How to Wipe Out Ants

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Dear Home Ec 101:
I have ants milling around my cats’ water bowl. We can’t figure out where they are coming from, but a few more appear each day. They seem to be mostly interested in the water dish, since we tend to keep the rest of the food put away except for meal time. I’m looking for a safe way (we have two cats and an adventurous dog) to get rid of the ants before they migrate throughout the house. Any ideas? Spraying them on the spot with a “safe” soybean oil formula isn’t working.

Creeped by the Crawlies

Heather says

Ants are pretty cool creatures in theory. . . Once they enter a home, that cool idea goes out of the window. Of course, fire ants are awful no matter where they are.  Ants communicate by leaving an invisible chemical trail. These trails are left to lead the rest of the colony to food and water sources. What’s happening here is the ants have left their version of a breadcrumb trail to your cat’s water dish, and teams will soon be sent out on recon to see what else is nearby.

There is a commercial boric acid bait. While it is not very fast acting, I’ve used it many times in the past with good results. It’s sold under the brand name Terro. It’s cheap and is easily found at almost any store where you’d find pesticides or items of that nature. As pet owners, we usually hid the bait behind the refrigerator where no pet could get it.

You could make your own ant bait with borax and sugar, but Terro also has an attractant for ants that prefer grease. Sometimes it’s just easier to let someone else perfect the mixture.

Once the bait has attracted the ants, wipe out their old chemical trail around your pets’ water dish by mopping the area with dilute white vinegar, rinse, dry, and you’re good to go. Windex works really well, too.

Good luck!

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25 thoughts on “How to Wipe Out Ants”

  1. i heard you can put a ring of boric acid around your home and the chemical itself deters ants since they enter from the exterior and have to cross this line to get in. and they wont. is this true?

    • I have also heard this suggestion, but it's important to note that too much boric acid is bad for plant life and the boric acid would be washed away with the first rain. Our pest guy -which this reminds me it's time for our annual termite inspection- uses a plant-oil based pesticide. If I remember right, it's made from poppies and is harmless to humans.
      Also boric acid is used as roach killer, too. Many people, without pets, place a line of it under the kickboard of their cabinets where roaches like to run.
      I've heard cinnamon is a natural ant deterrent, but I haven't experimented with it.
      I like the Terro for incidences like in the reader's question.

      • Is it made from Poppies or Marigolds?? I know that planging marigolds around your home (especially points that bugs tend to converge will deter them…Marigold oil is a natural pesticide!)

        Vinegar and water is a good solution to use to wipe clean the scent trail ants leave if you are dealing with the problem at the point where they are converging inside (kill ants around waterbowl….mop floor in kitchen with vinegar/water to kill that scent trail). Ditto for counters and windowsills.

        (My husband was a pest control guy for a while…back in the day).
        My recent post Baby Shower Recipe Ideas

  2. You know, if you move the water dish away from the wall, which I'm guessing is where it is, you might be able to see a clearer path from where they're getting in. So that once you've killed them all you can seal that entry off. I also wonder if the ants aren't attracted by the cat food anyway. I know you take the food away between meals, but bits of food that are small enough for us to miss would be a feast for an ant.

  3. My mom always used Terro, but since it's a liquid you put on a cardboard disk, I didn't like the idea that my toddler might somehow get it out from under the fridge (she's resourceful.) I tried Borax mixed with sugar and other 'humane' and 'safe/pesticide free' treatments, with no luck. Unfortunately, one missed piece of kibble brought them in droves. I went to ant traps (which I think are the same thing, just inside a little disk that my daughter couldn't get into if she happened to find it) and they went away. Bonus, they're cheap, too. They apparently bring food back to the nest and kill the rest. If I see one ant this year, I'll be chucking new ones under the freezer, fridge and stove again. 🙂
    My recent post Rowan's new Freecycle Tricycle!

  4. Ant traps are the way to go. You can find them in grocery and hardware stores. Tuck them under cabinets, the refrigerator (away from pets who like to play with them) and anywhere you think they may be getting in. I usually place them in the four corners of my kitchen, slightly under the refrigerator and stove.

    The ants take the bait back and it kills their nest mates too.

    Boric acid is somewhat effective but is also toxic to pets. Terro works well but is VERY toxic to animals.
    Those little plastic self enclosed ant traps are the only thing I use now and am completely satisfies with them.

  5. When i lived in an aprtment, I used to ahve problems with sugar ants. Normal ant killers don't work on sugar ants. I had my mom's pest guy (no need for my own at that point) give me some of those disk ant killers (it's stronger than what you can buy in the store) and I put those under the fridge and on my cabinets. My dogs didn't show any interest in them but I'm sure they are toxic so if you have nosy pets or kids they might not work.

  6. I've never tried the boric acid. But we regularly use cinnamon and cornmeal for ants. The cinnamon is a repellent. We sprinkle that around entry like window sills and doors. Cornmeal kills them because they are unable to digest it. They carry the cornmeal to the nest and before you know it – no more ants.

  7. Chiming in to say we have used Terro many times in the past–it really does work…at first there will be more…MANY more ants…then they'll go away.

    ~~DanaB @Windows Wide Open
    My recent post Wordless Wednesday

  8. We have annual ant attacks – mostly they like the kitchen sink area. I've used boric acid mixed into a bit of honey, spread it on something flat that they can easily climb onto — they invite all their friends, have a huge party time….and then…THEY DIE!!!! >Insert wicked laugh here<

  9. Love your blog. Just moving back to the southeast after being out west for a couple of decades so we are having to learn a whole new way of dealing with pesky critters around our house. One quick way to stop the ants in their track though, is what I have used for eons. Windex! Works to remove the chemical trail they leave as well as killing them on contact. Who knew? This method makes it easy to pick up the mess too, just a paper towel and it leaves the area nice and clean. And who doesn’t love the smell of Windex?

  10. We rented a small house for a couple of years that had lots of ant problems in the summer. I usually like things to be all natural, but in this case, it was really creeping me out. I went to Home Depot and got the heavy duty ant spray that you put on the outside of the house near the ground and around the windows, and you can also do the same on the inside. It had a residual effect for weeks or months that repelled the ants. I didn't find dead ants around so either they got poisoned and went elsewhere, or they just avoided it. The other thing I did was keep all opened packages in the refrigerator, and some unopened. All sugar products especially, but even things like boxed rice and such, flour, etc. I kept everything very clean in the kitchen, no dirty dishes ever, always wipe everything down with a cleaner. I poured Ajax in the trashcan, which really worked at keeping them out of there. Finally, a friend told me that if you have something like cat food, if you keep it somewhere more isolated and off the ground, such as on a table, the ants were less likely to find it there. In addition, she said and I tried this while we were on vacation, to put a big bowl of water on a table, then put the cat food in the middle, not submerged obviously. The ants wouldn't cross the water. It was pretty extreme, but then once I got a routine going and kept it up, we really didn't have a problem.

    • A lot of this advice applies not only to ants, but to roaches, too. A lot of people are unaware that roaches are a huge asthma trigger for many kids, especially in urban areas where the bugs aren't so much exterminated as chased from one building to the next. It isn't the bugs themselves, but the droppings and other nasty things that become airborne and are inhaled.

  11. We used Terro with great success. I got the traps for outside because I was uncomfortable having it in the house with a curious toddler. However, I've also had some success with Bay leafs. I've tucked them in under the baseboards where I've noticed them coming in.

  12. If you ever happen to find the ant hills/nests boil a couple kettles or pots of water and dump them on the hills to completely kill em all! I did this when I lived in a house with an outdoor ant problem. Its cheap AND it's "all-natural".

  13. Greg, I've done that myself. Even more fun is pouring a gallon of vinegar down their ant hole and watching it boil up. I believe the vinegar actually eats away at their exoskeletons. It's a lot of fun for kids, as my 5 year old can attest to!

  14. I have an ant invasion of my own, I try to keep a clean kitchen, and we have stopped eating in the living room, however these ants like to pretend they are bed bugs. They infest the beds that NO ONE eats in. I know for a fact that while my little sis might have stuck a little food into her bed, or even lounged on my bed wile eating that is not the case for my mom’s. We wash the sheets weekly (sometimes bi-weekly), but still they come back. We purchased the ant bait about a month ago… no change in ant activity. I currently have 7 playful kittens running a muck so keeping the bait away from them is challenging. Any suggestions?

  15. We had a similar issue, dog bowls were bringing them in. 🙁 At the time I had a toddler and obviously a dog.. Didn’t want to mess with any chemicals, so I asked around and someone suggested peppermint extract. It worked like a charm, put it on a cottonball and ran it along the edge of the wall, the ants won’t cross a line of peppermint extract. Not sure why, but it works! Not to mention it’s safe for the kiddies and dogs.

  16. I had an ant issue in an apartment once. Someone at a party had left an open can of pop on my kitchen counter.  I woke up the next morning and ants were swarming everywhere!  Don’t ask me why, but the only idea that popped into my head was to grab my can of Lysol disinfectant spray and go to town on them.
    It worked!  Immediately and permanently! All the ants died and they never came back.

  17. You can use vinegar mixed with water and spray around the food bowl, to get rid of the source you can buy ant-killers, put it in the ant trail and they will get it back to the ant-home and the nest will die.

  18. Peppermint oil!*
    Ants HATE the smell of peppermint. We get really bad infestations every spring/summer, and we have pets, so we prefer to avoid pesticides.

    First, we soak cotton pads or balls with peppermint oil and swipe them around the perimeter of the room/baseboards. Then we stuff any cracks we can find with the used cotton. I also use a spray bottle filled with water and add a few drops of peppermint oil to it. I use it as a rinse for after I wash my floors. It’s really nice in the summer heat. Not only does it repel the ants, but it makes my house smell great, and I can also spray it on myself, as a mister, to help keep cool in the summer heat.

    *make sure to get real essential oil of peppermint. That’s the only one I know for sure will work, and is non toxic. Room scents can have other stuff added to them that might not be so great for little paws to step in.

  19. Thank you all so very much
    for all of the suggestions. I will be trying all of them to find the one that works the best in our area. Of course the safe ones for my Cat. Thanks to my daughter for writing in also………(^.^)


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