I hate ants. Oh, I know they are industrious and hard-working, and maybe I can admire them as they march in and out of an ant hill with some food — as long as that ant hill is a long way from my house and that food is not from my kitchen. Once they set foot in my house, it’s a different story. They have to go!
If you know anything about ants, you know that when they find something good to eat, they are programmed to bring it back to the nest to their queen. They set up a sticky trail to and from the food source to their colony for other ants to follow. Getting rid of ants can be a two-step process: you have to get rid of the ants you see and you have to prevent new ones from following the trail. It usually involves some investigative work as you search for the ant’s point of entry into your home.
Warm weather tends to bring the critters out in droves, and if you have been seeing them in your kitchen, you are naturally concerned about spraying the toxic chemicals found in most commercial bug sprays around your food and your family. The good news is that there are a surprising number of safe, easy and effective ways to get rid of ants, and you probably have many of the ingredients right there in your kitchen.
1. Lemon juice – The smell and acidity of lemon juice disrupts ant trails and discourages them from starting new ones. Pour a few drops of lemon juice directly into the hole or crack the ants are using to enter your kitchen. Then wipe some lemon juice around the entire area, such as window frames, floorboards or doorways, where they have been crawling. You may need to repeat this process a few times to deter new ants following the old trail to your home.
2. Diatomaceous Earth – DE is the fossilized remains of tiny one-celled algae called phyto-planktons which have skeletons made of silica and hard, glass-like shells around them. Sounds crazy, but it works great. DE works by scratching up the outer skeleton of insects and absorbing their body fluids, causing them to dehydrate and die. Sprinkle DE on the corners of your cupboards, cabinets, window sills, in between crevices, behind baseboards, around plumbing or wiring holes in walls and very lightly on carpets and rugs.
3. Cinnamon – Ants also dislike the smell of cinnamon. You can sprinkle ground cinnamon or place cinnamon sticks wherever you have seen the ants, or try dipping a cotton swab in cinnamon oil and applying it to cracks and crevices where the ants have been entering. As with the lemon juice, you may need several applications before you see results. Cloves also work in the same way.
4. Cornmeal – Ants are attracted to cornmeal but they can’t digest it, so they basically explode after consuming it. (Yuk!) Once you determine where the ants are entering your home, place some cornmeal on a small plate near the opening. It may take a few days, and you may see more ants at first, but in time, this method is very effective. Wheat flour, cream of wheat and dried rice also work in the same way.
5. Chalk – Try drying barriers on walls, windows or doors with a stick of chalk. Ants do not like the calcium carbonate in chalk and will not cross the line.
6. Salt – Similarly, ants dislike salt. You can sprinkle table salt around cracks and crevices or make a salt spray by mixing salt in boiling water and then spraying the solution wherever you see the ants.
7. Cayenne pepper – Pepper is just as effective as salt in deterring ants. Sprinkle it directly on openings or mix it with water to spray on the ants and ant trails.
8. Vinegar – The strong scent of white vinegar repels ants. Make a 50-50 vinegar-water solution and spray it directly onto the area of entry and reapply as needed. You can use it safely on floors, counter tops and cabinets. In fact, it works great as a cleaning and disinfecting spray.
9. Coffee grounds – As you have guessed, ants are very sensitive to scents, and they do not like the smell of coffee grounds. Try placing your used grounds in a small dish or bowl near their entryways. (Note: coffee grounds are useful as a pest deterrent in your garden as well, and they help nourish the soil.)
10. Mint and other herbs — We like their smell, but ants don’t! Try placing your small herb plants near doors and windows to deter ants or place the herb leaves or leaf pieces directly in cracks and crevices. In addition to mint, here are other herbs ants dislike: basil, lavender, rosemary and thyme. (Ants hate the smell of garlic too, but most people don’t want their kitchen smelling of garlic, unless they are making pasta sauce.)
11. Borax – Those commercial ant baits that you have seen (Terro is one brand) basically use a borax solution to bait ants, and you can make your own version at home. The idea is kind of creepy, but it is effective. The solution attracts the ants; they carry some back to the colony where it poisons the entire colony. Make a thin paste with water, sugar and borax (a natural white mineral found in some alkaline salt deposits) and spread it on small pieces of cardboard or in small plastic tubs. Place the bait near where the ants are entering your kitchen but be sure to keep it out of the reach of small children and pets. It may seem like your ant problem is getting worse at first, but remember that you are attracting the ants and wanting them to take the bait back to the colony. The paste will dry up in a day or two and you may need to do more than one application to take care of the infestation.
Now that you have hopefully gotten rid of the ants, it’s time to think about keeping them out. As you know, ants are attracted to food, so your best bet is to keep food tightly covered. They love honey, for instance, so you might want to enclose your honey jar in a zippered bag or other large container. Here are some other preventative tips:
- Clean counters and floors frequently.
- Remove kitchen trash daily.
- Store dry cereals in sealed containers rather than original boxes (dry dog and cat food too!)
- Avoid leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight.
- Keep pet bowls clean between meals.
Finally, if you are able to follow the ant trails outside your home, a simple and effective means of destroying the entire colony is to pour boiling water down the opening.
Getting rid of ants using natural means may take a little more time and patience than grabbing a can of store-bought spray, but it is healthier for your family and, in the case of many of these measures, pretty easy on your wallet as well.
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