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)
Years ago, when I was still interested in killing ants, I moved into a split level condo that sported ant freeway (no joke). The battle between myself and the board of invaders lasted quite some time. I tried, unsuccessfully, for weeks, to get rid of them. Surprisingly, they were not interested in the rest of my living quarters. It is true that they avoided those plastic ant hotels, but I found the solution! I dissembled one ant hotel and removed the “bait.” I carefully mixed the “bait” with avocado (ants do love raw avocado) and left a few little dabs along the ant freeway. They took the food home and that solved the problem. This is should not be implemented anywhere that children or pets or wildlife will play or explore.
We tried DE a few years ago with ants and they just went right through it for several weeks. They were coming in along the baseboard, so it was very easy to make a trail of DE around the edge of it. The did have to cross the floor as well, so I had a barrier set up across the floor too.
Thanks for the tips. Here are a couple more: Cut away any plants or branches touching the house. They provide ants easy access. Also, remove bowls of water or food for pets when they aren’t needed. I put food out only when my cat is eating—a challenge because he is an inveterate grazer!—and move the dishes to different places so the ants don’t have a chance to track them down. The ants also get inside the top of my Berkey water filter. In the past, I have set the Berkey into a pie tin filled with diatomaceous earth and baking soda. Few ants made it across this gauntlet. I always make a mess with the DE/baking soda, so this year I got food-grade silicone, which I will put inside the lid to seal off access.
My condo complex was built on old ranch land with anthills. For over 20 years, I was plagued with tiny ants in the Spring, with flying queens coming in too. The complex is sprayed twice a year for insects. I tried everything, the traps, borax, etc… Nothing helped until I started using DE. I sprinkled it everywhere the ants like to go, and left it there. I also put some in my mop water, along with a few drops of Tea Tree oil.
I haven’t had any more ants in the past 6 years. One once in a while, and out come the DE and the Tea Tree oil, and they’re gone.
Also if anyone has tansy growing in their yard it looks like a fern cut fresh from where its growing put it on counters against backsplash and behind appliances. Also take it and line the perimeter around your house it works amazing it solved my ant problems literally overnight ants hate the smell of it. We live in a 200year old house i swear by the stuff.:)
We must have some kind of mutant ants! lol We tried DE to no avail, peppermint? They just build their nests in it. We have them so bad this year they (and believe me this was disgusting!!) even built an nest in my grandsons printer that he had not used in awhile! We could not figure out why we could not get rid of the ants on his desk even though we have meticulously cleaned it. He went to use the printer and we found out why. I have NEVER seen anything like it before and hope to never see it again. Thought we had the problem solved until my internet connection kept cutting out. Yep. They were nesting under the router!!!! We threw the printer out and I finally got the Raid and sprayed around the window where they were coming in. We have always had ants in our yard, I tried the Splenda thing too….. didn’t work.
Same here! My yard is INFESTED! I shudder to think of the extensiveness of the network they they have built under both my front and back yards (1/2 acre) My neighbor treats with chemicals, so I think they just run to my yard 🙁 Tried DE, vinegar, boiling water and borax, no joy.
Any suggestions for humongous and extensive networks of colonies ants that are outdoors? These are small to medium sized black ones and we live in Massachusetts. I’m desperate!
I just used dry grits for multiple huge ant colonies. It took two days and they were gone. Just amazing! I’ve heard the ants take the grits back to the queen, and when eating the grits swell and ‘blow up’ the ants. This worked on the small ants (not the tiny black ones ), but the reddish-brown ones.
Every boric acid or borax recipe I have heard of comes with success stories. I knew a guy who was building a house in South Texas – ie roach and any heaven. He put powdered boric acid between each pair of studs all around the house – never had an ant or roach. We twice a year treated our approx 1 acre outside and house inside with boric acid, and no ants, no roaches-this was in Rockport TX which is one of the captials of Texas ant/roach heaven. And amazingly sprinkling borax or boric acid on rugs and around where pets are controls fleas. Get boric acid in bulk on line. A couple of spoonfuls down a fire ant mound and they are gone. We did mix the stuff for outside with good diatomaceous earth.
Just wanted to share something I experienced that truly surprised me about ants. It’s not uncommon to find them in the kitchen if they happen to end up in your home…makes sense, that’s where the food is, that’s what they want. Also we have a bird cage near our front door, and the bird drops so much food it’s almost impossible to keep up, and that tends to attract ants as well. However – what I never expected was to find them in the bathroom – we kept a bottle of mouthwash on the ridge of the bathtub because the bottle was too big for our sink. Because you generally use the cap to use the mouthwash, drops of it end up down the side of the bottle, you wouldn’t even think about it. But here the ants like mouthwash! I couldn’t believe it. So now that we keep the bottle higher up and I know to rinse it off periodically, we no longer have ants in the bathroom. It just wasn’t something I saw coming, ever.
Thanks for the advice about the ants ! I noticed that you spoke in another blog about plastic and how you don’t like to use it. Can you please share a natural solution for storing old or seasonal clothing?
I use boxes and I find them to be bulky and annoying.