It’s estimated that over 20,000 species of ants exist. Living in colonies whose populations sometimes number in the millions, ants can be found on every continent but Antarctica. Their unmatched success is often attributed to their carefully organized social structure—which includes division of labor and a highly evolved hierarchy. Because of their wide variety and large distribution, ants and humans commonly cross paths. In fact, ants are arguably the most common insect found in the home. The next time you see these intruders in your home, don’t resort to another can of toxic bug spray. Try these ten non-toxic alternatives instead.
Please note: The efficacy of these non-toxic treatments can vary from species to species, but these approaches should work well for the majority of common household ants.
Prevention is always the best form of pest control. Follow these simple guidelines to keep ants out of your home.
- Keep your home clean—particularly the kitchen, flooring, windowsills and counter tops. Without a source of food, ants will have no reason to enter your home.
- Seal all food in tightly closed containers. Keep all food storage areas free of crumbs and food residues (Tip: wipe off all those jam, sauce and honey containers).
- Never leave food remains or dirty dishes in the sink.
- Take out the trash regularly, and keep all trash cans clean and sealed.
- Any spilled food should be cleaned up immediately.
- Seal any cracks, crevices and holes—all potential ant entrances—with caulk or another sealant.
Ants use pheromone trails for navigation and communication—it’s also the way they find food. Essential oils can be used to disrupt these trails, which ultimately disorients and deters ants. Lemongrass, peppermint, clove, cedarwood, tea tree, orange and lemon oil are all effective.
Dampen a cotton ball or kitchen towel with an essential oil of your choosing. Use this to wipe windowsills, baseboards, the perimeters of counter tops, door frames, and any potential entry points. Repeat daily until ant population disappears. Your chosen oil can also be diluted with a carrier oil to create an ant-killing spray.
Vinegar is an extremely effective natural ant deterrent. It disrupts ants’ pheromone trails and the smell prevents them from returning. Mix a 1-to-1 ratio of water to vinegar in a spray bottle (both apple cider and white vinegar will do). Shake the solution and then spray along baseboards, door frames, window sills, and counter tops. Repeat the process daily or as needed to repel ants. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and multi-surface cleaner—so feel free to use this spray liberally.
Sugar and Baking Soda Trap
A simple and natural ant trap can be made by mixing equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar. Strategically place this mixture in shallow dishes in the locations with the most ant traffic. These traps can also be placed outside, particularly near doors and windows. The sugar in the mixture attracts the ants, while the baking soda naturally kills them (for chemical reasons, baking soda is deadly for ants).
Cinnamon & Cinnamon Oil
Not unlike the previously mentioned essential oils and vinegar, cinnamon and cinnamon oil work to deter ants by interfering with their pheromone trails. Dispense the cinnamon in whatever form throughout ant problem areas. When used around windowsills, baseboards, near doors and alongside counter tops, cinnamon helps prevent ants from entering your home.
Like baking soda, cornmeal is a natural ant pesticide (they can eat it but not digest it, which is what ultimately kills them). Broadcast cornmeal near possible ant entrances, as well as windowsills, doorways, and other locations ants commonly frequent. This method can take some time, but it’s quite effective in the long run. Continue to dispense cornmeal until your ant colony dies or moves on to more promising terrain.
This is a natural way to attack the ant colony directly. It’s simple: boil a few liters or more of water and then pour it directly into the ants’ mound (this can be dangerous, so please exercise extreme caution). Adding a non-toxic and water-soluble insecticide, essential oils, or soap to the boiled water serve to make this method even more effective. You may have to repeat this process two to three times to completely eliminate the colony.
Soap & Water
A simple mixture of soap and water is toxic to ants. Mix one part natural dish soap to two parts water in a spray bottle. Spray as needed to kill ants and eliminate their pheromone trails. Continue to treat problem areas until the ants no longer return.
Non-toxic Insecticides—Both Indoor and Outdoor
Naturally sourced over-the-counter insecticides are often the easiest and most effective option for completely eliminating an ant colony. The best approach is to treat both outside and inside your home. Inside insecticides can be used as both a repellent and a spot killer. Non-toxic outdoor insecticides also work as both deterrents and spot killers. For best results, apply naturally sourced outdoor pesticides alongside fence lines and your home’s foundation; this will create a repellent barrier to keep ants from entering your home. Treating your entire yard will help to eliminate any active ant colonies.
Made from crushed algae fossils, diatomaceous earth is a well known natural pesticide. This abrasive material damages the exoskeleton of any ants that come into contact with it, eventually killing them. Spread DE throughout ant problem areas and directly on the colony’s mound if possible. Diatomaceous earth is also one of the most effective methods for combating carpenter ants, which regularly die from consuming it.
Used much like cinnamon, coffee grounds can be spread on problem areas, various perimeters, and on the ant colony directly. Sometimes blanketing an ant mound with coffee grounds is enough to get the entire colony to relocate. This method works best in conjunction with other natural approaches—like the ones mentioned above.