There are ways to keep ants outside the house without using toxic chemicals, so before homeowners reach for the ant traps or bug spray or call the exterminator, they should know that the toxic chemicals that kill ants are also harmful to humans and that scientific studies show that ants are intelligent animals who likely feel pain.
Did you know that similar to human gardeners, some ants use bacteria to produce higher-yielding, nitrogen-rich gardens? Or that leaf-cutter ants will overcome roadblocks between their colony and a food source by cutting smaller pieces of leaves and adding more workers to the line? And one study found that ants and other insects have the same chemical in their bodies that’s known to transmit pain in humans.
Follow the tips below for humane and safe ant control in your home:
- Remove sources of attraction. Keep your kitchen clean. Wash countertops, floors, and cabinets with equal parts vinegar and water. Do not leave crumbs or garbage around, and keep all food, including companion-animal food, and trash in tightly sealed containers. Don’t leave uneaten companion-animal food in bowls, don’t feed animal companions outdoors, and never feed wildlife. Remove objects in the yard that might attract moisture (e.g., children’s pools, flowerpots, barbecue grills, sheet metal, boards, large pieces of debris, bricks, logs, etc.), trim back vegetation, and remove furniture and debris near the house.
- Locate the source of the ants. When you see ants in your home, try to follow them back to the point where they entered. Use caulk to seal all possible entrances into the house, remembering that ants are tiny and can fit through almost any small opening. Apply weather stripping under doors.
- Use natural ant repellents. If ants are coming in through the cracks of doors and windows, pour a line of cream of tartar where they enter the house, and they will not cross over it. A cinnamon stick, coffee grinds, chili pepper, paprika, cloves, or dried peppermint leaves near the openings will repel ants. You can also squeeze the juice of a lemon at the entry spot and leave the peel there. Planting mint around the foundation of the house will also keep ants away. Place cloves of garlic around indoor and outdoor ant pathways.
- Use only nontoxic commercial repellents. A product called “Orange Guard” is a nontoxic organic ant repellent that is harmless to humans and other animals and will drive ants away from areas where they are not wanted. However, when applied directly to ants, the active ingredient d-Limonene (orange peel extract) destroys the waxy coating of the insects’ respiratory systems, causing the ants to suffocate, so please do not spray ants with the repellent. Simply spray the repellent around your home—the citrus fragrance of d-Limonene will repel the ants without killing them.