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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.

IDENTIFY THE ANT

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.

NATURAL ANT CONTROL
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.

PREVENT FUTURE ANT INFESTATIONS
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.

WHEN TO CALL A PRO
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.


  • Debby

    is there a website on the container? I am VERY interested in this product. I have an elderly kitty and the neighbors have cats as well and we ALL live on a giant ant hill. If this works, we are all beholden to you. if you could answer this post, that would be great.


  • 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

    Reply
  • KG

    To date; it's been two summers that I haven't seen the little critters around the sink.. I have used heavy strength commercial pine oil and let it seep around the perimeter of the window sill and sink. I do use the pine oil and pepperonchino(red pepper flakes) around my garden and tree so the animals don't urinate or poop on it. I couldn't stand the smell of animal urine or poop around the house when opening windows or coming out of the door to sit on the porch. I love animals, don't own any since the children are grown and on their own, but don't want the smell permiating into my home either.

    Reply
  • Carroll Peterson

    PAM cooking spray kills them instantly and they never come back where it is sprayed. It is oily and smothers them, as well as not being poison.


  • Ashley

    I always pour a couple teaspoons of uncooked cream of wheat cereal where I see a large group of them or close to the nest. The ants take it back to their nest and when they eat the small granules it expands inside their stomaches and they die. It has never failed me. I do this indoors and out. It usually only takes a day, sometimes two before they are completely gone. It is an easy mess to clean up and I love that I don't have to use harsh chemicals.

    Reply
  • Debby

    If you have problems with moles in your yard, put mothballs in the mole trails and they will run for the hills. It doesn't kill them but they definitely won't come back..

    Reply
  • Rob

    We had ants going for the jar of honey in a kitchen cabinet. We cleaned the cabinet out with Formula 409 and washed off the jar, then put the honey back sealed in a ziplock bag. The attraction was gone, and so were the ants.

    Reply
  • arterrainc

    All species of ants (and tons of other pests) are killed and repelled by Greenbug All Natural Pest Control Products. Fire Ants, Sugar Ants, Carpenter Ants - you name whatever kind of ant and Greenbug is 100% effective using completely safe, totally natural ingredients. Greenbug is the best - I will never use anything else - especially not toxic chemicals! Greenbug can be used in the kitchen, in a nursery - anywhere - with no worries! Get it online at www.greenbugallnatural.com

    Reply
  • Gail

    Thank you! Being able to order it online really helps. I have those tiny little ones in my house that come through the windows and through all of the outlets. They go anywhere they want! Waiting for winter to come will not work as I live in Hawaii. I will try it on the fire ants that have nests in the park six blocks away. I may have to explain what I am doing to a cop. Thanks again, Arterrainc.


  • arterrainc

    Greenbug All Natural Pest Control Products (get them online at www.greenbugallnatural.com) are 100% effective and completely safe. Use it anywhere on every species of ants - it is the best! It kills ants right away AND repels future ants. Greenbug All Natural Pest Control Products is a gift from Nature!

    Reply
  • Ant Farm Ants

    Ok All ants are not bad though. We have the small ants constantly coming in our house through the cracks during the summer months and it actually increases when it is raining a bunch. I guess this floods the colony.

    What we tried to do is save some of the live ants and set up an ant farm from http://www.insectkits.com

    Well that did not go so good in the gel ant farm. What happend is the small guys escaped through the breathing holes.

    So we decided to try the western harvester ants and here is the funny thing. These guys are huge and some of the smaller ants would come from the outside and get back into it. they would eat a little gel and get on out before being eaten.

    Reply
  • ericca

    I had ants in my kitchen when I first moved into my little old house. I bought a big plastic toy ant and set it in my kitchen. Never had another problem with ants after that 13 years later! Still have the big plastic ant balanced on the curtain rod over my kitchen sink.

    Reply
  • Juggernaut

    Problem w/ moles? Myback yard looked like an underground wire panel! Got 2 outdoor cats..... no moles.

    Reply
  • MJ

    I had the same problem. Moles, chipmunk, and voles. Took in two feral cats, No problem now.,


  • NimbleLimber

    Sorry, vinegar didn't do a thing for my ants; they crawled right over it as if it wasn't there. The only thing that killed them and/or made them go away was Borax, obtainable from Wal-Mart. The recipe is 70% pancake mix, 20 % Borax, and 10% powdered sugar. Spread on small strips of stiff paper (change when mix dries out, about every 5 days). I promise this works. I tried baby powder, black pepper, cinnamon, etc. These things produced some success in driving them away, but they always came back. Finally they invaded, by the hundreds; that's when I knew I had to kill them!

    Reply
  • Ray

    gentlemens this company doesn't pay me for advertising,but the only thing the really kill almost every kind of ant is. AMDRO ANTBLOKER,Please read the instructions

    Reply
  • BILL R

    SPECTRACIDE WORKS GREAT HAS TRIAZICIDE INSECT KILLER ITS LIKE A GIANT SALT SHAKER JUST SPRINK AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME AND THEIR GONE THIS STUFF KILLS ALOT OF BUGS TICKS AND FLEAS. ANY QUESTIONS THEIR #IS 1-800-917-5438 AND THERE WEB SIGHT IS WWW.SPECTRACIDE.COM HOPE THIS HELPS

    Reply
  • Scott

    Plant and Grow Peppermint Plant's near your backdoor or wherever you have or have had Ant's, the Ant's would cross the Peppermint!, beside, the Peppermint Smell's Great!, you can Make Peppermint Tea with it, Home Made Peppermint Ice Cream as well!. :-D

    Reply
  • Chris

    Salt. That is the best thing for ants. They hate it. They go tell all the other ants to stay clear. Trust me. It wroks for 5 years with a little salt on them.

    Reply
  • jgoetz9174

    True! Ants don't like vinegar becasue of the "acetic acid" in it. Ants bodies are designed with "picric acid". Not a good mixture for them.

    Reply

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