9 Simple Steps to Get Rid of Ants and Keep Them Out

Ants in the House
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Ants aren't just an annoying presence in your home; they can spread unwanted bacteria or cause damage to your house's structure. The good news is, only a handful of species—25 or so nationwide—invade homes, and there's a straightforward way to eliminate those that do.

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How to Cheaply and Naturally Get Rid of Ants

1. Understand the Ant Colony and Its Queen 

To solve an ant problem, you need to first eliminate the ones you don’t see to get rid of the ones you do see. It sounds strange, but it's true. This is because the queen—the one who lays all the eggs—never leaves her nest. She just stays there, being fed by the workers (the ones you see) and continues to reproduce more ants. So you can spray and spray the ants you see, and she'll just keep making more to take their place.

2. Watch the Trailing Ants

The next step in controlling ants is simply watching the ones that enter your home to see where they are coming from and going to. Ants in your home are seeking food, and once an ant finds some, it will return to its nest with the crumb, leaving a scent trail behind it. By doing so, the ant leaves a chemical path for its fellow worker ants to follow to collect more food.

3. Don't Spray the Ants! 

The ants that you see are worker ants. Their job is to find food and take it back to feed the queen and her young, who are being groomed as the next generation of worker ants. Because of this, these worker ants are your ticket into the colony. If you spray and kill these ants, the colony will simply send out more workers, and you'll never reach the queen.

4. Set Out Ant Bait

Instead of eliminating the worker ants, use them! Following all label directions, place ant bait stations along the trail you identified. The workers will find the bait, carry it back to the nest, and feed the queen, eventually killing her and eliminating future populations.

5. Hold Off on Cleaning

Although it is good to eliminate other food sources, you don't want to mop away the ant's odor trail yet. The trail will now lead the workers to your bait instead.

6. Be Patient

The ants will carry the insecticide bait back to the nest, but it can take several days to eliminate the colony, or even a few weeks if the colony is very large or it has several queens, as some ant species do. You may even need to replace the bait station if the ants empty it.

7. Know When to Spray

If the trailing ants have led you to an outdoor, below-ground nest, now can be the time to spray. Drenching the nest with an approved insecticide spray (following all label directions) can be effective.

8. Keep It Clean

Sanitation is critical for the prevention and control of any pest. Like all living creatures, ants need water, food, and shelter for survival. Ants leave the shelter of their colony to find food and water. Don't make it easy for them! Keep foods sealed, floors swept, and all surfaces cleaned.

9. Keep Ants Out

Ants are tiny creatures and can enter homes and buildings through minute cracks and crevices. To minimize this, seal around windows and doors and all cable, pipe, and wire entry points.

Illustration of how to keep ants out
Illustration: The Spruce/Catherine Song