How to kill red ants – 10 easy methods for fire ant removal

Learn how to kill red ants in your home and your garden with these easy expert tips

Red ants on a stem
(Image credit: Getty Images / Wilson Khor / 500px)

Red ants are a common variety of fire ants that can be a pretty significant pest in the yard during spring and summer – they are commonly found under large stones, paving slabs, or mounds around your yard. These harmless-looking creatures are able to deliver a painful sting when threatened or disturbed and can spread bacteria and contaminate your food. So finding a colony in your yard or stragglers in your home means you will likely be looking for how to kill red ants quickly to save yourself some trouble.

When it comes to getting rid of ants, many of the methods are the same, so one treatment can usually be used across ant varieties, from getting rid of flying ants to getting rid of carpenter ants. Knowing which type you are dealing with, however, will allow you to target your treatments better to kill or dissuade the ants most effectively.

Here, we have looked at how to kill red ants, recognize an infestation in your home, and prevent an infestation so you are prepared for any threat to your property. 

How to kill red ants

Ants are incredibly clever creatures, so killing red ants should only be done if they pose a threat to you or your property. Ants inside your home should be taken care of swiftly; however, red ants in the far reaches of your yard should be observed and only removed if they begin to wander towards your home or threaten the well-being of pets or children with their stings.  

You can identify red ants by their reddish-brown bodies and darker heads. They may also appear slightly larger than your regular black ant. If a red ant infestation is something you are eager to stamp out, there are plenty of methods to get rid of these pests that are completely natural and won't risk harming your yard.

How to kill red ants in your yard

A close up of a bunch of red ants on a plant stem

(Image credit: Alamy)

Getting rid of red ants in your yard is easier than clearing an infestation that has entered your home, however, it should still be done with caution. Angering red ants could lead to a sting, so ensure you take the proper precautions when dealing with these fiery bugs. Wearing full-arm gloves, such as these Haiou gloves, from Amazon, can reduce your risk of experiencing those famous ant stings during this process.

1. Use boiling water and soap

One of the most effective ways of killing red ants instantly is to flush them out with boiling water and soap. The soap breaks down the waxy coating on the ants while the hot water dehydrates them.

This method can be done both in and outside due to the lack of chemicals, but if you are using it outside, avoid pouring it on plants you don't want to kill – this approach is best for targeting ant mounds or nests.

To do this, Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love recommends: 'Mix 3 parts boiling water to 1 part dish soap. Rake the top of the mound away to expose the primary tunnel system, then use a funnel to pour the boiling water mixture right into the heart of the nest.'

It is best to pour water down as many entrances as you can find for the best results. You may need to repeat this multiple times to remove all of the ants, but it can work against all ant varieties, such as getting rid of sugar ants.

2. Try white vinegar

White vinegar is another common household product that can be used to kill a range of insects and bugs. Much like using boiling water and soap, pour white vinegar, around one liter, directly into the nest to kill red ants. 

White vinegar is perhaps a safer option than boiling water as it is not harmful to your plants or the ground despite being able to kill red ants on contact. Boiling water, on the other hand, although effective, could scorch your plants or their roots. 

3. Combine boric acid and sugar

Perhaps the most effective method of wiping out red ants, or any type of ants for that matter, is using a targeted baiting system combined with a time-release pesticide. This method involves using a substance the ants find attractive to encourage them to bring it back to the colony. One way to do this is with boric acid and sugar.

'Boric acid is one of the most effective methods for killing red ants and getting rid of crickets and other pests in your home,' says Rachel Crow, Garden Editor for Homes & Gardens. 'Mixing it with sugar creates an irresistible paste for red ants who will carry the mixture back to the nest and queen. Once ingested, the ants will die, allowing this method to wipe out large colonies quickly and prevent new ones being created by the queen.' 

Mix boric acid with sugar bit by bit until it forms a thick paste before placing small amounts of the paste around ant colony entrances. This strategy addresses immediate issues while planning for long-term prevention, ensuring minimal disruption to your yard.

4. Lay out diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring material that works excellently for killing ants without harsh chemicals, ideal for both out and indoor use. This silica is a non-poisonous way to trap and kill red ants over larger areas of your yard as it is not damaging to plant life. 

Spreading this gritty powder traps ants and acts as a natural abrasive that kills ants by dehydrating them. You can either use this directly on the ants (or their nest/hills) or sprinkle some around the perimeter you're trying to protect, such as near entry points and structures like decks and patios.

As this powder is an irritant, make sure to avoid breathing the powder in or getting it on your skin by wearing a mask and gloves as you apply it. Once spread, keep pets and your children away from the area. 

5. Plant insect repellent plants

Prevention is also key when you're dealing with pests long-term. Red ants have a strong sense of smell and there are many smells that ants hate that will help to dissuade them from your yard. 

'Plants such as mint, chili plants, basil, lavender, and eucalyptus can all help to deter ants,' says Rachel Crow. 'You may also want to try spraying citrus or garlic scents around your yard as these are natural ant repellents too.' You can use this essential oils set, from Amazon, to do so.

How to kill red ants in your home

Red ants on sugar

(Image credit: Getty Images / RHJ)

Killing red ants in your home can prove more difficult with the need to preserve your furniture and appliances. Luckily, there are a few easy methods that can help to kill red ants naturally that you can try before needing to call an exterminator. 

1. Sprinkle cornstarch

Cornstarch is available at grocery stores, making it easily accessible and often cheap
– you can buy this Argo cornstarch at Walmart for $2.34. 

If you have visible red ants crawling around your home, sprinkle the powder over the ants to smother them from a distance. Once they have ceased crawling, simply use your vacuum to clean the ants and the cornstarch away. 

Additionally, you can lightly mist the ants with water once they start to pick up the cornstarch to create a cement-like material that will quickly trap and kill the ants.

2. Make a natural pesticide with neem oil

'Neem oil is a gardener's best friend,' says Rachel. 'This simple oil is a great natural pesticide that can be used to combat a range of pests including ants and red ants while protecting your best indoor plants and furnishings.

'When using neem oil, you can dilute it into a spray with water to make a homemade bug spray by mixing one to two tablespoons of pure, cold-pressed neem oil, at Walmart, with a gallon of water. You can also add one to two teaspoons of dish soap to the mix to help the neem oil adhere to the plants. Although, full-strength neem oil will work the best against red ants.' 

3. Use baking soda and sugar

If you do not want to put boric acid around your home, using baking soda to kill ants can be an effective alternative. Mix equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar and place the mixture around your home, where you know the red ants are frequently active. 

Red ants have an insatiable sweet tooth that you can use against them. Like the outside boric acid and sugar paste, the red ants will be attracted to the sweet smell, taking the powder back to their colony to ingest. The baits allow the ants to take the slow-acting poison back to the colony and wipe out the queen and her brood.

4. Consider commercial repellents

If homemade or natural repellents have not worked to get rid of or kill red ants, consider using a commercially made repellent or bug spray to remove your ant problem. There are many non-toxic chemical sprays available such as Raid on Amazon. However, these can be dangerous to use in homes with small children, people with breathing difficulties such as asthma, or pets so should be used with extreme caution according to the product instructions. 

'Combining insecticidal baits with contact insecticide sprays or dusts is my preferred one-two-punch approach,' says Jeremy Yamaguchi. 

'At the same time as using a bait and pesticide approach, you can also hit ants with a fast-acting surface spray to take out the scouts and foragers on the spot. It's a coordinated strike from multiple angles.'

5. Call an exterminator

'Red ants can be a very difficult infestation to manage on your own, as they can withstand a lot of DIY approaches and simply move to another location, as they move so much, it can be hard to get them all,' warns Brett Bennett, director of operations, PURCOR Pest.

For persistent or large-scale problems, or if ants are causing damage to electrical appliances, it may be time to call a professional who can offer more specialized interventions, possibly including chemical treatments that are carefully applied to minimize damage to your property and health risks to inhabitants. They will also give you tailored pointers to prevent an infestation in the future. 


Close up of a singular red ant on a branch outside

(Image credit: Alamy)

How to know if you have a red ant infestation

A red ant infestation presents itself the same as a regular ant infestation does in your home. The most obvious sign of red ants, however, is seeing a few of the bright-bodied bugs in or around your home. 'If the ants are outside of your home, it may be easy to brush them off as just passing by but pay attention to their direction of travel,' advises Rachel. 'If they are walking in a line towards your home or up your walls, these ants may be living inside your property.'

Outside of your home, you may notice small piles of soil which may be the opening of an ants nest. Observe the hole closely for ant activity but avoid disturbing it to prevent angering these stinging pests. 

'Red ants may also feed on your houseplants, so damage to leaves or stems, particularly young plants, could also be a sign of an infestation if other common houseplant pests are ruled out,' Rachel continues. 'What's more, these ants are known to chew on electrical wiring insulation, possibly causing damage to your electronics and home utilities. Any electrical malfunctioning is a sign that the red ant infestation is securely established, and a professional should be called.'

You may be able to hear ants that are living inside your internal walls if you put your ear next to the wall and listen carefully. Small rustling sounds are an indicator that ants are traveling around your home internally or even living there. 

A close up of two red ants on a green leaf

(Image credit: Alamy)

How to prevent red ants

Much like why ants come into the house, red ants enter a home in search of basic necessities and often do not mean to be there. To prevent red ants, therefore, you should look to remove food, means of entrance, and shelter to dissuade them from setting up a home in your house. 

Make sure you store food in airtight containers, dispose of food waste properly, and clean up spillages straight away. Using clever cleaning tips will help you to stay on top of household cleaning to prevent insect infestations. You should also avoid leaving dishes in the sink or on the counter overnight where possible. 

To prevent ants from being able to enter in the first place it is recommended that you seal any cracks or holes around your property – much like getting rid of water bugs – as well as sealing any gaps around windows, doors, vents, and eaves. 

Consider using a screen on open doors and windows in the summer to prevent insects such as red ants from entering easily.

Remove easy shelters such as firewood stored on the ground, remove tree stumps, and regularly tidy up and clean your garden ideas to remove debris that could provide ideal shelter from the elements for red ants. 

Finally, simple things like keeping your yard free of debris that could harbor ants, and trimming back plants away from your foundation will make your home a lot less appealing to them in the first place. 

Routine cleaning, basic maintenance, and minimizing attractions for the ants will serve you well.

Do red ants bite?

While red ants do not bite, they can deliver a painful sting if disturbed. These stings can cause a burning feeling, welts that itch or even blisters. These stings, although uncomfortable, can usually be treat with antihistamines and sting creams at home. 

If you are allergic to fire ant stings they may cause more serious effects, however, and it is advised to attend emergency care if you have any signs of a serious or even life-threatening reaction. 

What are the potential risks or hazards associated with using chemical insecticides to control red ant populations?

'The best way to avoid any potential risks or hazards associated with any chemical insecticide is to follow the directions on the label,' says Josh Malik, pest expert with Joshua Tree Experts. 'Using more products is not always better. All marketed products are regulated for safety by the EPA. That is deemed safe if labeled directions are followed. Too much of anything can be unsafe depending on the situation. 

'Also keep in mind, off-target treatments may harm beneficial insects and plants even with natural methods such as the vinegar and water treatment. It can cause plant tissue damage and could be harmful to bees as well as other beneficial insects.'

Remember, if your issues with red ants persist, repeated treatment might be necessary depending on the scale of infestation. When in doubt, consult professional pest control services. 

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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