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Kill those ants!

Updated on August 23, 2017

Get rid of those pesky ants without spending a fortune or poisioning your home

Here are some simple and inexpensive ways to get rid of ant invasions in your home and garden. There is no need to hire an expensive exterminator costing several hundred dollars to accomplish the task. You can do this yourself without chemical poisons, expense or bother.

My Southern California ant infestation

I live in Orange County, CA and have been plagued with small, black, biting Argentine ants each summer since I moved into the condo complex in 2003.

I have fought back in the past using the Terro ant bait. The ants slurp it up and their numbers seem to slowly decrease . . . but not to extinction. I must be sitting on a huge colony which I have not been able to extinguish with Terro . . . or other neighboring colonies come in to take up the vacuum.

Terro is expensive at about $4 for a 2 oz bottle. The company suggests using only a few drops of their product on 1/2" paper squares they supply in the box or otherwise buying their bait containers and additional products.

I have found an effective alternative to commercial ant-killing products which is far less costly and is also eco-friendly.

How to kill ants WITHOUT dangerous and expensive chemicals

Feed those ants!

20 Mule Team Borax is a laundry detergent additive with 99.5% borax. (Ronald Reagan used to advertise it on TV in the 50s and 60s as a laundry detergent additive.) You can get it at almost any grocery store.

Borax, when combined with a sugar solution for sugar ants or with peanut butter, mayo or bacon grease for grease ants, provides a powerful attractant and killing solution. (Borax is the main effective ingredient in the expensive Terro baits.)

The ants don't die right away but will take the bait back to their queens and to the nest's babies to feed them. The borax causes them to stop feeding and they die within a day or so. (Note that baby ants can't eat solid bait. They must eat liquid bait. The queens and workers will eat either.)

I mix 1 tablespoon of 20 Mule Team borax with 6 tablespoons of sugar* and dissolve it in enough hot water to make a light syrup. As soon as it cools I put a tablespoon or two on top of an inverted saucer or paper plate and place it on top of an ant trail. They swarm the bait within a few minutes and their numbers dwindle down to almost nothing within 24-36 hours.

You may have to experiment with the borax/sugar (or grease) ratio to get something your ants will accept. I first tried a 1:3 borax/sugar ratio but they wouldn't touch it. A 1:6 ratio works best for my little Argentine guys.

If you suspect that you have grease eating ants, substitute peanut butter, bacon grease, mayo or butter for the sugar and melt it with the borax in a little hot water to see if they will take it.

The smallest box of 20 Mule Team Borax that I have found in grocery stores is 5 pounds. Obviously that is far more than you would need for this home-brew ant bait. Keep a couple of cups aside in a plastic bag to use for future ant invasions. Use the rest as it was intended as a laundry detergent additive and for general cleaning. Good stuff.

* Note: You could also use something else sugary like corn syrup, honey, maple syrup or jam . . . but why go to the expense? Plain sugar water works just fine.

Ants in the garden

Borax will kill ants outside as well. HOWEVER, don't place it directly on the ground as it will also kill your plants.

Get some small plastic containers with lids . . . like plastic margarine tubs. Make some small holes about the size of a pencil in 4-5 places around the rim about 1/4" down. A hot nail works well for making the holes or you might be able to use a hole punch or an ice pick. Put a couple of tablespoons of your borax mixture in the container and snap the lid down. Place the traps on ant trails and near ant hills. Check the traps every couple of days to make sure that the solution has not dried out. The ants won't eat it if it is a sticky gooey mass. Wash the container out with hot soapy water and renew the bait.

In some respects ants can help your garden. Their tunnels can help aerate your plants' roots and they will kill invading moth and wasp larvae. Unfortunately they also protect aphid infestations since they want to feed off the aphid's honey-like secretions. A simple solution is to spray off your plants with water to get rid of the aphids.

Pouring boiling water alone on a small anthill might work to kill some workers and queens but the borax bait traps are much more effective and also work on large colonies. Let them feast on the bait and spread the wealth around the whole colony! (Boiling water could also hurt your plants.)

Borax vs pets and children

Not to worry

Ingesting borax isn't very dangerous to mammals especially in the tiny amounts you will be using. Nevertheless, it would be prudent to use the same containers described above in "Ants in the garden" in the house if you have inquisitive rug rats or pets around. (My Abyssinian cats, Julia and Gia, have absolutely no interest in my open borax baits but they both hate ants swarming their food bowls so I think they appreciate my efforts. Note: Cats can't taste sweet things. Dogs can taste sweet but usually stick to fruit. Rug rats are omnivores and will stick almost anything in their mouths but, again, this solution isn't toxic unless they drink gallons of it.)

Borax bait on the bottom of a salad plate

Can be a little messy

Instead you can use the plastic margarine containers with holes as described above in "Ants in the garden".

Another plan is to go to your local garden supply and make a one-time purchase of Terro's outdoor liquid bait stations. They have a green plastic base with a white dome and are about 2x4" square. (I think they go for about $8 for 6 bait stations) They only contain about 1 oz of bait per station . . . which does work . . . so use them up and then start using your own bait in them.

The idea is to get some convenient and non-messy bait stations to use over an extended period of time with your home brew bait. The dome tops snap off easily so you can easily clean them with hot water and dish washing soap and add your own bait as needed.

Borax vs Boric Acid

They are not the same

Boric acid is a fine white powder which is sprinkled in out-of-the-way places to kill cockroaches. They walk through it and it dissolves holes in their hard, shell-like covering. They dehydrate and die.

Don't substitute boric acid for borax in battling ants. Boric acid doesn't work well on ants.

You must be persistent

I've become a dedicated hunter/killer

Putting out borax bait one time and watching the number of ants dwindle to almost nothing probably isn't going to cut it in the long run.

My big infestation in 2011 consisted of a 1/2 inch wide trail of thousands of ants attacking the garbage can in my kitchen. I resisted the temptation to spray them immediately and instead put a couple of tablespoons of my home-brewed borax bait on a paper plate in their trail. The swarmed the bait and within 36 hours they were gone.

The next day a few dozen ants were back. I put down a fresh plate of bait for them and they were gone within 12 hours.

Went downstairs the following day and found a couple of hundred ants attacking my cats' bag of dry food. Set out a fresh paper plate of bait for them and they abandoned the cats' food within 12 hours or so.

I doubt that the new ants were from the original colony. I suspect that they were from a neighboring colony that came in to fill the vacuum.

I'm putting out swatches of peanut butter and jam hoping to attract a new horde of ants that I can kill with my home-brew. Hopefully my neighborhood will be relatively ant-free soon. I'll probably have to keep up the vigil since there are probably tens of thousands of ants not far away. I'm becoming the neighborhood killer.

2012 Summer ant battle

The little buggers came again this summer . . . as expected . . . and again attacked my cats' food bowls.

Put out some of my home-brew borax bait and they were gone in a day or two. The following week a new crop of ants appeared. I put out more of my home-brew traps but they seemed to ignore them. I suspect that the new group of invading ants are grease-eating ants. Switching my strategy to give them a mayo, peanut butter, butter or a similar oil-based lure with borax. That should fix the problem.

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Mid-September 2012 results: The ants have dwindled down to only a few scouts. I keep putting out my borax bait stations to increase the kill ratio.

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Bottom line: You can never totally eradicate ants forever. According to the scientists, there are 1 million ants on the planet for every human. When you eradicate a local colony, other colonies in the neighborhood will move in to fill the void. It is a never-ending battle but you can keep them in check using the borax-based baits we recommend.

This borax bait solution is FAR less expensive than using a pest exterminator and is probably more effective in killing back the ant nest.

Stupid ants!

Fall 2012:

Caught several dozen of my Argentine enemy ants attacking my refrigerator's freezer. Everything in there is wrapped in plastic wrap so I don't know what they were expecting to find.

The fridge is only about 3 years old so the seals aren't bad but they found a way in anyway. They got about 3-4" into the freezer and froze to death. HA HA! I wiped down the fridge with a PineSol solution to get rid of their scent trails. They came back a couple of times again and I used the PineSol again. They seem to have lost interest for now.

Persistent little buggers!

2013 battle

They are back . . . as expected

Only a few dozen though, rather than the hordes I had before. I keep feeding them. Perhaps my efforts are keeping the neighboring colonies in check. I think the outside feeding stations I added before are helping also.

It's only May so I could get more of these little buggers this Summer and Fall. (I'm ARMED and DANGEROUS when they come back!)

December 2013: They are just about gone. Maybe because of my baits and maybe because of the colder temperatures.

If you MUST have immediate retribution

Die ants Die!

Spray the little buggers down with Windex or some other ammonia-based household cleaner like Fantastic. It will kill the exposed ants immediately and make cleanup easy. You can also spray them with a 50%-50% solution of white vinegar or household ammonia and water. Both solutions will eliminate their scent trails. (White vinegar is available at your grocery store in quart and gallon bottles, usually in the salad dressing aisle. You can also get a half gallon bottle of white vinegar at Walmart for less than $2.00.)

Obviously this is not the ultimate solution to your ant problem. That's why we are talking about using borax baits to kill back the colony and not just a few scouts or workers.

Resist the temptation to spray them with Raid or some other commercial insecticide. These products are oil-based and difficult to clean up and will leave poisons in your home.

A **very** temporary solution

Ants get lost easily

Ants follow a scent trail to a food source left by scouts. Sometimes I don't have the time at the moment I notice them to load up a new bait station or take out the garbage can and hide cats' food bowls. I've found that if I move the food source several feet away or across the room that they lose the scent trail. New ants can't find the trail and existing ants on the food source finish their job and try to wander home.

This trick only works for a few hours or so until new scouts find the food source but it gives you some extra time to put out bait stations.

Swimming ants

Experts say . . .

That several species of ants can swim and can actually survive under water for several days.

Fortunately for me (and my cats), my little black Argentine ants aren't swimmers. They drown almost immediately when exposed to water. Makes it much easier for me control them.

During ant season I put my cats' dry food bowls in a shallow pan of water which creates a 1/2" moat around the bowls. The cats can reach the food bowls to eat but the Argentines can't get in.

My cats are slobs when eating their dry food and drop some of it in the 'moat'. I have to clean out the pans every few days and refill them with clean water and a little liquid dish washing soap.

This is just another technique in dealing with an ant invasion.

Do ants carry diseases?

Interestingly ants are among the cleanest creatures on earth. They are constantly preening themselves and their saliva contains natural antibiotics. They evolved this way since they live in such crowded conditions.

You are FAR more likely to be infected by something from a common house fly than from an ant. (Flies do not clean themselves and carry around lots of nasty stuff.)

Don't get discouraged

Ants won't go away in a day

The borax baits described here are cheap, non-toxic and effective in substantially reducing their numbers. It does take some diligence in putting out borax baits periodically to control ants. Doesn't take much time, cost or effort. Much better than putting down some Raid or having a costly exterminator come in for a supposedly one-time solution. (It's not going to happen.)

According to scientific studies, there are 1 million ants for every human on earth. We just have to keep them under control around our house. Never fall prey to a company that promises to solve your ant problem 'once and forever'. It is just not going to happen.

Pantry moths - another pest

Most of the pantry moths you will encounter are what are called Indian Meal Moths. As implied, they feed on grains and flours. They are about 1/4" to 3/8" long and are usually gray or tan in color. You will see them flitting around your home at certain times of the year when they have hatched and are looking for a mate.

Step 1:

Go to your pantry and look for bags of flour, boxes of pancake mix, rice, corn, oatmeal, dry pet foods, nuts and any other grain products. Since you already have moths, this is undoubtedly the source. Indian Meal Moths leave a mini tell-tale web on the products but it is difficult to see until there is a heavy infestation..

The best solution is to throw out all grain-based products or nuts in your pantry.

The next best solution is to 'sterilize' all these products. Spread them out on a sheet pan and put them in a 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes. You can also put them in freezer bags in the freezer for about 5 days. That will kill the bugs. When you are done, double-bag your grains and flours with plastic Ziploc bags. Better yet, shrink-wrap them if you have a shrink-wrap machine. Keeping your grains and flour in the refrigerator or freezer will protect them even better . . . if you have the room.

Swab up the shelves in the pantry with a diluted Clorox or white vinegar solution to get rid of any remaining flour dust and any remaining pest eggs and larvae.

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I know that this step is time-consuming but it is an essential step in ridding your home of these pesky moths.

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Step 2:

You will not rid your home totally of these pests by simply following Step 1. You will have put a major dent in their breeding population since undoubtedly you will have missed a few or that there were some breeding adults out and about your house when you cleaned and sterilized.

The strategy in Step 2 will put a major dent in their reproduction by taking fertile males out of the picture.

a.) Cut several pieces of cardboard so you can fold them into triangular tubes about 3" on a side and about 8" long. Line the inside with double stick tape or petroleum jelly before sealing the final edge to create a trap.

b.) Obtain Pantry Moth pheronome attractant lures from your local nursery or garden department of a major hardware store, place them in your traps and put them in the pantry. You will be surprised at how many male moths these traps kill. (No more male moths, no more moth babies to deal with.)

Search Google or the Internet for "Pantry Moth pheromone lures" to put in your traps.

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If you want pre-made traps with lures, go to Amazon.com and search for "Pantry Moth Traps". Several brands are available at less than $10. Look for those that have 2 or more traps. These traps are effective but you will still need more traps to control the moths. Go to eBay.com and do the same search. You will find many of the same brands with larger quantities of traps at a lower price per trap.

Your Comments - Do you have ants also? Has this been helpful?

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    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I enjoyed reading about a subject I wasn't particularly interested in. I like your writing style.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      this was so funny i read it in a covert operations voice lmao

    • kmhrsn profile image

      kmhrsn 4 years ago

      What an outstanding article! You write clearly, with lots of helpful tidbits, and a dash of humor too. (Die Ants Die!) Definitely will be trying this.

    • calconcrete profile image
      Author

      calconcrete 5 years ago

      @anonymous: If you have grease-loving ants, you might want to try giving them a bacon grease bait with a little borax to see if they will take it. If they do, slowly increase the borax ratio until they won't take it anymore and then back off.

      The living room ants MAY be from a different colony and might prefer a sugar bait. You will have to experiment.

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      Bottom Line: We are trying to kill back the colony through baiting rather than just killing a few scouts or workers with a spray.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've just started experimenting with borax ant baits making my own mixture. Our ants (which I suspect are argentine ants) seem to like greasy foods. I 'think' I've had success with peanutbutter baits I put out in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room. However, there is another colony of ants that likes to come into the living room and they're a bit tougher so I'm going to adjust the borax ratio.

    • calconcrete profile image
      Author

      calconcrete 5 years ago

      @anonymous: By the way, my Summer 2012 ant invasion has just about died off. I only see a few scouts poking around but I keep my bait stations out.

      Patrick

    • calconcrete profile image
      Author

      calconcrete 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Congratulations on your success. At least the home brew Borax bait is cheap, non-toxic and quite effective. Yes, you will have to use it more than once fut it is far better than using expensive and toxic sprays.

      Look around the foundation of your house for ant trails and hills. You will probably find some. Put out your bait in a plastic margarine container with holes (described above) in the shade. That way you can intercept some before they get into your house.

      Patrick

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I live in Coto De Caza in Orange County and have the ant problem. I'm glad that I read your comments. I made my own solution and in a few days more ants were back. I learned from your comments that I need to keep this process ongoing. Thanks!