How to Get Rid of Ants

20–23 minutes to read | Updated for 2018


Seeing ants in the home is never good news. So if you’ve noticed a few creeping on your floorboards or kitchen counter, it’s time to take action.

First make sure that you’ve correctly identified the invader as an ant; they’re surprisingly similar in appearance to their cousin the termite, but the two can be distinguished by a few features.

Ants Versus Termites

  • Ants have longer legs, curved or elbowed antennae, and defined “waists” between their thorax and abdomens.
  • Termites have straight antennae and a straight body.

Common Species of Ants

Researchers believe that over 10,000 different species of ants exist, but only a handful of breeds regularly venture indoors. Here’s a guide to the most common household invaders and the risks they carry:

how to get rid of carpenter ants

Carpenter Ants

While not harmful to humans, carpenter ants can wreak havoc on property by consuming damp, rotting wood. Unlike termites, which can destroy any available wood, carpenter ants can only eat wood that’s already vulnerable and water-damaged. Make sure you stay on top of any leaks or weather-exposed areas in your home.

How To Identify:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 inch
  • Reddish black
  • Found throughout the U.S.
  • Can destroy wet and decaying wood
  • Pose a serious structural threat; consider seeking professional help immediately
  • Nocturnal
how to get rid of pharoah ants

Pharoah Ants

These ants are tiny and prolific, making them difficult to completely eradicate once they’ve invaded a building. They can pose a major threat in hospitals and other medical settings since their size allows them to infiltrate sterile areas and spread germs.

How To Identify:
  • 1/16 inch
  • Light brown, yellow, or amber, almost transparent
  • Found throughout the U.S. and most of the world
  • Difficult to fully eliminate
  • Can chew holes in nylon and silk fabrics
  • May be treatable with DIY solutions
how to get rid of carpenter ants

Crazy Ants

Crazy ants get their name from the erratic movement they display when hunting for food. This species lives in large colonies with multiple queens, making them a tenacious and difficult-to-treat presence.

How To Identify:
  • 1/16 to 1/8 inch
  • Dark brown
  • Found in Southern U.S.
  • Attracted to sweet substances
  • May be treatable with DIY solutions
how to get rid of carpenter ants

Odorous House Ant

Like the crazy ant, odorous house ants are small and dark brown or black in color. However, you can distinguish them by the rotten-smelling odor they give off when crushed.

How To Identify:
  • 1/16 to 1/8 inch
  • Brown or black
  • Give off rotten smell when crushed
  • Multiple queens
  • Not directly harmful to humans, but can contaminate food
  • Found throughout the U.S.
  • May be treatable with DIY solutions
how to get rid of fire ants

Fire Ants

Fire ants are small, but they’ve developed a big reputation thanks to their painful sting. While they normally keep to their outdoor mounds, fire ants may attempt to infest homes when looking for food or water.

How To Identify:
  • 1/16 to 3/16 inch
  • Copper, red, or reddish brown
  • Found in Southern U.S.
  • Known for their painful sting
  • Professional treatment may be required
how to get rid of carpenter ants

Pavement Ants

These ants frequently wage war to establish their territory and it’s common to find a slue of ant casualties after one of their battles. Their favorite food is the honeydew produced by aphids, but they can and will eat other human fare if honeydew isn’t available.

How To Identify:
  • 1/16 to 1/8 inch
  • Light brown or black
  • Build colonies under pavement
  • Commonly found in urban areas of the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest
  • Not harmful to humans but can contaminate food
  • May be treatable with DIY solutions

Which Ants Bite & Sting?

There’s a common misconception that ants don’t bite, but unfortunately, a few species do. Here are the ant varieties that bite and sting:

carpenter ant

Carpenter Ants

Not only can they damage your home, carpenter ants can break the skin when they attempt to bite humans. While not poisonous, their bites can be painful and are sometimes followed by a defensive chemical spray that can cause further soreness. Carpenter ant bites can be treated with Aloe Vera or ice.

fire ant

Fire Ants

We all know fire ants sting, but it’s important to understand the difference between a normal reaction and an allergic reaction. A normal response to a fire ant sting will include itchy, raised red skin that improves after a few hours. An allergic reaction can include a range of symptoms like dizziness, shortness of breath, swollen tongue, and abdominal pain.

pavement ant

Pavement Ants

These small ants rarely bite humans, but they may resort to this defense if they feel threatened. Pavement ant bites are usually mild and only require ice or a cold compress.

Terro Ant Baits

Terro Ant Baits

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Gather the Tools You’ll Need

a good flashlight

For peering into dark corners

a magnifying glass

For finding small entry points

a sweet substance

For finding small entry points

Step 1: Identify the Species

Identify The Species

The first step is simply determining which type of ant you’re dealing with. Experts consider most of these ant breeds a nuisance rather than a threat, but if you identify ants in your home as fire ants or carpenter ants, you may want to take immediate action.

Step 2: Know the Signs of an Infestation

Know The Signs

Keep an eye out for piles of wood shavings and listen for a light rustling noise in the walls; these can be signs of a severe carpenter ant infestation that would require immediate professional attention. Small holes found in silk or nylon may point to an infestation of pharaoh ants.

Step 3: Remove Their Food Sources

Remove Their Food Sources

Secure open food in containers and make sure your cabinets and floors are clear of crumbs and other food scraps. If you must leave pet food out in a bowl, place vinegar water around the bowl so you’re interfering with the food smell and discouraging ants from crossing the barrier.

Step 4: Secure any openings into and out of your home.

Secure Small Cracks

Ants can enter your home through tiny cracks or crevices in your home’s exterior. Make sure you seal any entry points, especially around heating and cooling units. Also examine your home for any wet or rotting wood that may make your property vulnerable to carpenter ants.

Step 5: Kill the Strays

Kill The Strays

The ants you’re seeing may simply be scout ants sent by their colonies to identify new food sources, in which case killing the individuals may prevent more from showing up. If you continue to see ants after a week or so, try to locate the nest and go from there.

Step 6: Find the Nest

Find The Nest

Try to determine where the ants are coming from. You can do this by baiting them with a sweet substance and then tracing their path back to their source. Some ants are nocturnal, so try baiting them at night and then using a flashlight to observe their behavior. You can also examine their favorite hiding places: kitchens, bathrooms, and cracks in walls.

Step 7: Develop a Plan

Develop A Plan

If you continue to see new ants even after you’ve killed the initial strays, there may be a bigger problem. Your home is probably now a known entity to the colony, which means worker ants can follow the scent trail left by their predecessors to enter your home and locate food. This means you must address the source: the ants’ colony itself.

Weather & Ants

Ants modify their behavior in different weather just as humans do. Knowing which conditions force ants indoors can help you stay extra prepared for a possible invasion.


Ants live in shallow underground nests, which means they’re particularly susceptible to rainy weather. They may double their efforts to access your house if you’re experiencing a large amount of rainfall in your area, so make sure any entry points are sealed.


Most ant species hibernate, or at least become far less active, during the winter, so homeowners can breathe a sigh of relief during these months. If you do spot many ants in cold weather, though, it may be a sign that you have an infestation inside the home.


Ants are at their most active during hot summer months since this is the time they gather the food that will last them all winter. Keep an eye out for particularly ambitious ants that may infiltrate your kitchen to find extra food to secure for their colonies. Clean up quickly after meals and keep food in airtight containers.


A lack of rain can also drive ants indoors to seek water. You may spot ants in the bathroom or kitchen or close to any other water source in your home. Try to eliminate standing water, like cups with leftover beverages or wet floors.

Pro Tip: Ant Prevention Starts in the Yard

While it’s important to seal any entry points into your home, maintaining the lawn around your home can also help prevent an invasion. Examine the land around your home for:

Ant mounds

Lawn debris that may be hiding nests

Rotting or decaying wood

Long branches touching the exterior of the home

Ants are one of the most successful animals on Earth. Their social organization enables them to defend themselves, exploit resources, modify their behavior, and thrive. Unfortunately, this also means that they can wreak havoc on home environments.

To understand how to get rid of ants, it is important to understand how they live and how they sustain themselves.  A relatively small infestation may can be tackled easily with little expense. Top-rated treatments exist for carpenter ant problems, and it’s even possible to mitigate a fire ant infestation on your own. Once you know the type of ants you are dealing with, there are many different ways that you can keep this pest at bay.


Many do-it-yourself ant treatments can be done both inside and outside. You may need to purchase certain products depending on what is on hand at home, but many simple treatments require little to no cost. The best treatment of all is prevention — practicing good habits to keep your house clean and sealed off from pesky intruders.

Cleaning up Food and Waste

Ants will eat just about anything. Their tastes vary depending on the species, and identifying the right one will help you target the right treatment. But even if you don’t know what type of ant has made its way into your home, keeping things clean is key.

  • Promptly clean up any crumbs, spills or food waste, especially anything containing sugar.
  • Always use place mats when you eat so any spills can be contained and wiped off afterward.
  • Clean your kitchen appliances regularly. Your fridge, microwave, toaster and oven all collect food residue each time they’re used, and ants can detect even the tiniest amount.
  • Wipe down your kitchen counters and the places where you eat every night. Make sure you also sweep your floors to get rid of any crumbs.
  • Keep your garbage can closed and make sure to mop up any spills on or around it.

Properly Seal Your Food

  • Keep food in sealed containers, especially those containing sugar.
  • Dispose of unused pet food or put it away at the end of the day. Don’t let it remain in a dish overnight.
  • Take out the trash regularly to keep the smell from attracting ants. Make sure your garbage lid fits and closes properly to seal off all your waste. Its odor can attract ants and other insects, like flies.
  • Keep an eye on any of the food you leave outside of your pantry or fridge (such as fruits), to make sure they’re not rotting and attracting ants with their odor.

Minimize Moisture

Along with food, ants are also always on the hunt for water. Ant infestations often occur during rainy seasons when they congregate outside near puddles and in drier seasons when they head indoors in search of moisture. Luckily, there are ways to curb this problem in and around your home.

  • Minimize the amount of water around your house by fixing any leaky pipes, both inside and out.
  • Ensure that your gutters drain water away from your house. Make sure they aren’t clogged with leaves or other debris that sit and retain moisture.
  • Consider using a dehumidifier if you live in a humid area. This can remove excess moisture from the indoor air.
  • Eliminate piles of leaves, branches or wood that retain water in your yard.
  • Regularly trim your grass, bushes and trees so they aren’t providing shady, moist areas for ants to flourish during rainfall. It’s especially important to keep up with your landscaping during rainy seasons.
  • Make sure that your outdoor trash cans have tight-fitting lids. Rainwater can easily become standing water — the perfect environment for insects to feed and breed.
  • Remove empty planters, old toys, unused bird feeders, or anything else outside that might trap and contain water. Planters or any other items sitting out in your yard should be properly fitted with drainage holes.

Outdoor Care

Along with maintaining your lawn to reduce moisture, other habits can ensure that an ant colony doesn’t make its way indoors:

  • Check your lawn for any pest waste. This can easily go unseen and decompose, attracting ants and other pests.
  • Pick up any trash that might have made its way into your yard or fallen out of your trash cans.
  • If you have a garden or any fruiting plants, pick ripe fruit and vegetables or dispose of those that have fallen on the ground.
  • Regularly wash out and disinfect any outdoor trash cans to get rid of buildup and odor.
  • Trim back branches that lead to the roof of your house or any entryways. They provide a perfect bridge for ants and other insects to enter your home.

Seal and Clean Your Entryways

Clean And Seal Entryways

Scrub your doorways and windows with a mild solution of soap and water. This will remove pheromones from ants that have already entered your home, thus preventing other ants from following their trail.

You should also seal any entrance points for ants in your house—primarily cracks in your foundations, walls and windows. Caulk is the most common sealant for this purpose, although the best choice may depend on the specific material that you’re sealing. You can also use weatherstripping and seals for doors that leave a wide gap, even when they’re closed.



Baiting is one of the most effective methods of controlling ant infestations, especially when you can’t locate or access the nest. Keep in mind that this method requires several days’ effort.

Ant bait works very slowly, allowing the workers to make multiple trips to the bait source. The workers lay down pheromone trails, which attract more workers. You will initially notice more ants as they form lines to the bait source, but do not disturb these lines once you have set the bait. Be patient, and wait for the ants to retrieve it and carry it back to the nest. This bait will eventually kill the individual workers that consume it, but its primary purpose is to kill the queen.

The most common active ingredient for ant bait is borax, which is effective for several reasons. Borax is inexpensive because it occurs naturally in seasonal lake beds at high levels of purity. It’s also highly lethal to ants but only mildly toxic to humans. Ants eagerly seek it out for its sweet taste.

DIY Ant Bait Recipe

  • 1 cup warm water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons borax

Add your bait ingredients to a bowl and microwave or heat on a stove top to medium heat. Once the solution cools, mix it and leave it in shallow containers such as bottle or jar lids near the ants’ path.

In powder form, boric acid, which is refined from borax, can be laid across ant paths. Both methods achieve the same result: the ants carry the boric acid back to the nest and ingest it, eventually killing off the colony.

You can also soak your borax mixture with cotton balls and leave them near ant trails and entryways around your home. This method is especially helpful if you have children or pets that may get into the mixture or knock it over. Check your bait as well as the amount of ants you see each week so you know if it needs to be replenished.

We’ve also reviewed several ant bait products that are the best in the business and offer a surefire way to get rid of ants fast. These baits are best used when paired with ant poison so that the ants are both lured to the bait and able to take the poison back to the colony.

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Chemical Ant Control

Chemical forms of ant control are rated for indoor or outdoor use, so it’s important to ensure that you use an ant killer that’s appropriate for the location. Indoor insecticides are generally much less toxic because they will be used in closer proximity to humans. These products may be in spray or powder form, with deltamethrin and permethrin being the most common active ingredients.

Contact pesticides, including commonly sold sprays, are the best way to kill visible ants, especially if they don’t have a well-established nest. These pesticides work quickly and have residual effects that last for weeks. Contact pesticides are typically used in specific areas that aren’t used to prepare food.

Ant pesticides for outdoor use typically contain one of the following active ingredients:

  • Acephate
  • Nifenthrin
  • Carbaryl
  • Cyfluthrin
  • Permethrin

Acephate is used for liquid pesticides and spray, while bifenthrin and cyfluthrin are the active ingredients in solid pesticides. Carbaryl and permethrin used in both liquid and solid pesticides. Liquid pesticides should generally be allowed to soak into the nest, while solid pesticides are placed outside the nest so they appear to be a food source. Both types of pesticides often require multiple applications to kill the queen, which is essential in resolving an ant problem.

Many of these insecticides can be bought in small amounts. As long as your infestation is small enough to manage on your own, this will still be cheaper than hiring a pest control company. The insecticides can also be used as a preventative measure by spraying them around the outside perimeter of your home every three months or so to keep ants at bay.

Check out the best ant sprays that you can easily pick up in stores or online to get rid of your ant problem quickly. It’s especially important to compare their effectiveness and toxicity levels if you have children and pets at home. As outdoor sprays have different ingredients that aren’t appropriate for indoor use, we’ve also outlined some of the best outdoor methods to bait and kill the ant colony.

Essential Oils

Essential Oils

Essential oils are what their name implies—concentrated oils taken from various plants. Cinnamon oil, lemon oil, and peppermint oil are often effective at disrupting the chemical trails that ants use to lead other ants to food sources. Put a small amount in a spray bottle with water and spray this on the trail and the areas around it, and ants may lose interest in the food source in your home. You can also put essential oils on a cotton swab and apply them directly to the trail.

DIY Peppermint Oil Spray

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 15 drops peppermint oil

Cinnamon oil and lemon oil are also great options that will help deter ants. If you have both on hand, you can mix them all into the recipe along with the peppermint oil. Be sure to shake your spray bottle before using to evenly mix the oil within the water.

Natural Ant Repellents

Natural Ant Repellent

There are a few natural products that act as barriers to ants by damaging their exoskeletons. Chalk is sometimes effective in this role, as is granulated salt. The most widely recognized barrier is diatomaceous earth—a naturally occurring substance created by the buildup of tiny marine plants called diatoms. The bits and parts of the diatoms’ skeletons fall apart into jagged microscopic pieces of silica that damage ants’ exoskeletons and eventually cause them to dehydrate. In a manner similar to boric acid, ants naturally avoid diatomaceous earth, and so sprinkling it across ant pathways or entryways acts as a repellent. If you choose to use diatomaceous earth, avoid the type used to purify swimming pools, which is harmful if inhaled. Food-grade diatomaceous earth used as a dietary supplement and is less harmful.

Herbal Approaches

Herbal Approaches

Some common cooking ingredients can also be used to get rid of ants. Cayenne pepper and ground bay leaves can disrupt trails in the same fashion as diatomaceous earth. Cornmeal sprinkled near a trail can kill a small colony. While it won’t disrupt the ant trail itself, it will dehydrate the ants once it is ingested. Vinegar can also work in much the same way as essential oils to spray it on ant trails and the areas around them.

DIY Vinegar Spray

  • 1 part water
  • 1 part vinegar

Mix one part water with one part vinegar and add to a spray bottle. Before use, be sure to shake the bottle in order to mix the solution inside. Similar to a DIY essential oil spray, you can use vinegar spray on ant trails and the areas around them.

When To Call A Pro

These DIY methods are cheap and effective ways to combat small ant problems, but not enough to treat multiple nests plaguing your home, or even a single large nest.

If an infestation is affecting your everyday life and making your home an unsanitary or dangerous place to live inside, call a professional immediately.

Eradicating an ant nest in the house often involves more than just applying spray: a pest control company may have to drill small holes in the wall near the floor. Insecticidal dust may then be applied through the holes with a special applicator or plastic bottle with a nozzle, a procedure especially necessary for carpenter ant control.

Be aware that wood-cutting species like carpenter ants often cause property damage requiring a contractor to repair. These ants can bore long tunnels, or galleries, in wood, greatly weakening load-bearing structures in your house.

Professional pest controllers typically handle a range of insects, but may also specialize in a particular species. They are likely to be highly experienced with the particular ant species that live in your area, as well as pesticides and treatment methods that are safe for children and pets. These experts frequently provide free estimates, allowing you to determine the severity of the infestation before making a financial commitment.

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