Ants in my laptop
October 17, 2011 8:35 AM   Subscribe

There are ants in my laptop. What now?

Before anything else, let me note: I'm shutting down the laptop as soon as I finish this question, and will be following up from my phone.

So, apparently we have ants in our bedroom—this is the first time I've noticed them in the three months we've lived in this 4th floor apartment.

Last night, when I was done with it, I set my laptop (a 2007 MacBook Pro) on the floor next to our bed, closed and in sleep mode. This morning, when I opened it, several ants emerged, and I'd estimate that in the past twenty minutes twenty-five or so ants have come out of the keyboard.

Should I worry about the ants harming the computer? If so, how should I make sure they all get cleaned out?

And what should I do in our bedroom to control the ants until the next monthly visit from the exterminator?
posted by ocherdraco to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Earlier this year I was on a road trip through Queensland, AU in late summer -- when every corner of the state is practically overrun with those tiny, harmless little ants. My Macbook Pro was infested for two straight weeks. I would just sweep away the ones I saw, and while some stray buggers were crawling out of the keyboard for a few days after I got back and I'm sure there are a bunch of dead ants still in there, it functions perfectly and didn't turn into a colony or anything.

I'd worry about the ants in your bedroom and not in your computer.
posted by eugenen at 8:40 AM on October 17, 2011

I deal with point-specific ants by drawing a circle of ant-killer around it: Anything that goes in or out goes home sick. Don't know what you do with ones that die inside.
posted by Ys at 8:45 AM on October 17, 2011

Are they crazy raspberry ants? They are known to be attracted to electrical equipment.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:49 AM on October 17, 2011

Here in the DC area we have had problems with small black ants that like to come into houses in search of food, especially anything sweet. They will also build nests inside houses if there's shelter and food available there. I even had some build a nest inside a power filter for an aquarium - while the filter was running and hooked up to the aquarium.

For a while I lived in a 90 year old house and we had big problems with these ants because they would build nests in the walls and then go on foraging expeditions into our kitchen. Not sure what species is involved, possibly Odorous House Ants . You appear to be on the East Coast as well so you're probably dealing with something similar. These little black ants are very attracted to anything sugary or sweet.

The solution was using Combat Ant Gel. You can get it at the big box hardware stores. It contains a slow acting insecticide, Fipronil, that's very effective on these ants.

The only problem I had with the Combat Ant Gel was that it's quite thick and thus difficult for these ants to eat. The solution I found was to take some ant gel, get a small container like the bottle cap from a 20oz soda bottle, and thin the gel with a mix of 50% warm water. Also to this I would add one drop of honey. These ants go absolutely bananas for honey. When we started getting ants in my new house this spring I used this method to control them. Wiped them out - I had zero ant problems this summer.

If they find the bait you'll see dozens of ants lapping up the sweet mixture along with a trail of ants going back to the nest. Don't smash them or spray them because that's exactly the result you want. In a couple of hours you will see them dying. Every ant that eats the bait will die. Every ant that they share the bait with will die. Even ants that remove the dead bodies from the nest will die too.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:02 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes - treat the room/building, and worry about the laptop later.

If you do have Crazy Raspberry Ants, get an exterminator in NOW, and pray that they can do something about it. That species of ant is unreal. They reproduce VERY quickly, and try to overrun everything.

If not, find the cracks where they're coming in, and set Terro bait. It's very effective, and previous anti-ant threads here will recommend it. If you find they've taken the bait, and they're still coming after a few days, then they're coming straight in fom large nests outside, and you'll have to find the entry point(s) into the building form outside, and seal it off.

As to clearing out the laptop, get a vacu-seal bag big enough to fit your machine, and suck the air out. Then, wait a few days. (I think the number for ants is 5 days, but you can check with an entomologist to be sure.) The ants will run out of oxygen, and then you can open the machine up and vacuum out the dead ants. This is probably the safest for your laptop, although you'll be without it for a while.

Alternately, you can open up your laptop, and try to flush them out using canned air, if you need the machine back faster. Once your machine is clean, you should put it in a ziploc or something airtight when you're not using it, until you've dealt with the larger problem.
posted by Citrus at 9:05 AM on October 17, 2011

Another thing you can use, which kills insects by dehydration, is diatemaceous earth. It's been very effective against black ants at my parents' house.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:09 AM on October 17, 2011

Response by poster: I should add that I don't see any ants in the bedroom right now. How do I determine where to put bait when I don't know where they're coming from? Or even if there are any more?
posted by ocherdraco at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2011

Look for scouts, these are single ants you'll see wandering around. If you see one put one of the baits near them. If you don't see any scouts just place a bait where you have seen ants running around before.

I like Citrus's idea too, by the way.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:15 AM on October 17, 2011

How do I determine where to put bait when I don't know where they're coming from? Or even if there are any more?

In every place I've lived, ants create trails along the walls. So I typically leave bait along the 4 walls (either in the corners or somewhere in the middle depending on how many bait stations I have). I just took care of my ant problem the same way.
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 9:26 AM on October 17, 2011

Since others have been chiming in about what to do about the ants in your bedroom, I will give you the bad news about having ants in your laptop.

Some ants are attracted by the materials used in manufacturing the printed circuit assembly (I suspect they are eating the flux residue, but I am not an entymologist). They crawl into the computer, chew on a few things, and occasionally die inside the system. Their chewing isn't really the issue, but the dying is a serious problem.

Ants contain formic acid, it's what makes their bites or stings so painful, and that acid will eventually leach out of the ant onto the surface of the PCA or onto other components. The acid usually results in corrosion of the metallic surface finish, component leads, or other circuitry elements, which can cause your system to fail in several ways, depending on where the little buggers have expired and where the corrosion products end up. You don't want to leave ants in your system.

The best way I have found to eliminate them is to take apart the laptop, under good lighting, and blow them out of any crevices where they might be hiding. Be especially diligent under the keyboard, around any exposed metal on the PCA, under large components, and anywhere where there might be a sticky residue (flux leaves some stickiness around any of the solder joints, and you really don't want the acid to corrode your solder interconnects).

Several years ago we had a few laptops come into our lab for failure analysis, that ended up being due to dead ants. Ever since then I have been particularly careful with my electronics. Living in Texas, the ants are everywhere -- and I'm pretty sure they hold a grudge.
posted by blurker at 10:12 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you want to speed up Citrus' idea, I would put it in the fridge. Get the canned air and blow them out. Canned air could be a pain to find, so maybe you can vacuum the ants out.

Or just vacuum them out. They won't eat anything, just die and create garbage in your computer.

As for the room, ants are no fun. You are going to have to exterminate. Do you have pets? If not, you can get any kind of spray ant killer will work. I use Ortho.
posted by Yellow at 1:22 PM on October 17, 2011

Whenever I get any ants in stuff, I put said item into the sun. The ants are always gone within a half an hour.
posted by Vaike at 3:27 PM on October 17, 2011

My favorite ant killing recipe is cheap, effective, not very toxic and certainly non-carcinogenic: dissolve half a cup of sugar in half a cup of boiling water to make a syrup, then add a heaped teaspoon of borax and stir until fully dissolved. This makes enough ant killer to deal with many, many nests.

Put a teaspoon of borax syrup somewhere near where an ant trail is coming into your living space and the ants will find it and start tanking up on it and taking it back to their nest. Once they've had time to take away the whole spoonful, the nest will be pretty much dead.

Don't use this to kill the ants that are already inside your laptop - those, you will want to blow out with compressed air. Having a nest in there will cause quite enough damage without adding a teaspoon of sugar syrup.
posted by flabdablet at 7:52 PM on October 17, 2011

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