How to get rid of carpenter ants – expert advice to deter and eliminate them efficiently

These pests may be tiny, but they can cause huge problems around the home – here's how to end a carpenter ant infestation for good and prevent their return

Carpenter ant on a log
(Image credit: Getty Images / Zinco79)

Have carpenter ants taken up residence in your home? If so, it is important to act fast and learn how to get rid of carpenter ants properly.

While these insects may be small and harmless to humans, they can cause significant damage around your home. In fact, carpenter ants are one of the most structurally damaging pests in the US – they can hollow out wooden beams and erode the structural integrity of your home.

Of course, many of us already know how to get rid of ants in the home and why ants come into the house – but remember, there are thousands of different ant species, and it is important to handle the notorious carpenter with additional urgency and caution.

How to get rid of carpenter ants

'Carpenter ants are large, wood-digging ants. They don't eat wood like termites do; instead, they tunnel through wooden structures to construct their nests,' explains Georgios Liakopoulos from Fantastic Pest Control. 'Infestations of carpenter ants need to be dealt with right away to avoid structural damage.'

The best treatment method comes down to the type of nest you're handling. Below, we explain how to identify carpenter ants, as well as how to spot satellite nests and parent colonies. 

We also share the best, pest control-approved methods to exterminate infestations, both big and small, and deter these ants from your home.

1. Identify carpenter ants correctly

black carpenter ant on a log

(Image credit: Getty Images / Jeffrey van Haren / 500px)

To identity whether it is indeed a carpenter ant infestation your are dealing with, look for signs such as piles of sawdust or rustling sounds coming from inside a wall or wooden structure.

'Another one of the major ways to tell the differences between termites and carpenter ants is that carpenter ants grab wood pieces and throw them out, while termites eat the wood,' begins Matt Smith from Green Pest Management.  

Matt Smith pest control expert
Matt Smith

Matt Smith has been working in the pest control industry for 14 years. He started Green Pest Management, Delaware-based pest control company, nine years ago. With his background and experience he is knowledgeable about a variety of pests, pest activity, and ways of dealing with infestations.

2. Locate the nest and determine the extent of the infestation

Carpenter ant damage in wood

(Image credit: Getty Images / MediaProduction)

'Once you have identified that it is carpenter ants you are dealing with, to tackle the problem, you have to locate the nest – which will always be in wood,' says Jeremy Yamaguchi, the CEO of Lawn Love. 'They love moist and decaying wood, so any damp spot is a prime target. But that doesn’t mean they can’t nest in dry wood. If you see a line of carpenter ants foraging in your home or yard, you may be able to follow them to the nest.'

Next, it's important to assess the extent of the infestation to ensure you target all nests and determine the best method of extermination. 

Marc Potzler, the board-certified entomologist with Ehrlich Pest Control, explains that carpenter ants live in a network of nests: 'They live in a parent colony, which is almost always outside, and satellite nests, located in a radius around the parent colony. 

'The satellite nests act to expand the foraging range of the parent nest, and they are in frequent contact with the parent nest to share resources.

'If you want a permanent solution you have to keep in mind that they may have different nests, so be diligent in looking. 

'There may be multiple satellite nests in one home. All of them, plus the parent colony, must be eliminated to end the infestation. Otherwise, the parent colony will send another group of workers to re-establish an exterminated satellite nest.'

3. Block entrances to small nests

Carpenter ant entrance

(Image credit: Getty Images / ViniSouza128)

If a smaller (satellite) nest site is found, Marc recommends directly applying an aerosol or dust into the void to eliminate it immediately.

Additionally, Melanie Rose, a trained pest control specialist from Nationwide Pest Control, suggests using a dust-based insecticide, such as boric acid from Walmart, which is strong enough to kill the pest for good without the use of harsh pesticides. 'These insecticides are helpful because they penetrate existing cracks in the interior walls of your home and other wall voids.'

4. Use bait and pesticide to exterminate large nests

Carpenter ant on a leaf

(Image credit: GettyImages)

The most effective way to get rid of carpenter ants is a combination of bait and a time-release pesticide. This method involves using a substance the ants find attractive to encourage them to come across the pesticide we put down, effectively helping to kill off the population.

Additionally, it's important to disrupt the ant trails to wherever they have nested to prevent the carpenter ants from returning. Ants communicate through pheromones, which are chemical signals they use to guide them to food sources and back to their nests. The more ants follow this trail, the stronger it becomes, and the more ants are likely to follow.

If you have found a much larger nest – these will often around several feet long – then you are likely dealing with a parent colony. These are harder to treat, but you can do so with baits – which you should place next to the ants’ observed trails (but not across the trail). The closer to the void opening the baits are placed, the better the results will be.

To do this, you can combine equal parts of borax or insecticide from Amazon and sugar or ant bait, also from Amazon, to make bait. Sugar attracts ants, while borax is toxic to them. 

Next, Jeremy Yamaguchi advises: 'Get a spray bottle and fill it with the solution, and then spray it on the problem areas/holes. 'Keep the mixture away from children and pets and place it where ants often gather.

'If you have a problem with carpenter ants every summer, it can be helpful to spray this solution heavily on problem areas in the spring because that can deter the ants and minimize the problem before it begins.'

5. Deter them with home remedies

Carpenter ant on a leaf

(Image credit: GettyImages)

After you have tackled the ant infestation at its source, implementing some deterrents can ensure these ants aren't tempted to return to your property.

Putting down harmful pesticides may not be the best option for you since it can be harmful to pets, children, or even damage your furniture. So, if you want a more natural repellent for less severe infestations, these methods could do just the trick. 

Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth can be used to gradually dehydrate and kill carpenter ants without posing risks to your plants or pets. 

'This powder is a natural and safe insecticide made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms,' adds Prerna Jain, owner of Ministry of Cleaning. 'Sprinkle a thin layer of diatomaceous earth around the perimeter of your home, especially in areas where they congregate. It creates a barrier that can help deter them from crossing.'

You can use this diatomaceous earth from Amazon.


'The strong smell of cinnamon repels ants, making it a great deterrent,' says Georgios Liakopoulos. 'Use cinnamon essential oil or ground cinnamon on ant trails and near entry points to deter them.'

You can even use this method to keep ants out of hummingbird feeders.

Chalk line

While you may not want to go around drawing all over your walls and furniture, chalk lines can be a great way to disrupt the scent trail of ants due to their calcium carbonate content. 

Chalk lines can be drawn around ant entry points or areas where you notice ants walking. 

Bay leaf

To get rid of ants in the kitchen, you can place bay leaves in cabinets, pantry shelves, or areas where you have seen ants. Bay leaves have a strong scent that deters them, counteracting their attraction to the food stored in these places.

Water and Dish Soap

Carpenter ants can also be killed with a simple and very (very) easy homemade remedy – all you need is soap and water.

To get rid of the ants naturally, simply mix water with dish soap in an empty spray bottle and spray onto the affected area in your home. The solution is harmful and toxic to the carpenter ants so works a treat. You can also add a few drops of essential oil into the solution, such as this citrus oil from Amazon, as the strong smell will help to eliminate their scent trails.


Why do I suddenly have carpenter ants?

Food, water, and shelter are essential for all pests, including carpenter ants. However, this creature also craves a protein source for egg production and larval rearing and a sugar source for adult ant energy. They are attracted to protein sources like meat and pet food as well as sweet materials like honey, sugar, and syrup, so it's important to keep on top of cleaning tips and remove any food residue that may attract the insect. 

'Fresh water is also important but much more difficult to control,' says – a drop of dew is a lot of water for an ant,' says Marc.

'Moist, damp areas are what draw in carpenter ants. Wood that has been harmed by water, leaky pipes, and high humidity levels can all provide favorable conditions for carpenter ants,' warns pest exterminator Georgios Liakopoulos. 'They might be more drawn to wood that has been weakened or discolored by moisture. 

Pest control expert Marc urges you to ensure your window and front door ideas are maintained to avoid moisture-damaged wood that is the perfect base for a parent colony nest site. He suggests keeping doors and windows well caulked to reduce the likelihood of carpenter ants being attracted to your home.  

How do you find a carpenter ant nest?

'Following an ant trail back to the opening to the void the nest is in may lead you to the nest,' Marc suggests. However, he warns that some ants enter a home through the foundation before moving to the attic to create their nest, so this is not always an accurate method. 

'Once close to the nest, you can hear the ants moving around inside the void: the sound resembles crinkling cellophane. A moisture meter, (such as this moisture meter, at Amazon) used by many professionals, will help further narrow down exactly where the nest is inside the void,' he adds. You'll likely find nests around common construction errors that encourage leaks over time (such as a chimney). 

Are carpenter ants hard to get rid of?

As we have explored, there are many ways you can get rid of carpenter ants. However, how long it takes to fully remove them all depends on the size of the colony, how far and deep they have nested into your home and whether you have found and destroyed their central nest - the crucial part of removing them for good. 

Aptly named ‘carpenter’, these ants (which are commonly black in color) build their nests in wood. If they are left to roam, they have the capability to threaten the structure of your home as their nests can fracture and ruin wood.

If you're not having any luck getting rid of them on your own, it is always worth calling in professional help.

How do carpenter ants enter your home?

'Carpenter ants may be able to enter buildings through trees and plants,' explains Georgios Liakopoulos. 'Ants may even enter through overhanging branches and plants that come into contact with structures.'

Additionally, Matt Smith cautions, 'Be really careful about the bark that you bring in for landscaping. It is really common for us to get a call from people who bring in bark, and with it, carpenter ants.'

Make sure to prune any bushes or trees that might be near your house. It is essential to address these attractants to lower the likelihood of carpenter ant infestations.

Once you have identified where the carpenter ants are coming from, it is important to eliminate any sources of moisture or food sources that may be attracting them and seal off entry points. By repairing leaks, maintaining a dry environment, caulking entry points, and following good food storage hygiene, you can stop carpenter ants from building nests inside and outside of your home.

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.

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