A trail of ants marching through your home is not the most pleasant experience, and the presence of this menace can be a source of long-term annoyance as well as structural damage, plus the possibility of bacteria and illness. Therefore, it’s good to know how to get rid of ants in the house as soon as you spot them.
Of course, as with any predatory insect such as spiders for example, when ants decide to set up home with you they will hunt and control even more annoying pests including fleas and bedbugs. However, this is of little comfort when they are swarming all over your kitchen worktop first thing in the morning.
What are the risks of ants in the home?
Aside from the fact that they are unpleasant to look at, and some types of ants have an unpleasant smell, there are other reasons why you don’t want to share your home with an ant colony.
Certain species are known to carry bacteria. However, types that aren’t known to carry diseases can still walk dirt into your home, very much like flies or cockroaches do. In fact, Anything they’ve trodden in outside can easily be transferred into your home and on to surfaces or food preparation areas.
Damage to timbers:
Ants are generally quite homely. In other words, they don’t stray far from the nest. Their whole purpose is to source their favourite food locally so that it can be brought back to the nest quickly. Therefore, if you see ants in your home, or even close to the front or back door then it’s a good chance they have already built a colony inside the walls or foundations of your home.
Don’t be fooled by their tiny size, when there are thousands of them and they want to get from A to B then they can seriously damage structural timbers in your home.
Ants are in it for the long term:
Once an ant colony has been established in your home they can stay there for over a decade.
A queen is capable of producing over a quarter of a million eggs in a lifetime. With that kind of breeding capability it’s recommended to take care of the problem sooner rather than later, as leaving the problem untackled for just one season can see the colony increase exponentially.
What attracts ants into the home?
Ants share a few common traits with humans, and they’re not daft either.
They enjoy living with us, or in close-proximity because they enjoy our food, which to an ant is in abundance. They don’t have to hunt and kill it, there is virtually no competition, no predators, and it is a warm dry space with plenty of safe hiding areas to build a nest.
Types of ants.
There are many species of ant around the world. In fact probably too many to list, and some of them are really nasty aggressive species with a ferocious bite or sting. Often they live in colonies consisting of millions, or possibly billions of inhabitants.
Luckily, in the UK ants are much less aggressive and in much smaller colonies due to fluctuations in the weather and temperature, but they can still be a problem all the same.
Common types of ants found in UK homes and gardens:
The Pharaoh Ant.
This is the most common type of ant to be found in a UK home as the Pharaoh ant likes to build its nest indoors. The Pharaoh ant is a voracious forager of any source of high protein food, such as meat, fat, dead insects etc. They tend to build their nests in heated buildings often tucked out of the way in a wall cavity. Each colony can support multiple queens, therefore they populate very quickly.
The Garden Ant.
Not such a great threat as the indoor Pharaoh ant, these ants like to build their nest outdoors in the soil underneath patios and paving slabs. However, they have a sweet tooth, and like the Pharaoh also seek out high protein food. Therefore, if you see them outside close to the house then try not to leave any food lying about that might attract them in. They will leave a scent trail to the food source which many other ants will detect and follow.
Unlike their garden cousins, these small reddish-brown ants do not follow or leave trails for others. This is because they hunt live prey. They like to build their nests in damp areas, such as around drains and behind cracked or loose kitchen and bathroom tiles. These locations offer easy access to their moisture-loving prey, such as spring-tails and other household pests that love dark, damp areas.
As the name suggests, you will see these ants in abundance scuttling across the pavement, particularly in the warmer weather during spring and summer. Dark coloured and tiny, they live outdoors and are never or rarely seen when cold. However, if they make a nest indoors then they will swarm your home all year long. Pavement ants will eat whatever they can find, they’re not fussy – but like most other ants and humans, they like meat, protein, and sweet things.
They are distinguishable from other ants by their bent antennas, pinched waist, and most obviously they have wings. They can swarm up into the air when it’s time to go and find a new mating area, often with little warning, which can make for an unpleasant experience.
Flying ants are no different from other ants in their dietary preferences and habits, except they can fly. They fly to establish new colonies and to enable the queen to mate with males from other colonies. This helps preserve themselves from extinction.
Tiny and translucent in colour, they are quite easy to miss, hence why they are called a ghost ant. Their preference is to build nests where there is a lot of moisture or damp. Typically, this will be under kitchen sinks, bathroom basins, behind toilets, damp cabinets or timbers covering pipes with condensation etc. Again, their food source preference is sweet, greasy food and protein.
How to get rid of ants in your home
Now we’ve learned about the species of ants that typically can be found in homes and gardens around the UK and other cooler climates, let’s take a look at how to get rid of an infestation and stop it returning.
Remedies to can try yourself before calling in a professional.
Upon seeing ants scurrying about your kitchen worktop it’s a good idea to watch what they are doing first and where they are going afterwards.
Although it might be tempting to hit them with whatever you have at hand and bleach the worktop, you’re actually making no difference to the ants whatsoever.
What you are likely seeing is a foraging party. These are just workers and labourers from the colony looking for food sources to bring back to the nest. They are totally expendable to the ant colony – simply cannon fodder. As soon as the coast is clear, more will be sent out, and more, and more. The ants just don’t care how many get killed because the queen will simply produce more.
You need to get to the queen and kill her off before you stand any chance of eradicating the colony.
If you don’t like the idea of using chemical methods in your home to kill the colony, then consider a natural solution. We will look at both as the method you choose will often come down to the level of infestation, or how quickly you want to be rid of them.
If using insecticides isn’t your thing, then a process of trial and error to find what works best in your situation maybe required. It all starts with spending a little time watching the ants to discover the routes they take and the entrances to their nest.
Natural solutions and remedies.
Let’s first take a look at natural solutions to eradicate your ant problem.
It’s important to point out that although these are natural solutions they may not be effective immediately, and could take weeks or months to have full effect depending on the size of the colony. However, once the colony has been eradicated, they are great maintenance tools to ensure ants never come back.
1). Boric Acid.
Boric acid is a household remedy that has been used since the Greek and Roman times as an antibacterial treatment for many minor skin ailments and for disinfecting. It’s also used in swimming pools for water treatment. It has very mild acidic properties and can be an effective insecticide.
For using as a treatment against ant infestations, mix boric acid with sugar or a sweet syrup mixture. As ants can’t resist sweet substances, they will be all over the mixture and carry it back for the nest and the queen. The acid has a damaging effect on the ant’s internal organs and also its exoskeleton. As a result it will quickly die.
How to use.
Mix boric acid and sugar/syrup in a ratio of approximately 1:3. (It’s not an exact science)
Mix the paste into hot water until it dissolves into a liquid syrup that is sticky.
Pour the mixture around the entrances to the nest or their regular run.
Keep repeating until the ants have stopped appearing.
UPDATE:- Boric Acid may be increasingly difficult to buy moving forward. It was recommended by the European Commission to be banned from general sale in 2016. However, against the recommendation of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the EU Executive chose not to pursue bans for four substance groups which included certain repro-toxic boron substances including boric acid.
Therefore, although not banned, it may not be available through popular retail channels.
White vinegar is a powerful tool when used in its undiluted form, and kills ants quickly when applied and squirted into the entrance of the nest. For maintenance purposes, mix the vinegar in equal amounts with water and use in a spray bottle on hard surfaces, skirting boards and around ant trails/nest entrances.
Wipe away any dead ants after about an hour or so.
White vinegar used neat will kill ants more or less on contact, however it may not get to the queen who will be buried deep in the nest. Diluted, it is very effective at removing the scent from ant trails to stop them coming back to a food source. Its powerful smell also deters ants.
Unlike white vinegar, lemons will not kill the ants or their queen. However, it is a powerful deterrent as ants and other insects dislike the citrus smell which can force the colony to relocate:
Take some time to locate the entrances to their nest and squeeze the juice of a whole lemon into the entrance.
Use the lemon peel to place around the entrances and repeat daily until there are no more ants showing.
As a further measure, dilute the juice of several lemons (4 or 5) into a litre of water and squirt into the nest entrance using a turkey baster. The solution can also be used to wipe down hard surfaces and floors to remove the trail scent.
Chalk and Powdery Surfaces.
Typical old-fashioned classroom chalk (calcium carbonate CaCO3) can be a simple effective method to persuade ants to relocate without harming them.
Many species of ants dislike walking across the powdery substance and it interferes with their scent trails.
To use this method, again locate the entrances to the nests and mark a thick chalk line all the way around. Build it up by applying several times over the top and reapply every 2 or 3 days until the ants no longer show themselves.
Once the infestation has been resolved, then essential oils make for a good deterrent to keep your home ant free.
Effective oils include:
Tea tree oil.
Revisit old entrance points and wipe around with your chosen essential oil, or soak cotton wool in the oil and push into the entrance.
Wipe skirting boards and other non-food surfaces.
Place the soaked cotton wool in cupboards and cabinets etc, and repeat when they start to dry out.
As well as keeping the ants at bay, this method will leave your home smelling fragrant.
There are many off the shelf commercial products available for getting rid of ants, including a whole range of insecticide sprays. However, they can be limited in their effect against the queen who will be buried deep inside the nest and generally won’t feed on the insecticide that kills the workers.
Again, whatever product to use, if to want to quickly eradicate the problem then you have to kill the queen and the subordinates. The fastest way is by poisonous food which the workers will take back to feed the queen and the nest.
Fast commercial options include:
Can be confused as food by the ant who will carry it back to the nest to be consumed by the queen and others. Also, it can be walked back to the nest when placed along ant trails and act as a general poison.
A poisonous sweet smelling gel that works in the same way as boric acid and sugar mixture. Once it is taken back to the nest the ants will feast on it and die.
Professional ant eradication
Occasionally a nest may be so large or embedded that your efforts may only be partially effective and the problem keeps coming back.
If this is the case then you may want to call in expert help.
Professional ant and pest removal companies are licensed and have access to powerful chemicals and substances that the public cannot buy over the counter.
In addition, they are trained to understand how a colony works and where to look for entrances and other hiding places. A reputable company will also take into account any pets and young children in the home and will use appropriate treatments and products.
Once the ants have been eradicated it’s important to prevent another colony from setting up home in the same place.
Take these simple steps to ensure your ant invasion does not return.
Keep Your Home Clean of Discarded Food and Drinks.
Ants are always searching for food and sustenance. It’s a never ending job.
Avoid leaving food out in the open, especially protein and sweet food. Clean up any spills on surfaces, worktops, floors etc immediately, and use a spray such as citrus to cut through any sticky sweet residue. The lemony scent will also deter the ants.
Same goes for bread crumbs, crackers etc around bread bins and work counters.
If you need to leave food out then wrap it tightly in cling film, food bags, or seal in air-tight containers.
Seal Any Cracks or Holes in the Wall.
To help keep ants out you need to seal any potential entrances in the fabric of the house. Have a look around and seal small cracks and holes with a filler or mastic.
And lastly, if you see a single ant scurrying around then kill it there and then. It will likely be a scout looking for a food source to tell others about.
If it does find any food it will leave a trail for others to follow, and you will quickly be back to square one!