Ants, ants, ants, everywhere! Those pesky insects have a way of finding every little crack and opening right into your home. With Spring finally in full swing I have begun to see an ant scout here and there and I want to nip it in the bud before they take over my life!
With kids and pets spending the majority of their day playing, crawling, and somersaulting (well the kids are somersaulting, not the dog) across the floor, I am not about to sprinkle a pesticide around my home that will put them in danger.
But the ants…
Thankfully there are plenty of ways to get rid of ants without putting your family at risk. I have talked before about natural pest control but today I am going to focus specifically on getting rid of ants.
How Do Ants Find Food?
Ant colonies will send out scouts to locate food sources. Those little bugs will zig and zag and probe their way until they find food, which they will bring back to their colony, leaving a trail of pheromones behind them. Other ants will follow the trail leaving their own pheromones making the trail stronger until all the little foragers are marching along, back and forth, taking all your goodies back to their home.
Fascinating and annoying all at once.
How to Get Rid of Ants (Naturally, of Course!)
So what is the answer to naturally get rid of ants? There are several approaches you can take. Repel them from coming into your home in the first place, control and eradicate them once they are in, and finally, kill them at their source.
Repel, Repel, Repel
The first step to get rid of ants is to make sure any sweet ingredients in your home are sealed tightly. Clean up the dribbles down the side of the honey jar and make sure your maple syrup lid is on tight. It is also recommended to keep floors swept and all counters free of any food or drips, but that is not usually practical or possible in a busy home like mine. Just do the best you can with this one.
Here are some more ideas to prevent ants from coming into your home:
- Create a barrier – Many people have good luck creating a barrier of something ants generally don’t like or won’t cross. Some examples would be drawing a chalk line or sprinkling cinnamon, cayenne pepper, baby powder, or coffee grounds along common entry points.
- Citrus Peels – Ants are also repelled by citrus. Oranges, lemons, grapefruits, etc. contain D-limonene and it is effective at killing ants. Save your orange or lemon peels and dry them out. Pulse them in a blender or food processor to make a powder and sprinkle this along entry points in your home. You can also sprinkle these around your garden.
- Essential Oils – I have had good results deterring ants that were determined to come in under my screen door with an essential oil spray. Fill a small spray bottle with water and add about 20 drops of peppermint oil. Shake well and spray along doorways and window sills. It repels the ants and covers the scent of any food and pheromones. You can also put several drops of peppermint, orange, or lemon oil on a cotton ball and place it in cabinets to deter ants from snooping around in search of food.
- Vinegar – Spraying vinegar along doorways and window sills is another option. This has the same effect as the peppermint oil spray. Mix vinegar 50/50 with water in a spray bottle. Add peppermint oil or a citrus oil like orange or lemon to this mixture to make it even more effective.
What if Ants Are Already In Your Home?
The ants are already in. Now what?
- First, find out where they are coming in from and where they are going so that you can figure out the best way to tackle their removal. Something attracted them and that will need to be cleaned up. Then find their entry point so that you can use one of the tips from above.
- Once you have found point A and point B, move on to clean up. You will obviously need to remove the ants from your counter, floor, cabinet or wherever they are. You can wipe them up with a cloth (or paper towel if you don’t want to try to remove them from your cloth).
- Now on to the important part. You have to remove the pheromone trail. You can use soapy water, a 50/50 water and vinegar mix, or the essential oil spray. If you don’t clean up the trail, other ants will be able to easily find the same food source.
Kill the Ants
I don’t know about you, but my first instinct is to kill any bugs I see in my house (or call for my adventurous daughter to do it for me). However, this may not always be the most effective way to rid your home of ants in the long term.
If you can resist the temptation to kill them immediately, you can make an ant poison they will take back to their colony and feed to all of their friends. It requires a little bit of patience but will pay off in the end.
Option 1: Borax
I learned this trick from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship on a podcast episode. It does not immediately remove the ants from your kitchen (in fact it may seem like it attracts more at first, which is actually a good thing) but it works really well for the long term because it works to eliminate the colony and not just the ants entering your home.
She recommends mixing equal parts Borax (I use this one) and corn syrup and spreading it on an index card. The ants are attracted to the corn syrup and carry it back to their nest. All the ants that feed on the corn syrup mixture will be killed by the Borax. (I cover the safety of using Borax here.)
Option 2: Baking Soda
If you are uncomfortable with using Borax, you can try using baking soda. Mix equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar and place it in a lid near where you think the ants are coming in. The powdered sugar will attract them, but since they are unable to differentiate between the sugar and the baking soda, they will carry both back to their nest.
When ants consume baking soda it reacts with the acidic substance in their bodies and is fatal to them. Again, not an immediate fix, but very beneficial in the long term.
Other Ant Killing Tips to Try
Diatomaceous earth (use food grade only) is highly effective at getting rid of ants and other pests that crawl, rather than fly. DE is a fine powder made from the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of algae. Because it is so fine, it is perfectly safe for humans and animals and is actually beneficial to consume. (It is good for hair and nails, among other things.)
Ants, however, become dehydrated when they come into contact with DE because it damages their waxy coating which will kill them. They will not take it back to their colony but it will stop them from making any progress into your home.
Sprinkle DE along doorways and window sills, and any other points of entry, in trash cans, and along cabinets and baseboards. I have also sprinkled it liberally on my carpet during a particularly bad ant invasion. After a few days the ants were gone and I just vacuumed up the DE.
Use extreme care if you will be using this outside and avoid any areas that may have honey bees. The DE will stick to their legs and they will consume it when they are grooming. DE is sharp to small insects and will kill them. We want to kill the ants and fleas, but NOT the honey bees!
castile soap will also compromise the waxy coating that protects the ants. Make a spray with 1 quart water and 1/4 cup liquid castile soap. Spray along doorways and window sills and anywhere else you see ants coming in. Repeat a couple of times a day until the problem is resolved.
Dealing With More Than Ants?
If you have other pests plaguing you there are other natural pest control options for your home and some organic ideas for your garden.
How do you deal with ants? Did I miss any effective tips that have worked for you?
Discussion (56 Comments)
Seems your ant types go for sweet. I’m on the 9th floor of an apartment building and my tiny ants (possibly Pharoah ants) prefered a ‘balanced diet’. They really enjoyed (operative work here) drips of bean vegetable soup made with ham hock. And they go for even very thin and invisible films of food around the sink/taps. They are absolutely not interested in sugar, honey, or catfood. I’ve got a bunch of messy eater felines and have never seen an ant noshing on catfood. (thankfully) These ants truly have their dietary preferences.
Pest control left little plastic pyramids of poison and the ants were not interested in this stuff, at all. I never saw a single ant go in through one the little doorways.
Eventually the ants did leave but it took a few months. I don’t know where they went off to and no body could figure out where the nest was. I stopped cooking bean/ham hock soup and cleaned around the sink with rubbing alcohol. That removed all the microfilms and disrupted the pheromone trails as well. Still months later there were a few scout ants checking out the action when I left a soup pot in the sink overnight but made sure they couldn’t get into it. They were lined up at the side of the sink longingly looking for a way to access the pot.
I’ve also gotten into using Benefect spray (thyme oil) and that helps with removing any oily type film on the stove, taps, etc. Probably ants are not to keen on thyme oil either.
My ants are tiny reddish ones that are attracted to grease and oils. Peanut butter is a favorite. They skip the sugar too. They come in through a tiny crack above my kitchen sink and up the side of my stove. They do cleanout my little pieces of grease that I couldn’t wipe up. In order to keep them where they belong I attach double stick tape to my counter and cover it with cinnamon. My ant corral.
cucumber peel is a great ant repellent.
I’ve read that Splenda works GREAT! It’s sweet, they eat it and take it back to their “hill” and it has effectively wiped out an entire ant hill. Someone had several ant hills on five acres. They sprinkled some Splenda on one hill and when they returned to their property a couple of months later, all the ant hills were dead. Just a little bit works! I’m testing it out now on a huge ant hill near my bee hives.
This must be so comforting for those who consume Splenda!
Oh, hopefully very uncomfortable, eh!! Stay away from those sweeteners for sure.
Splenda turns into dioxin. – very toxic. Please don’t use around pets!
Orange oil mixed with water and sprayed where they are coming in (and on them) works really well. It’s not a carry back to the colony solution, but it can get rid of a bunch of ants in a hurry. And they don’t like walking across where it was sprayed when more try to come back.
Diatomaceous Earth is a surefire method of pest control. Laying down a barrier in strategic locations will discourage crawling insects from venturing any further, and those that mistakenly get it on them will ultimately die. In regard to pheromone trails that ants leave behind, spray their paths with window cleaner containing ammonia, which completely eliminates the scent. Ants are not only attracted by food sources in the kitchen, but also by artificial sweeteners in mouthwash, toothpaste, and soaps in the bathroom. There are numerous alternative products available that do not contain sweeteners.
I always have a bowl of water out in the yard for the animals. Every day I go out to fill it, there are fire ants drowned in the water. I always dump it and put in fresh water, but me thinks this is a cool way to get rid of fire ants….LOL
My mother-in-law gave me this tip for dealing with those pesky ant hills in the yard:
Boil a large pot of water, (carry it CAREfully to the spot), and dump it directly onto the ant hill.
I haven’t had it fail yet.
I’m sure that sounds monsterous, but after having my dog inadvertently step into a mound & get swarmed, I never wanted to see it happen to a child!
As Wellness Mama recently mentioned, and I agree, repelling ants away from inside the house – is the best solution. And as Lauren commented, during hot weather, ants seek sources of water, not just food. In addition to removing food sources mentioned earlier by Wellness Mama, I have had success in the past with putting little water bowls outside, where ants belong (but does not work in apartment living). Ants are very beneficial to lawns and gardens. Children can benefit from this information. Just direct your reading level children to “ants beneficial insects” on the Internet. Smaller children also enjoy learning about little critters. Tell and show them – that will also (temporarily) entertain them. Little ones seem to go in 2-3 minute waves of activity and rest. They listen during rest mode. Wellness Mama – love your informative posts! Thanks a bunch!
Not sure ants are so beneficial in the gardens. We have a huge problem with them farming aphids, scales, and other tiny pests and they even fight off lady bugs who want to eat those pests. In our area we have non native ants, that pushed out the natives and multiply like crazy. Funny thing is, that diatomaceous earth didn’t do anything to reduce them neither did borax/sugar solution. I will try cornmeal.
I’m so glad to see someone post something about how ants are beneficial and an important part of our ecosystem.
They are a pain to have in the house but just watch them for awhile and you will appreciate their industriousness and impeccable team work.
I find it a bit sad to read all the hearty testimonials of how effective this and that were at killing the ants on a natural site such as this.
I was under the impression that those who sought a healthier,more environmentally friendly & aware lifestyle realised the importance of insects and would do their best to live in harmony with the little creatures.
There’s a big difference between watching and appreciating what they do in nature and having them in your house. Mosquitos, venomous snakes, and black widow spiders all have their place in nature, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to kill them if they enter my home. Nature can be cruel, and most creatures have a predator. Part of the ecosystem is survival of the fittest, and removing unwanted critters from my home for the protection and comfort of my family is part of the natural order of things…
Agreed! I found the best way to keep them from becoming a problem in the house was to find the entry point and place a lid with honey there. They seemed satisfied enough with this and didn’t come in any further.
Same here , lots of red ants that will attack you, the kids and the dogs. Boil your water on the grill set up nearby to make it easier!
I put out cornmeal. They can’t digest it, so it gets rid of them.
I do the same thing. Kills them off in a week.
Ants need a source of water where they build their nest. Planting shrubs too close to the house is a common culprit as the shrub collects rainwater and prevents the house from drying out. Anytime we have had ants nest in the house this was the reason. Moving a large shrub is A LOT of work, so we always keep in mind the size the shrub will become before we plant it near the house.
Inside the house, we have had great success with Borax and sugar.
Every year right as the Winter weather begins to fade to Spring, we get sugar ants in the kitchen. I’ve fought them for weeks in the past but this year I was armed and ready. I made sure I did a thorough kitchen cleaning as it was warming up outside. Then I alternated putting a drop of peppermint EO and citronella EO all around the windowsills I know the ants use to get in. I put 1 drop about every 4 inches and used the oils neat. I will note that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable doing this if my cats or kids could reach the sills, but our house has windows that are up about 5.5 feet and are long instead of standard windows, so no one can get to the oils. I also use DE for ant control outdoors with great success.