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 clean my house?”)
If ants have ever invaded your home, you know they’re unsightly and appear out of nowhere. Once you see the first ant, it seems like there are suddenly dozens all over your house.
While I won’t clean your home for you, I’m happy to share with you these tips on how to get rid of ants without having to call an exterminator.
How To Get Rid Of Ants in the House
Keep Ants out of the House
Here are a few general steps to follow to get rid of ants in your house. To get rid of ants in the kitchen or bathroom, or ants outside in the yard, there are a few additional steps which I’ll cover more fully below.
1. Destroy the Scent Trail.
Ants enter your house in search of food. As they forage, they leave behind a path for other ants to follow. That’s why it’s important to squash any ant you see crawling, and to clean regularly.
A vinegar-based cleaner disrupts their scent trail. Try this all-purpose natural homemade cleaner. Adding 6 drops of peppermint essential oil (not extract) to 8 oz. of the cleaning spray will deter ants as well as cockroaches and spiders.
An ingredient often used in homemade laundry detergent, Borax is a natural mineral that can be used to kill ants and to get rid of cockroaches. It’s not toxic for humans or pets but is lethal for ants.
It’s not a quick ant killer, though. Instead, borax ant killer works because the scout ants — the ones you see on the counter — take it back to the colony where other ants eat it. Eventually, this causes the entire colony and its queen to starve.
If you want to try this slow-based solution, you’ll need to make the borax attractive to the ants by mixing it with sugar.
- Combine 3 tablespoons of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar and 1 tablespoon of borax.
- Sprinkle this mixture where you often see ants. They’ll consume the mixture and take bits back to the colony where other ants will eat it, too. Eventually, the borax will poison the entire colony.
Note: this may lead to seeing even more ants, which is why I prefer using diatomaceous earth-based approach.
Using Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is made from soft sedimentary rocks. Although it looks like fine powder, it actually has sharp, microscopic edges that cut through insects’ exoskeletons and digestive tracts. (It’s also great for controlling fleas, cockroaches, and other crawling bugs.)
Lightly sprinkling DE along windowsills, outside doors, or any other place you often see ants will disrupt their path. It’s a fast way to keep them out of your home. Combine it with the steps below to deal with the ants that are already inside, and you’ll quickly have your ant problem under control.
2. Clear out Their Hiding Places.
- Toss or recycle any stacks of newspapers that have piled up in your home — 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 container will keep ants from climbing into it.)
- Keep dirty laundry and towels off of the floor.
- Stop ants from coming inside by following the steps described below about getting rid of ants in the yard.
Get Rid of Ants in the Kitchen
Once you’ve started seeing ants in the kitchen, it’s time for deep-cleaning. In addition to the general steps to get rid of ants described above, there are a few more measures you need to take to get rid of ants in your kitchen.
If you’ve got the time, use this Kitchen Spring Cleaning Checklist to get every nook and cranny spotless. Otherwise, do at least the following:
- Keep the sink free of dirty dishes.
- Scrub your sink and run the garbage disposal to eliminate food residue.
- Empty the crumb tray in your toaster or toaster oven.
- Clean your microwave.
- Put all food away. Store dry-goods in airtight containers. Stash fruit in the refrigerator until the ant infestation is gone.
- Clean your trash cans.
- Sweep and mop the floor. Adding peppermint oil to this homemade floor cleaner will help deter ants, too.
Get Rid of Ants in the Bathroom
You may have noticed ants crawling near sinks or on the floor near the base of your bathroom cabinets. To get rid of ants in the bathroom, follow the general tips to keep ants out of the house described above. Then take the following steps.
- Clean your bathroom drains. If possible, pull the drain stop out and scrub it to remove biofilm and other residues that can attract ants.
- Fix any leaks, however minor, and add caulk to seal gaps around pipes under the sink.
- Keep the bathroom trashcan empty. Give it a good scrub, too.
- Hang up damp towels and bathmats.
- Don’t let dirty clothes accumulate on the floor.
- Purge clutter under your bathroom counter and in drawers, so ants don’t have a place to nest.
- Add peppermint essential oil to your homemade bathroom cleaner. Its scent deters ants, too.
How to Get Rid of Ants Outdoors in the Yard
Ants enter the home through cracks and crevices, so it’s smart to address outdoor sources and entry points if you want to control them indoors.
Locate and Destroy their Nest
Ants enter your home scouting for food. Once they find it, others will follow their scent trail to the buffet. To stop them, you need to locate the colony where they nest and destroy it.
Signs of Ant Colonies Outdoors
Look in your yard and along your home’s foundation. You can often recognize black ant colonies by the soft, fresh soil on top of it. Carpenter ants build nests in damaged or moist wood. So, inspect your home’s siding, wood piles, damaged trees, and rotting stumps.
Use Boiling Water to Destroy It
The easiest way to destroy the colony or nest is by pouring boiling water on it. This requires a bit of planning and care. You’ll want to make sure you have enough water to soak the area.
If you’re working solo, move a beverage cooler close to the spot and pour boiling water into it, then close the lid while you heat another pot. Once you’ve got enough water, open the cooler and tip it onto the ant colony.
Keep New Ant Colonies from Forming
Just as cleaning is the key to getting rid of ants in the house, keeping your yard and garden maintained will help deter ants from forming colonies, too.
- Mow at least once a week during the growing season.
- Water your lawn, especially on hot days, so ants don’t try entering your home in search of moisture.
- Trim tree branches and shrubs so they provide an accessible bridge for ants to use.
- Rake leaves and other debris away from your foundation walls.
- Pick up fallen wood and extract stumps rather than letting them rot in place for carpenter ants to set up home.
- Remove junk, put away toys, and keep debris out of your yard, so ants don’t mistake it for a sheltered location.
- Don’t grow ant-attracting flowers (like peonies, clematis, lilies) or vegetables (artichokes) near your home’s foundations.
- Use caulk to seal gaps around windows and pipes and replace worn weatherstripping.
- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth below dryer vents and other openings; it cuts through their exoskeletons so ants won’t walk through it. Add more after heavy rain.
Although getting rid of ants naturally takes a bit more effort than calling an exterminator, it does work. Plus, you get a clean house and tidy lawn and garden in the process.
Note: This article first appeared on Aug. 3, 2013. It has been revised and updated for republication.
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