I take pride in my advanced detective skills. They can be applied to almost anything – figuring out who ate a sticky snack on the couch, busting the person who wore muddy shoes into the house, and more importantly, identifying the entry point of an army of ants invading our house.
Having ants everywhere outdoors doesn’t bother me – it’s when I see them trailing along my kitchen countertops that I spring into action. For the past two spring/summer seasons we have successfully rid our house of two different types of ants, and decided it was time to share some of our methods.
When you’re dealing with ants in your house, detective work is an integral part of eradicating them, but there’s actually much more to it. Finding the most effective treatment for ants depends on the specific type you have invading your house. Each species has different behaviors, preferences in food, and remedies that will be effective in keeping them out of your home.
Some ants are specific to region, so we only have experience dealing with certain types. In this article we’ll cover remedies for odorous house ants and carpenter ants. (Continue reading to the end of the article for tips that may work on other species.)
Odorous House Ants
This type of ant is attracted to sweets, and are commonly found in the kitchen.
Odorous house ants will leave a chemical pheromone trail wherever they travel. If you kill them, other ants will simply follow the trail and show up in the same places. For this reason, the entire colony must be killed.
When you see the first few ants, you can sponge them (and the surrounding area) with soapy water to eliminate the pheromone trail. Immediately work to figure out where they’re getting into your house, and begin placing homemade ant bait at the entry points.
Homemade bait for house ants
Borax will kill odorous house ants, and powdered sugar will attract them. Make a homemade bait by thoroughly mixing one part borax with 3 parts powdered sugar. Fill tiny containers (such as bottle caps) with this homemade bait and place them as close to the place where you suspect ants are entering your house. If you see trails of ants, place small containers of the mixture directly in their path. This prevents most of them from traveling all around your house if they have easy access to this sugary treat.
(Have pets or kids who might get into this powdery mixture? Try this instead: mix one cup warm water with ½ cup sugar and 3 tablespoons borax. Soak it up with cotton balls and place them in shallow dishes near ant trails.)
Resist the urge to kill all the ants you see. They will carry the bait back to the nest, unable to differentiate between the borax and sugar, and the borax particles will eventually kill the entire colony. The more ants that are allowed to find the bait and carry it back, the faster the colony will die off.
More tips for house ants
Spray vinegar near baseboards, in any cracks, and on countertops where they may be traveling. You can allow vinegar to dry on surfaces or wipe with a clean cloth – this eliminates their chemical trail and will deter some of the stragglers. Repeat several times a day.
Practicing good sanitation practices is one of the best ways to make your home less attractive to ants. Keep spills, crumbs, and garbage cleaned up in the kitchen. Make sure all food – especially anything sweet – is stored in tightly sealed containers or zip-top bags. They will get into things like jars of honey that have drips on the side or around the lid, so sealing the jar in a zip-top bag will protect it.
Even if you’re using a natural ant bait, if there is a more desirable snack, like spilled soda or cookie crumbs, they will choose that over bait.
Carpenter ants are commonly found around homes in wooded areas. They don’t carry bait back to their nests, so you have to kill them at the source. This means you have to do a little detective work to find the nest(s). Don’t bother using the borax/sugar bait – they’ll just feed on it like little piggies at a trough.
They will typically live outdoors very close to the house, and eventually enter your house in search of food and water.
How to find the nest
Carpenter ants live in wood and tunnel through it. The best clue to look for is small piles of very fine sawdust – the remains of the wood they have chewed through. You will typically find carpenter ant nests in moist wood in foundations, decks, wood piles near your house, trees, gaps between boards, etc.
If you take some time to figure out where ants are entering the house, you can usually track them back to a nest. It’s easiest if you kill all the ants in sight, then watch for new ants to appear to determine their general entry point. This may give clues to holes that need to be sealed up, rotting foundation where they’re living, or cracks under doors they’re traveling under.
Natural carpenter ant remedy
The best natural remedy we have found for eradicating carpenter ants is Diatomaceous Earth (DE). DE is completely natural and organic. It is made from tiny skeletal remains of algae-like plants.
DE is a lethal dust for insects. Its microscopic razor sharp edges will cut through the body of insects, drying them out and killing them. If ingested by carpenter ants, it will shred their insides. There are different types of DE, so keep in mind you must get food grade DE for pest control. (You do not want the DE that is sold for swimming pools – it has a different make-up.)
Food grade DE is completely safe to be used around kids and pets and can be sprinkled around the home and yard without posing a threat. Find food grade Diatomaceous Earth here.
In order to get rid of a colony of carpenter ants, DE must be injected directly into the nest. We used a medicine dropper to squirt dry DE into cracks where we found them nesting. You can also use a gadget like this to spray it into cracks or holes. DE must be reapplied after it rains.
The best advice I can give to get the most out of your DE treatments is to stay on top of it! This pesky ant species may relocate their nests and find new ways into your house. If you see a resurgence, put your detective hat back on and find that nest.
Other Tips for Getting Rid of Ants
Here are some remedies DIY Natural readers (thanks y’all!) have used to treat ant problems:
- Some ants like protein and grease. Mix a spoonful of peanut butter with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of borax. Using a plastic straw, tap the end into the mixture repeatedly until the straw is full of the mixture. Cut the straw into ½ inch pieces and place them next to ant trails.
- Put a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball and place in areas ants are crawling around.
- Sprinkle cinnamon (being careful not to get it on things that will stain) near entry points.
- Some ants dislike baby powder. Sprinkle around perimeter of house or indoors where ants are entering your house.
- Rub a little Vaseline near the areas they are entering the house.
Do you have other remedies for ants not mentioned here? Share them in the comments below!
(photo credit to Diane Jabs)