Ants are social insects and some of the most common pests found in and around homes. Damage from ants varies. Most are primarily a nuisance and cause little damage.
Some, such as Pharaoh ants, may infest food. Others, like carpenter ants, can weaken wood in structures. Generally, there are no disease problems associated with ants.
Ants eat different types of food, including starches, meats, fats and sweets. Many ants also feed on honeydew, a sweet liquid produced by aphids and scale insects.
Knowing where a specific type of ant likes to nest and what they like to eat is the key to finding the best way to get rid of them.
Some ants build nests in soil, producing mounds, while some nest in homes behind moldings, baseboards, countertops and similar places. Other ants nest in decaying or moisture-damaged wood.
Trying to discourage ants from invading the home can be frustrating. Proper food storage and waste management will reduce the food that attracts workers indoors. Some of these strategies include cleaning all kitchen surfaces after each use, vacuuming daily and rinsing recyclable containers before storing them.
Ant trails can be temporarily disrupted with a mild solution of vinegar and water. Sticky barriers using commercially available materials or water moats containing soapy water can be used to prevent ants from reaching plants or other items. Caulk cracks that ants are using to enter the home.
When possible, find the nest and treat it with an insecticide. When the nest is hidden behind a wall, it may be necessary to drill small holes and apply an insecticidal dust (be sure it is labeled for indoor use). Follow product directions. Return any unused insecticide back to its original container and thoroughly clean the applicator.
Be sure to select a product that is labeled for indoor household use. Common active ingredients are deltamethrin or permethrin.
You can also use baits. Workers feed on the bait and take it back to the nest where they share it with the rest of the colony.
An advantage of baits is that they are delivered into inaccessible areas that insecticide sprays cannot reach. However, baits act slowly and may take several weeks to several months to get rid of a colony.
Ant baits sold in stores for home use are generally labeled for many common household ants, although ants will not be equally attracted to all baits. It is important to identify what ant species you have so you use the right bait.
Be sure to select a product that is labeled for ants. Common active ingredients are abamectin, fipronil, sulfluramid (may be listed as N-ethyl Perfluorooctanesulfonamide), disodium octaborate, orthoboric acid, and propoxur.
Spraying foraging ants is only temporary and has little impact on the nest. Spraying may be useful for seasonal ant problems when ants enter from outside nests.
Be sure to select a product that is labeled for indoor household use. Common active ingredients are permethrin as an aerosol or a liquid, bifenthrin as liquid, cyfluthrin as a liquid, cypermethrin as an aerosol, deltamethrin as a liquid, and tralomethrin as an aerosol or a liquid.
Pest management professionals have the training and experience to deal with household ant problems. Contact a trusted pest management company if you want to have your ant problem handled by a professional.
CAUTION: Mention of a pesticide or use of a pesticide label is for educational purposes only. Always follow the pesticide label directions attached to the pesticide container you are using. Remember, the label is the law.
For more information, visit https://extension.umn.edu/insects-infest-homes/ants.
Until next time, happy gardening!
Robin Trott is a horticulture educator with University of Minnesota Extension. Contact her at 320-762-3890, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.