How to Find an Ant Scent Trail

Ant trail


Chris Stein / Getty Images

Ant invasions start with a few lone ants striking out to find a food source for the rest of the colony. If you see a few lone ants in your house, you might be able to stop an invasion before it gets well established in your home. Those few ants are scouts in search of food. When they find it, they mark a scent path to the food and then return to the colony. That scent trail leads other worker ants straight to the food source. To help eliminate ants from your home, find the scent trail, set out traps for the worker ants, then destroy the scent trail.

Identifying the Entry Point

An ant's scent trail inside a home usually leads from a crack or gap in a wall or floor, and ants are often seen near baseboards along the floor. Other entry points might be unsealed holes to the exterior, including plumbing entry points. Usually, the trail continues in a fairly straight line toward a food source, such as an area of crumbs or a sticky spill. It might also be a pantry, food cabinet, or even a small appliance with food residue. Outdoor scent trails can lead to the same types of items or even dead bugs.

Finding the Ant Scent Trail

An ant scent trail is invisible to humans. There is no way to see the trail that has been left unless the ants themselves are present and following the trail. The easiest way to see a scent trail is to watch the ants traveling in a line. Very rarely will a few ants break off from the line to scout new food sources. Early on during an invasion, the unbroken line to the food will mark the pathway of the scent trail. By following it, you should be able to find the food sources the ants are seeking and identify where the ants are coming from.

What to Do When You Find the Trail

Once you've found the ant scent trail, use it to your advantage by setting out ant bait traps along the trail. The worker ants follow the trail to the traps, which contain a food source and ant poison. They bring the poisonous food back to the colony where it gradually kills the colony. After the traps have done their job, remove the trail with your preferred cleaner:

  • Vinegar: Fill a spray bottle with undiluted vinegar, and spray along the ant trail. Let the vinegar dry.


Vinegar contains acid that could damage tile grout and some types of natural stone.

  • Bleach: Dilute liquid bleach with water, following the manufacturer's proportions a general cleaning solution. Clean the trail area with a sponge or brush, and rinse as needed.
  • Baking soda: Mix baking soda with water to create a scrubbing paste. Scrub the site around the ant trail, then rinse or wipe up the baking soda. You can also sprinkle dry baking soda into cracks an crevices to help erase the scent trail.

If desired, you can also apply a natural repellant to the area after cleaning. One option is to use peppermint essential oil (diluted with water in a spray bottle) and spray the area where you removed the trail. You can also sprinkle ground cinnamon or chili powder over the area.