How to get rid of ants in the kitchen – and stop them coming back

Stop ants in their tracks with these tips and tricks on keeping ants out of the kitchen, shared by pest control experts

(Image credit: Alamy)

Ant invasion in the kitchen? While there are various methods for getting rid of ants, it's wise to learn how the experts tackle this space so that these small, persistent pests don't become a recurring problem.

Cleaning the kitchen properly and wiping up spills as soon as they happen will, of course, help to prevent them, but targeted treatments that combine bait and pesticide will be more effective in the long run.

We asked pest control professionals how to get rid of ants in the kitchen, and they highlight how trying too many methods at once can actually have adverse effects.

How to get rid of ants in the kitchen

Our kitchens are attractive to ants as they are an area where they are safe and protected against birds and other predators of the outside world, plus there's food and water on tap. Helpfully, there are dozens of species of ants with different biologies and behaviors, but following these steps will fend them off.

A kitchen with dark blue cabinets next to a built-in range cooker and a marble effect island with a view into a living space with a glass roof

(Image credit: Future / Darren Chung)

1. Combine baits and pesticides

Use a dual approach of bait gels, at Amazon, and pesticides to kill off the queen and worker ants. Worker ants will return the bait to their colony to feed the larvae. The workers and the queen then eat the byproduct from the larvae, contaminated by the bait. Avoid using repellents at this stage, or it may stop the ants from picking up the bait and pesticide, throwing them off course.

'Ant baits and gels specifically target the breeding queen – the worker ants will take this gel to the queen to consume. If you just target the worker ants then the queen will continue to make more,' says Anna Mollins, a pest control expert from PestFix

At the same time, apply a pesticide, whether dust or an ant spray, at Walmart in the areas where you have seen ants and along their trails. Focus on cracks and crevices, the edges of the counters, underneath the counter, underneath appliances, and along baseboards. The ants will get the pesticide on their feet and antennas, and when they groom themselves they then ingest it, while carrying the bait back to the colony.

2. Keep on top of crumbs and spills

navy blue kitchen with island and bar stools

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Why do ants come into the house? For shelter, water, food, and a break from fending off predators. If you look at your kitchen from an ant's perspective, the need for regular kitchen cleaning becomes clear, as they will live off miniscule crumbs and can get into small gaps and crevices, like the area between the counter and the stove.

Some militant vacuuming and wiping down of surfaces is crucial to get rid of ants, otherwise, they will keep coming back. Ensure there is no food left in the open, leftovers are stored in airtight containers, and that spills and crumbs are cleaned away quickly (a handheld vacuum cleaner will make quick cleans easy). Shawn Varchetti of D-Bug Pest Control explains that ants are most attracted to a steady source of food. 'They really like sweet or greasy food, so kitchens are a great place for them,' he says. 

'They only need tiny amounts of food, such as crumbs that have fallen to the floor or under cabinets, to be drawn into your home,' adds Shawn.

3. Fix leaky faucets and plumbing

stainless steel sink in kitchen with exposed brick wall

(Image credit: Future PLC / Darren Chung)

Fix leaky faucets and address any old plumbing under the kitchen sink that may be causing drips to prevent ants from coming inside for a drink. 'Water can be as strong a draw as food is when conditions outside are dry and ants are in search of water,' says Craig Sansig, an entomologist from Viking Pest Control. So by keeping the kitchen sink clean and dry, you'll be making things much less inviting for these pests.

4. Locate the source

This may not be realistic if you live in an apartment but, if you can, follow the ants' trail as far back as possible to work out where they are coming from. This might just be the most effective measure you take because it tackles the root of the problem. 'If a nest can be readily located control is often quick to achieve,' confirms pest control pro Craig Sansig.

Knowing the kind of ant you are dealing with will also help. Craig says that some species of ant, like pavement ants, are quite easy to control. Other ant species like odorous house ants (also known as sugar ants) and carpenter ants are far more challenging. While some species like pharaoh ants may become worse if treated incorrectly. Knowing the species will mean you can look up the right bait to get rid of them.

5. Move pet food elsewhere

Pets in the heat

(Image credit: Future)

Ants feed on protein and sugars, making pet food an appealing snack. Consider moving your cat or dog's bowls to the other side of the kitchen and up off the floor at night, just while the ant problem persists. This will make it harder for the ants to find them. Ensure your supply of pet food is stored securely in airtight pet food containers, available at Walmart, and that the bowls, and area around them, are kept clean. 

6. Try natural repellents

There are all kinds of home remedies out there, many of which use strong scents to cause ants to lose their sense of tracking created with pheromone trails. Here are a few to try while keeping on top of kitchen cleanliness:

  1. Clean with lemon juice – spray juice on surfaces to disrupt their route or leave dried lemon peels at entry points
  2. Peppermint essential oil – sprinkle on cotton pads and place at entry points, under appliances and in any other small spaces
  3. Display tansy flowers 
  4. Use cinnamon – use powder, oil or sticks to deter ants
  5. Sprinkle used coffee grounds
  6. Create a mixture of equal parts baking soda and sugar and place by baseboards and near entry points
  7. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth


What is the fastest way to get rid of ants in the kitchen?

'The fastest way to get rid of ants in the kitchen isn't always the best way,' says pest control expert Matt Smith from Green Pest Management. 'You could use a kill-on-contact spray that will kill what it hits and deter them from coming in but it isn't going to do anything for the colony. 

'That is why a lot of people get ants every spring because the source of the problem isn't dealt with. One experience that I had was with a couple who thought that they only had a few ants in the spring. They plugged in their toaster and it didn't work. They checked the toaster and pulled out the plug, when they did, ants came pouring out of the electrical outlet. The ants had gotten so bad that they shorted out the outlet.'

Instead, use baits and sprays, and look for products with active ingredient fipronil. The product gets on their arms and legs and they bring it back to the colony and it spreads like a virus from one ant to another. This process will take a few days, but after a week you should have the problem under control. 

'Just remember to reapply to kill off anything that might have hatched from the previous application. With the better commercial products our technicians use, it typically only needs application every 3 months,' Matt explains.

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.

Will apple cider vinegar kill ants?

Although spraying apple cider vinegar will help to get rid of ants, making them lose their sense of tracking through pheromone trails, white vinegar is generally said to be more effective. Clean with vinegar on kitchen countertops, cabinet door fronts, and around appliances to disinfect and stop ants in their tracks. This is a good option of you don't want to use chemicals.

Does cornmeal kill ants?

You can try sprinkling cornmeal in areas where you have seen ants because they are attracted to it, but unable to digest it. A mixture of baking soda and sugar is likely to have a bigger impact as ants love sugar, and the baking soda reacts with acid in their stomachs. As mentioned above, though, cornmeal on its own may not be enough, so consider using baits and pesticides and locating the ant nest if possible.

Put a stop to the ant conga line for good by using specialist ant treatments, and remember that some of the steps are the same as getting rid of cockroaches from the kitchen, so next time you spot one you'll be better prepared.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is the Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens. She has six years of experience in digital journalism, having previously worked as Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York. She then gained experience writing for women's magazines before joining Future PLC in January 2021. Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home before taking on the position of Section Editor with Homes & Gardens. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.