It doesn’t matter if you’re a homeowner or a renter, knowing how to get rid of ants is an incredibly useful skill. Why? Because these creepy crawlers are resilient, and once they realize a home is an excellent source for food, they will keep coming back. Ants leave behind a trail of pheromones for their little buddies to follow. So what may have started out as a small problem can quickly become an ant army invasion in your home.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to eradicate your ant problem once and for all.
Types of ants that invade homes
There are many different ants that can cause problems, but the ones that typically show up in homes are seeking water and food during the warm-weather months, according to Matt Zehner, the technical services manager for Rentokil Steritech, a national pet-control service. Here are a few common species:
- Odorous house ants: They are usually dark brown or black and are extremely attracted to sugary foods. They stink when crushed, hence their name.
- Pavement ants: They are blackish brown with paler legs. “These ants will eat almost anything: other insects, seeds, melon, honey, bread, meats, nuts, and cheese,” say Zehner. They are known to climb masonry walls so they can enter a home.
- Carpenter ants: “They are large, black, or dark brown ants that must have a constant water source to survive,” Zehner says. They also tend to nest in rotted wood, so if you see them around your home, there may be a structural problem.
How to get rid of ants
The good news is that keeping ants out of your house is a relatively simple three-step process.
- Cut back the foliage. Ants love to climb trees and shrubs, and they use them as bridges to get inside. “Cutting back on all the greenery that touches your home will make it tougher for ants to enter,” says Louis Brust, a real estate agent and former exterminator based in Myrtle Beach, SC.
- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth. Protect the exterior perimeter of your house with food-grade diatomaceous earth. What’s this, you ask? “Diatomaceous earth is made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms,” Brust says. “When spread around the outside of the home, ants and other insects that cross the substance will die.” This soil sucks the moisture out of their bodies so they die of dehydration. “While it is toxic for ants, it won’t hurt people, pets, or your garden,” says architect John Mochelle of New York.
- Seal your home. To keep more critters from infesting your home, you’ll need to block their points of entry. “Sealing all possible routes in is essential to stopping an infestation,” says Sydney Crawley, public health entomologist at Scotts Miracle-Gro. Mochelle says to seal all cracks around windows, door frames, floorboards, pipes, and open seams in the walls and foundation with caulk. “You can use silicone caulk as a quick fix, but for huge gaps and large amounts of damage, you may need professional repairs,” says Johnny Harper from J and J Home Inspections in Nashville, TN.
Other tips for keeping ants away
Ants are always looking for food, so eliminating access is critical. Cleaning is a big part of avoiding an infestation.
“Picking up crumbs by vacuuming, sweeping, and wiping should be a daily routine,” Harper says. Storing sweets, pantry staples like honey, and even fruit typically left on the counter in airtight containers is also essential. Even your pet’s food can attract ants, so don’t leave out bowls with crumbs.
Essential oils can also drive back ants from your home. Harper suggests mixing a half-teaspoon of cinnamon essential oil with 1 cup water and applying it to doorways, windowsills, or anywhere you’ve seen ants. Peppermint essential oil can also repel ants; just dab it in the areas where ants are gathering.
Another natural ant killer? Vinegar. Combine equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle, and use it where you see infestations. Keep in mind it could take an hour to work.