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How to Get Rid of Ants

Filed Under: Essential Skills, Know-How

Does your home turn into an ant farm once summer rolls around? Here's how to identify common household ants -- and send them marching!

It's not your imagination: summer's heat does tend to lead ants indoors, where they seek food and a cool place to take shelter. The good news is, once you eliminate their creature comforts and devise a bait system that's targeted toward the species under your roof, you'll likely solve your seasonal ant problems once and for all.


Once you figure out the specific species of ants in your home, you can then figure out where they're nesting (inside or out), what's attracting them inside your home, and how best to eradicate them once and for all.

ants, carpenter ant, pharoah ant, thief antClockwise: Carpenter ant (Photo: dimus62, Flickr); Pharoah ant, alive and dead (Photo: Prescription Pest Control); Thief ant (Photo: Michigan State University)

Carpenter Ants: Large (up to a ½-inch long) black or red-and-black worker ants.

What they eat: Meats, honeydew, sugars, jelly. (Contrary to what you may have heard, they don't eat wood, they chew it into sawdust to create tunnels for foraging.)
Where to look for them (indoors): Primarily in the walls. Also, in attic beams, roofing materials, insulation, behind bathroom tile, around bathtubs, sinks, showers, and dishwashers, inside doors and curtain rods.
What to do: First, find the nest -- exterminators recommend following the insects' path (especially at night, because they're nocturnal; use a flashlight to see where they're entering your house from outside); they'll lead you directly to their nest. Then treat the nest directly. The least toxic method is to use carpenter ant baits, strategically placed near the nest. An insecticide meant specifically for carpenter ants, like Terro Ant Killer Dust, is an effective, non-aerosol solution; use it in or near the nest.

Pharaoh Ants: Small (about 1/16-inch long), light yellow to red workers with darker thoraxes. (If you're seeing more and more tiny ants, even in winter, they're probably Pharaohs.)

What they eat: Grease, fat, sweets, toothpaste, soap, foods other ants don't usually go for. They're also attracted to water sources in bathrooms and kitchens.
Where to look for them: Only indoors, because they're a tropical species; in walls, appliances, linens, and heating ducts, behind walls, countertops, baseboards, and light switches and fixtures, and near moisture. Nests are notoriously hard to find.
What to do: Pharaoh ants live in large colonies, and when they detect poison, they pick up their nests and scatter throughout the house (this phenomenon is called budding). Because of this response, it can be hard to get rid of these ants yourself; you'd have to bait the nest itself, and anywhere else the ants might choose to nest when they flee. You can try using a bait like MaxForce in various corners of the home and hope for the best, or you can call a pro.

Thief Ants (a.k.a. Grease Ants): Very, very small (1/20-inch long) yellow to light brown workers. Often confused with Pharaoh ants, they curl up into a ball when they die.

What they eat: Greasy foods, peanut butter, cheese, meat, nuts, sweets.
Where to look for them (indoors): Under counters, behind walls and baseboards, in cabinets. As with Pharaohs', their nests are also hard to find.
What to do: Since they usually come in from the outside, you can effectively treat your home's perimeter to control them in a variety of natural ways, or place baits near hotspots of activity. If you know the nest is inside, you can best solve the problem with bait that's marketed to destroy grease-feeding ants, like MaxForce granules.

Although ants seem like a scourge we'd like to do anything to eradicate, it's healthiest for your family and pets to try non-toxic alternatives (which are actually highly effective) before bringing pesticides into the home. After all, your home should be a safe-haven not a no-fly zone. Here's a recipe for natural ant bait:

In a small, unlidded plastic bottle, combine ½-teaspoon boric acid, honey, and aspartame (artificial sweetener) and set on its side as a trap for unwanted visitors. Intruders will be attracted to the sweetness, but must traipse through the all-natural borax to get to it, which when brought back to the nest, will destroy colony members' exoskeletons. It's important to keep borax away from kids and pets; although it's relatively harmless, it shouldn't be ingested.

In most cases, you'll need to reach the root of the problem (i.e. the nest) and destroy the queen to get rid of the whole colony. Nests can usually be located by following trails, or movement patterns, of foraging ants.

While it might be tempting squash the ten-odd soldiers that take a wrong turn onto your kitchen sill, live ants are actually attracted to the scent of dead brethren and will come running by the dozens to come collect the carcasses. Try instead to work toward an ant-free home with these everyday practices:

-- Store food properly: Store staples in airtight containers, wiping down countertops; seal up and immediately storing leftovers; regularly vacuum up pets' food niblets; don't leave dirty dishes in the sink.

-- Manage your waste: Take out the trash frequently (every day, if you can) and rinse recyclables before storing.

-- Seal up openings: If you see an ant column (a line) of ants, follow it to its beginning, and seal up the entry point, and any cracks and crevices around it, with caulk. No caulk? Use petroleum jelly. Then vacuum up the workers with a cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter. Vacuuming (as opposed to squashing) prevents ants from releasing the chemicals that alert other workers to their demise. Safely dispose of the bag immediately. Wipe up leftover chemical trails (just go along where they were walking) with a mild soap-and-water solution.

-- Block the perimeter: Draw a chalk – yes, chalk – line around windows and doorways; ants looking to invade from the outdoors won't cross the line.

-- Find a nest: Bait a pill-bottle cap with a dab of peanut butter, jelly or bacon grease. Stand watch and follow the critters back to their lair.

-- Guard the pantry: Dip a few bay leaves in mouthwash, let dry, and place haphazardly on shelves to repel ants and keep them from raiding the sugar, flour and paprika.

Clean countertops: Use a vinegar-and-water solution (mix one, equal parts, and store in a spray bottle) as your go-to multipurpose surface cleaner; ants despise vinegar and it's a powerful all-natural disinfectant.

Doing these things meticulously and relentlessly for three to seven days should reduce the numbers of workers marching indoors to forage for sustenance. Keep in mind that ants are inclined to follow chemical trails laid down by other ants who've found food in the past. In time, trails will go cold.

Of course, if you've got bigger problems (i.e. you suspect a nest is hidden behind a wall) ant removal may best be left to a reputable pest management pro, because the application of an insecticidal dust via small, drilled holes may be the only way to go. While baits could work in this case, as workers feed on its contents and take it back to the hidden nest, they act slowly, and may take up to several months to work their magic. Remember: different ant species are attracted to different bait.

  • RallyG

    Fantastik kills the little buggers instantly. Better than poisons. Spray it on and the ants are dead, period.

  • julius

    I poured a mix of vinegar and water in the grass by my deck .It killed the grass in that area and nothing has grown there in 3 years.Even weeds don't grow in that spot. Be very careful were you spray or pour vinegar.

  • Marcia

    I came home from work and found a whole swarm of ants on the counter by the kitchen sink. They were also in the sink. I pulled out my clorox kitchen wipes and the ants died almost instantly. I put a small ant trap at the location where they were the thickest. (Not near any food). The next day I had about 10% of the original swarm. The 3rd day I had only 5 or 6 ants. I've cleaned with the clorox once a day, but have resisted doing it everytime I saw the ants. I want them to take the bait back to there nest. It has now been 4 days and I have not seen ant yet today. The clorox wipes along with spray were super.

  • Debby

    4O9 does the same thing. I thought it was just 4O9 but apparently any of your favorite window cleaners will do just fine.

  • Chris

    Salt works WONDERS, Sprinkle salt on them, they run, tell others to run, and never come back for years. Trust me. I show everyone who has an ant problem this, and gon. In a couple days you cannot find an ant near your house. For 69 cents, sprinkle salt lighly arond your house, but only on concret or wet the wall and toss salt on it to dry. Your ant problem wil vanish garuteed.

  • sam-e

    well yes because that contains chemicals. i have tried cinnamon and it makes my house smell good as well. try oatmeal because they take it to their colony, eat it, and it expands in their tummy thus causing them to explode .

  • irishfizzz

    I use pepper....make a barrier line where they are coming in and they will leave. While later, no ants. Non toxic, earth friendly, and cheap. Works for me!

  • Denver Singleton

    The article is correct.Terro ant killer is the best.I use the small liquid bottle and put a couple drops on the cut off cardboard square that comes with it and the ants take the bait back to the queen and they are gone by the next day.Terro is cheap and non-toxic to pets.

  • Dave

    TRY PEPPERMINT OIL found at a health food store . I had alot of ants end up in my mail box. Read about peppermint oil went out and got some. Put a drop on a cotton ball and placed in mailbox. and next day not one ant.

  • fluffi

    We have black ants under the deck. How do you get rid of something you can't see? Can't pour vinegar over the whole deck.

  • bam bam

    We had the teeny tiny ones - but lots of them - what finally worked was baby powder. They disappeared about 2 weeks ago and they haven't returned. I'm hoping it killed the colony.

  • Will N

    Use hairspray it also kills them. ANd pour salt into their nests, it also works.

  • EVE

    all these remedies sound good, and i will use them. the salt and vinegar is amazing. BUT DOES ANY BODY KNOW HOW TO RID FIRE ANTS. no sooner i get rid of one nest , they more to another, thank you

  • csoto1947

    Peppermint oil on a cotton ball is also an excellent natural deterrent for rodents. Just drop the cotton ball with Pep Oil into their holes or crevices around your house where they enter.

  • cricketke

    My mom found peppermint oil to work, so she planted peppermint around her house. That doesn't work. The ants are all over the plants!

  • stephani

    Try boiling the plant leaves and tossing the water on the ants or where you want to keep them away from. Boiling should release the oils.? I wish I could get one of these methods to work for me. I pour 50 pounds of DE powder on the patio and they are right in it eating the cats food. They just go right thru it. NEVER buy 'garden grade' DE, buy the real McCoy, the kind used in swimming pools, the big crystals work to kill bugs not the garden grade crap. BTW, 'non toxic' bug powers are mostly DE.


    What I did was to put a bit of food in the middle of the kitchen sink overnight. The next morning, the whole colony was in the sink and I poured hot water on them. I didn't see them for about five days after that. I think that doing this plus wiping down the counters with vinegar may make it permanent.


    Windex or a generic copy kills ants instantly and removes their trails also, although it doesn't prevent them from returning because the active ingredients evaporate.

  • Mark

    Another natural method to kill ants is to pour corn meal at or near their nest. They take it back to their nest, eat it and are killed.

  • Walter

    I have not had ants around my house for over 2 years now. I make bait traps using small plastic cups with lids, so dogs,cat or other animals cannot access the granuales. I put small holes in the side big enough for the ants to enter. I sprinkel about 50 granual of "GRANTS" ant grauales in the cup and place them around the perimeter of the house and yard. The ants take the bait to the nest where it wipes out the entire colony. I purchased the "Grants" ant granuales at Armstrong Nursery. Home Depot , Lowes or Ace Hardware does not carry this product. "GRANTS" ant grauales cost about $ 12.00, but will last for years. I reset the bait traps about every 4 months


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