Because ants are a social insect, they live together and hunt for food sources together. Once one or more ants discovers accessible food in your kitchen, they have a highly efficient system of communication to alert the other ants from their colony and to establish scented trails to and from the food source. For this reason, a small ant problem can escalate alarmingly quickly. In no time at all, a few ants that you don’t even notice creeping along in your kitchen can become hundreds or thousands of ants all over your kitchen floor and up into your cabinets.
There are many things you can try to prevent and solve an ant problem. Taking these in turn:
1. Prevent the problem by keeping your kitchen free of ant food sources.
* Keep your kitchen clean.
Regularly wipe down counters, wipe down cabinets, mop the floor, etc. with cleanser that contains bleach.
* Don’t let dirty dishes accumulate.
Wash them in your automatic dishwasher or by hand as soon as possible after they are used.
* Don’t leave garbage in open containers.
Take out the garbage as frequently as possible.
* Keep all food in sealed containers.
If the original packaging is not fully secure after opening, switch it to another container. Or put it in the refrigerator even if it’s something that normally doesn’t require refrigeration.
2. If there is already an ant problem, make them feel unwelcome.
* Block their entry.
Usually if you have a lot of ants in your kitchen, they won’t just be in an undifferentiated swarm. If you examine the configuration closely, you’ll likely find that there are a lot congregated at some food source-your garbage container, a spot where some syrup spilled in your cabinet, an open box of cereal or other food, etc.-and then a long column going to and from that food source. Follow this line of ants in order to discover their point of ingress into the kitchen.
It might be they’re coming in through a window, under a door, or through a small hole or crack in a wall or the floor. This is the key location you need to deal with.
If it’s something that can be plugged up, like a small crack along the baseboard, caulk it. If it’s an area that cannot be fully sealed off like that, this is still the area where you’ll want to focus your other measures to be discussed below. If you’re spraying insecticide, for instance, rather than spraying it all over the room indiscriminately, direct it specifically at their entry point.
* Put out natural repellants.
There are some natural substances that certain types of ants are reluctant to cross, or tend to shy away from, like a vampire reacting to garlic. Like most home remedies and natural methods, they don’t always work, but they’re worth a try in order to avoid having to use deadly poisons, especially if your home has children or pets.
Like a yellow police “do not cross” ribbon, sprinkle these substances to form barriers between the ants’ entry point and the rest of the kitchen, or use them to encircle likely targets like containers of sugar and other things that might attract ants.
Some of the substances that people have used with success include baby powder, bay leaves, chalk, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, mint, pepper, Vaseline, and vinegar.
* Put out bait.
Rather than repel the ants, another course of action is to draw them in and kill them. One respect in which using bait is better than spraying insecticide is that it’s slower acting, so the ants have a chance to take the bait back and share it with the other ants in the nest. Whereas if you spray, you’re mostly just getting the ones the spray strikes directly.
In addition to the commercially available insecticide bait traps, there are natural alternatives. A popular one is boric acid. Put out some sugar or syrup or something you know will appeal to the ants, and encircle it with boric acid that they’ll have to walk through to get to the treat. They’ll pick up plenty of the boric acid to take back to the nest with them.
The boric acid works by gradually dissolving their exoskeleton. Gross, but effective.
Other substances that one can spread out for the ants to eat include corn meal and farina. Ants think this will be good food for them, but in fact they can’t digest it.
* Spray insecticide.
It’s certainly not the green way to go, but you can knock out a lot of ants quickly by zapping them with insecticide. Focus on their main point of ingress. Always read and follow the directions carefully. Be especially wary of spraying if you have children or pets in the house.
* Clean the area.
This is especially important if you’ve used insecticide, but even if you’ve used some other method, or for that matter if the ants are still present, take a big sponge and soapy water and thoroughly wipe up all the areas where the ants are or were. Not only are you taking care of whatever ants you’re cleaning up, but you’re cleaning away the scent they leave that directs other ants to the path from the nest to the food source.
* Check outside.
If there are one or more big nests right outside, then some of your indoor countermoves may be less effective just due to the fact that the ants can always keep sending reinforcements. So spray, put out boric acid, etc. around the outside nest as well, rather than just in your kitchen and in your house.
Or another method that people have used effectively is to pour boiling water onto the nest and let that seep into the ground.
* Hire an exterminator.
If your ant infestation is particularly bad, and maybe you’ve tried a lot of the above but the ants just keep coming back, it may be time to call in a professional. It’ll cost more, but at least the exterminator is knowledgeable about how to use all the chemicals and such at his disposal effectively, and, more importantly, safely. He’ll be able to examine the area and ascertain where the ants are coming from and what needs to be done to eradicate them.
Though the kind of ants that are likely to invade your kitchen are generally not a significant health hazard, they’re certainly annoying and unpleasant to have around. But the above tips should enable you to prevent or eliminate any significant ant problem.
Jonathan Hatch, “How to Get Rid of Ants.” Get Rid of Things.
“How Can I Keep Ants Out of My House?” Wise Geek.
“How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally.” wikiHow.
“How to Rid Your Home of Ants.” eHow.