Ants are a common household pest. With about 1,000 species of ants in the country, most homeowners run into an ant problem at one point or another.
Whether it’s a trail of tiny black ants heading toward the kitchen, or large carpenter ants living on your deck, nobody likes sharing space with bugs.
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, our team offers professional ant control services to customers in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Coast in California.
And in this post, we’re sharing our top tips for how to get rid of ants once and for all.
- Ants are attracted to food, water and shelter inside your home. They forage on everything edible, are drawn to any type moisture and slip indoors through tiny access points.
- A variety of household staples work as natural solutions to ant infestations. Many of these remedies are effective around home exteriors and gardens. DIY ant control also includes conventional baits, traps and sprays.
- The most common ants found in homes are carpenter ants and pavement ants, also known as sugar ants. Outdoor ants are usually fire, Argentine or harvester ants, but all three types can invade the house.
- Professional pest control services use a multistep process to eliminate ants. Technicians identify food and water sources and monitor colony activity. Industry-proven methods are used to destroy the queen and the colony.
What Attracts Ants To My Home?
Part of the reason ants are so plentiful is that they can eat virtually anything and live almost anywhere.
If you want to get rid of ants, it’s essential to figure out what’s attracting them to your home in the first place and creating an ant infestation.
Here are three common culprits:
Ants eat almost anything people do. While they’ll consume any leftover food scraps or crumbs, they’re especially attracted to sweets.
Sticky jam residue left behind on the counter, a drop of honey, or a discarded lollypop are all excellent sources of nutrients for ants.
And once even one ant finds the source of this sweetness, they’ll leave behind a scent trail to attract the rest of the colony.
The result is a massive ant infestation in no time.
Ants need food and water to survive. Unlike most animals, though, ants don’t just drink on an “as needed” basis. They also take water back to the colony to store it for future consumption.
When they find a good water source, they’ll leave a scent trail to alert the rest of the colony.
As such, broken pipes, potted plants, accumulated condensation in bathrooms, and water bowls for pets can all attract nearby ants.
While ants are small enough that they can find shelter virtually anywhere, they like to build a colony inside a warm, cozy home if they can.
If ants can find an access point to your home (a crack in your weather-stripping or caulk, for example), they’re happy to come inside.
How To Get Rid Of Ants In The House
Naturally, with Home Remedies
So, you’ve got an ant infestation. What’s your next step? Here are a few home remedies to get rid of ants naturally:
1. Diatomaceous earth (silicon dioxide)
Diatomaceous earth (DE, for short) is a type of silica dust made from the pulverized, fossilized remains of ancient aquatic organisms called diatoms.
DE is not poisonous. Instead, it kills ants and other pests by pulling oil from their skeletons and drying them out. To kill ants with DE, just sprinkle the powder any place you see ants entering or moving through your home.
Pros: Effective, natural, safe for pets and people
Cons: Can be messy, pets may track DE dust throughout the house, DE can be a skin and respiratory irritant, requires reapplication
Household detergents, like hand soap, glass cleaner, or liquid detergent, can deter ants from entering your home. Remember: ants have poor eyesight, and they rely on the scented pheromone trails they leave behind to navigate the world.
Fortunately, household detergent removes these trails and helps keep ants out. For best results, mix detergent with water and scrub the surface with soapy water. You can also use store-bought glass cleaner the same way.
Pros: Easy, safe and non-toxic
Cons: Requires manual application and regular re-application
Ants rely on their sense of smell to navigate the world, and they find the scent of pepper irritating. To deter them from entering your home, sprinkle ground black or red pepper around your baseboards and behind appliances.
Pros: Affordable, safe
Cons: Can be an irritant for kids and pets, may be messy, requires regular re-application
4. Essential Oils
Peppermint, cinnamon leaf, lemon, neem, eucalyptus, thyme oil, lemongrass oil, tea tree oil are natural ant repellants that can go a long way toward keeping ants out of your house.
For best results, mix a few drops of essential oil into 2 cups of water and spray the mixture around the baseboards, windows, and doors of your home.
Pros: Affordable, easy, safe for children
Cons: Can be irritating to pets, especially cats
5. White vinegar
If you see ants in your home, mix up a solution of 50-50 vinegar and water and wipe the ants up with it.
This kills existing ants and repels future ants by leaving a lingering scent of vinegar that works as a natural ant repellant.
Pros: Easy, affordable, effective
Cons: May not be safe for all surfaces, leaves behind a vinegar smell
6. Baking soda (or borax)
Ants and baking soda don’t mix. In fact, Baking soda and borax will both kill ants upon ingestion.
For best results, mix equal parts baking soda or borax for ants and confectioner’s sugar and place it into a shallow container where ants can reach it.
Pros: Effective, easy
Cons: May attract kids or pets and can be toxic for both
Chalk contains calcium carbonate. When placed in a thick line, calcium carbonate can confuse an ant’s scent trail, making it more difficult for them to pick up the scent of other ants and confuse the pests.
For best results, draw a thick, heavy line of chalk around the areas you’d like to protect, such as a picnic table or barbeque.
Pros: Affordable, easy
Cons: Not a long-term solution (will only keep ants away for a while), must be reapplied after rain or watering.
8. Oranges or lemons
Citrus fruits, specifically orange or lemon rinds, contain an extract known as d-limonene, which is toxic to ants. Instead of throwing out those orange peels, keep them and turn them into a homemade ant repellent. Here’s how:
Dump discarded orange peels into a gallon jar. For best results, fill the jar halfway with peels and fill the rest of the container with water. Seal the jar and place it in a dark place for 3-5 days until the water is colored.
Strain the liquid, dump it back into the jar, and add a teaspoon of molasses and a single squirt of dish soap. Mix the liquid well, place it in a spray bottle, and spray it directly on ants when you see them.
The citrus oil will kill the ants on contact. You can also use this orange oil extract to eliminate ant trails, so be sure to spray it anywhere you’ve noticed ant activity.
Pros: Affordable, easy to use, non-toxic for kids, pets, and other animals
Cons: Can create a sticky residue, can be time-consuming to make
Salt can be an effective, natural ant killer if you use it correctly. For best results, mix a cup of Epsom salt into a spray bottle of water and spray it directly on ants whenever you see them.
The salt will kill the ants through dehydration without harming non-target species.
Pros: Epsom salt is safe to handle and won’t harm kids, pets, or other animals
Cons: You’ll need to reapply the salt regularly to make a dent in ant populations. This method only works if you spray it directly on ants.
Cornstarch, which you probably have in your kitchen already, is an effective ant-killer. You can either pour cornstarch over an entire group of ants and dump water on top or cover the ants with cornstarch and vacuum them up.
If you choose the first option, you’ll need to wipe up the dead ants and cornstarch and dispose of them. If you choose the second option, make sure to dispose of the contents of your vacuum canister immediately.
Pros: Effective, non-toxic, fast
Cons: Can be messy, requires more cleanup than other methods
11. Boric acid
Boric acid will kill worker ants and the colony’s queen within three weeks of exposure. To use it effectively, make a solution containing ½ teaspoon of boric acid, eight teaspoons of sugar, and 1 cup of warm water.
Stir the mixture until the boric acid is dissolved. Saturate cotton balls in the solution and place them anywhere you’ve noticed ant activity.
Pros: Affordable, effective
Cons: Boric acid can be dangerous for kids and pets, so the solution and cotton balls must be kept out of their reach
If you’re looking for conventional ways to get rid of ants, these five are the most common
12. Ant baits
Pros: Effective, affordable
13. Ant traps
Ant traps work quite a lot like baits, except that they trap ants and do not allow them to leave. These traps may also contain poison, which kills ants rapidly.
Pros: Affordable, effective
Cons: Must check the traps regularly and dispose of dead ants
14. Ant spray
Ant spray is available for both indoor and outdoor use. It kills ants on contact and can make quick work of an ant problem.
Pros: Effective, fast-acting
Cons: Contains toxins and is not safe for use around kids or pets, kills ants on contact, which means it is not a permanent solution
How To Get Rid Of Ants Outside The House
We’ve talked about getting rid of ants indoors, but maybe you’re wondering how to get rid of ants in your garden without killing plants. Here are our top tips:
1. Boiling water
Boiling water is an easy, effective way to kill ants immediately. If you see ants emerging from a crack in the concrete or a hole in the ground, pour boiling water into the area.
This will kill many of the ants within it. Just make sure you’re not pouring boiling water on your plants or their roots since this will kill them, as well.
Pros: Effective, safe, easy
Cons: Requires regular re-application
2. Barrier sprays
Outdoor barrier sprays can be applied along the foundation line of your home. These sprays kill ants on contact and provide long-acting ant prevention.
You can purchase them at your local home and garden store or hire a pest management company like Smith’s to provide professional-grade sprays.
Pros: Effective, long-lasting
Cons: Requires regular re-application, toxic, not safe for kids, pets, or other animals, may kill beneficial insects, as well
3. Ant granules
Ant granules work like deconstructed bait stations. The granules are placed around your home’s exteriors, where ants consume them and die on contact.
Pros: Effective, affordable, DIY-friendly
Cons: Toxic, dangerous for kids and pets, requires re-application
How Do Exterminators Get Rid Of Ants?
Professionals like Smith’s take ant infestations seriously.
If you have ants in your home, here are the steps our team will take to get rid of them:
Our first step is to conduct a thorough inspection of your property.
During this phase, we’ll determine what kinds of ants you have, where they’re coming from, and what the best course of action is to deal with them.
We’ll also identify any potential food sources and eliminate them.
Even if you see individual ants in your home or garden, the colony is probably much more extensive than you imagine.
We’ll monitor the ant activity to ensure we know where they’re coming from and where the main colony is. To ensure we get rid of all the ants, we’ll trace the ants back to the colony, locate entry points in the structure, and identify all known hives or colonies.
Finally, we place out carefully designed baits in hidden places that the ants will feed on and bring back to the hive.
Sometimes we will also apply carefully directed sprays along the trail of ants that they will also track back to the hive.
The goal is to kill the queen and the brood and get rid of all ants once and for all.
How Do I Keep Ants Out Of My House?
The best way to deal with an ant infestation is to prevent it in the first place.
These simple tips will help dissuade ants from entering your home:
- Clean up all food spills and messes promptly to prevent ants in the kitchen.
- Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator and other foods (like sugar, crackers, and other non-perishables) in airtight containers.
- Dry the tub or sink after each use and plug the drain with a stopper.
- Check under sinks and other appliances for leaks and fix any moisture problems immediately.
- If you have ants in your pantry, place condiment jars inside gallon plastic bags.
- Clean pet bowls often and wipe up any spilled food or water promptly.
- Inspect indoor potted plants for insect activity often.
- Keep brush, shrubs, mulch, and other organic materials at least three feet away from your home’s foundation.
- Keep your gutters and downspouts clean and free of debris. This eliminates standing water that may attract ants.
- Clean the inside of your toaster or toaster oven, and wipe and empty the crumb tray after each use.
- Use can liners in your indoor trash cans. Keep the lids tightly closed and clean both the inside and outside of the can with bleach regularly.
- Rake mulch and landscaping materials back to at least 6” from your home’s foundation.
- Store outdoor trash bins at least 10 feet from the house and wash them monthly with an ammonia solution.
- Consider sprinkling some cinnamon or cayenne pepper if you have ants in the garden or in highly-trafficked areas to deter them.
Ant Control FAQs
1. What Type Of Ants Are In My Home?
As we mentioned earlier, there are about one thousand different species of ants in this country alone.
Here are a few of the most common ants you’re likely to see in your kitchen, bathroom, or garden:
Carpenter ants are common outside the home.
While carpenter ants don’t eat wood (a common misconception), they do tunnel through wood to build their nests and colonies, so you may see them around your deck, or garden, or on the siding of your house.
Although these ants are tiny (only ¼ to ½ inches long), they can cause severe structural damage to buildings, so it’s critical to promptly deal with them.
These ants live in colonies and are most active after dusk. They subside on a diet of sugar and protein and will eat anything from human food scraps to pet food.
If you’ve seen a line of tiny black ants marching under the front door and toward your kitchen, they’re likely pavement ants.
These ants, also known as “sugar ants,” have small bodies that are brown or black. As the name implies, pavement ants build their homes in pavement cracks. They forage for their food and often make their way indoors to do so.
Once they’re in your home, they’ll frequent your pantry, kitchen, or any place else they can find food scraps.
Argentine ants live throughout the U.S. but are particularly common in the urban areas of California. They are light or dark brown and can be between 2.2-2.8 mm long. These ants build elaborate nests in fibrous materials like wood, debris, mulch, or the cavities of shrubs and trees.
If you see one Argentine ant, chances are it’s a sign of a much larger infestation. A single colony of these ants often consists of multiple nests and may contain more than one hundred queens. Argentine ants are an aggressive species and will conquer and kill other ant colonies nearby.
When the weather gets too dry or too wet for these ants, they tend to seek shelter indoors, making their way into your home to nest in your walls or under your floorboards.
Fire ants are common in Southern states throughout the U.S. While their bodies are small (then tend to be dull, red-brown in color, and have a visible stinger on the back section of their abdomens), their bites and stings are extremely painful – hence their name.
When the fire ant stings, it injects venom into its victim, causing a sharp burning sensation. Immediately after the sting, the affected area will break out in red bumps. Within 24 hours, the bumps will become white, fluid-filled pustules.
Fire ants are considered an invasive species. They first arrived in the U.S. from South America in the 1930s. Since then, their population has boomed. There are currently five times more fire ants per acre in the U.S. than there are in South America.
Although fire ants prefer to build their nests and colonies outside, they will venture inside the home if they can find an access point.
Harvester ants are one of the larger types of ant in California. The workers are ¼-½” long, with red or dark brown bodies. They have square heads and spineless bodies. Outdoors, harvester ants will remove vegetation in the circular area surrounding their colonies or nests.
You may also notice bare patches of lawn surrounding the nest—these are the foraging trails the ants rely on for food.
2. Do I have an Ant or Termite Infestation?
While ants and termites may live in some of the same areas and can both cause damage to your home, they are not the same creatures.
Here’s a breakdown of the key differences:
- Elbowed antennae
- Pinched waist
- Black, brown, or reddish bodies
- If wings are present, front wings are longer than hind wings and are typically brown
- Straight antennae
- Front and hind wings are similar in length and shape and tend to be pale or translucent
- The body extends from the head in a straight line, with no pinched waist
- White to light brown bodies
Are Ants Taking Over Your San Francisco Bay Area Home? We’re Here To Help!
We know an ant infestation can be frustrating and troubling. Fortunately, you don’t have to deal with it on your own!
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we serve homeowners and businesses from Marin, CA to Monterey, CA and we specialize in dealing with complex pest infestations and helping you get life back to normal.