June 02, 2016

You may catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but keeping both items in your arsenal is essential if you're locked in a battle with pesky ants.

Even the cleanest-looking kitchen is vulnerable to an invasion of ants on the hunt for supper. While different species of ants have different favorite foods -- ranging from pet chow to peanut butter -- few ants can resist the aroma of jelly, syrup, and other household sweets. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your kitchen's ant population without resorting to harsh and dangerous chemicals.

Ant by Meredith
Keep ants where they belong - in the garden, not your kitchen. Photo by Meredith.

Stopping ants at the source

Ants may seem like permanent residents of your home, but they most likely live in an outdoor nest. You can track them back to their headquarters, since once they establish a pheromone trail, they typically stick to it. (If you're chasing carpenter ants, keep in mind that they're most active at night.)

Dousing the nest with water is ineffective; gasoline is dangerous, and herbs don't stand up to scientific scrutiny. But one expert-approved method involves repeatedly drenching the nest with an insecticidal soap solution, made from five tablespoons of all-natural soap and one gallon of water. Adding two tablespoons of cooking oil to the mix will increase its staying power.

Your goal in attacking the nest is to kill or force out the queen. Yet it's also useful to go after the scent trail that led you to the nest, since ants can't find their way back to your kitchen without it. You can disrupt ants' sense of direction by wiping the indoor portion of the trail with a cotton ball dipped in peppermint, tea tree, or citrus essential oil. Alternately, try spraying the trail with a blend of water and vinegar. It's also helpful to wipe down counter tops and other kitchen surfaces with vinegar to further disorient the unwanted pests.

Baiting ants naturally

The advantage of using baits is that worker ants will carry them to areas you can't see or reach with a spray. The downside is it takes longer to wipe out a colony when you rely on the ants to do your dirty work.

If you don't share your home with children or animals, you can make bait by combining one cup of boric acid with one-half cup of sugar and one-half cup of honey. Because boric acid is harmful to mammals in very small doses, you may wish to substitute diatomaceous earth, a soft, silica-rich powder that's generally available at hardware stores. No matter how your bait's assembled, apply it wherever ants are likely to congregate, focusing on entry points, if possible.

For an even simpler bait, try mixing baking soda and powdered sugar in equal parts. Sprinkle the bait in a shallow lid, and place it wherever you see ants.

Getting rid of other pests

Some tricks for getting rid of ants have the added benefit of making your kitchen less appealing to a range of unwelcome visitors. For example, properly storing your compost will deter ants and fruit flies. Read about how to fight fruit flies.