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Ants have a way of sneaking up on you. One day, you notice something small scurrying across your kitchen floor out of the corner of your eye, and the next you see an army of ants marching into your pasta cabinet. But you’re so much bigger than those little buggers, surely you should be able to get rid of them on your own without having to call an exterminator, right? In most cases you can, and we’re here to tell you how to do that.
Identify the ant
Start by identifying the type of ant in your house so you can find out its nesting habits and have a better idea of where they’re living (they may be nesting outdoors). There are a few ways of doing this. First, you’re going to want to try to take a close-up photo of the ant. Then do a Google Image search for “ants” and see if any of the critters that pop up look familiar.
For a far more precise (but more time-consuming) answer, Family Handyman suggests emailing the photo of the ant to your local university extension service. They should be able to tell you the type of ant you’re dealing with and where it nests.
Figure out where they’re coming from
Instead of just squishing the ants as soon as you see them, take the time to figure out where they’re coming from. Maybe you accidentally spilled some maple syrup in a cupboard and the ants are feasting. They could also be making meals out of grease drips and spills under your microwave. If you find a clear source, clean it up. Once their food source is eliminated, the ants might actually lose interest and go away on their own.
Shut down their trails
Ants tend to travel in packs (which is why you typically don’t see a single ant somewhere) and leave a trail of their pheromones so their friends can follow them and find their food source. Marybeth Jones at Country Living recommends using a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water and spray it anywhere you’ve spotted ants.
Seal off their entry points
You also want to make sure that they can’t get in from the outside. According to the folks at DoMyOwn, here’s what to do:
Seal cracks and crevices around window frames and door frames, around baseboards and other places where you have noticed ants entering the structure with caulk or another suitable material.
Seal holes around cables pipes and wires with copper mesh or another suitable material.
Repel and kill
Now it’s time to use something that will both repel and kill the ants, driving them out of your home. You have a few different options for this. There are plenty of chemical-based ant-killing sprays available at your local hardware or big-box store, if you want to go that route. If that’s the case, look for a product containing boric acid, and, if it’s a concern for you, check the label to see if the spray is toxic to pets and/or children. Also, pay attention to whether the spray is for indoor or outdoor use, and use accordingly. If you need some product recommendations, The Spruce has a few favorites.
But not everyone is on-board with chemical sprays. Consumer Reports senior scientist Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a biologist and ecologist who wrote his doctoral thesis on integrated pest management, recommends avoiding them:
“I’d argue that insect barrier sprays are both ineffective against ants and complete overkill,” says CR’s Hansen. “Worse, some of these sprays contain chemicals that are endocrine-disrupting compounds, which can alter our hormones. Similar compounds have been linked to neurobehavioral effects in children, including reduced IQ and increased rates of ADHD, even at the low levels you’d be exposed to when spraying your house.”
As a result, you may prefer to take a more natural approach, and you’re in luck, because there are several. In fact, it’s a topic we’ve covered extensively in the past, including using baby powder, coffee grounds, mint, cornmeal, diatomaceous earth, chalk and spices. Country Living offers two other options: making a solution of peppermint or rosemary oil and water and spraying that on various entry points like windowsills and doorways. Of course, Hansen at Consumer Reports might point out that natural barrier sprays are ineffective, too, but at least you’re not spraying harmful chemicals in your home.
The experts at Consumer Reports would instead recommend using ant bait. This sweet, sugary syrup lures the ants in, leaving them to track the liquid back to the ant colony to kill larvae and control the population. Wirecutter advises using Terro T300 Liquid Ant Baits because “it’s simple to use, it’s widely available, and its effective, slow-acting poison targets and eliminates the entire colony.”
Prevent them from coming in
Of course, the best way to deal with ants is to make sure they don’t get in in the first place. The most obvious way to do this is to keep your home—especially your kitchen—clean. Country Living also recommends sealing any cracks or potential entry points, hiding any sweets (and keeping them wrapped up well), regularly cleaning the countertops and taking out the trash regularly.
Along the same lines, eliminate any damp spots or rotted wood in the house, Consumer Reports notes. Pay close attention to showers, windows, damp areas in the basement and anywhere with a leak. (And definitely fix that leak.)
Call the professionals, when needed
If none of this works and you really can’t get rid of the ants, it is probably time to call an exterminator. You shouldn’t have to live with these pests in your home.
This story was originally published on 5/16/13 and was updated on 10/9/19 to provide more thorough and current information.