Because most kinds of ants typically found in the home do no significant damage, an ant infestation isn’t the worst pest problem in the world.

The good news is that only a few species of ants in North America (about 1,000) are likely to settle in homes, and even fewer are likely to sting or cause harm. Most ant species reside in gardens and do more good than harm by aerating the soil and removing pests such as aphids.

Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) are a type of ant that can cause damage to a home by tunneling through wood structural elements. 

How to identify ants

Begin by determining the sort of ant that has taken up residence in your home so you can learn how to get rid of ants, their nesting behaviors, and a better understanding of where they are residing (they may be nesting outdoors).

Take a close-up shot of the ant and email it to your local university extension service (use any online search engine to look up your state’s name and “university extension service”). The extension service will determine the kind of ant you’re dealing with and where its nest is located.

They may provide you with fact sheets regarding the ant species and recommendations on how to get rid of that specific ant species. 

Structure of an ant colony

any colony

Ants are social organisms that live in colonies where each member plays a specific duty. The reproductive individuals who remain in a hidden nest are known as “queens,” Their job is to keep the colony going by generating new ants.

Worker ants are the other colony members, which can number in the millions in larger colonies. Younger workers tend to stay inside the nest, tending to the queen’s needs and maintaining or expanding the nest, while older workers venture outside to gather food for the colony. When an ant infestation is discovered, these older workers are visible.

If you only spray the ant’s visible ants, you will never be able to control an ant infestation because these are only the older worker ants following established trails to and from a concealed nest someplace in your home’s walls.

Although it may seem unusual, the key to getting rid of visible ants is to focus on the ones you can’t see. This is because the queen, who lays all of the eggs, never leaves the nest. She hides in the nest, where the worker ants feed her. So, if all you do is spray pesticides on the visible worker ants, the queen will just make more to take their place, and your infestation will never cease.

The key is finding and killing the queen ant, which can be difficult because the nests are commonly buried behind walls or concrete slabs. 

How to find ant nests

Getting rid of an ant’s nest is sometimes the solution to an ant problem. If you have carpenter ants, which can cause structural damage to your home, you must eliminate them as soon as possible, it may not be simple to locate the nest, and it will necessitate some detective work.

Ants favor damp locations, such as framing or soft, spongy flooring caused by a plumbing or roof leak. Finding locations with water damage is the first step in getting rid of ants. The obvious options are attics, bathrooms, and outside walls.

To find the ant nest, make small holes in water-damaged walls. (You’ll have to patch up the walls regardless.) When you find the nest, spray it with bifenthrin, permethrin, or deltamethrin-based insecticide (look on the label).

One brand is Ortho’s Home Defense Max. Ensure the water leak is fixed, and any damaged wood is replaced. Hire a pest control agency if you can’t find the nest. Pros spend almost 80% of their time looking for nests. Their rates start at around $150, while more complicated situations require many treatments that might cost up to $400.

Are ants harmful to people?

According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are more than 12,000 kinds of ants on the planet. The vast majority of these ants are completely unharmful to humans. 

However, ants can carry bacteria, making them potential illnesses or infection spreaders. For example, a small animal study published in 2019 found that Monomorium ants can transmit pathogenic germs that can harm humans. According to an older 2005 study, the pharaoh ant, a Monomorium ant, can cause bronchial asthma and respiratory allergies. 

Natural ways to eliminate and repel ants

yellow lemon fruit in brown wooden bucket

There are various methods for removing ants and their nests from your property. While professional exterminators may be necessary in some cases, several natural alternatives can cure the problem without introducing chemicals or poisons into your house. 

Here are some of the most effective natural ways to kill and repel ants that may be found at your house or a local store. 

1. Diatomaceous earth (silicon dioxide)

Diatomaceous earth is a silica created from the fossilized remnants of diatoms, small aquatic creatures (a type of plankton). 

Diatomaceous earth isn’t harmful to your health. It kills ants and other insects by sucking up the oils in their bones and drying them out. However, because diatomaceous earth is an irritant, avoid inhaling it or putting it on your skin. 

Food-grade diatomaceous earth is available for purchase online. Follow the box directions to use it to kill ants, or sprinkle the powder anywhere you notice ants. 

2. Glass cleaner and liquid detergent

When ants wander, they leave a fragrant pheromone trail that works as a map. This procedure will eliminate the ant’s odor and prevent them from returning to your home. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Combine glass cleaning spray with liquid detergent (dish soap) in a clean spray bottle.
  • Spray the solution in areas where ants appear to enter or congregate.
  • After spraying, wipe clean the area leaving a faint residue. 
  • Repeat the previous steps as needed. 

If you don’t have any glass cleaner on hand, soapy water (i.e., hand soap, dish detergent) will likely erase the ant pheromones’ fragrance.

3. Ground black or red pepper

Ants seem to dislike the fragrance of black or red (cayenne) pepper. Thus it’s a natural deterrent.

Sprinkle pepper along baseboards and behind appliances to employ this strategy. According to anecdotal evidence, this is a safe technique to help keep ants at bay.

4. Peppermint

Peppermint is a natural insect repellent that can help repel ants and other insects like mosquitoes.

Follow these instructions to utilize peppermint essential oil as an ant repellent:

  • In a clean plastic spray bottle, combine 10 to 20 drops of peppermint essential oil with 2 cups of water.
  • Spray the mixture around the baseboards and windows of your home.
  • Allow time for the mixture to dry before continuing. 

Like most essential oils, peppermint oil should be kept out of reach of pets, especially cats, which can become quite unwell if exposed.

Peppermint essential oil can be found at your local grocery or health food store.

5. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil, like peppermint oil, can be an efficient ant repellent. To utilize this approach, follow the instructions below:

  • In a clean plastic spray container, combine 5 to 10 drops of tea tree essential oil with 2 cups water.
  • Spray the mixture in areas of the house where ants are common. Alternatively, soak cotton balls in the mixture and scatter them over your home. 

If the aroma is too overpowering, try combining tea tree oil, peppermint oil, and water. Like most essential oils, tea tree oil should be kept out of reach of dogs. 

6. Lemon eucalyptus oil

Another natural bug repellant is oil produced from the lemon eucalyptus tree. It contains citronella, used to repel mosquitoes and other flying insects in candles. It may also be effective for repelling ants, according to anecdotal evidence.

Complete the following steps to put it to use:

  • Using undiluted lemon eucalyptus essential oil, saturate cotton balls. 
  • Place cotton balls in parts of the house where you frequently observe ants.
  • Weekly, replace the cotton balls with new, saturated cotton balls.

Lemon eucalyptus oil should not be consumed. It should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.

Lemon eucalyptus oils are most likely available at your local health food store. It’s also accessible over the internet. 

7. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)

Despite their similar names, the oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and lemon eucalyptus essential oil is not the same. The gum eucalyptus tree, native to Australia, is the source of OLE. It contains p-Methane-3,8-diol (PMD) and is an excellent insect repellant.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies PMD as a biopesticide that is certified safe to use.

OLE is available in your local hardware and gardening store and online.

8. White vinegar

White vinegar, found in most shops, is a cheap and effective way to kill and repel ants. It also cleans naturally.

Wherever ants are likely to congregate, clean hard surfaces such as floors and worktops with a 1-1 vinegar/water solution. Spray the mixture whenever ants are prone to go. Spray the mixture on ants or wipe them away with a paper towel if you see them. After the vinegar dries, ants can smell it, but most humans can’t smell it for long. 

9. Boiling water

Fill any ant holes you find on your property with hot water. Using this method, many of the ants inside will be exterminated fast and effectively.

Anthills may appear insignificant, yet they conceal vast ant colonies beneath them.

The boiling water alone will not be enough to eradicate the colony. As a result, handle any ant holes you find near your home with caution. 

10. Cornstarch

Cornstarch, which is available in supermarkets, can be used to suffocate a huge number of ants at once. Cornstarch can be used to kill ants in two separate ways:

The first approach involves liberally applying cornstarch to the entire colony of ants and then sprinkling water on top. Many dead ants will be encased in cornstarch, and vacuum them up, making sure to dispose of the vacuum bag outside as soon as possible. 

11. Cinnamon leaf essential oil

Compounds in the cinnamon leaf essential oil, such as trans-cinnamaldehyde, were found to be effective at killing and repelling ants, especially biting red ants, in a 2005 study.

Using pure cinnamon leaf essential oil, saturate cotton balls. 

Place the cotton balls in parts of the house where you frequently observe ants. Weekly, replace the cotton balls with new, saturated cotton balls.

Cinnamon leaf essential oil is widely available in health food stores. It’s also available on the internet.

12. Neem oil

The insecticide neem oil is made from the neem tree, which is native to India. Neem oil is recommended for use around plants, especially if aphids or ants are present. Because ants raise aphids (small sap-sucking insects), eradicating the aphids with neem oil will eliminate both types of pests.

Diluted neem and products containing neem extract are said to be less effective than full-strength neem oil.

Neem oil is available in many health food stores and on the internet. 

13. Coffee grounds

The smell of brewed coffee grounds has been found to attract ants. Freshly brewed coffee grounds should be sprinkled on disposable surfaces (such as index cards) and placed in ant-infested places (such as pet bowls). Window sills can also be used to display the grounds. If the grounds grow dry, they will lose their effectiveness, so change them periodically.

14. Boric acid

Boric acid is a sort of toxin that, according to an older 2003 animal research, can kill certain species of worker ants and their queen after three weeks of exposure. It achieves this by dissolving the ants’ external shells and stomachs.

Because boric acid is harmful, it must be kept out of reach of dogs and children.

Follow the instructions below to use boric acid:

  • Put your safety gloves on
  • To prepare a solution, combine ½ teaspoon boric acid, 8 teaspoons sugar, and 1 cup warm water. 
  • In a mixing basin, combine the sugar and boric acid and whisk until completely dissolved. 
  • Soak cotton balls in water and scatter them throughout your property in ant-prone locations. 
  • Containers should be washed completely and cleaned after each use or discarded.

Boric acid can also build do-it-yourself (DIY) and traps. Mix the powder with a sweetener like a maple or corn syrup to attract ants. Place on a flat, disposable surface, such as cardboard, in ant-infested regions and spread out.

Boric acid can be found in your local hardware and gardening store and on the internet.

15. Borax (sodium tetraborate)

Despite their similar names, borax and boric acid are not the same chemical compound. Both of these ways could be equally effective at getting rid of ants in your house. Borax must be kept away from pets and children since it might be dangerous. 

Follow these instructions to utilize borax:

  • Put on your protective gloves
  • Combine ½ teaspoon borax, 8 tablespoons sugar, and 1 cup warm water to make a solution.
  • Stir in the sugar and borax until they are completely dissolved.
  • Soak cotton balls in water and scatter them throughout your property in ant-prone locations.
  • After use, containers should be properly cleaned or disposed of. 

16. Lemons

Lemon juice can repel ants by eliminating pheromone trails and concealing the smell of food.

Furthermore, putting lemon rinds in your cabinet may deter ants from settling in your kitchen.

17. Check your houseplants

Check your houseplants for ant swarms, which could suggest the presence of nests beneath the soil. Any plants that look to be affected should be discarded. Surround the soil with citrus rinds from lemons or oranges to keep ants away from your plants.

18. Keep the outdoors outside

Maintain a debris-free yard. Remove any vines or vegetation that come into contact with or leans against your house’s external walls or windows, making it easier for ants to enter. 

19. Cut off sources of food

Sweet and starchy foods like sugar, honey, and cornmeal attract ants. As a result, one of the greatest ways to keep ants away is to ensure no food sources are nearby.

Food should be kept in containers or plastic bags that are properly sealed. After each meal, immediately wash all plates and cooking equipment.

Using a broom or vacuum, clean up crumbs from your home daily. Crumbs can collect under and around standing equipment in your kitchen, couch cushions, garbage pails, and other parts of your home where your family eats or prepares food.

Ants are attracted to pet food. When your pet has done eating, remove the pet bowls. To get rid of the food odor, clean the dishes right away.

20. Eliminate ant entrances

Understanding how ants enter your home can aid in the removal of an existing ant infestation as well as the prevention of future infestations.

Look for cracks in the walls and holes near the flooring and radiators in your home. Cracks can be sealed or treated. 

What if nothing works to getting rid of ants?

brown and black fire ant on brown sand during daytime

Insecticides and professionally created treatments can be used to get rid of ants if natural solutions aren’t enough.

Identifying the pathways followed by worker ants to travel to and from the nest is an important first step in eliminating ants from the house. Any visible ants crawling within your home are looking for food, and once they find it, the worker returns it to the colony. Therefore, the ant creates a chemical trail for its fellow worker ants to follow to obtain additional food. 

This behavior allows you to fight ants since you can now trick the worker ants into carrying poisoned food (ant bait) back to the colony.

Use ant baits indoors

Avoid spraying visible ants traveling along trails inside your home with insecticides. Pesticide sprays may kill a few visible ants, but others will immediately replace them, and the infestation will never be completely eradicated. Instead, place ant killers for these worker ants to carry back to the secret nest and utilize them as a ticket inside the colony. 

Ant baits are made up of delicious components, mainly sweet, sugary carbohydrates and toxins lethal to ants but not to animals or humans. Boric acid, a natural material non-toxic to humans when handled appropriately, is utilized in some ant baits. 

Ant baits can be “stations” sprayed onto surfaces containing granular materials or liquids. If you’re going to use ant bait, make sure it’s close to visible ant trails but out of reach of dogs and youngsters.

If you keep other surfaces clean, the bait will work best because it will be the only delicious material available to attract the ants. The worker ants will carry the pesticide bait back to the nest, but eliminating the colony can take many days, or even weeks, if the colony is huge or contains several queens, as some ant species do.

If the ants empty the bait stations, you may need to replenish them. However, the infestation will gradually fade away.

black insects on yellow background

Use spray pesticides outdoors

If you follow ant trails and find the colony’s outdoor nest, a big dosage of liquid insecticide that can soak down to reach the queen might be a good idea. It may be effective to saturate the nest with an approved insecticide spray (following all package guidelines).

Check to ensure this is the colony generating your inside infestation. Wide varieties of ants are beneficial garden insects that should not be killed.

Warning: If you apply a general-purpose pesticide to eliminate ants, keep in mind that these chemicals can kill both beneficial and unwanted species, such as honeybees and predatory insects. Wherever possible, it’s ideal to use a selective pesticide that exclusively kills ants. 

Exterminators

If all else fails, the professional exterminator may be able to help. Look for a company committed to using as few dangerous products as possible. Tell them if you have children, pets, or other health problems, such as a respiratory infection. 

In their titles, some professional exterminators include words like “green,” “organic,” and “environmentally friendly.” If you’re concerned about chemicals, ask an exterminator about the ingredients they typically use in ant treatments before hiring them. 

Keep things clean

For the prevention and control of any pest, sanitation is essential. Like all living things, ants require water, food, and shelter to survive. Ants leave their colony’s protection in search of food and water.

Making things difficult for them. Maintain a clean environment by keeping foods sealed, floors swept, and all surfaces clean. Keep everything clean while targeting the nest, as the sweet and bait will be the only item available to the ants.

But don’t clean up the ant trails until the infestation is gone because they’ll help the ants find your bait and transport it back to the colony. After getting rid of the ants, clean up and maintain the path surfaces. 

How to get rid of outdoor ants

  • Arrange for a search party to be dispatched. Look for ant beds in your yard or near your house’s foundation. Carpenter ants prefer broken or wet wood, so look for them on tree stumps, woodpiles, downed trees, old patio furniture, and other outdoor structures. 
  • Make a statement. Pour boiling water over the anthill or spot treat with an outdoor insecticide once you’ve located the nest. 
  • It’s time to get to (yard) work. Keeping your property clean is the simplest way to keep ants away. Keep an eye out for branches, bushes, or shrubs that touch your house and could give an easy entry point for ants.

What causes ants in the home?

Ants are a prevalent nuisance in homes for several reasons. Indoor rooms, particularly kitchens and pantries, provide them with food and shelter. Ants are attracted to crumbs, spilled foods, and pet foods, and the dark places in walls and beneath floors provide many opportunities for them to build nests. Removing ants and stopping them from returning is mostly a matter of denying them food and nesting grounds.

How to prevent ants in the home

Ants are little insects that can get inside homes and structures through microscopic cracks and openings. Seal around windows and doors and all cable, pipe, and wire access points to reduce this.

Inspect your foundations regularly for minor gaps that ants can use to gain access to your property. Keeping things clean of crumbs and storing goods in sealed containers will deprive ants of the items they seek, eliminating the primary reason they come indoors. 

Ants vs. Carpenter Ants vs. Termites

ant formica rufa on green grass

There are various common ants in the home, so it’s critical to take the appropriate precautions to know which one you’re dealing with.

Pavement ants, odorous house ants, and pharaoh ants are the most common species inside the home (also known as sugar ants).

These species can be found in almost every state in the United States, and they feed mostly on sugars, greases, and other compounds in household kitchens. They come in various colors, including dark brown, black, and pale yellowish-brown, and while they are unpleasant and perhaps unclean, they do not constitute a major threat. 

Carpenter ant guarding its nest. This ant is a major pest on houses. Shot with extreme high magnification.

Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.( are a different tale entirely. The hue of these huge ants (up to ⅝ inch) ranges from reddish-orange to black. You’re most likely dealing with worker carpenter ants if you see ants with wings. Carpenter ants are more dangerous than most species because they feed primarily on decaying wood.

The tunnels they create in a home’s wood framing to access the decaying wood can cause significant structural damage. Residual wood dust and debris surrounding the foundation and sill plate of the home, material removed by the ants as they burrow tunnels in the structure, is a clear sign.

Termites are even more dangerous than ants (Isoptera spp.). Termites and carpenter ants might appear very similar in terms of color, size, and the type of damage they do at first glance. On the other hand, a termite’s body does not have the small “waist” and segmented body found in carpenter ants.

The small termite on decaying timber. The termite on the ground is searching for food to feed the larvae in the cavity.

Termites have four equal-sized wings, whereas carpenter ants have shorter hind wings than forwarding wings. If one of these pests is discovered, you should get advice from an exterminator since they can cause significant structural damage if left unchecked. 

FAQ

Do ants destroy wood?

Not all ants are dangerous to your home’s wood frame. Only the carpenter ant offers such a threat to the structure of your home. The other ants, which are more common, are more of a nuisance than a significant threat. 

When should I call a pro?

If you suspect carpenter ants are burrowing in your walls, you should get advice and treatment from a professional pest control company. Most other ant infestations may be handled by a homeowner, though it may take weeks or months of diligent effort.

However, if an ant infestation persists despite your best efforts, you should seek the advice of an exterminator. If you suspect termite damage, get professional help immediately, as well as have any structural wood that has been harmed replaced. 

Last update on 2022-11-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API