It's icky, but it's happened to almost all of us. Here's how to get rid of kitchen ants.
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You open up your pantry to grab a package of pasta or a can of beans, and you see them. A perfectly uniform line of... ants, marching across the cabinet shelf or up the pantry wall. Gasp!

You try your best to kill the ones you see, but you know there's plenty more where they came from. It feels hopeless, but there's actually a lot you can do to stop kitchen ants in their tracks. The best part? Most solutions don't even require you calling in the professionals. Read on to find out how to get rid of kitchen ants and how to make sure they don't come back.

How to Stop Kitchen Ants

1. Proper food storage is vital

Your pantry is the perfect playground for ants. That's why when it comes to getting rid of them, the most effective solution is to never have to deal with them to begin with.

"Take preventative measures by storing foods in reusable, sealed containers in your pantry so they can't get to the source," says Kari Warberg Block, pest prevention expert and CEO/founder of EarthKind. 

Keep in mind, ants don't just love human foods — pet food is a huge attractant as well.

"Transfer dog and cat food from its original packaging into an airtight container," Warberg Block says. Be sure to clean up the area around the pet bowl as well. In addition to preventing ant infestations, this will help prevent major rodent and cockroach infestations in your kitchen.

Also, keep ripe fruits in the refrigerator, rather than leaving them out on the kitchen counter, to prevent a swarm of these critters. 

2. Beware of moisture 

Keep in mind that ants come into your home because they think they're striking gold for sources of shelter, food, and water.

"When it comes to getting their H2O, ants don't need a ton of water to survive. In fact, even a damp dish towel or mat in the kitchen is enough to keep them going," Warberg Block says.

If you have a fan in your kitchen, put your dish towel and mat close by to help them dry out faster, advises Warberg Block, or toss them in the dryer for a few minutes. 

Also, identify and repair any leaky pipes that may be luring ants in. For extra precaution, place a cup over your kitchen sink's drain to keep them from coming up or hanging out around the area.

"Be sure to eliminate standing water, especially around houseplants," Warberg Block says. 

Speaking of houseplants, if you're a plant parent, check them regularly for pests.

"Aphids, another type of pest, can be just as crazy about your houseplants as you are," Warberg Block says.  As it turns out, these pests leave a residue that attracts ants to where they were harboring. "Mix dish soap and water into a spray bottle, and wipe down the leaves regularly. This will clear the residue and prevent ants from making our beloved houseplants, theirs," Warberg Block says. 

3. Clean your kitchen

Your kitchen is an all-you-can-eat buffet for ants. The first step to getting rid of ants in the kitchen is taking away their food source.

"You need to sanitize your kitchen and ensure you keep on top of it after you have dealt with your intruders," says Ed Spicer, CEO of Pest Strategies.

Group of black Ants crawling on the empty dish.
Credit: Adobe Stock

4. Utilize naturally deterring scents

Ants, like many insects, rely on their sense of smell to find where their next meal will be. Instead of reaching for harsh and hazardous poisonous, sprays, and traps, certain scents will do the trick just as well.

"This works by disrupting their olfactory (scent) receptors with a scent they find powerfully repelling," Warberg Block says.

The scent of peppermint oil, lemon, and cinnamon will deter ants. Try spraying diluted oils around your kitchen, or sprinkle cinnamon where you've seen ants congregate.

"The domestic spice acts as a dermal irritant, which will keep them away," Warberg Block adds. Sprinkling coffee grounds and/or cayenne pepper is also effective at keeping them out. 

Or, consider placing a pouch of Stay Away Ants & Cockroaches on your kitchen counters. "These all plant-based deterrent pouches harness a research-backed blend of plant fibers and essential oils, such as peppermint oil, lemongrass, thyme oil, to keep ants and cockroaches away from treated areas, guaranteed, without poisoning or killing them," Warberg Block says.

5. Make small home repairs

Sealing tiny crevices with caulk, replacing damaged window and door screens, and replacing any rotten wood around entry points is also a great preventative measure to keep ants, and other pests, out of the kitchen,

6. Add lemon and orange to everything

It may be hard to believe, but lemon and orange can solve all of your problems with ants.

"Just squeeze some drops of lemon or orange where ants usually enter your kitchen," says Chris Spencer, CEO of Picked for Home, a home maintenance company. 

You can also leave the peels of these fruits in the usual path of ants, or squeeze some lemon or orange juice into a mop and use it to mop the kitchen floor. This will create a citrusy smell with a bitter taste on the floor, which ants don't like. 

7. Sprinkle some pepper

Just about all of us have some black pepper sitting in our cupboards. It's actually an effective pest repellent as well as a food enhancer.

One easy way to get rid of kitchen ants is to sprinkle pepper in areas where ants are likely to be spotted. Ants hate the strong smell of pepper. This is a great option because it's safe for pets and children, so you can use it liberally everywhere.

8. Use borax

A really efficient way to eliminate kitchen ants for good is to create a borax mixture that can kill the entire ant colony, preventing them from coming back.

"When you kill ants on the surface, they can still come back because you're not targeting their colony, which can produce more ants to replace those that died," says Joshua Blackburn, a home expert and the founder of Evolving Home

The borax mixture doesn't kill the ants immediately, so they take it back to their colony to share with their family.

"The poison starts to take effect as fast as 24 hours up to 48 hours. This scenario kills the entire colony since all of the ants, including those in their egg forms, take part in consuming the borax mixture," Blackburn says.

To create the borax mixture:

  1. Combine 1 part sugar, 1 part borax, and 2 parts water.
  2. Soak cotton balls in the sugar-borax mixture to increase water retention and prevent the water from quickly evaporating.
  3. Place the borax-soaked cotton balls on an ant trail, and wait for the poison to take effect.

9. Do not use spray repellants or poisons

Do not spray ants with insect repellant.

"When the queen's workers are in danger, she will spit her colony," Spicer says. This will multiply your ant problem. Instead, you need to find the source of ants. Drenching an ant nest is a last resort, but sometimes a necessary one.

"Drench the ant nest with an insecticide spray if you need quick results," Spicer says.