I.D. the ant
Start by identifying the type of ant in
your house so you can find out its nesting
habits and have a better idea of
where they're living (they may be nesting
outdoors). Take a close-up photo of
the ant and e-mail it (or snail mail it) to
your local university extension service
(enter your state's name and “university
extension service” into any online
search engine). The extension service
will tell you the type of ant you're
dealing with and where it nests. It may
give you fact sheets about the ant
species and maybe even some advice
on getting rid of that particular ant
Keep it clean
A clean house is your first defense
against ants. Sweep up food crumbs,
wipe up spills, take out the garbage
and don't leave dirty dishes sitting around the house. This takes away the
ants' food source. Spray vinegar mixed
with water around bowls of pet food to
keep ants from feasting there.
Erase their trails
Where you see one ant, you're bound
to see others. That's because ants leave
a scented trail that other ants follow.
Sweeping or mopping isn't enough to
eliminate the scent. Instead, mix 1 part
vinegar with 3 parts water in a spray
bottle, then spray wherever you've
seen ants in the past (Photo 1).
This will stop outdoor nesting ants
that entered the house to forage for
food (ants that come inside are not
necessarily trying to establish a nest).
But vinegar and water won't stop ants
that are already nesting indoors. You'll
need to kill them with ant bait (see the
Wipe out colonies
When you see an ant, your first
impulse is probably to step on it. But
don't. You'll kill it, but for every ant
you see, there may be hundreds more
hiding in the house. The ones you see
are scout ants, foraging for food to take
back to the colony. Use these scouts to
wipe out the entire colony.
Prebait ants in areas you've previously
seen them (Photo 2). Ants' tastes
change during the year. They usually
prefer protein in the spring and sweets
or fatty/oily foods in the summer.
Once you know what the ants like, buy
and set out ant bait that's geared to
their taste (Photo 3). Look on the bait
package for words like “controls both
sweet and grease eating ants. ”
Expect to see more ants (initially)
when you set out the bait. That's a
good thing. It means more ants are taking
the bait (which is toxic) back to the colony where they'll share it with the
rest of the ants, including the queen,
and kill them. There might be thousands
of ants back at the nest.
Liquid bait works best for many
sweet-loving ants. Other ants prefer
solid baits. If you still have
ants after two weeks, replace the bait
containers. If that doesn't work, it's
time to hunt down the nest.
Hunt down the nest
Sometimes the solution to an ant problem
is getting rid of their nest. If you're
dealing with carpenter ants, which can
do structural damage to your house, it's
vital that you wipe them out ASAP.
Finding the nest may not be easy and
takes some detective work.
Ants generally prefer damp areas,
such as framing or flooring that's soft
and spongy from a plumbing or roof
leak. Start by looking for areas with
water damage (Photo 4). Attics, bathrooms
and exterior walls are obvious
Cut small holes in water-damaged
walls to track down the ant nest.
(You're going to have to repair the
walls anyway.) When you find the
nest, spray it with an insecticide that
contains bifenthrin, permethrin or
deltamethrin (look on the label).
Be sure to fix the
water leak and replace damaged wood.
If you can't track down the nest, hire
a pest control service. Pros can get expensive, but they spend
about 80 percent of their time hunting
down nests, and know what to look for.
Spray entry points
After ridding the house of ants, take
steps to ensure they don't come back.
Caulk and seal holes, and then spray
insecticide around doors and windows
(Photo 5). Use an insecticide that contains
bifenthrin, permethrin or deltamethrin.
Spray a 4-in.-wide band along entry points, just enough to wet
the surface. Once dry, the spray leaves
an invisible film that repels ants so
they won't enter the house.
Each spring, spray the insecticide to
guard against ants. But keep in mind
that this only works to keep ants out—it won't kill ants that are already
inside, and it can actually interfere
with the use of ant baits.
Spray on a barrier
If you're still getting ants in your house
after spraying interior entry points,
spray a 12-in.-wide band of insecticide
on the foundation and siding (Photo 6).
Use an outdoor insecticide that says
“barrier treatment” on the label.
Destroy exterior nests
If you frequently see ants in the same
area on the siding, there's probably a
nest in there (Photo 7). Look for holes in
the siding where ants are crawling in
and out. The holes are often located
between bricks where mortar has fallen out, under lap siding or in cracks in
stucco. Once you locate the nest, or the
vicinity of the nest, spray the area with
an insecticide containing bifenthrin.
Kill ants in your yard
Anthills are eyesores in yards, and the
ants can ruin outside dining. If you
only have ants in a certain area, like
along your sidewalk, spot-treat the
area with an outdoor insecticide.
Liquid or granules work fine. For
large-scale ant problems, use a lawn
and garden insect killer that contains
bifenthrin as the active ingredient. The spray will
also kill other insects (read the label
for a list). First mow the grass, then
spray the insecticide on the entire
lawn (Photo 8). Spray in the early morning
or late afternoon when the ants are
most active. If ants are still building
mounds after six weeks, treat the lawn
again (the insecticide works for up to
six weeks). You won't kill every ant in
your yard (nor would you want to!), but spraying will eliminate most of
them and stop the annoying mounds.
Kill fire ants with bait
Fire ants are found in the Southeastern
United States and Southern California.
Standard insecticides are much less
effective at killing fire ants. You need a
special product that's designed to wipe
out these biting critters—look for products that mention fire ants. Apply the
granules with a broadcast spreader
(Photo 9). Fire ants carry the granules,
which they think are food (it's actually
toxic bait) back to their mounds. The
ants share the bait and die. Some types of poison are longer-lasting and will
keep killing fire ants for up to a
year. As with other baits, it may take a
few weeks for you to see full results.
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Eliminate safe havens
Once you kill the ants in your house
and yard, take steps to ensure they
don't come back. Trim back bushes, shrubs and trees that brush against
your siding or roof and provide a
bridge for ants to reach your house
(Photo 10). Keep a 3-in. to 6-in. clearance
space between the soil around the
foundation and the bottom row of siding
to prevent ants from nesting in the
siding (and make sure the soil slopes
away from the house). Avoid stacking
firewood next to the house. Firewood
makes a perfect retreat for ants.
Ants like bare spots in the yard and
they like to build nests under layers of
thatch. Maintaining a healthy lawn is
one way to discourage ants. If anthills
pop up in bare areas, spray the mound
with insecticide and plant grass in the
bare spots. Rake the lawn or bag the
grass when you mow to eliminate
Ant poison is also toxic to pets and humans. No matter what product you use, read the instructions completely and follow them carefully.