Simple Solutions to Help You Get Rid of Ants for Good
Kick pesky ants out of your house and back to their colony with these easy, expert-approved tricks.
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Your home is under attack
Your home is your castle, and unfortunately it’s not immune to attack…by a large army of tiny ants. An ant invasion is annoying, but it can also be dangerous to your health and your home, depending on the type of ant you’re dealing with. And as with any pest problem, you definitely shouldn’t ignore it and just hope it goes away. So, what can you do to stop this problem in its tracks? Do battle in the smartest ways possible. We got the lowdown from bug experts on how to get rid of ants and finally evict these unwanted visitors from your home, safely and easily.
Know thy enemy
If you want to know how to get rid of ants, it’s helpful to know what type of ant it is. Why? Different ants require different approaches. “There are about 1,000 species of ants in North America,” says Jody Green, PhD, an urban entomologist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Luckily, there are only about eight to ten usual suspects in a given area. And, as Green explains, “knowing the ant helps with determining what its favorite foods are and where it is likely to nest.” For example, odorous ants are attracted to sugar, while protein ants are drawn to meat and grease.
And then there are carpenter ants. These ants aren’t looking for spilled maple syrup. They’re looking for wet, soft, damaged wood to hollow out and make their colonies. “Signs of a carpenter-ant problem might include sawdust-like piles on the floor near or under damaged wood, or seeing winged reproductives that resemble wasps,” says Eric Sebring, an associate certified entomologist with Western Exterminator. While you can deal with many ant species on your own, you’ll likely need an exterminator to get rid of these industrious ants, which can cause serious (and costly) damage to your home. But before you do, make sure you know these 15 insider secrets that your exterminator might not tell you.
Keep your home as clean as possible
How do ants know you have food, anyway? They have an extraordinary sense of smell, which they put to good use when they’re foraging and sending scout ants from the nest to search for food. Sometimes, the food source is in your home, and it only takes one ant to discover a crumb and spread the news through the colony. The big problem is that they leave behind pheromones as they scout. “When they find a new source of food, they gather a piece of it and follow the pheromone trail back to the nest,” explains Sebring. There, the colony investigates the food to determine if it’s a viable food source. If it is, a band of scouts will follow the pheromone trail back to retrieve more. Here are some other things in your house that are attracting pests right now.
Cut out the sweets
Don’t worry: You don’t have to give up sugar. But you should make it harder for ants with a sweet tooth to discover the sugar in your pantry or on the countertop. Some ants, like odorous ants, are drawn to sugar like moths to a flame. Here’s one simple mistake you might be making: snapping the lid shut on a bottle of honey and putting it away without first wiping off the bottle. If you don’t do this, the leftover honey residue is like an open invitation to ants like this. And a closed lid on a cardboard cereal box isn’t a deterrent for a hungry, determined ant, but an airtight container is. Properly store foods with sugar in them to prevent problems. Here are some other guaranteed ways to bug-proof your kitchen.
Ever spot an ant in the bathroom and wonder how it missed the kitchen? Food isn’t the only thing that attracts ants to our homes. Ants also need water for survival. “It’s also why you may see ants in your home even in periods of extremely dry weather or drought,” says Sebring. “They are on the hunt for moisture, and because it is dry outside, your home may offer an oasis for them.” Moisture collects in areas like rotting window ledges and stagnant water from leaks. Eliminate those trouble spots, and also run the bathroom exhaust fan or use a portable dehumidifier to reduce humidity.
Lay a trap
This may be what you had in mind in terms of how to get rid of ants, and ant baits do work on the most common species you’ll encounter. That said, they don’t work on all ants. “They work based on the palatability and attractiveness of the bait, so knowing the ant and their feeding preference can really help when it comes to the control strategy,” says Green. For example, carpenter ants will give ant baits the brush-off because most store-bought options are sugar-based and they prefer protein.
When it comes to success, location is everything. Green recommends placing baits as close to the nest as possible so ants don’t even make it to your kitchen counter. A single ant on the counter may not send you over the edge, but you’ll want to know how to get rid of these other disgusting (and potentially dangerous) household bugs fast.
Spray the trail
It’s tempting to start squishing ants as soon as you see them, but the pheromones they leave behind are easily picked up by another member of the colony. The abundance of pheromone trails makes it difficult to get rid of ants…but not impossible. To cut off the scent, fill a spray bottle with equal parts vinegar and water or lemon juice and water. “Spraying a solution of vinegar and water or lemon juice and water on an area where you see ants can disrupt their pheromone trail and make it harder for ants to find their way back,” says Sebring. Be sure to remove the food source before spraying for the best results, and keep countertops, floors, and other surfaces clean.
Use baby powder in ant hot spots
Ants aren’t keen on the soft touch of baby powder. So, sprinkling talc or baby powder in areas where you have seen ants might discourage them from coming back. “Ants don’t like to cross the powder and get it on their bodies,” says Sebring. These true exterminator nightmares will make you cringe.
Sprinkle cinnamon in problem areas
Cinnamon has been touted as a natural ant repellent. Scientific research backs up the claims, but the study that looked at this technique used highly concentrated cinnamon essential oil. Sebring cautions that household cinnamon probably doesn’t have a great enough concentration to be truly effective, but he says it’s worth a shot. Sprinkle cinnamon on the areas where you have seen ants, or saturate cotton balls with cinnamon essential oil and use them to wipe down known trails and entry spots. But a word of caution: Essential oils can strip paint and stain surfaces, so test how your floor reacts in an inconspicuous area before you use it everywhere.
Use essential oils
Studies have shown that peppermint oil can work as a natural solution for a number of pest problems, including how to get rid of ants. “Spraying peppermint oil can deter ants from coming into your home, and if you spray it directly on ants, it can kill them,” says Sebring. Other research indicates that clove essential oil can successfully kill red fire ants. Of course, the fewer chemicals you use in your home, the better. Check out these other chemical-free ways to get rid of household pests.