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How to Get Rid of Ants

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Ants are not ideal guests when it comes to indoor living. They arrive uninvited, invade every nook and cranny, and stay for longer than expected. However, they can be easily eliminated or, better yet, prevented from entering in the first place.

During the warmer seasons, the two most frequent ant species found in homes are house ants and carpenter ants. When their natural habitats are destroyed due to development activities such as construction, additions, or deck building, they look for alternative food sources, leading them indoors.

"The issue is that they can rapidly increase in numbers," says Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist and the director of the Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University. "By the time you notice them in your home, there may already be hundreds of them present."

Gangloff-Kaufmann mentions that odorous house ants, which are typically smaller than 1/8 inch in length, are the most common ant species to invade homes. However, she adds, "The good news is that they are only considered as nuisance pests." So, while odorous house ants may be found on kitchen counters or around the shower, they won't spread any diseases or cause any harm to your home.

Carpenter ants, however, are not the same. They can cause significant damage by gnawing through damp or decayed wood, potentially impacting windows, doors, and even the structural framework of your home. Carpenter ants measure between 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length.

Before you turn to a can of insecticide to tackle the problem, it's important to consider a more effective solution.

"Using ant poison may make you feel like you're making progress, but it won't solve the root of the problem," says Michael Hansen, PhD, a senior scientist and ecologist at CR who wrote his doctoral thesis on integrated pest management. "Keep in mind that there are thousands of ants in each colony, and unless you address what's attracting them to your home and how they're getting in, you'll keep seeing them over and over again."

With this in mind, we reached out to pest management experts for their top tips on how to effectively eliminate ants.

Here are their top five recommendations.

1. Keep Your House Clean

Ants consume sugar, protein, and anything else they come across. "Typically, a few ants will be sent out to scout and bring back samples of any food they find to the colony, and hundreds more will follow them back into the house," explains Gangloff-Kaufmann. "From my experience, they are particularly drawn to sugary liquids." To prevent scouts from returning with reinforcements, promptly clean up any spills, especially from items like honey, maple syrup, and soda. Store all food in airtight containers.

2. Eliminate Damp Spots and Rotted Wood

"While primary colonies of house and carpenter ants are usually located outdoors, they may establish satellite colonies inside a home as a source of resources," says Gangloff-Kaufmann. "Both species prefer moist environments." That's why showers, windows, and damp basement areas need special attention.

Locate and repair leaks immediately, and replace any materials that have been damaged by water. "Unlike termites that consume new or old wood, carpenter ants will only burrow through wood that has been damaged by water," Gangloff-Kaufmann explains.

One area to avoid for water-damaged wood is a deck. Due to neglect, these structures can rot and become an attractive location for carpenter ants. The best way to deter ants from a deck is to properly maintain it. Below, we have highlighted two wood alternatives for decking and a highly rated wood stain to protect wooden decks from further damage.

3. Set Ant Baits

"To effectively manage an ant infestation, utilizing ant baits is crucial. Place them wherever you observe ants and be prepared for a rapid reduction in their numbers," advises Gangloff-Kaufmann. "If you continue to spot ants around your home, experiment with various brands of baits until you find one that is attractive to that specific colony."

Not only does the sweet and sugary bait syrup kill any ants that consume it, but it also decimates larvae when the scouts bring the liquid back to the nest, thus helping to control the ant population. Please note that if you have pets, it is important to thoroughly read the packaging and carefully consider the placement of the ant baits.

4. Stay Away From Sprays

Using bug barrier sprays around the exterior of your home to prevent ant entry may seem like a good idea, but it is not recommended by Hansen. Not only is the spray temporary and only addresses one possible entry point, but it may also pose health risks.

According to Hansen, "I would argue that insect barrier sprays are not only ineffective against ants, but also excessive. Furthermore, some of these sprays contain chemicals that can interfere with our hormones and have been linked to negative neurobehavioral effects in children, including reduced IQ and increased ADHD rates, even at low exposure levels from spraying your home."

Instead, when you spot a few ants, simply squashing them may be the most effective way to get rid of them. These ants may be scouts, so eliminating them means they cannot return with additional reinforcements.

5. Make the Outdoors Appealing

Ants play a vital role in the ecosystem by aerating soil and serving as a food source for birds, according to Gangloff-Kaufmann. To keep them outdoors, examine the food sources outside your home. "Aphids, small insects that live on plants, excrete honeydew, a sweet substance found on plants," she explains. "Ants feed on this honeydew, but if a homeowner or landscaper sprays outdoor plants to get rid of aphids, they are also eliminating a food source for ants."

This lack of outdoor food could cause ants to invade your home in search of new sources of sustenance. Indoor houseplants, especially tropical varieties, are highly attractive to ants. Aphids feeding on indoor plants also excrete honeydew, which appears as white scale on leaves. Cleaning the leaves removes the food source for ants, and you may want to consider using aphid-killing plant spikes in the soil of indoor plants.

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