Anti-Ant Answers: Home Ant Removal and Prevention Tips
Almost any homeowner will encounter a problem with ants on occasion. Ants are easy to ignore, particularly the species that are not aggressive and do not sting people when provoked. When compared to other harmful insects like hornets or termites, ants may seem relatively friendly. However, they can contaminate food sources that humans will eat, and certain types of ants may cause damage to a home's structure—especially if left alone for years.
Preventing ants is crucial for household health, as is controlling the presence of ants when they are found. This information can help homeowners identify the common types of ants, as well as find the best solutions to get rid of them.
Table of Contents
- Common Types of Ants
- What Attracts Ants to a Home?
- How to Prevent Ants
- How to Eliminate Ants from the Home
- Natural Ways to Get Rid of Ants
- When to Hire a Professional
Common Types of Ants
There are thousands of different ant species worldwide, but only some of them are likely to be a problem for homeowners. Identifying the type of ant found in or near a home is important, because it helps people to target the right treatment and prevention plans. Ant species vary in size, color, and living spaces.
Carpenter ants live in colonies that could grow to tens of thousands. Like termites, carpenter ants can dig tunnels in wood to build their nests, even though they do not eat it. Carpenter ants might be red or black, and usually measure a bit over a half-inch in length.
Odorous House Ant
Odorous house ants are very small, less than an eighth of an inch in length. They get their name from their preference for sweet foods like melon. Colonies of these ants may have several queens spread out over a large area, with temporary homes that make them more difficult to eradicate.
Pavement ants get their name from their preference to build nests underneath pavement and other solid structures. They have a stinger and will eat a variety of foods, ranging from meat to honey. Although they often live outside, pavement ants may develop colonies inside the home structure.
Acrobat ants are an aggressive species with an unusual name. They build nests in damaged wood like a rotting shed or tree, and usually do not enter a home. If threatened, they raise their abdomens and may attack. Colors range from black to reddish-brown to yellowish-brown.
Argentine ants are small, like many other species. The ants could be light or dark in color. Argentine ants do not sting, but they prefer to live indoors during cold weather. They are best known for a musty odor that they release when they are crushed.
Asian Needle Ant
The Asian needle ant is an invasive species that may cause many problems for homeowners. These ants build small nests and can thrive almost anywhere, eating other insects. They will also sting humans, and their venom is more likely to trigger an allergic reaction than most bees.
Crazy ants can live almost anywhere, inside or outside. The ant’s unusual movement pattern explains its name. They build nests in soft, damp areas like mulch or even carpet, and they thrive in humid regions of the United States. Crazy ants can be difficult to remove, given their willingness to relocate.
Dark Rover Ant
Dark rover ants are some of the smallest ant species. These ants prefer to live outside in areas with mild winters, like the southern United States. Dark rover ants search for sweet liquids, which leads them to rove around large areas. Although they do not sting, their larger colonies can be difficult to manage.
Fire ants are a familiar species to most homeowners, particularly given their unmistakable reddish coloring. These aggressive ants will attack in swarms if disturbed. Outside, fire ants build domed mounds in open spaces. They live in northern areas, and will build indoor nests during the winter.
Field ants are medium-sized and come in a variety of colors. They prefer to build nests in moist areas like soil, or beneath dead or rotting wood. They are much less likely to come inside than other species. If attacked, they can sting and even spray a type of acid as a defense.
What Attracts Ants to a Home?
Although many ant species prefer to live outside, they will enter a home in search of food or water. Once they find what they are looking for, they will communicate with the rest of their colony about the item's location. Ants typically seek out the following common household items.
Sugar, Crumbs, and Uncovered Food
Because ants are omnivorous, they are attracted to a wide variety of food items. Some species seek out sweet foods like sugar, honey, or fruit, while others will eat almost anything that is left uncovered, like bread or meat. Ants may only need an hour or two to pick up the scent. The major problem for homeowners is that ants are very small and will flock to small amounts of crumbs as a food source. This underscores the importance of sealing all food items and cleaning floors on a regular basis.
Pet food is another common source to attract ants indoors. Like food for humans, food for pets may be made from a variety of goods, some of which may be enticing to ants. Pets who eat food on the floor may drop crumbs near their bowl or track them around the house, leaving a trail that is easy for ants to find. Homeowners are more likely to leave pet food uncovered, so that their animals can eat meals as they wish. Unfortunately, this means that the ants have a virtually unlimited source of food that is largely unmonitored.
Ants are opportunistic insects that look for food, water, and places to build nests wherever it is most convenient. In many cases, ants will build nests near homes or even inside them. Proximity allows the ants easier access to debris that they can use to create a home, as well as shorter paths to get to food. Homeowners with leaks in the exterior structure or greenery up against the foundation are more likely to encounter problems with ants coming inside the house. Locating indoor nests, particularly those located inside insulation or underneath the flooring, may require professional services.
Additional Causes of Ants
Homeowners should take special care when considering the threat that ants pose to their home. For example, carpenter ants are not usually entering homes looking for food. Instead, they will burrow into the structure looking for wood. They do not consume wood like termites can. However, they tunnel into the wood to bring out shavings to build nests. Over time, this tunneling can cause structural damage that can weaken the house.
Although carpenter ants invade the home in search of wood, they prefer to look in very specific places. Wood that is too humid or has been damaged by water is easier for the ants to tunnel through. As such, they are more likely to start there. Wood with moisture damage provides them a viable source of water, as well as a place to build their large colonies. The signs of a carpenter ant infestation are somewhat similar to a termite infestation. Homeowners should look for indications that the wood has been damaged by water, like mildew or mold. If they see sawdust or ant leavings in the corners or around exposed framing, then they may need to contact a professional.
How to Prevent Ants
The best way for homeowners to minimize an ant problem inside the home is to prevent ants from getting inside. The second-best way is to discourage ants from remaining inside once they get there. With these tips, homeowners can reduce the number of things that attract ants to the house.
Identify Scout Ants, Ant Scent Trails, and Ant Nests
Most ant species will send out a number of scout ants in search of food, water, or building materials for nests. These ants have instincts that allow them to search over a relatively large area and still be able to find the nest when they are done. If they locate a viable food source, they will leave a scent trail on their way back to the nest. This trail contains pheromones that the other ants can follow in the most direct path to the food. Homeowners may spot ants moving in a line toward the food.
Once the ants have created a scent trail, homeowners may have a hard time keeping them from building an infestation. Ants work tirelessly and can move a significant number in a short period of time. People should aim to search out the nests. Although ants usually build nests in places that are out of sight, there may be signs like:
- Groups of ants under debris
- Trails of crumbs or sawdust near entry points to the home
People should keep in mind that there may be multiple nests or colonies on the property.
Keep All Home Surfaces Clean
Keeping home surfaces clean is one of the best ways that people can prevent ants from infesting the space. First, a home that is cleaned on a regular basis provides fewer sources of food or water for ants to find. Second, cleaning floors, walls, and countertops can wipe away a scent trail. If homeowners suspect they have a problem with ants, they should:
- Avoid leaving dirty dishes in the sink.
- Wipe spills up as they happen.
- Sweep, vacuum, and mop floors at least once a week.
- Wipe down countertops regularly, especially in the kitchen.
These simple steps can make a big difference.
Seal All Food in Containers
Besides spills and crumbs, open food containers provide the most attractive options for ants to enter the home. Ants can be extremely tiny, which means they may crawl through very tight spaces. As such, food containers that are made out of cardboard may have gaps that are easy for the ants to get through. Homeowners should plan to seal all shelf-stable food items in airtight containers. These containers will keep the ants from getting in and will also ensure that the food stays fresher longer.
Look for Cracks Around the Home
Virtually any home has air leaks around the exterior. These gaps provide plenty of room for ants and other pests to enter. Homeowners may prefer to start by examining the spaces around their doors and windows. Improper installation can make these gaps more pronounced. Similarly, people may want to look in the corners of various rooms, especially the kitchen. Cracks in the walls or gaps between the flooring and the wall provide a hidden space for ants to get in and out. Fortunately, gaps like these are usually fairly easy to find and also simple to seal with clear caulk that is designed for exterior use. Ants may build nests in the home structure or outside around the foundation, as well. Homeowners may want to inspect their attic and their foundation at least once a year to seal cracks and check for signs of a nest.
Spray an Ant Barrier Around the Home
The use of an ant barrier can be an effective tool to make it difficult or discouraging for ants to enter the home. As a general rule, ant barriers are meant to be sprayed around the home’s exterior. This is a type of insecticide that stops ants from coming near, and may kill them if they try to pass through it. Ant barriers are intended more for prevention than mitigation or extermination, however. The ant barrier does not contain bait that the ants can take back to the nest and will become diluted over time, particularly during periods of heavy precipitation. As such, homeowners using this approach might need to spray the ant barrier on a regular basis. Professionals may have access to ant barriers that are more potent and likely to last longer than conventional products available at the store.
How to Eliminate Ants from the Home
Homeowners have a variety of options to get rid of ants once they suspect an infestation. The best approaches depend on the size of the infestation, as well as the way that homeowners find the ants. These practices may require more than one application to be effective.
Use Ant Baits
Ant baits are an effective way that homeowners can manage a small infestation of ants before it becomes more serious. Ant baits combine an attractive food source with a poison. This poison does not kill the ants on contact, like an insecticide. Rather, the ants take the food source back to their nests and die when they consume it. As such, ant baits are more likely to kill the whole colony than something like an ant barrier.
Homeowners should take care in selecting the right type of ant bait. Some baits come in the form of granules or a gel that people can apply in the corners of rooms or near the floor. However, this type can be hazardous to pets and children. People who want to minimize this risk may prefer to use ant motels that keep the bait out of the reach of others, but make it easy for ants to access.
If homeowners are looking for a very quick solution, using a vacuum may be an effective but temporary action. In this case, people can use the hose attachment on a vacuum to suck up the ants following a scent trail or gathered around a nest. Sprinkling the ants with borax or diatomaceous earth may help with this process. Once people are done, they should empty the vacuum immediately and take the ants and debris to an exterior trashcan. This helps to ensure that any surviving ants do not build a nest inside the vacuum.
Wipe Ants Away
When there are a limited number of ants and the scent trail is obvious, wiping them away may help to solve both problems at once. Homeowners should use a solution that is appropriate for their flooring and also likely to disrupt the scent trail. Common cleaning products for this purpose include:
- White vinegar
- Apple cider vinegar
- Bleach and water
- Mild dish soap and water
People may spray the solution onto the ants and the trail, and then promptly wipe it away. This effect can make it more difficult for the ants to make a new trail.
Natural Ways to Get Rid of Ants
Many homeowners would prefer not to use harsh insecticides. They may choose to start with natural methods to mitigate an infestation as a way to protect children or pets, or as part of a natural cleaning regimen. These products can help.
Borax and Sugar Water
Borax is a common detergent that acts as a poison to ants. It dissolves completely in water. When homeowners create a solution of borax, sugar, and water, it creates a natural ant bait. Ants will take the bait back to the nest, and will be poisoned when they eat it. People may want to dissolve a small amount of borax in a solution of one part sugar to three parts water. It is easy to dip cotton balls into the solution and leave it in spots for ants to find.
For the most part, essential oils act to distract or discourage ants from entering the home. Certain scents make it difficult for ants to find the pheromones tied to a scent trail. This may lead them to turn around and head back to the nest. Other essential oils, like clove, are known to kill ants directly. Oils that are known to be effective for ant infestation management include:
- Lemon or orange
- Tea tree
Homeowners should keep in mind that while essential oils are natural, they are not necessarily safe for all applications. In most cases, they must be diluted in water or a carrier oil. To get rid of ants, people may add a few drops of the oil to equal parts purified water and rubbing alcohol. This solution is easy to spray in corners and around baseboards.
Diatomaceous earth is a useful substance that is available at many stores. It is made out of crushed fossils. While it is generally safe for humans and animals, it dries out any insect with an exoskeleton. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth on an ant mound can kill the ants and keep them from coming back. Homeowners should keep in mind that only food-grade diatomaceous earth is appropriate for this purpose. Products that are meant for industrial applications or pool filtering are not safe for people to use indoors.
White vinegar is a popular natural cleaning product. It contains various anti-microbial properties and can also work to minimize ant problems. The strong scent of vinegar disrupts the ants because they cannot find the scent trail. However, white vinegar alone may not be sufficient. People can create a solution of one part vinegar to one part water and spray it in areas where ants enter the home. Adding a few drops of essential oil may help. This approach is most effective when used with other mitigation techniques, like ant baits.
Like vinegar, lemon juice contains a strong scent that repels ants and is also a common household product. Homeowners should combine one part water to one part lemon juice and place it in a spray bottle. Spraying this solution around doors, windows, and baseboards will keep ants from coming inside and make it harder for them to get back to their nests. People may want to test the spray on a less-visible part of the surface. This test can help people identify if the bleaching element of the lemon juice will damage or discolor the surface.
When to Hire a Professional
Although home pest control is something that most homeowners will have to engage with on a regular basis, it is not always effective enough. People who are not trained in pest mitigation or extermination may be less likely to identify the source of the infestation, the most common entry points, or even the size of the nests. Ants are small and prefer to remain out of sight unless they are searching for food. This means that they will come out at night and stay hidden during the day.
Homeowners who spot the occasional ant may not realize the extent of the problem until they discover a nest of tens of thousands. In some cases, home pest treatments will only force the ants to find another path inside, or search out a new location for a nest. Once the infestation is beyond the most common pest control approaches, homeowners should consider hiring a professional. Expert pest control does not necessarily require fumigation or heavy insecticides. Instead, it can help people find practical solutions that take these earlier efforts and make them more effective.