When trying to get rid of ants, it’s helpful to first have a basic understanding how they live and thrive: They live in colonies and one class within the colony is the worker/gatherer/forager.
Workers make up approximately 10% of the settlement and it’s their job to go out, find and collect food then bring it back to feed the rest of the group. They are mainly looking for two things: food and water. If it’s getting cold outside, they also like to settle in to find shelter.
Below I’ve listed various home remedies and solutions for control (along with some tidbits of information on their behavior and habits).
Here’s a list of spray cleaner recipes you can try…
Clean countertops and surfaces well with one of the cleaners below, these can also be used to spray them directly.
- Vinegar & Water (50/50 mix)
- Cider Vinegar & Water (50/50 mix)
- One of these essential oils: Peppermint, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree Oil, Witch Hazel Extract (1 tablespoon) plus water–per spray bottle
- Liquid Dish Detergent (about 1 tablespoon detergent, fill spray bottle with water).
Did You Know: Ants leave a scented trail for each other so they can easily find their way back to the jackpot (the food source in your house). Trails can be both visible and invisible to human eyes, but they can follow the trails with ease. Washing away these trails will confuse them and make it more difficult to find their favorite places. Making your own cleaners with the above ingredients also adds a repellent that they will avoid.
When you provide a tempting treat that is actually poison (known as bait), you want to make sure it’s not too strong that it will kill the forager before it gets back to the settlement (sometimes they are gone for days), and that it’s not too weak that it’s ineffective. You want poisoned bits brought back to the nest for the rest of the colony to ingest.
The type of nutrition they look for is either sugar or protein, it depends on what the needs of the colony are at the time. This is why a “tried and true” recipe that came highly recommended doesn’t work for you, the treat holds no interest for the particular critters in your home.
Tip: First determine if the ones in your house are after sugar or protein. Leave a sample of each bait out and see which ones they go for. Once you’ve determined what they’re hungry for, set out a few of their choice.
Here are a few homemade bait recipes you can try…
2 TBS Boric Acid (Borax)
Jam (or Jelly, Honey, Maple Syrup)
- Mix the boric acid with the jam or jelly to make a paste. Slather it on a piece of paper, a plate or in a covered container with holes.
- You may have to adjust amount of Boric Acid if they seem to eat up the bait like crazy, but are getting fatter from it instead of dying.
2 cups Sugar
1 cup Water
2 TBS Boric Acid (Borax)
- Mix and place in small saucers around the house.
2 TBS Boric Acid (Borax)
Peanut Butter or Bacon Grease
- Mix and set out in mounds on pieces of paper or plates.
1 cup Confectioners Sugar
2 TBS Boric Acid (Borax)
- Leave this in little mounds or in covered containers with holes.
Sweet Sugar Treat
2 TBS Molasses
1 TBS Yeast
1 TBS Sugar
- Mix and place mounds on paper, plates or in covered containers with holes.
Important: When baiting so they’ll bring poison back, resist the temptation to kill the critters when you see them. You want them to live and take big juicy pieces of poisoned bits back to the rest of the group to feast on.
A few tips:
- Boric Acid can be harmful if swallowed. If you have children or pets in the home, set the bait in covered plastic containers with a few holes poked in the sides. You could also use glass jars sealed with lids–just poke holes in the top lid. For strong attraction, smear a bit of non-poisoned treat on top of the lid so they’ll find it easily.
- For best results lay out a fresh batch daily.
- Spread around in areas where you observe regular activity and near their points of entry.
- Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want the food spots found easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.
- You may find that a sugar bait will be popular for a few days, then a protein one is needed as they switch to protein. Change your method as needed.
- If you’ve set out both types (sugar and protein) yet they are attracted to neither, reduce the amount of boric acid used until they starting feasting on the bait.
Did You Know: If a colony senses something is up when its members start dying and begins to feel stressed, the Queen will likely give orders for the colony to split up into a few smaller colonies, trying to preserve as many members as she can. This is why it may take several days of laying out fresh bait regularly–you’re trying to get enough poison into all the groups to wipe out the whole lot.
Destroying Their Nests
Find the nest and pour one of the following solutions into it. Cover your legs and wear rubber boots if possible, they will be streaming out of the mound while you’re doing this.
- 1/4 cup liquid dish detergent per gallon of boiling water (add soap after pot has been removed from heat). This will likely kill surrounding grass and plants. (Good remedy for fire ants).
- Pour large amounts of cider vinegar down inside the ant hill. Do this around the surrounding area as well, for at least three days. Will likely kill plants and grass too.
- Bring water to a boil, mix in salt to make a strong salt solution and pour down nest. Repeat over three days (and pour over surrounding area as well to prevent them from rebuilding in the area).
- Disturb their dwelling regularly: Flood with lots of water (just use the garden hose and let it run for awhile). Do this daily for at least a week or two. They will eventually get fed up and move.
A few tips:
- Ants can live submerged in water for several days so you need to using boiling temperature to kill them. Pouring boiling liquid into the nest is effective on its own but you could also try adding an ingredient (as shown above) to make the remedy more powerful.
- Pour slowly into nest so the liquid has time to get into all the tunnels and surrounding soil. Do three times the first day, then at least once a day for the next three days.
- The best time to do this is when the ants are moving up closer to the earth’s surface (when it’s not too hot or cool). Typically between 10 a.m. and noon on a sunny day is the best time.
- You could also try liberally covering the mound with one of the repellents listed below (cinnamon, salt, etc.).
- Pouring kerosene or gasoline on the nest used to be a common method for killing a colony, but it’s not only dangerous it’s also harmful for the surrounding soil.
Did You Know: They not only build their colonies outside, they can also setup house inside. If you notice small hills inside your home, vacuum them up (and dispose vacuum contents in sealed plastic bags immediately). If a large nest has been built, this is a good time to bring in an exterminator.
- If it’s winter (below freezing) and your home has ants, you likely have a nest inside the dwelling.
Controlling Them Inside The House
The first line of defense is making your place unattractive to them. Make sure to wipe up spills immediately and wipe off counters, tables and stovetops regularly leaving no crumbs behind. Sweep and wash floors regularly. Don’t leave dirty dishes around or in the sink. Keep dry foods (like flour, cereal, sugar, oats, etc.) in air tight containers. Take out garbage regularly and wash out all packaging and pop bottles before putting in the recycle bin.
Although a sloppy environment is an attraction, having them in your home doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a poor housekeeper–they could be after water. If it’s dry outside and there’s not a nearby drinking source, they will be inside on the hunt for fluids. They’ll find it in houseplants, sinks and drains, pet dishes and cups left out containing liquids.
List Of Natural Repellents
Look for cracks or holes in the structure where they are coming from, spread any of these repellents around the holes (or combination of items on the list). Also spread around window sills, along baseboards, in corners and outside doors. The theory is that since they are repelled by these items, they’ll turn back. Success of the repellents can depend on the species of ants in your home.
- Ground Black Pepper
- Bay Leaves
- Whole Cloves
- Red Chili Powder (sprinkle liberally or make a paste with water and apply at entrance)
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Used Coffee Grounds
- Cucumber Peels
- Essential Oils: Peppermint, Lavender, Eucalyptus. Swab these around entrance points.
Tip: Plugging holes and cracks with caulking or filling with vaseline will physically block their entrance.
The ants could be attracted to your pet’s supper dish, a potted plant or dish of candies. Either keep food sealed until needed or surround it with a liquid barrier so they can’t get to the food. Fill a baking pan with water and set the pet dish (or potted plant, etc.), in the middle. Mixing in a little liquid dish detergent will be a strong repellent as well as prevent this from becoming a hydration source.
If it’s a potted plant that’s infested, repot the plant in a fresh pot of soil, washing roots clean of previous soil. You can try submerging the pot in a bucket of water for about 15 minutes so they flee, but this won’t remove larvae that may be present.
Natural Outdoor Deterrents
Look for entry ways into the dwelling via tree branches touching the house (including the roof), drain pipes, outdoor plants, shrubs, etc., trim these back if possible. Otherwise, wrap branches and pipes with a sticky substance that will trap them before they can find their way in (duct tape facing sticky side out should do it).
If your dwelling exterior will tolerate it without staining (test a small area first), spray a mixture of liquid dish detergent and water around the foundation.
There will be a soap residue left on the surface as the solution evaporates, hopefully enough to deter them from crossing it. Straight vinegar sprayed on the ground around the dwelling can help too (both methods may harm grass and plants).
- Mint: Plant fresh mint around the foundation of the house (can also have potted inside), or sprinkle crushed mint around entrances.
- Tansy, Lavender & Sage: Plant as mint above.
- Mix cloves and ground pepper with flour (3 TBS spice to 1 cup flour) and spread around areas that have heavy activity, this will help scatter them. Do this when there’s no sign of rain.
- Diatomaceous Earth: (can also use inside) Nice, non-toxic pesticide that is pet & child friendly. Probably the most effective naturally occurring protective powder, this is a great option if their nest is underneath a deck or patio and sidewalk blocks. Sprinkle this in the cracks that they will have to crawl up through. Diatomaceous Earth is easily picked up by the hairy bodies of most insects, whereupon it scratches through their protective wax layers and they also absorb some of this material. The result being that the insects lose water rapidly, dry up and die. Further protection is provided by the powder’s property of repelling many insects. In houses it can be used effectively to prevent the entry of certain insects such as earwigs and cockroaches, and to control these and others that are present in cupboards containing food, carpets, basements, attics, window ledges, pet areas (for fleas), etc. In all of these examples it is important to place a small amount of the powder in corners, cracks, crevices and other areas where insects might hide. Source: Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University.
Old Wives Tale: Make a 1″ line of chalk or baby powder (talcum) around the home, ants won’t cross it. Does it work? Many swear that it does.
- Aspartame: Touted frequently online as originally being developed as an ant poison and an effective way to control carpenter ants. Snopes found this to be false, see: this page for details.
- Instant Grits: One popular online remedy recommended is to feed them instant grits, instant oatmeal, cornmeal, cream of wheat or couscous. It’s suggested that they will “explode” when the food would expands inside as it comes in contact with stomach fluids. A study on the instant grits method and fire ants was done and found to be ineffective, (the report from Texas A&M University is no longer online). Also read the info below, it’s highly unlikely that the adults would even be able to eat the grits as they’re too large.
Did you know: Foragers carry solid food particles back to the nest to feed the larvae, the larvae then processes it and turns it into a liquid to feed the adults. Adults can ingest only very tiny, minuscule particles (larger pieces are filtered out), but their diet is from the liquid that the larvae provides.
Keep In Mind They Have A Lot To Offer
Think ants are pests? They may be if they’re taking over your home, but outside they’re very much needed. They aerate the soil, clean up scraps and seeds, control termite populations and they’re a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet.
If you prefer encouraging them to move elsewhere instead of killing them, make your home their last choice for foraging by using the above control methods and tips.