Ant Eradication

Early in Spring we seemed to develop a bit of a problem around here.  We became nearly overrun with spiders, to the point where I had to wrap the end of our Swiffer in paper towels and dub it the Spider Killer.  (Ok, before you environmentalists and animal lovers go crazy on me here, I have to say that if there were some way to safely get these spiders out of the house and into freedom without a) the dog eating them or 2) my spider-phobic kid from sending them flying as she screams and flails about, I would.  Sigh.  I used to be the Junior Kindergarten teacher who would lovingly tell her students not to harm the poor little insects and arachnids that would venture into our classroom.  I would gently scoop them up, marveling in wonder aloud with the children about the miracles of God’s creations, and set them free outside.)  Honestly though, there were just too many of them and those little suckers can move fast!  I guess it was all the rain we were having that kept bringing them in?  I am not sure but I was relieved when I no longer had to jump up at least 3 times during every show I watched to go on spider-eliminating patrol.  

Like I said, I WAS relieved.  That is, I was relieved until said spiders were replaced by an entire army of ants taking up residence in our house.  Once again the screams and flailing limbs have begun along with the shrieks for me to deal with them, not 3 times per show like with the spiders.  Oh no! If I thought we had a problem with the number of spiders in the house, I was horrified when I realized that we now had 5 times the number of ants.  And while it’s bad enough to have ants crawling about in the kitchen (thank God they have only been seen in the vicinity of the recycling bins), I cannot tell you how disconcerting it is to have them crawling up the wall behind your head as you recline on your bed!  I am not sure what it is drawing them into this room as they don’t seem to go near anything I would expect.  We have not spied any of them near our glasses of juice or pop nor near any of our food (yes we eat in bed…I have some chronic illnesses as well as constant pain from a car accident and so spending more of my life in bed than the average person is just a fact of life for me).  The ants have only been seen crawling up that wall behind my bed! 

I was hoping it was one of those temporary situations that would resolve itself in a few days and honestly, it is MUCH better than it was but still as I look behind me right now, there are 3 of them crawling up the wall.  So, off to research I went, hitting up any internet resources I could find.  I am sharing the results of my research here in case anyone else has an ant invasion in their home.  The criteria that I am using for these potential remedies are that it must be inexpensive (preferably using something I already have on hand rather than requiring a purchase), easy to use, and it must be non-toxic not just to us humans but also to our pets as we have a dog and 3 cats to be concerned about here.  

Here are the suggestions I found.  Please note that I have not tried any of these remedies yet so I cannot personally vouch for any of them.  I plan to report back here with my results once I have tried some of them.  If any readers try some of the suggestions and would care to share their results with us, I would be very grateful!

Suggested remedies to rid your house of ants:

1)      This may seem obvious but it’s worth saying; you need to begin by finding out where and how the ants are getting into the house in the first place and do something to stop it.   In fact, I found some research which suggested that attempting to deal with the problem by simply killing the ants you see is not only futile, but actually will make the problem worse.  Apparently, living ants are attracted to the smell of their dead comrades and it literally attracts more ants to the area as they seek out the carcasses in order to carry them away.  Who knew?  Try to follow the line of ants back to the entry source and use silicone caulking to  plug up those holes!  You might also want to add weather-stripping to doors (if a draft can get in, so can an ant and believe me, they love to travel in large groups!) In addition, it was stressed that it is very important to trim back any vines, trees, bushes,  and such that are leaning up against the house as well as to eliminate any garbage being stored close to your home.  Did you know that ants can climb from a tree branch that is touching the roof of your house onto the roof and then use the rain gutters and drainpipes much like their own personal freeway to gain access to your entire house?  You want to make it as difficult as possible for those ants to get back into your house again!  While doing your outdoor investigation, you may even find the anthill these ants are all coming from.  If you do, one of the suggestions was to pour boiling water over it to destroy it.  I told you some of the suggestions were a bit barbaric.  Oh and be sure to check out your window screens.  Even a small hole in them can provide an entry point for ants and other unwanted houseguests. (Did I happen to mention the little mouse problem we had when we first moved into this house?)  One final suggestion I found was to bring some reptiles and amphibians such as frogs, toads, or lizards into the area around where the ants are coming into the house.  These animals eat ants and are very good at keeping ant populations under control.  My question is, just how do you find frogs, toads, or lizards to live in your yard and what exactly do you need to do to entice them to take up residence?  It seems like more work than I want to expend on this particular problem. 

2)      Just as you have done some investigating and cleaning up around the exterior of your house, it is also important to attend to some indoor housekeeping chores.  It is very important to ensure that entry places into your house are especially clean and free of food; this means windowsills, doorsills, and so on.  I am not trying to suggest that you aren’t a tidy housekeeper but if your house is anything like mine you have kids (ok so technically she is an adult now but college students are not always known for their fastidious cleaning habits) and pets (dog and cats dropping food on the floor all the time; dog dragging various forms of outdoor life and greenery back in when she is let outside to do her business, litterboxes – ewwwww) and well let’s face it…summer can just be a messy time of year, can’t it?  We are in and out more often, working in the garden, spending more time doing outdoorsy (aka messy) things like camping, hanging out at the beach, and so on.  (Of course I am describing my family.  Maybe your family lives in a warmer climate than Canada or is one of those crazy outdoor winter sportsy type families but brrrrrr, that is so not me!…oh and I mean crazy with all the love in the world!).  The most important thing you can do when dealing with an ant problem is to ensure that you are meticulous in cleaning up food.  You need to sweep up all those crumbs from countertops and floors (or let the dog clean ‘em up for you!…err just the ones on the floors…not the countertops…ewwww!) as often as possible.  Additionally, it is vital that you keep all food products carefully put away.  Everything needs to be in sealed containers and I was reminded on one of the sites I explored of the importance of remembering to put the pet food in sealed containers as well. Also, I realized that with our dog, when we feed her, we put down a serving and she comes in and eats it right up but with our cats, I simply fill their dish and let them graze from it as needed.  There are 3 of them and that can make it difficult to feed each of them separately; i.e. if I were simply to put down 3 single servings, Patches would polish off all his food, try to push Sugarplum out of the way so he could steal her food, at which time Sugarplum would “yell” at him and so he would go on to Midnight’s bowl instead.  Midnight, being somewhat more passive and easygoing than Sugar, would simply move out of the way and then sit there sadly watching as Patches ate all his food.  It would also mean that I would have to go downstairs every day to feed them and with my back and hip injury, I find it difficult to do that on a daily basis.  I am not sure exactly what I can do about this little issue.  I don’t think the ants are coming in downstairs at all anyway so it may be a moot point but it is something worth thinking about.  The sites I consulted also suggested storing as much food as possible in the fridge and freezer to make it even more difficult for ants to get into it.  Note that I said more difficult and not impossible.  It is also critical that you take trash out regularly and keep it as closed up as possible the rest of the time.  In my case, I feel it is really important that I do something about the recycling bins since that seems to be one of the main places in which the ants are congregating.  I am debating whether to simply relocate them outside for now and not keep any recycling in the house at this time of year (and the lazy person in me does NOT like that idea…plus it pretty much guarantees that I will be solely responsible for taking care of the recycling as it is difficult enough to get my college age daughter to put recycling into the bins that are right here in the house, much less requiring her to take them outside every time!) or to try to put something in and around the bins to keep ants away.  I also read that it is important to prevent moisture from gathering on any surfaces in your home as this will also attract ants as they seek out water to drink.  We have had quite a rainy spring/early summer and are dealing with a basement flooding issue so perhaps this is part of the reason why we are having an ant invasion.  In assessing the “moisture issue” in my home, I realized that one thing I would need to start doing is to be sure to clean up the water that gets spilled onto the floor every time the dog takes a drink from her bowl. 

3)      Ok, so you have cleaned up around the inside and outside of your home to discourage more ants from entering.  What else can you do to keep them away?  I found a variety of suggestions, ranging from natural and environmentally friendly to toxic and sort of barbaric if you think about them too much and encompassing a variety of cost and convenience levels.  I will list these suggestions here but again please note that I have not personally tried any of the ideas yet.  I promise to report back with results once I do.  Here are the ideas:

~ Baby powder sprinkled on windowsills, doorways, and other potential entrances as well as along the trail that the ants are taking to get in.  (Honestly, I have not seen any such trail in my home.  The ants just seem to be in the bedroom and the recycling bins and that’s it but I am considering sprinkling some under my bed along the baseboard, the bedroom windowsill since my bed is right under the window, and maybe around the recycling bins.  My only concern is, how safe is baby powder around dogs and cats?  I assume (and you know what they say about that!) that it would be non-toxic if they licked it up since we use it on babies but I also recall when my daughter was a baby that there was a whole controversy over using powder because of the dangers of breathing it in.  We used only plain cornstarch instead.  Would I need to worry about our pets breathing it in too?)  I read that chalk and Vaseline are also effective in preventing ants from crossing.  I suppose I could try some chalk lines drawn on windowsills and doorways but the Vaseline just sounds too messy to me. 

~ According to my research, ants will also avoid cinnamon, mint, red chili powder, cloves, black pepper, laurel leaves, bay leaves. catnip, cayenne pepper, and vinegar.  One site claimed to have had success with lavender but that was the only reference I found to its use.  I do have some lavender here so I can try it out and see what results I get.  The herbs and spices can be safely sprinkled around countertops, window and doorsills, and so on to keep the ants at bay.  The vinegar can be placed in a spray bottle with an equal amount of water and sprayed anywhere you have seen the ants to prevent them from coming back.  Now that I think about it, we use a vinegar and water mixture for most of our cleaning around here (trying to be more environmentally responsible) and so perhaps that is why I never have seen any of the ants on our countertops and appliances.  Some sites suggested adding some dish soap to the vinegar and water mixture to make it even more effective.  I can’t see that it would hurt and it gives you some extra cleaning power too.  Another item suggested again by only one site was to sprinkle around your used coffee grounds as it was stated that it will also drive ants away.  Certainly is worth a try.  I mean, what else am I going to do with my used coffee grounds anyway?  It just sounds messier than some of the other ideas so perhaps I will try it around the outside of our home.  Oh wait, caffeine!  I can’t imagine that caffeine would be very good for my dog if she got it in her head to lick up the coffee grounds.  But, this might be a good idea for under our back steps.  Oh wait again!  We have bunnies galore in our backyard and I don’t want to hurt them.  Anyone know if rabbits will ingest coffee grounds and what it will do them? 

Another suggestion for the mint, cloves, and bay leaves is to plant them around your home to keep the ants away from the house in the first place.  I do love having a kitchen herb garden and so I think I will try to plant some more outside if I can figure out exactly where they are coming in.  Perhaps I can also clean the recycling bins with vinegar rather than trying the baby powder.  Some of the sources I examined suggested “ramping up” the potency of some of these ideas but these involved the use of products containing alcohol or bleach or ammonia and like I said, I am trying to be more environmentally friendly and I have the animals’ safety to consider as well.  So, I have chosen not to post those ideas in this blog.  That being said, please don’t think me to be acting superior here.  If my ant problem was to a serious degree and I could find no other successful solution, I might resort to other options but judging from what I have read, there are many effective solutions out there that are natural and safe.  It is important to remember that your success with any of these solutions can depend on a variety of things beginning with the variety of ants you have in your home.  I am no etymologist and I have no desire to inspect the ants under a magnifying glass to attempt to identify their particular type.  Trial and error will work just fine for me, at least at this time. 

~ Besides the vinegar and water mixture, another blend purported to be effective in ridding your home of ants is made by putting citrus peels through your blender or food processor with some water.  As with the vinegar mix, you can spray this in any areas in which you have seen ants.  Another site suggested cucumbers but offered no additional information on how to use them.  I would think that just chopping them up into little bits and sprinkling them around would be messy and likely to attract other bugs like those little flies that are similar to fruit flies.  I suppose if I were to try cucumbers, I would blend them with water in the same manner as with the citrus peels and use them as another spray mixture. 

~It was also said that some success had been found by using the product Febreze (which has the bonus of making your house smell yummy too) in place of the vinegar or citrus mixture.  Another product touted as a possible ant remedy was Simple Green.  This is a cleaning product, environmentally/pet friendly, with a clean scent of mint.  Likely it is the mint in it that keeps the ants away and I have found it to be a very good cleaner.  They suggest using this to clean all areas in which ants have been seen as well as spraying it on ant trails to chase them away and keep them from coming back.  Note:  Read the instructions on the Simple Green container.  It is meant to be diluted with water before using.  I read that items like the vinegar mixture, the Febreze, and the Simple Green serve another purpose.  They also destroy the scent trail that the ants leave behind (to find their way to and from the anthill and to lead others). 

~ Here is another suggestion I found.  I will be honest with you.  I do not intend to try this one (nor the one about pouring boiling water on the anthill).  I guess I am just too soft-hearted or am too squeamish or something but they just seem too cruel to me.  Yes I know, I was swatting and squashing those ants every time my daughter shrieked but really, there just seem to be so many other options to try and I really would feel better about ones that simply redirected the ants out of and away from my home than to set out to simply destroy them.  I guess those lessons in my Junior Kindergarten classroom have just stuck with me. Feel free to skip over this idea if you too have a weak stomach for this sort of thing.  Apparently if you sprinkle cornmeal around, the ants will consume it, but their bodies cannot handle digesting it.  It clogs up their systems and kills them.  Another variation is to use foods that expand in water such as oatmeal, cream of wheat,  or grits.  When they expand within the ants’ bodies, they suck up all the moisture and the ants die of dehydration.  Salt is also said to be effective as an ant-killer. 

The plan:

Ok, now that I have reviewed my options it is time to make a plan.  I will be asking my significant other to perform the outdoor inspection and plug up those holes for me.  If I can assure that it will be safe for the bunnies, I am going to start disposing of our used coffee grounds under our back steps.  I will purchase some catnip, mint, bay leaf, and clove plants and create a little herb garden outside our kitchen door to try to keep the ants at bay from the outside.  I am going to thoroughly clean the interior of the house using the vinegar and water/vinegar, water, dish soap mixture (depending on what I am cleaning), concentrating especially on the areas in which there have been ant sightings.  If this mixture doesn’t seem effective enough or in areas in which I need more of a heavy duty cleaner, I will use the Simple Green.  I love lavender and have not only some dried lavender here but also some lavender bed spray (yes it is non-toxic for the pets).  I haven’t used the lavender bed spray in a while but I am going to begin using it on a nightly basis again.  In addition, I am going to sprinkle lavender on my bedroom windowsill (might as well have something with a lovely scent there right?) and make some of those little lavender dream pillows I have seen in some blogs and zines.  Like I said, I am going to clean the recycling bins with one of the spray mixtures, perhaps starting with the vinegar mix and then advancing to Simple Green if needed.  I am also going to clean and spray the area in which we keep the bins.  I think I will do the same with our kitchen trashcan.  I keep a bag in our trashcan so I can sprinkle some of the lavender down into the bottom of it, under the bag.  That should help keep the ants away and help to make the trash smell better!  I might just try these ideas with our outdoor trashcans as well just to see if it helps keep pests in general away from them.  I have planned to begin here with these steps but then I will try some of the other ideas if the ant problem persists.  If any of you try some of these ideas, please be sure to let me know and I will post your results here as well.  Look back here in a week or two for an update on how the ideas are working in my home. 

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One response to “Ant Eradication

  1. You probably won’t believe this but I have had success with this a few times. I talk to the ants, telling them they have until “tomorrow at sunrise” (or whatever) to go back outside or the will die. I tell them that the house is my territory and they have all the outside. They usually leave. If not, I have to kill them them use the vinegar. The vinegar destroys the trail they leave to find the way back to the nest.

    Nice piece, thoroughly researched. It is a common problem we all share!

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