Ask the Info Desk: Least-Toxic Ant Control

Ant season is in full swing, and our Info Desk has been fielding a lot of questions on how to deal with these unwelcome home invaders. If you don’t have ants, it is likely someone you know does, so feel free to share the resources we have available.

During the rainy season, the small black Argentine ants often come into our homes seeking dry ground. We may notice that we didn’t leave any food out but they are still coming in. These ants are primarily looking for a dryer habitat away from the wet ground outside. The sugar-boric acid baits will still be effective, but during this season you also want to pay special attention to identify and block their entry points. Even if there are many cracks and crevices in your home, take the time to caulk the ones that are their main entry points. Here are additional steps to safely and effectively control ants in any season:

  • Remove the ants you see:
    Vacuum them up, along with some cornstarch, so that they suffocate in the vacuum. If they’re nesting in a potted plant, take it outside and flood it several times. If they’re in the garbage can, empty it outside and wash it down with a citrus-based cleaner.
  • Remove the attraction:
    Foods ants are most attracted to are honey, sugar, sweet liqueurs, cough syrup, etc. Put these foods into the fridge or
    into jars with rubber gaskets and lids that close with a metal clamp. Transfer other foods, such as cookies in open boxes, to plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. To prevent ants in your indoor garbage, put kitchen scraps into a tightly-sealed plastic container. Wash glass, tin, and aluminum food containers thoroughly before tossing them into an indoor recycling bin.
    Using hot soapy water, wipe down kitchen and appliance surfaces where sticky hands or food spills may have left some ant-attractive residue: kitchen counters, floors, cabinet doors and handles, fridge handle, stove knobs, sides of toaster, blender, etc. Immediately mop up food spills and sweep up food crumbs. Create a “moat” for pet food by placing the food bowl in a pie pan filled with water.
  • Wipe up the ants’ foraging trails:
    Erase the chemical trail that the ants have laid down and are following by washing it with a citrus-based cleaner and apply it also to the point of entry. Diatomaceous earth can be used as a barrier, and many people have success with ground cloves, cinnamon, or cayenne powders as barriers. Tap the powder in a line along ant entry points.
  • Set out ant traps with borax or boric acid bait stations:
    Set out ant bait stations near the ants’ entry points and foraging trails. We recommend that the active ingredient in the bait be boric acid or borax, because these ingredients are the least toxic to mammals and because they work slowly, allowing the forager ants to spread it to the queens and through the colony, before the foragers themselves die. You can make bait stations at home with this recipe: 3 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 4 teaspoons boric acid. Place a quarter-sized puddle of the mixture on a piece of cardboard and set it out.

If you can follow these steps religiously for 2-4 weeks, the ants generally cut their losses and move on to another, more easily accessible source of food. At that point, the key to ant control becomes prevention: wipe up food spills immediately, wipe down food prep surfaces with soapy water, remove garbage frequently, clean food debris out of sinks, rinse dirty dishes, sweep and mop floors regularly.

Want to know more? This information is pulled from our Least-Toxic Ant Control Fact Sheet, available in full here, and in Spanish. Many of the products we recommend are available at our Store.

[Photo by tinali778]


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