How to Get Rid of Ants in Your House and Backyard

Including the most effective, chemical-free methods.

ant on grass
Photo: Olivia Barr

Ants are everywhere! There are more than 12,000 species of ants throughout the world. Lucky for us, only about 30 species are found around our homes, says Josh Matta, entomologist and senior biologist for Spectrum Brands. While one industrious ant is intriguing to watch, no one wants an invasion of harmless or destructive ants moving in. Here's how to identify what type of ant you're dealing with, and how to get rid of ants once and for all.

Odorous House Ants vs. Carpenter Ants

Two of the most commonly seen ants inside a home are odorous house ants and carpenter ants. Odorous house ants are tiny (less than 1/8 inch in length), and while bothersome, don't do much damage except ruin the sugar in your sugar bowl. You'll see them marching in a line on your kitchen counters or bathroom wall.

Carpenter ants, however, feed on damp wood and can cause significant damage. You may see a small swarm near an outside wall or small holes in baseboards or windowsills. They are often mistaken for termites. "Ants and termites are easy to distinguish," Matta says. "Carpenter ants have front wings that are much larger than the hind pair and are clear in color, a thin waist, and antennae that bend like an elbow. Termites have wings that are all close to the same length and appear milky in color, a broad waist, and straight antennae made up of many small circular segments that look like beads."

Once you discover an ant infestation, here's how to get rid of ants and prevent a reinfestation. If home methods don't work, the infestation is large, or you see some damage from carpenter ants, consider bringing in a pest control specialist.

How to Get Rid of Indoor Ants Without Chemicals

You'll need to become an ant private investigator and follow the odorous house ants to see where they are entering your home and what they are attracted to inside. Seal up any cracks or holes and clear away any food and water they are consuming. Mix a 50/50 percent solution of water and distilled white vinegar to wipe away the trails the ants have been following. Vacuum away ants that you see indoors and empty the canister outside.

To get rid of carpenter ants, you must resolve the problem that is causing the damp wood they love. Repair leaks, direct water away from the foundation of the house, and add circulating fans to dry the area as quickly as possible.

How to Get Rid of Indoor Ants With Store-Bought Solutions

Before you set off bug bombs or spray pesticides with wild abandon, there are less assertive methods to control ants without subjecting everyone in your home to chemicals. Start with tamper-resistant ant bait traps that can be placed near problem areas. These contain a small amount of food mixed with a pesticide that worker ants take back to the colony to feed the queen. When the queen dies, the colony dies. Michael Potter, professor emeritus in the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology, suggests looking for baits that contain fipronil, imidacloprid, indoxacarb, thiamethoxam, or dinotefuran.

For carpenter ants, Potter recommends drilling small holes in the affected areas and inserting boric acid powder into the holes with a syringe or puffer.

How to Get Rid of Outdoor Ants

Since many carpenter ant nests are outside, follow the trail of ants (they are most active at night) and spray or drench the nest with an insecticide such as carbaryl (Sevin), diazinon, or chlorpyrifos (Dursban).

Many types of troublesome outdoor ant nests can be eliminated by simply removing their sources of water and food. Small colonies can be eliminated by pouring soapy water on the mound. Dangerous species like fire ants that can cause severe allergic reactions in humans and pets require specific chemical baits and a regimented pest management system to kill the queen and the rest of the colony.

When using any chemical agents, read the label and follow the manufacturer's directions carefully. Keep the pesticides out of the reach of children and pets and dispose of any unused chemicals following the guidelines of your municipality.

How to Prevent Indoor and Outdoor Ant Infestations

The best ant control is prevention. Start by cleaning up in and around your home.

  • Ants need water to survive. Eliminate standing water, repairs leaks in roofs and plumbing, and check crawl spaces for dampness.
  • Keep your floors and counters clean! Get rid of crumbs, wipe up spills, and don't leave food sitting out that is not in a sealed container.
  • Remove pet food bowls when not in use.
  • Keep gutters clean and as dry as possible. Trim vegetation around the house and keep mulch at least 6 inches away from the foundation.
  • Use weather stripping and caulk to seal cracks and crevices around doors, windows, and pipes to prevent ants from entering your home.
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