How to Get Rid of Ants
Ants are persistent pests. An infestation can be hard to control because of the nature of the insect, but there are specific steps you can take to get an ant problem under control. With the right ant killer and some simple preventative measures, you can stamp out ants and keep them out of your home all year round. This guide will teach you how to get rid of ants with some basic identification and application of chemical or natural treatments.
Ant activity spikes in the spring and fall. Changes in weather, including heavy rains or drought, can drive ants indoors looking for more hospitable areas in which to live. They can enter through any small opening in the home, and if you see one, more will soon follow.
Though small individually, an invasion of ants can cause all kinds of household problems. They can contaminate food and spread diseases, and some biting and stinging ants produce allergic reactions in humans and pets. Further, some species of ants can cause structural damage and chew through household wiring.
There can be some identification confusion between ants and termites; the two seem similar upon initial encounter, but a closer look can reveal exactly which of the pests you are taxed with.
- Have slender waists and bent antennae
- Have longer legs
- In winged specimens, front wings are longer than back wings
- Have thick waists and straight antennae
- Have shorter legs
- In winged specimens, both pairs of wings are the same length
Because ants swarm, once you have an infestation, they can be difficult to dislodge. It takes vigilance and a combination of treatments using both home and perimeter insect control, but an ant problem can typically be resolved within a week or two. Follow-up prevention is key to ensure that they do not return.
Ant baits work well as an indoor treatment because ants are social creatures. They will bring the bait back to the colony to share, which will help destroy the colony. It is important to check insect traps regularly and refresh them periodically to ensure they continue to be effective. Baits have the added advantage of being easy to place and relatively mess-free.
Some ants are more attracted to sweets and some to fats and oils. To ensure you have the broadest range of attractants, use both carb-based and protein-based bait traps. Baits can be placed in an area where you have seen ant activity in the home, but do not place them directly on an ant trail; ants will avoid bait traps placed in this manner. Place a bait trap near areas of activity and in spots that are likely to attract ants. Try placing them near drains, in kitchen cabinets, under the stove and refrigerator, and anywhere there are wall openings, such as around pipes and wall outlets.
Sprays can be used indoors to supplement baiting; in the event that ants already have an established food supply indoors, they may ignore baits. It is best to use a non-repellent ant spray to keep the ants from detecting the spray, allowing them to walk through the treated areas and pick up the product on their bodies so they can transport it back to the colony. A non-repellent spray will usually not kill on contact and will take more time to begin killing ants, but it will ultimately be more devastating to the colony over the long term as it spreads and infects more ants.
Apply sprays into crevices along baseboards and around all openings in the home such as windows, doors frames and patio sliders.
Outdoor ant populations must be kept under control to prevent them from moving inside. Outdoor ant baits are a viable option to help control outdoor ant activity that’s happening around your yard, but ants won’t always prefer the same type of bait, so it is best to use both liquid bait and ant granules. Place bait stations near ant trails and check and refresh the bait on a weekly basis.
Ant killer sprays kill on contact, but only about 20% of an ant colony will venture outside. This leaves the vast majority of the colony intact. This means more frequent re-treatment will be needed to fully eliminate an ant problem. A better spray option is a non-repellent spray formulated for outdoor use. Ants will be less likely to avoid spots where these sprays are applied and transport them back to the colony.
To apply, choose a dry day without much wind. Spray liberally around the perimeter of the yard and any outdoor structures, such as sheds, barns or detached garages. Lightly spray closer to the home as well, concentrating around the home’s foundation and any external openings where pipes or wiring might run into the home.
- Good for even coverage over large areas
- Highly effective in concentrate form
- Allows poison to be carried back to nests
- Effective - particles drop into the soil
- Kills on contact
- Easy to use
When considering how to get rid of ants, remember that there are a number of natural ant remedies that are reported to be effective when consistently applied. If you prefer to avoid chemical treatments, a combination of home remedies for ants may help get rid of an ant infestation, though the process may take more time. Remember that while it can be helpful to find natural products to aid in ant prevention, a large-scale infestation may require the use of more stringent ant killers.
Diatomaceous Earth. As with other insects, diatomaceous earth (DE) works to kill ants by lacerating their hard exoskeletons and dehydrating them. Obtain food-grade DE, as other types will not be as effective. Apply DE in thin layers in hard-to-reach areas between cabinets.
Borax. Borax is odorless and thus less likely to be avoided by ants. A popular DIY ant lure is a mixture of one part borax to three parts powdered sugar. Even though borax has a low toxicity, avoid placing the mixture where it is easily accessible to pets and children, such as under appliances and inside cabinets.
Ants that are more attracted by proteins can also be snared with a borax-based mixture. Combine a large spoonful of peanut butter with a tablespoon of powdered sugar and a teaspoon of borax. Mix thoroughly and create a lure by pressing the mixture into a short open tube like a piece of a drinking straw. Leave this near ant trails and refresh the bait every couple of days.
Safety: Do not apply DE or boric acid to counters, open or drafty areas or anywhere food is prepared. Apply in thin layers and wipe up any visible residue immediately. Always read and follow label directions for safe use of any pesticide.
Food-Based Repellents. Some foods make effective ant repellent and, since they are completely non-toxic, can be advantageous to use in households with pets and small children where accidental ingestion may be a concern.
Straight white vinegar makes a great ant spray. You can saturate ant trials to kill on contact, or spray counters and other areas and either wipe up after a few minutes or allow the treatment to dry in place. The acid in vinegar kills ants and disrupts their scent trails, making it harder for more ants to follow the path.
Spices with strong fragrances such as cinnamon, red pepper and mint can drive ants away from areas of infestation. Sprinkle the substances where you see heavy activity and particularly around doorways and windows. Coffee grounds can be similarly effective in driving ants out but seem to work best in transition areas such as around porches, patios and garages.
Cucumber and citrus fruit peels contain chemical compounds similar to those used in some ant repellents. Placing cucumber, lemon or orange skins near areas of ant activity can quickly encourage the insects to move on.
Ant infestations can be mitigated with the use of products, but treatment alone will only temporarily clear up the problem. To make sure ants don’t return, you must take preventative measures to support the effectiveness of your selected treatment methods.
Clean up outdoors. Regular and thorough outdoor maintenance can help keep ants at bay.
- Trim back foliage, shrubs and low-hanging tree branches so that they do not touch the house and offer ants a pathway indoors.
- Rake mulch and landscape materials back to clear a 6-inch zone around the base of the house.
- Remove grass clippings, leaf and wood piles and any fallen ripe fruit from the grounds to eliminate places ants might try to harbor.
- Store outdoor trash and recycle bins at least 10 feet from the house and wash them every few weeks with a strong ammonia solution to keep them cleaned out.
- Keep gutters and downspouts free of debris; this also eliminates a source of standing water which might attract ants.
Keep indoor areas clean and food-free. Limiting ants’ access to food will encourage them to move out. This may require taking additional steps beyond your normal cleaning routine.
- Deep clean your microwave regularly and wipe the interior daily.
- Clean out the inside of toasters and toaster ovens and empty and wipe the crumb tray after each use.
- Clean the inside and outside of indoor garbage cans. Use can liners and keep lids tightly closed.
- Clean floors under large appliances like the refrigerator or stove more often.
- Clean up spills or overflow on the stove as soon as possible before it has a chance to set.
- Store opened dry goods like cereal, grains or sugar in airtight containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Keep produce and bread in the refrigerator rather than on countertops.
- Clean the outside of condiment jars and ensure pantry shelves are kept clean. If you have an active ant problem, consider placing condiment jars inside resealable plastic bags.
Eliminate standing water. Easily accessible water will encourage ants, so take steps to dry up any areas water may gather.
- Dry out sinks and tubs every evening and cover the drain hole with a cap or stopper.
- Wring dry kitchen rags and sponges and hang outside to dry or store overnight in a sealed plastic bag or container.
- Keep the condensation drip pan under the refrigerator emptied and dried out.
- Check under sinks and around appliances for any leaks; if you find any unusually wet areas, you may need to call a professional for assessment and repair.