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How to Eliminate Ants

Depending on the species of indoor ant, a sweet bait is the preferred method to kill them. Ants leave a scent trail from the food source back to the colony. Baits will be taken back to the colony and, depending on the size of the colony, will be eliminated in several days to several weeks. It is important to maintain a fresh supply of bait until they are all gone.


How to Prevent Ants

Use an insecticide along the exterior foundation of the home in early spring. Seal small cracks and entry points where possible. Remove any food sources and place in the trash outside the building.



Ants are some of the most notorious household pests throughout the country and the world. Ants are found on every continent except Antarctica, and according to a study published inPNAS, may make up as much as 25% of Earth’s entire animal biomass. Needles to say, there are a lot of ants, and they are extremely successful at what they do. This success is partly because of their sophisticated social organization and the various defense mechanisms that they employ. If we hope to be able to control the ant population around our homes and yards, it is important to understand what makes ants so prolific and learn effective methods of prevention and elimination. This Ultimate Guide to ants will tell you everything you need to know to start winning the war on this disruptive pest.

According toNational Geographic, there has now been over 10,000 unique species of ants discovered that have been classified. These insects are best identified by their segmented antennae, compound eyes, and 3 body segments with a constricted second segment (petiole) that gives them a narrow waist. Ants are important to the environment because they decompose forests and other habitats, help aerate the soil, and can help control other insect and pest populations. While they are beneficial in many ways, ants can also take over buildings causing frustration for homeowners and businesses, become invasive and disruptive to ecosystems, and cause major economic loss by destroying crops and structures.


Understanding Ant Behavior

If you want to learn how to get rid of ants, you must first understandant behavior. Although ants vary widely by species, the majority of ants exhibit similar ways of living. Most ant species live within a caste-like social structure. Typical colonies consist of one or several queens (that lay the eggs for the colony), fertile males called drones, soldiers, and workers. Each ant within the colony has a specialized job and works for the good of the colony.While the queen is essential for the growth of the colony, the workers are the lifeblood. They forage for food, and then bring it back for the rest of the colony. Ants are omnivores that will eat almost anything that is available. In the outdoors, ants will eat nectar, honeydew from aphids, leaves, grains, insects, dead rodents, vegetables, and many other things. When they enter homes, they prefer sweets and starches like sugar, fruit, candy, and breads. Ants feed their colony through trophallaxis. This means that the worker ants will collect and then regurgitate liquid food to feed those that stay behind. This behavior has become a critical piece of effective ant control because if you can poison a few ants, they will share it with the rest of the colony.Because of their complex social system, ants have to have good communication. They communicate through sound, touch (use of antennae as feelers), and pheromones (chemical signals). When the worker ants are out foraging for food, they will leave behind a pheromone trail so that ants from the colony can follow them to the food. Pheromone trails make it difficult to get rid of ants in your house because even if you get rid of the ants you can see, the trail that they leave behind will guide other ants right back in.To protect themselves and their homes, ants have developed several different methods of defense. Some species of ants bite, others sting, and some spray a chemical called formic acid. While generally not too harmful to humans, some ant bites or stings can be painful. Fire ants are among the most dangerous species because they can actually cause anaphylaxis in sensitive populations.

Identifying Common Household Ants

Even though there are thousands of species of ants on the earth, there are only a few species that are labeled as pests in the United States. When dealing with ants, it is helpful to know what species you are dealing with so that you know the best extermination methods. Some ants build their colonies outside and only come into your home to forage. The method of ant removal of these species will be different than ants who build their nests in your walls and home. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has created afield guide of common ants and their characteristics. Let’s take a closer look at how to identify some of the most common ants that have become household pests.
Argentine Ants: Originally native to South America, Argentine ants have become a major problem in the United States. They are small (2-3 mm) and generally light to dark brown in color. Since Argentine ants are not native to the United States, they can cause a lot of damage to the ecosystem by destroying native ant populations and damaging native plants. Argentine ants tend to work together to form supercolonies, which may spread hundreds of miles. They can live in the ground, in cracks, in wood, in piles of debris, and many other places.

©, via Wikimedia Commons

Pavement Ants: This species of ant got its name from the fact that they often make their home in or around pavement. Typical nests can be found in cracks, under stones, and next to buildings. Pavement ant nests can be identified by areas of loose soil seen along the cracks or joints of sidewalks, buildings, etc. Inside a home, they may be found behind baseboards, near plumbing, under sinks, and in kitchens. They are very aggressive ants that will spread out each spring to try to conquer new territory. Pavement ants are dark brown to black and range from 2.5-4 mm long.

April Nobile / ©, via Wikimedia Commons

Pharaoh Ants: This species of ant is very small, usually only around 2 mm long. They are typically yellow or light brown, sometimes almost translucent. They like to eat greasy foods, dead insects, starches, and sugary substances. Pharaoh ants are a major pest in most types of buildings, but can also be a serious health risk in hospitals due to spreading disease. Pharaoh ants will nest in walls, under floors, and especially in humid areas near food. One behavior typical of Pharaoh ants is how they propagate their colony. Since there are many queens, they will break off into fragment colonies. This process is called budding. Budding makes it difficult to get rid of them because if they get stressed due to chemical means of extermination, they will often just split the colony.

April Nobile / ©, via Wikimedia Commons

Odorous House Ants: Odorous house ants are known for their love of all things sweet. The constantly forage for food, day and night, and move in characteristic ant trails. These ants are 2.5-3.5 mm long and range in color from brown to black. When crushed, odorous house ants release a scent similar to rotten coconut. Like most ants, they will often venture indoors during cold or rainy weather. They are mostly found in kitchens and bathrooms.



©, via Wikimedia Commons

Carpenter Ants: Although carpenter ants typically prefer to live outdoors, if they get into your house, they can cause significant damage. Unlike termites that eat wood, carpenter ants just burrow into it to build nests and tunnels. These hollowed out areas in the wood can weaken the structural integrity of the home. Each year carpenter ants cause millions of dollars in damage across the United States. Carpenter ants are especially attracted to moisture because moist wood is much easier to tunnel through. Carpenter ants are the giants of the ant world, growing from 6-12 mm long.

April Nobile / ©, via Wikimedia Commons


Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA): These ants might not be the most common household pests, but they are among the most notorious, causing billions of dollars to be spent on prevention and damages yearly. RIFA are native to South America, but they can thrive in many environments. They are attracted to electricity, so they can actually destroy machinery and electrical boxes. RIFA are also a major agricultural pest, damaging crops like soybeans, cabbage, citrus trees, corn, cucumbers, etc. Red fire ants are venomous, and their sting can cause pain, burning, swelling, and even on very rare occasions death.

©, via Wikimedia Commons


Why Do I Have Ants?

Like most animals, ants live in constant search of food, water, and shelter. Unfortunately, our homes often provide all three of these things. If you have an ant problem, try to identify why the ants are attracted to your home. Crumbs, spills, or excess moisture can often lead to ant infestations. If you notice a trail of ants, watch where the ants are going to help identify problem areas in your home. Common trouble spots for ants often include the kitchen and bathrooms. While a clean home does not guarantee that you will be ant-free, it does help. That being said, it is impossible to have a perfectly clean home all of the time, so a combination of preventative methods is usually required. Below are some ant prevention strategies that will help with ant control.

How to Prevent Ants

Keep Your Home Clean and Tidy

As mentioned earlier, ants will quickly converge around sources of easy to find food. This could include crumbs on the floor, food that isn’t being stored properly, or spills that haven’t been cleaned up. Keeping your home clean and tidy will help in this battle. Essential cleaning tasks to prevent ants include: vacuuming and sweeping regularly, wiping counters after meals, sealing food in airtight storage containers, and not leaving dirty dishes in the sink. To avoid spreading crumbs around the house, it is also helpful to limit eating to around the table. Food in the garbage can may also attract ants, so it is a good idea to take the trash our daily and keep a lid on the can whenever possible.

Get Rid of Excess Moisture

Ants gravitate toward sources of water, so even minor leaks in your home can attract them. This is why bathrooms tend to be problematic. If you find ant trails leading to the bathroom, you may have a source of water that you didn’t know about. Fix leaky faucets or pipes, make sure that there is no excess moisture in basements or crawl spaces, and consider using a dehumidifier if necessary.

Seal the Exterior of Your Home

Ants, like all pests, must find a way into your home to become a problem. Sealing the exterior of your home is a great way to prevent household pests. Using caulk and expandable spray foam, carefully examine the outside of your home and fill any cracks or gaps you may find. Pay special attention to holes where pipes or electrical wiring enter the home. Also check around windows and doors to ensure a tight fit and make sure that screens are present and in good working order. While you are inspecting the outside of your home, trim any tree branches or plants that may touch your home. These can create a bridge that allows easy access to your home.

Natural Ant Repellants

There are many natural scents and oils that will repel ants. Things like lemon juice, cinnamon, peppermint, and vinegar have been shown to prevent ants. These products or essential oils can be mixed with water and sprayed along baseboards, entry points, and other areas that ants frequent. You can also use a cotton ball to wipe the repellent along ant trails. These types of products can be very helpful in eliminating ants in small numbers. If you have a large colony or infestation, other commercial ant products may be more successful.

Best Products for Getting Rid of Ants

If you are already dealing with ant problems, have no fear. There are many methods of ant control that can be effective based on the species and situation. When applied according to the label directions, these products are safe and effective.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth is a naturally occurring product that can stop ants in their tracks. It is actually a powder of the remains of marine phytoplankton and is completely safe to use around humans and pets. Diatomaceous Earth has microscopic sharp edges that will cut through an ant’s exoskeleton and cause it to dry out and die. You can sprinkle it along baseboards, ant trails, and window sills to get rid of ants.

Indoor Ant Sprays

Aerosol sprays are good at targeting the ants that you can see, and many sprays will continue to kill ants weeks after the initial treatment. Our aerosol ant kill spray is EPA registered for use indoors and can be sprayed on baseboards, under sinks, in garages, or directly into cracks and crevices to eliminate even those ants that can’t be seen.These sprays have their situational uses, but they can not eliminate the colony as a whole.

Residual Non-Repellent Perimeter Treatments

Perimeter treatments are an excellent way to both prevent and eliminate ants and other bugs. They can be applied around the exterior foundation of your home and will provide a barrier to entrance for several months. When treating specifically for ants, it is important to apply the treatment in early spring before the ants become a problem. You also have to reapply occasionally to maintain effectiveness. A product likeHarris Home Pest Control can be used indoors or outdoors for long-lasting results.

Ant Baits

The control method of choice for most ant species is a slow-acting ant bait. Ant baits are easy to use and have the added benefit of being able to eliminate the entire colony. A few drops of a special sweet liquid ant killer containing borax is poured into a bait tray. Bait stations are then placed in areas where ants are frequently seen. Worker ants are attracted to the sweet liquid and will take the bait back to the colony. They will also leave a pheromone trail so that the other worker ants will find the liquid ant killer and do the same. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral powder that kills the ants slowly, giving them plenty of time to share it with the other ants, including the queen, thus eliminating the entire colony. It may take several days or even several weeks for the bait to complete its job depending on the size of the colony. Bait stations may need to be replenished or relocated periodically for optimal effect.Even though ants may seem to be a never-ending problem, with a little research and some great Harris pest control products,ant control can be accomplished. Ants are wonderful, unique creatures that accomplish many beneficial things, but that doesn’t mean they need to be in our homes and businesses. It’s time to take pest control into your own hands and experience the Harris difference.