Spring is a wonderful time for all gardeners. New plans are put into place, and life grows anew. Unfortunately, with the warmer weather and awakening life, our friendly neighbourhood ants have woken up too. They’re more active, and they’re hungry! Here are some great home remedies for ants causing a nuisance in your home and garden.
Ants Are Everywhere
It seems no matter where you live—even on the 12th floor of an apartment building—you’ve got a good chance of being visited by ants. I know all too well that sinking feeling brought on by a tiny little trail of moving bodies making its way across a kitchen counter.
Although these little guys aren’t really a hazard to your plants, they can be downright annoying if they invade your home. They’re also downright painful if a colony of fire ants decides to make their home anywhere on your property.
Let’s ease that sense of worry and help you take back your space, shall we?
This article will cover why ants venture into your home in the first place, what you can do to prevent them from getting in, and 12 natural remedies for protecting your home and garden from the determined little invaders. If you’ve already had a painful encounter, I’ve also added several easy, natural methods for dealing with ant stings.
Why Do Ants Like Our Homes So Much?
The most important step in dealing with ants in your home is understanding why they’re there in the first place. Ants, not unlike humans, are after food, water and shelter. While you can’t take away the fact that your home is nice and cozy, you can make your home less appealing to them.
1. Keep Things Tidy
Does your family have a habit of leaving plates of leftover food on the counter? If people aren’t cleaning up crumbs after making toast, make sure those nasty habits get taken care of. Really aromatic food in particular will be a huge draw! For example, I’ve learned that few things draw ants like the aroma of wet cat food.
It’s very important that you keep your home clear of tempting odors. You’ll also need to try and deal with any standing puddles of water and splashes. Wipe up around counters and even give the sink a wipe so there isn’t any water left for them.
2. Plants That Attract Them
There are certain habitats that ants are drawn to outdoors. During my research, I came across an article that listed three main plants known to attract ants. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might have unknowingly been attracting these insects via the plants I owned.
Thankfully, the plants on that list aren’t ones in my home, but you have them in your yard. You might even be bringing the ants in on cut flowers. If that’s the case, you may want to focus some of your efforts on removing these from your property.
According to Ants.com, the little guys are drawn to peonies, wild parsnips (Pastinaca sativa), and desert willows (Chilopsis linearis). All of these produce a sweet nectar that the ants love, and is a great food source for them. Ants may set up camp in close proximity to these plants in order to have a ready food source at all times.
It’s like making sure there’s a grocery store nearby when moving into a new neighbourhood.
How They Get In
Another important step in protecting your home from ants and other insects, is understanding how they are entering and moving about your home. In my case, ants were in the building’s structure and were coming in through cracks in my apartment walls.
3. Seal Up Cracks
An old and rusted, loose toilet paper holder was providing access to my bathroom, and a crack behind the stove gave them easy access into the kitchen. Sealing these most noticeable cracks was a very important step.
You’ll almost always find secondary points of entrance, which is why laying down something to deter/kill the ants is vital as well. Be sure to seal or block windows and doors. A caulking gun is your friend for this project.
Even if you can’t actually see any cracks, but have noticed ants moving around the area, it’s a good idea to put down a thing line of caulk anyway. Wipe up the access and ensure that minuscule cracks are filled.
4. Use Door Barriers
In an apartment building, consider that since the ants probably have the run of the building’s entire structure, they could potentially come in under the hallway door. Place a barrier across the bottom of your door to deter them. This helps to keep out odours and drafts out as well, so it’s not a bad thing to consider anyway.
Chemical Deterrents and Poisons
Now that we know how and why ants come into our homes, a good next step is to understand how they function. The best natural remedies work against the ants’ natural structure. Unlike humans, ants have an exoskeleton and they use pheromones to move around their environments.
As noted by the Ask a Biologist website:
“Ants communicate mainly using chemicals, which they sense with their antennae. They release pheromones with specific messages”.
The following remedies target these characteristics, in effect, using the ant’s unique traits against them. The first two remedies in this article work against the physical makeup of the ants body.
5. Sugar Poison
When I mentioned my unwanted guests to my father, he told me about a remedy that he’d been using successfully in his home. He called it Mary’s poison, named in homage to the neighbour who first recommended this natural fix to him.
It’s known to be safe to use around pets, which of course is very important to me.
Mix equal parts baking soda (the poison) with icing sugar, which is also known as confectioners’ sugar (the bait). The ants are unable to distinguish between the two and consume them both. They also take them back to their nests.
You might have read about baking soda being used to cause the ants to effectively implode. I’ve also read that the baking soda alters the ants’ chemical makeup, with deadly results. There is much debate surrounding these claims, and I have yet to find a proper source as to whether this is really the case. Whichever the real reason is, I tried it in my bathroom and noticed fewer ants over time.
6. Diatomaceous Earth
The second remedy is diatomaceus earth (DE), which is fresh water sediment that has many uses. One particular use is eliminating insects such as ants, fleas, earwigs, and bedbugs.
There are various grades of DE, so pay close attention to the one you purchase. Food-grade DE is the way to go in your home, and especially around pets. The way DE works is that it sticks to insects and draws precious moisture from their exoskeletons. Eventually, with enough exposure, the bugs die of dehydration.
As an added bonus, food-grade DE has many beneficial properties for both people and animals, so there’s no need to worry about exposure. While DE works to dehydrate the ants and baking soda works against their chemical makeup, these next set of solutions work against the way ants communicate with each other.
7. Citrus or Vinegar Indoors
Lemon and/or vinegar won’t kill the ants in your home, but they’ll certainly deter them. As everyone knows, these are great natural cleaners. Just as they have the ability to cut through grease, they’re great at destroying those aforementioned pheromone trails that ants leave to find their way back to food stashes (aka your kitchen).
Mix either fresh lemon or vinegar—whichever you have on hand—with hot soapy water, and give everything in your kitchen a good scrubbing. Once you’ve cleaned your kitchen, finish off by wiping down known entrance areas with undiluted lemon or vinegar.
8. Citrus Works Outdoors Too!
If you don’t have lemons on hand, you’ll be happy to learn that ants don’t like the smell of any citrus. The sharp scent cuts through their pheromone trails, thus throwing off their ability to navigate properly.
Take this solution outside by shredding lemon, orange, or grapefruit rinds. Sprinkle these shreds liberally throughout your garden, and even around the perimeter of your home. An added benefit is that the rindswill supply your plants natural fertilizer as they break down. Just make sure to reapply every so often as the scent weakens.
9. Peppermint Oil
This next remedy is one that can be used both inside and outside the home. Ants don’t like mint—specifically peppermint—so planting some around your home and throughout your garden deters them from coming around. Peppermint works similar to citrus by disrupting the ants’ ability to communicate with each other. As an added bonus, this solution allows you to have fresh mint at your disposal.
To put peppermint to work inside your home, put several drops of peppermint oil on cotton swabs and place these around the kitchen. Place them near entry points as well to conceal food odours and mask the ants’ trails. If you are put a fabric draft stopper across the bottom of your apartment door, dab peppermint oil onto this as well.
10. Cedar or Patchouli Oil
If you’ve been thinking about giving essential oils a try, and are in the midst of an invasion, cedarwood is a top selection when it comes to battling ants. Of special interest is the fact that it has the ability to deter even the more aggressive species, such as fire ants.
Patchouli oil is another popular choice. More than simply disrupting the ants’ chemical trails, patchouli oil has been shown to kill ants outright as well.
11. Dry Spices
If you don’t have any of these essential oils, you can raid your spice cupboard instead. Cloves and cinnamon are known to be bothersome to ants. Sprinkle the spices around any known ant entrances, and re-apply as the scent fades, or after you inevitably vacuum them up spices.
Dealing with Ants Outdoors
12. Repellent Garden Herbs
If you’re an avid gardener, plant lavender (Lavandula spp.) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium) all around your home. Both of these deter ants, and can act as a sort of shield where you suspect ants are coming in. They work to block the odors that attract ants, and release what ants consider to be distasteful aromas.
Both herbs are beneficial to humans, so they’re good to have around anyways. Note that lavender is safe for pets, but yarrow can be toxic to both cats and dogs.
Home Remedies for Ants’ Bites
An encounter with red ants—even worse, fire ants—is not one that’s soon forgotten. If you’ve had the unfortunate luck to stumble into their territory, or if they’ve made their home on your turf, you’re likely to get attacked at some point.
There are a couple of things you can do to ease the pain while you work on getting rid of your not-so-friendly neighbours. Note: while severe allergic reactions to fire ant stings are rare, seek immediate help if you notice any of the following symptoms: hives, stomach cramping along with nausea or diarrhea, difficulty breathing, or dizziness.
If you’re not experiencing a serious allergic reaction, ice the affected areas immediately. Remember not to put the ice directly on the skin, and only ice for 15min at a time. Then give the spot a 15min break before repeating. If the stings are on your arm or leg, raise the affected limb to reduce painful swelling.
Earlier in the article, we discussed how baking soda is a good remedy for getting rid of the ants. Well, it also helps to take some of the pain and swelling out of those stings.
Mix some baking soda with just enough water to create a nice thick paste. Apply this to each bite site. It’ll help to ease the pain and reduce any itching. Leave the paste on for about 20min and reapply as needed until the swelling and itchiness subsides. This is actually a great remedy for a number of different insect stings as well.
If you have quite a few bites, you can try placing a band aid over each dab of baking soda to make sure that it stays put for as long as possible.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar is another useful household product. The vinegar’s acid is good for neutralizing the venom that has been injected into your skin. Soak the affected area for 15-20min, or wet a cloth in the vinegar and apply to the affected area.
Repeat as needed until the pain and swelling subsides.
Aloe Vera has many medicinal uses, and soothing insect bites and stings from insects is one of them. Break off a piece of aloe, peel it in half, and rub directly on the affected area. Apply as much as needed to ease your discomfort. This is surely one plant that everyone should have in their homes.
Remember, one of the most important strategies for getting rid of ants is patience.
If you give one of these remedies a try and the ants don’t disappear overnight, don’t give up. An average ant colony is made up of around 30,000 extremely determined individuals. As frustrating as it may be, have patience, don’t quit, and you will come out on top.