Help! I have ants in my kitchen and want them out! How do I get rid of the ants in my house?
- Oscar, Oakland, CA, USA
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Although many ants are quite beautiful and really have no interest in entering our homes, there are a few species that we call "household pests". Depending on where you live resources to identify the particular ant species you have invading your home may or may not be possible, but knowing which species you are after can help. A helpful resource to identify common household pest ants can be found here.
There are several ways to try to control or exterminate these unwelcome ant guests in your kitchen or other parts of your home:
1) Clean. If you know where the ants are coming into your home, you could try to discourage them from coming in. This can be done several ways including making sure their food sources are unavailable (store foods in airtight containers). Also it is important to keep any areas where you see the ants foraging or coming in very clean which includes wiping down any areas with soapy water. This is not because the ants are dirty, but because they communicate with each other by laying scent trails (pheromones) where they walk to let others know where to search for food.
2) Discourage. Another option would be to block/exclude them from coming into your home. There are many products available for this at your local hardware store such as caulk or petroleum jelly, but you could also try using a very fine, silty powder (such as cinnamon, cayenne pepper, diatomaceous earth, corn starch, etc.) to plug any holes the ants are using to come into your home. It will be most effective if you can figure out where they are coming into your home on the inside and outside and block both entrances. You will have to keep reapplying until you no longer see any ants in your home. The fine, silty powders get stuck in the small hairs on their legs and body and since the ants do not seem to like this they avoid these areas. These are also good options if you would prefer not to use chemicals or if you have small children or pets around. This will not kill the ants, but simply discourage them from entering your home.
3) Toxic baits. If the above methods are not effective, then you may have to move onto using toxic baits. In most cases sweet sugar baits such as Boric acid (use low concentrations with less than 1% of the active ingredient) will be effective. Using indoor sprays are not effective. Although these sprays will kill the individual ant you see foraging in your home, the nest and queen are still nearby and will keep producing ant workers which will find their way into your home. This is why you need to use a toxic bait, which kill the ants slowly so the ant worker will take the poison back to the nest and will eventually get to the queen and kill the entire colony. You will want to place the baits in areas where you see the ants foraging or coming into your home and be sure to place them away from areas where children or pets are likely to find them.
Although most ants we find in our homes are only searching for food or shelter and are really only eyesores and do not really cause much real damage, there are one group of ants that can cause structural damage to your home. These are carpenter ants. Identification and treatment of carpenter ants is essential with these species. These ants do not eat wood, but burrow through wood to build their homes. So as their colonies get larger they need to bore through more wood to make larger cavities, which can damage any of the wooden parts of your home such as windows, doors, internal beams, or subfloors.
If you are finding winged ants in your home, you may want to read this AntBlog post: http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2013/07/flying-ants-in-my-home-or-something-else-tom-usa.html
Although ants in our homes can be a nuisance, remember that most ants are actually quite beneficial for the outside environment and local ecosystems. You can read more about the benefits of ants here: http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/08/what-good-are-ants-david-panama-city-florida-usa.html
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team