How to get rid of ants

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Ants are a common household nuisance, but with the right strategies, you can get rid of them and prevent future infestations. Whether you prefer natural methods like essential oil repellents or chemical options like ant poisons, in many cases you can rid your home of ants without calling an exterminator.


Key insights

  • The proper ant removal method depends on what type of ants you have and which part of your home they’re in.
  • Typically, ant removal requires baiting and trapping, laying poison or natural repellents, and sealing or spraying ant entryways.
  • If you have a problem with ants in your kitchen, keep your counters and floors clear of bits of food and make sure to seal food in your cabinets and pantries.

Identifying different types of ants

Before you attempt to get rid of ants, it's crucial to identify the type of ant you're dealing with; different species require different treatment methods.

Some common ant species you might find in or around your home include:

  • Carpenter ants: These large ants are typically black or dark brown and are attracted to wooden structures. A large infestation can cause structural damage.
  • House ants: Also known as sugar ants, these small ants are usually brown or black and are attracted to sweet foods.
  • Pavement ants: Small and dark brown or black, these ants often build their nests under pavement or concrete slabs.
  • Big-headed ants: As their name suggests, these ants have proportionately large heads and can be found in various colors.
  • Tawny crazy ants: Also called Rasberry crazy ants, these ants are known for their erratic movement. These ants are typically reddish-brown or black.

Finding ant nests

Ant nests can take various forms, depending on the species. They’re often found in soil or wood, but they can also exist inside your home. Look for the following signs of an ant nest:

  • Small mounds of soil or dirt outside
  • Sawdust or wood shavings near wooden structures
  • Concentrated trails from small holes in your walls or baseboards

It’s important to remove the infestation as soon as possible, especially if you have carpenter ants. These ants can actually harm your home’s structure if left to thrive too long.

Getting rid of ants

“Ants are generally a bit easier [than other pests] to get rid of, thanks to the effectiveness of bait traps,” according to Zack DeAngelis of Pest Pointers, a website that specializes in DIY pest control. Once you've identified the type of ants you’re dealing with and located the nest, you can use the following methods to get rid of them.

Baiting and trapping ants

Baiting ants with food is an effective method for eliminating ant colonies because it targets both the worker ants and the queen.

“These baits work by attracting worker ants, who then take the bait back to their colony. These baits work slowly and, over time, eradicate the entire colony," DeAngelis said. "Since the original worker ant thinks the bait is pure food, it leaves a pheromone trail telling other worker ants to grab as much as they can and bring it back home.” 

Sweet baits

You can make a bait from sugar, syrup or honey combined with a slow-acting insecticide like boric acid. House ants are particularly attracted to sweet foods.

Even an effective bait can take a few weeks to work, so patience and persistence are key.

To prepare a sweet bait:

  1. Mix a small amount of boric acid (about 1%) with sugar, syrup or honey, ensuring the mixture isn’t too thick or too thin.
  2. Place the bait on a small piece of cardboard or in a shallow container (like a bottle cap).
  3. Place the bait near ant trails. Make sure it’s out of reach for children and pets.
  4. Check the bait regularly and replace it as needed.

Protein-based baits

Peanut butter or canned tuna also works well as a bait mixed with boric acid, especially for carpenter ants. You can use the same method as for the sweet bait above, monitoring and adjusting your bait as needed.

If you notice the ants aren’t taking the bait, try a different food source or modify the food-poison ratio. Keep in mind that it might take several days or even weeks to see significant effects.

Other ant removal methods

You can also trap ants using poison or sticky traps or other chemicals. Also make sure to eliminate their anthills and any ant trails you find.

  • Set traps and poison: Place ant traps or apply poison near ant trails and entry points.
  • Use diatomaceous earth and borax: Sprinkle diatomaceous earth or borax around the perimeter of your home and near ant nests.
  • Treat anthills: Pour boiling water or apply a chemical treatment to anthills to kill ants.
  • Check houseplants: Inspect your houseplants for ant colonies and treat them with an insecticidal soap or neem oil.
  • Wipe out ant lines: Use a vinegar and water solution to wipe away ant trails to disrupt their scent markers.

Repelling ants

Once you’ve battled an ant infestation, you can take a few preventive measures to keep them away. One method is to dab essential oils (peppermint, cinnamon, eucalyptus or lemon) along your baseboards, windows and doors to repel ants. It’s also smart to seal up any cracks or gaps (caulk is good for this) where ants might enter your home.

Store food in airtight containers and clean up spills and crumbs immediately to cut down food smells and keep ants from getting into sugars, cereals and other dry goods. You can also apply a residual insecticide around the exterior of your home to create a barrier.

When to hire an exterminator

In some cases — like for large, persistent infestations — hiring an exterminator is necessary to eradicate an ant population. Consider calling a professional exterminator if you’re dealing with any of the following:

  • The infestation is extensive and persistent.
  • You've tried multiple do-it-yourself methods with little success.
  • The ants are causing significant structural damage to your home.
  • You can’t find the ant nest to stop the infestation at the source.

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    FAQ

    Are ants harmful to humans?

    No, most ants aren’t directly harmful to humans. Some species, however (like fire ants), can deliver painful stings when provoked. Ants can also contaminate food sources, and carpenter ants can cause structural damage to your home.

    How are ants and termites different?

    Ants and termites are different in several ways, including their appearance, diet and habits. Ants have a distinct "waist" between their thorax and abdomen, while termites have a more uniform, straight body. Ants typically feed on a variety of foods, including sugars, proteins and other insects. Termites, on the other hand, primarily feed on cellulose found in wood, making them more destructive to wooden structures.

    How do you keep ants out of your kitchen?

    To keep ants out of your kitchen, keep the space clean and attractant-free:

    • Store food in airtight containers.
    • Clean up spills and crumbs.
    • Seal entry points.
    • Use natural repellents.
    • Apply vinegar solution.
    • Empty the trash regularly.
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