How To Get Rid Of Ants: A Complete Guide 
Last modified on: August 27, 2021
Ants are a common household pest. With about 1,000 species of ants in the country, most homeowners run into an ant infestation 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.
Luckily, you can learn how to get rid of ants, once and for all! Here at Smith’s Pest Management, our team offers professional pest control services to customers in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Coast in California. As such, we know how to get rid of ants, once and for all. And in this post, we’re sharing our top tips.
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.
So, the first step in learning how to get rid of ants is figuring out which species you’re dealing with in the first place.
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.
What’s The Difference Between Ants And Termites?
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
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 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
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 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 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. Peppermint, lemon, or tea tree oil
Peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, and 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
3 Conventional Methods To Get Rid Of Ants In The House
If you’re looking for conventional ways to get rid of ants, these five are the most common:
1. Ant baits
Ant baits are small, covered pods that you place in areas the ants have been trafficking. The pods contain concealed poison, which the ants access and carry back to their colony. When ants in the colony consume the poison, it kills them.
Pros: Effective, affordable
Cons: Can be dangerous for kids and pets, requires regular checking and replacement
2. 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
3. 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.
- Empty the trash frequently - both inside and outside.
- 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.
- Consider sprinkling some cinnamon or cayenne pepper if you have ants in the garden, consider sprinkling some cinnamon or cayenne pepper in their highly-trafficked areas to deter them.
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 specialize in dealing with complex pest infestations and helping you get life back to normal. From Marin to Monterey, you can rely on us to help you get rid of ants once and for all. Contact us today to get a free quote!
Author Bio: Zach Smith
Landscape Pro Turned Gopher Pro: Owner, Zach Smith, graduate of Cal Poly’s Horticulture program worked nine years as a landscape professional- dealing with gophers, moles, and ground squirrels and was quickly recruited by other local gardeners. Fast forward to the past 10+ years, where Zach and his team trap and remove burrowing pests from residential, municipal and commercial properties throughout the San Francisco Bay area, from Marin to Monterey.
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