I get asked a lot of cleaning questions, with one of the most common being how to get rid of ants. (The very most common is: “Will you come clean my house?”)
If your home has ever been invaded by these ugly creatures, you know how difficult it can be to get rid of them. Many homeowners don’t have the time it takes to keep up the battle — and it is an ongoing one — so they call an exterminator. As someone who pales at the thought of filling my home with toxins, I always recommend giving non-toxic, natural methods a try first.
In most cases, the people who’ve sought me out for advice have had great luck and were able to skip the exterminator entirely IF they put in the effort. Sadly, a few have decided they were just too busy so they called in the pro’s… and months later they contacted me again to ask how to control ants, because, sure enough, the things came back.
For those of you who share my preference for all-natural methods, here are the steps to take both outside and inside your home to get rid of the ants and to keep them from returning.
How To Get Rid Of Ants Outdoors
Ants in the home come in through cracks and crevices, so it’s important to direct your attention outdoors if you want to control ants indoors.
- Find the colony. Ants in your home are scouting for food. Once they find it, others from the colony will follow their scent trail to the buffet. If you’re to have any success getting rid of ants you need to find the colony and destroy it. Look for them in your yard and along your home’s foundation. You can often recognize the colony by the soft, fresh soil on top of it.
- Look for outdoor nests. Carpenter ants don’t build colonies, they build nests. They particularly like building nests in damaged or moist wood. Places to look include your home’s siding, wood piles, damaged trees and rotting stumps.
- Destroy their homes. The easiest way to destroy the colony or nest is by pouring boiling water on it. Obviously, this requires a bit of planning and care. You’ll want to make sure you have enough water to thoroughly soak the area, but not so much you can’t carry it. If you can, get a helper to carry one pot of boiling water while you carry the other. If that’s not possible, move a beverage cooler close to the area and pour boiling water into it, then close the lid while you heat another pot. Make as many trips as needed to have a supply of water sufficient to soak the area, being careful the lid is always firmly closed. Once you’ve got enough water, open the cooler and tip it onto the ant colony.
- Make them unwelcome. To keep ants from re-establishing colonies or nests in your yard, keep your lawn mowed and foundation plantings trimmed. Don’t grow ant-attracting flowers (peonies, clematis, lilies) or vegetables (artichokes) near your home’s foundations. Pick up fallen wood, keep your trees in good condition, and extract stumps rather than letting them rot in place.
- Create a barrier to entry. Ants often enter homes through gaps around our windows and doors. Keep them out by caulking any gaps around windows and door casings. You can also deter them from coming indoors by using chalk to draw a line on window sills and thresholds. Chalk contains talcum powder which tears up ants’ exoskeletons, hence they won’t walk across it.
How To Get Rid Of Ants Indoors
Once you’ve destroyed the colony or nest, it’s time to get rid of the ants that have already made their way inside your home.
- Destroy the scent trail. Ants you see crawling on your counters or floors are there in search of food. As they forage, they leave behind a trail for other ants — those outdoors, along with others already nesting in your home. Destroy this trail by cleaning with a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. (My homemade disinfecting wipes will destroy the scent trail on counters, while my homemade floor cleaner will kill it on all hard flooring surfaces.) If you can’t stand the smell of vinegar but still want to get rid of the ants, just add 10 or so drops of peppermint oil to the mix. Ants despise its scent!
- Clean their feeding grounds. Crumbs on the floor, spills near the stove, fruit sitting out, and open containers of food in the pantry or cupboards are all-you-can-eat buffets for ants. Once you’ve started seeing them in your kitchen, it’s time to toss the Swiffer dust mop and get out the serious tools. Either sweep thoroughly or vacuum your floors, paying particular attention around the base of appliances, cabinets and walls. Do a thorough job on your weekly kitchen cleaning routine and do a full pantry cleaning, too. Also, plan to keep fruit in the refrigerator until you’ve conquered your ant problem.
- Clear out their hiding places. Toss or recycle any stacks of newspapers that have piled up in your home, as ants love to hide in them. Put away pet food between feedings and wash pet bowls after each use. (A thin coat of petroleum around the base of the bowl will keep ants from climbing into it.) Sort through clutter under your kitchen sink and wipe up any spills there, then clean your kitchen and bathroom trash cans.
- Use other deterrents as needed. There are a few scents that ants cannot stand, lavender and peppermint being two that humans often find very pleasant. Turn these scents into your allies by adding their essential oils to your homemade cleaning mixes. I use both when making homemade air freshener, which I liberally spray around the house knowing it’s non-toxic and yet it’s pulling double-duty by keeping pests away, too. You can even leave an opened package of sugar-free peppermint gum on shelves in your pantry to keep it ant-free, or grow pots of lavender and peppermint near your doors to keep the ants outside!
Clearly, how to kill ants naturally is a bit more involved than placing a call to a professional exterminator, but it DOES work. Plus, once you get in the habit of using a peppermint-scented vinegar-based cleaning solution year-round, you’ll find your home isn’t invaded by ants every time the seasons change. Putting an end to that aggravation is worth the effort!
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