If they’re on the march inside your home, you’ll likely be asking how to get rid of ants. Often they’re simply a nuisance, but some can cause structural damage while others could sting.
Ants generally build nests outside, but food and moisture can attract them inside, making tackling these insects necessary. The good news is that proven cleaning tips can keep them at bay, along with common pantry ingredients, while commercial products can eradicate them.
We’ve got the lowdown on how to get rid of ants here, plus the experts’ guidance on keeping your home ant-free.
How to get rid of ants
Ants are very common, and like fruit flies, are likely to be a nuisance in summer. ‘In nature, ants usually nest in many areas including under mulch, under stones, in log piles, under concrete slabs and even in trees and bushes,’ says Eric Benson PhD, extension entomologist with Clemson University cooperative extension. ‘Some ant colonies can have many nests at one time with many queens. Colonies can be huge, numbering into millions of workers. Other colonies can be small, but if the small colonies are in numerous locations, they can also be a challenge to control if they become a pest.’
Water and a wide variety of food attract ants, he explains, and when that brings them inside it’s important to know how to get rid of ants. These are the options.
1. How to get rid of ants by removing food sources
If you’ve had an invasion of ants, put off any return visits by cutting off their food supply. ‘Close all food containers and regularly clean the cabinet/pantry shelves,’ recommends Alice Sinia, PhD, quality assurance manager of regulatory/lab services for Orkin Canada who performs analytical entomology and technical support in pest/insect identification. ‘Then, wipe all countertops regularly, and vacuum and mop the floors regularly to clean up any food crumbs and stains.’
Make sure to shut trash cans tightly and, once pets have eaten, pick up the bowls immediately and rinse them out. If you come across a single ant or just a few, squish them.
Think water as well as food. ‘Correct any moisture problems inside and outside the home,’ says Eric Benson.
2. How to get rid of ants by stopping them entering
As well as taking away the food and water ants are seeking, pay attention to where they are coming in. ‘Ants are more likely to enter the home if you have potential entry points such as cracks and crevices in walls or in your home’s foundation,’ says Alice Sinia.
‘Seal any cracks or holes using caulk to prevent more ants from invading the home. During the summer, trim tree branches or shrubs that may be touching your house, as unmaintained trees and shrubs provide the ideal bridge for ants to get into your home.’
3. How to get rid of ants with pantry ingredients
Ants use pheromones to follow each other along a route, so a natural way to get rid of them is to disrupt them with scent. Fill a spray bottle with a mix of one part vinegar to one part water and use it to spritz surfaces. The strong scent of lemon will also repel them or try peppermint or tea tree oil sprinkled on to cotton wool balls and placed in their pathway. Another option to try is spray-on glass cleaner mixed with liquid detergent.
‘Black pepper or cayenne pepper deters ants,’ says Megan Wede, co-owner of Done Right Pest Solutions. ‘Ants do not like powders. Even if you use it as a barrier around your home, the ants won’t cross over the line of pepper. That said, it will blow away or wash away in weather, but you could try it inside your home. Cinnamon deters ants as well and it smells better to us.’
4. How to get rid of ants with organic killers
If you want to go the organic route, there are sprays made from plant extracts designed to kill all stages of ants, their eggs and the nest. Powders made of crushed sea fossils will kill ants by desiccation. These can be puffed into cracks, crevices, gaps and holes where ants may be living inside the house or outside in the yard.
5. How to get rid of ants with ant bait
Ant bait looks like a banquet to unsuspecting foraging ants. ‘Follow the trail to identify the entry point, or place ant bait along the trail,’ says Thomas Marbut, corporate trainer and general manager at Mosquito Squad. ‘Ant bait is available at most grocery or hardware stores and functions as bait that the ants carry back to the colony, which then poisons the ants and reduces the population.’
You might have to repeat the process once a week to get results. Keep this out of the way of kids and pets. A safe route is to choose a pre-baited pack of gel, which you can place at a strategic point, ensuring that no-one touches the bait within. If you’re comfortable with using chemical insecticides around the house, sprays and aerosols can zap ants wherever you see them crawling around. Chemical ant killers also come as powder form, in a puffer pack.
Should I get rid of ants in the backyard?
Ants get a bad press but as part of the eco-system they have benefits for the garden. Their nests aerate the soil, and they make a tasty snack for birds and other insects. Unless they’re causing a nuisance, it’s best to leave them be.
‘There are hundreds of species of ants in North America,’ explains Eric Benson. ‘Most ants are beneficial in the environment. In fact, many native ant species help control pest ants that try to establish in yards and invade homes. If possible, don’t use broad-spectrum insecticide sprays in the yard that kills all insects, including beneficial ants. If you kill beneficial ants, eventually new ants will move back into the yard and the new ants are likely to be pest ants.’
On the downside, ants can disturb plant roots while digging out their colonies and form ant hills on lawns. You can simply brush these away or break them up with a fork and treat with an insecticide or organic powder. Keep aphids under control, as ants farm these for the honeydew they produce. Wrapping affected branches in adhesive tape will catch ants and prevent them reaching the aphids. Ants exploring walls or window frames can be deterred by soapy water, but avoid this on decking or steps as it can make them slippery.
Though it sounds like the stuff of horror movies, pouring a kettle of boiling water over an ants nest will instantly kill any you can see. The colonies can run deep and you may not catch all the ants this way. A bait trap could be a solution here. For a nuisance nest that’s too close to a building or inside the wall voids you may have to call in a professional pest-control company.
What biological tactic will get rid of ants?
Tiny parasitic creatures called nematodes could solve the ant problem. A pack of Nemasys, available from Sarah Raven, contains millions of nematodes which won’t harm children, pets or wildlife. It should be applied when the soil temperature is above 50ºF (10ºC). Just mix with water and pour on to the nests.
Lola Houlton is H&G's long-term intern. Currently student of Psychology at the University of Brighton, she began writing content for Real Homes around the subjects of children's and teenagers' bedroom, in particular covering the psychology of teens and their approach to tidiness. From there, Lola expanded her knowledge of a broad range of subjects and now writes about everything from organization through to house plants while continuing her studies.
- Sarah Warwick Contributing Editor
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