Mice are invading Minnesota homes, sending exasperated and sometimes embarrassed residents in search of poison, traps and repellents.

“Almost every fifth person coming into our stores is looking for mouse poison,” Mike Frattallone, part owner of 21 Ace Hardware stores in the Twin Cities, said this week.

As temperatures slide down and Minnesotans admire fall colors, mice are scurrying about in search of a nice, comfortable place to spend the winter. Although they can get inside anytime during the year, they’re more likely to come in when they’re stressed — when it’s too hot, too wet or too cold, said Todd Leyse, part owner of Adam’s Pest Control.

Warmer winters probably have helped bolster their population, making for more problems for more people, Leyse said. The number of “mouse jobs” he gets have increased over the past decade.

The annual mice migration into homes usually picks up in October and November. “There’s still food outside now, so they come and go,” he said. “They hoard food, storing it in walls. But when it gets really cold, they’ll just stay inside.”

Homeowners might not see any mouse activity for a few weeks, he said. And then suddenly there will appear to be a population explosion, with the critters venturing farther inside for food, darting about because they don’t want to be seen, Leyse said.

“They take little naps, so they’re up day and night,” he said. “They like dark and quiet.”

The ewww factor quickly multiplies.

Mice excrete roughly 50 droppings a day, pee wherever they go and reproduce every five weeks, adding five to seven babies to the local population, Leyse said. The rodents can infest your food, chew through wires and spread disease, he said.

“People should respect the mouse and deal with the issue because it tends to get worse fast,” he said. “Don’t assume that there’s just a pair of them and that they’ll move out by spring.”

Talking about an infestation is difficult for many people, Frattallone said. They’re almost ashamed that their house has attracted mice, he said.

“[Customers] come into the store, and they don’t want to say what it is. They’re almost quiet about,” he said. “They’re grossed out; they’re frustrated. Honest to God, we feel like we’re psychologists. We take them by the hand and say, ‘You are one of thousands who have come in this week. … No one is alone. I have it. Everyone has it.’ ”

There’s no shame in having mice, he said. They need only a small hole or crack — an opening as small as a pencil — to wriggle their way into a home.

Here’s what to do

The first prong of an anti-mice attack: Plug up holes with caulk and push steel wool into larger openings. “They don’t like chewing through steel wool, but if they do, you’ll see where they’re coming through,” Frattallone said.

In an effort to discourage entry, some homeowners add repellents to their arsenal, including products that contain peppermint oil, which seems to repulse the rodents. Frattallone said such products are better used outdoors or in rooms that are closed off. Otherwise, “it’s going to smell like Christmas for months,” he said.

Next step: Get rid of the mice that have moved in.

“Some people feel too guilty about killing them,” Frattallone said. “We tell them to get over it. I’m not a fan of killing things, but you can’t just capture them, take them out into your yard and let them go. They’re just going to come right back in. If it’s winter, they’re just going to freeze to death anyway.”

So it’s just a matter of picking your poison — literally. Some customers choose the poison route because “you don’t see them when they’re dead,” Frattallone said.

Some homeowners rely on cats to hunt and rid the house of the unwanted rodents. Others choose from various traps that kill, including ones that keep the dead mouse out of view.

“The trap indicates something is in there, but you don’t have to see it,” Frattallone said.

The bottom line: Do something, preferably a combination of poison, traps and repellents, he said.

“You just have to attack and go at it full force for the next two weeks instead of having to deal with it over the next four months,” he said.

And for those who don’t like the do-it-yourself idea, a pest control professional can be hired at a cost of $220 to $300 to eradicate the problem, Leyse said.

“Mice just aren’t that cute,” he said. “The only mice I like are named Mickey and Minnie.”