What is the most effective way to kill ants that are making their way into your home? To answer this question, it is important to first know the ant species that are invading, then to consider a few key points of ant control:
Know Your Ants
The first step in controlling ants in and around your home is to know what type of ant it is. This is important because baits are generally the best option for control, but different ants have different food preferences. Additionally, some ants rarely enter homes or only do so singly, so placing bait inside will do little to get rid of ants that are living outdoors.
In addition to several articles linked below, the University of Wisconsin has created a comprehensive, easy-to-read table, know your ants, that provides identification and specific control strategies for some of the most common ants, including:
- Black carpenter ant
- Field ants
- Larger yellow ants
- Pavement ants
- False honey ants
- Odorous house ants
- Cornfield ants
- Pharaoh ants
- Grease or thief ants
Ant Prevention and Control
Ants are best controlled through an integrated program of prevention, exclusion, and control:
The main reason that ants enter homes is in search of food or water. Once an ant finds either―or both―of these, it carries it back to its nest while leaving a scent trail for other ants from its colony to follow to get more. Thus, eliminating these sources of food or water is the first step in eliminating ants from your home.
- Clean spilled food and crumbs from floors, cupboards, and pantries, getting into corners and along baseboards.
- Sweep and mop floors regularly.
- Do not leave pet foods out after the animals have finished eating. While pets do need water to be available, you should limit water sources as much as possible―particularly if you suspect you have an ant problem, and until you get it under control.
- Empty trash and clean trash areas regularly to prevent buildup and odors.
- If you recycle, always rinse items before storing and keep them in lidded, pest-resistant bins. Whenever possible, store the containers outdoors, and away from the home.
- Keep grass mowed, and trees and shrubs trimmed so they do not touch the house.
- Keep gutters, porches, and perimeters clean and clear of debris.
- Keep ants from finding entry points by sealing cracks and crevices, keeping screens in good repair, and ensuring doors and windows are tightly sealed with no gaps.
- Check and seal gaps around electric wiring, cables, pipes, and other such potential entry points.
- Repair leaks inside and outside the home, and eliminate pooling water sources around the home's exterior.
- Because spraying ants kills only the workers who are out foraging for food, sprays are rarely successful in eliminating ants. The primary exception is when the direct spraying of a nest is applicable, such as for fire ants.
- Thus, it is recommended that baits be used. This is because most of the ants of the colony, including the queen, never leave the nest. They are fed by the food brought back by the worker ants, who are responsible for foraging for food to feed the entire colony.
- Ant baits are made up of food to attract the ants along with a slow-acting insecticide, so that the workers can carry the poisoned food back to the nest and feed the other colony members, before being killed by the bait they carry. Additionally, in this way, the bait kills the entire colony, including the breeding queen, instead of just killing a few worker ants with a spray, who would simply be replaced with another troop of ants.
- At first, it may seem that baiting is a very slow way to rid your home of ants, but it will have a much greater long-term effect than continuously spraying a few ants here and there.
- Baits are fairly simple to use, but. because different ants have different food preferences, it is necessary to know the species of ant that is causing the problem. You may also want to consider hiring a knowledgeable professional.
- Ant baits are available in gel or paste tubes, granules, or covered containers. The covered, child- and pet-resistant containers are the safest to use in and around homes, but the open tablets and gels can be used if all label directions are followed and they are located where they will not be contacted by children, pets, or non-target animals.