Ants are one of the most common household pests in the United States. If you see ants in your home, it’s not a sign of a dirty home. It’s simply a sign of ants’ tenacity and survival instincts helping them adapt to the modern age.
Know Your Enemy: All About Ants
Approximately 12,000 species of ants colonize the world, with only a handful of species making a nuisance of themselves in the average home. Ants are social insects, living in large groups called colonies. Most ant colonies have one queen, with thousands of sterile female worker ants. Winged ants are actually males, which are produced when the colony needs more ants. The male ant’s sole purpose in life is to mate with the queen and produce any larvae. One queen ant can live for a year or more and produce millions of offspring during that time.
When it is time to reproduce, swarms of winged ants emerge from the colony. These are both males and a queen ant. After mating, the queen seeks a suitable nest site. She prepares the colony and sheds her wings, then produces eggs to set up housekeeping in the new colony.
An ant can lift 20 times its body weight. Ants seek food and water sources, marking their trails using scent chemicals to guide other ants from their colony to a good supply source. Once you see ants inside your home, chances are good that they have set up nearby. Most ants live outdoors and simply find an easy entrance point into a home where food and water are abundant. A few species, such as carpenter ants, nest inside wood and can weaken beams and wooden structures from their tunneling activities.
Ants are often mistaken for termites. Flying ants and termites do look similar from a distance. If you see insects flying around your home, and you aren’t sure if they are termites or ants, try catching one and looking at it under a magnifying glass. Winged ants have a narrow waist and hind wings shorter than the front wings. Termites’ wings are equal in size, and termites tend to shed their wings continually. Many homeowners find termite wings before they actually see termites.
How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally
To get rid of ants naturally, you need to first remove any potential food sources.
Before reaching for the traps, sprays or natural ant killers, it’s important to make your home as unappealing to ants as possible. Remove tempting food sources. Keep your kitchen and food preparation areas, including the sink and sink trap, as clean as possible. Look around the baseboards, doors and windows to find where the ants are getting into your home, then seal these areas. Most ants prefer to nest outdoors, traveling into homes to seek food.
In addition to these steps, the following actions may also reduce the number of ants in your home, making it easier for natural ant killers to work on the remaining pests:
- Wash garbage pails and recycling bins with warm, soapy water. A good household floor cleaner with a strong scent, such as a pine or citrus-scented cleaner, not only removes food particles that ants feed upon but also disrupts their ability to find the food through scent. Some scents are unappealing to ants and will turn them away, too.
- Keep garbage pails and recycling bins outdoors if the ants return.
- Remove liner paper from kitchen cabinets and pantry shelves, which may have accumulated crumbs and spills from food sources. Even if you can’t see or smell them, the ants can. If ants have gotten into food stored in your pantry, such as bags of sugar or boxes of cereal, discard them immediately. Store sugar, cereals, grains and other food that tempt ants in air-tight plastic or glass bins.
- Keep your pet’s food bowls clean and remove them after your pet finishes eating. If your cats are grazers instead of guzzlers and like to eat a little at a time, place their bowl in a shallow dish or pie pan filled with water. A little rim of water around the food bowl won’t deter kitty from eating but will drown any ants foolish enough to attempt to cross the water barrier.
- Houseplants are, unfortunately, attractive nest sites for some species of ants. Houseplants swarming with ants should be removed from your home. Repot your plant in clean, sterile soil and wash the pot thoroughly in a solution of water with a splash of bleach mixed in. Rinse before planting your houseplants to remove any trace of bleach. Use your hose or the spray unit on your kitchen faucet to wash the plant’s leaves to remove any ants hiding under the leaves. Replant in sterile potting soil. If the ants return, employ the same trick used to safeguard your pet’s food bowl to guard your plants against an ant invasion. Fill a pie plate with water, but place a brick in the center or an overturned pot. Make sure that the pot or brick doesn’t touch the sides of the pan. Place your houseplant above the water line on the object in the center of the pan. The pan and water act like a moat to protect your houseplants against ant invaders. A bonus is extra humidity around your houseplant — except for cactus and other succulents, most houseplants like the extra humidity!
10 Ways to Get Rid of Ants
Assuming you do have ants and not termites, there are many ways to get rid of ants.
- Essential oils: You can use essential oils such as peppermint, citrus oil and tea tree oil to make an ant-repellent spray. Purchase a clean spray bottle and fill it with 1/4 cup of water, 15 drops of tea tree oil, 15 drops of peppermint oil and seven drops of the citrus oil of your choice. Shake it well and spray it around areas where ants are common, including baseboards. Do NOT use this oil in the kitchen or on surfaces where you prepare food. Use a mix of 15 drops peppermint oil and seven drops lemon oil with water to spray food-preparation areas.
- Vinegar: This vinegar spray makes great natural ant repellent. Mix equal amounts of common white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray areas where ants enter the home.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon, the spice found in your pantry or the grocery store, can be sprinkled around scent trails and baseboards to ward off ants naturally.
- Wash away the scent trails: Ants use invisible scent trails like street signs to guide their companions to food sources. If one ant finds a juicy supply, such as your dog’s food bowl or your kitchen garbage can, it will lay down a scent trail to help the rest of the colony find their way. Wash away the scent trail with common dish-washing liquid soap. Fill a pail with warm water and a squirt of dish soap, then wash the area where you see the ants traveling to and from the food source. You may need to repeat this several times to completely eradicate the scent trails.
- Castile soap spray: Castile soap is an old-fashioned remedy that you can use in a spray to kill ants naturally. You can find cakes of castile soap in natural health food stores or some old-fashioned general stores. Crumble it up, and mix 1/4 cup of soap with a few drops of peppermint oil and one quart of water. Shake and spray around ants to kill them. Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap is a castile soap product that is often recommended for natural ant killer sprays.
- Poison-free ant traps: Are inexpensive and generally safe to use around pets and kids. Each trap has a pheromone that lures ants and other crawling bugs into the sticky box.
- Chalk: Yes, common chalk is a good ant deterrent. You can grind up white chalk found in any stationery store or buy powdered chalk in a bottle at a hardware store. Use the squeeze-bottle chalk to draw a line around your baseboards and food items. Ants won’t cross the chalk line!
- Cornmeal: Sprinkle cornmeal around ant nests and entry points. It doesn’t kill ants, but repels them naturally.
- Aspartame: Sugar substitutes such as aspartame contain a poison that can kill ants. Mix powdered aspartame products into apple juice and place inside container traps. Ants take the bait, poison themselves and poison the colony.
How to Get Rid of Ants in the Kitchen
Kitchens pose special problems when trying to figure out how to get rid of ants. Because you prepare and store food in the kitchen, you shouldn’t use typical store-bought poisons. Some natural sprays, such as the one mentioned above that contains tea tree oil, should not be used near food-preparation areas since undiluted tea tree oil can be harmful if ingested. Instead use a poison-free glue board trap in areas you often see ants.
Other Ways to Kill Ants in the House
Most of the ways to get rid of ants mentioned in the 10 ant killers above will kill visible ants but won’t get rid of ants permanently. Some such as cornmeal and chalk repel ants, which may force the colony to relocate if it can’t get enough food. However, ants are persistent. They will go to great lengths to find food for their colonies. Discouraging them from one area may simply give them an incentive to find a new place to enter your home or seek food.
The best way to rid your home of ants permanently is to use traps. These traps, such as these Safer's® Products for Ant Control, are excellent choices for killing ants in the house. Some traps capture ants and other insects without using poison. Ants crawl in, but they can’t get out. You just pick up the trap and throw it out when it’s full or you’ve seen the last of the ants.
Bait traps attract worker ants, who take the bait back to their colonies to feed the queen and other ants. This kills the entire colony over time, removing ants permanently. Bait traps are safe to use around the kitchen and in other areas of your home since the bait isn’t exposed to people or pets, just to ants.
How to Get Rid of Flying Ants
Males and mating queens have wings — these are the flying ants that you see. At certain times of the year, males emerge from the colony along with a queen. They mate, then shed their wings.
Getting rid of flying ants is very similar to getting rid of any household ant. In addition to using the natural ant killers listed above, use aerosol sprays for a fast-acting ant killer. Safer's® Ant and Crawling Insect Killer is an easy-to-use, citrus-scented spray that is safe for use indoors and kills ants on contact. It contains no CFCs or other chemicals and is OMRI listed and compliant for use in organic production.
Winning the Battle Against Ants
Ants are tough, but Safer® Brand ant repellent is tougher. Take action today to rid your home of ants. Use the tips for cleaning your home and preventing ants from entering. Try some of the remedies and follow up with Safer® Brand ant killer products to eliminate ants from your home.