S., North Salem
A: Well, ick. I know that smell, and it’s a doozy. I called a few appliance specialists in Westchester for advice, but couldn’t find anyone who’d heard of such a problem. So I turned to Earl B. Feiden, a family owned appliance store in Kingston, Ulster County. The gentleman who answered the phone said my earlier contacts were “just being la-di-dah,” as mice moving into stoves is fairly common in rural areas.
Then he put me through to Tim in the service department, who elaborated. “If you live in the country, no matter how clean your home is, chances are you’ll have field mice at some point. They gravitate to a place that’s warm,” he explains, and the pilot light on a gas stove beckons your average rodent like a cozy fireside. The insulation that encases the oven is warm, too — a ready-made nest. Sadly, mice are not fussy about poo and pee in their homes, and once they’ve soiled the insulation, which they do on day one, “that smell is permanent,” Tim says.
If you’re handy, he continues, “you might be able to disassemble the stove and see how bad it is. On some models, you can take the side panels off; others you have to go down through the top. You may be able to remove the affected insulation without causing any compromise. Depending on the make and model, you can replace the oven insulation,” if the damage is widespread. If you’re willing to tackle this, you’ll probably have to disconnect the fittings, so it can be complicated, Tim notes. “Even for a qualified technician, it’s a time-consuming job.” One fairly quick possibility: see if there’s a removable metal protection plate directly above the bottom drawer — mice often nest there.
If you’re forced to buy a new stove (which is likely), the best way to prevent a recurrence is to keep the mice out of your home. Tim says he’s not aware of any mouse-proof stove. He was also against the idea of covering the air intake holes behind the oven with window screen. “Those holes are designed for proper air flow,” he cautions.
Mice can get through a quarter-inch gap, so block all possible entrances — like the tiny space around electrical and gas lines for example — with wads of steel wool. Rodents dislike peppermint, so cotton balls soaked with peppermint oil left on the floor behind the stove might help if a mouse gets in.
As with all other topics on the planet, the mouse-in-stove dilemma is being batted about online by fellow sufferers. One successful stove dis-assembler added new insulation and sprinkled it liberally with cayenne pepper to repel any future rodent. The smell of the cayenne pepper faded fast, he reports, and so far, so good.