A Plague of Ants
July 15, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I have lots of ants! I hate ants! What's my best strategy for getting rid of them?

I have been living in this current apartment (in LA) for a couple of months. I suppose because it's summertime suddenly I started to see ants--in the kitchen, in the living space (I'm in a studio; they're on the side with the couch, not the bed), enough that I wanted to do something about them. So I bought the Terro baits that come in a six pack and laid them out in the two most ant-ridden spots. Within a day or so, thick lines of ants converged on these spots. I waited it out a few more days (the genius of Terro is it kills slowly so the ants can take the food/poison back to the nest and feed the others, hopefully including the queen.) After waiting, I did come home one day and saw that there were far far fewer ants. And the next day there were almost none. Great! I thought the Terro had done it's job.

However, the following day when I came home, I saw that a new thick line of ants had developed near some of the traps in the living area. The kitchen, though, still seemed cleared out.

Now, today, there are still many ants in the living area and a new line has started in the kitchen near the trap there. Why would the ants all seem to die out and then come back in full force? Did new ones hatch? Is this another nest?

It seems to me like these ants have two distinct entry points--one somewhere under the sink in the kitchen (I see them going up and down this little area below the cabinets below the sink) and the other in the floor behind the couch. This morning I sprinkled cinnamon around the two lines, trying to barricade them in, because I can't stand seeing seeker ants all over. Now they can still get to the baits but not many are venturing through the cinnamon, it seems.

So, I want a plan of action. On Monday I'm going out of town for a week. Should I continue with the Terro bait-and-poison procedure that, if I have lots of ants, could take awhile longer I guess? Should I move to some more traditional insecticide--like spraying Raid? How about the Chinese Miracle Ant Chalk, or whatever it's called (really just an insecticide in chalk form) Should I do anything to these entry points? And, how easily do the Terro baits run out--should I get more? They've been feeding on these for about a week now. Terro has worked for me in the past but it also feels scary and gross to keep on attracting more and more ants.

These ants are black and very small. I wonder if they're Argentine Ants? But I really have no idea.

Give me your ant-defying tricks, please. I know they're harmless but they really eek me out when in my living space.
posted by tacoma1 to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I'm swearing by borax. Lots of people on the green haverecommended it for roaches & ants, i tried it finally,and they are gone

you can get it from any hardware store as a powder, mix it up with water & something tempting (i used straight up sugar) in a lid or dish, put it down somewhere out of the way but where they will find it (under the stove, in a cabinet they frequent, etc) and forget. In a week or so you will start seeing thenumbers dropping to zero.

Note: borax is no foolin' poisonous to people & pets. So bear that in mind while choosing your container (disposable is good) & deciding where to set it out.
posted by Ys at 9:49 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had these living in a studio in LA, and unfortunately there's not much you can do. No matter how much effort you put into ridding your living space of the ants, you can't count on your neighbors to keep up the same front. And if the ants get a toehold in the building they'll pretty much keep on coming until the season changes. If you're up a few floors they're probably not all that interested in your food; I found that the best ant management strategy was to keep them concentrated in the bathroom, away from the food but where there's plenty of water available. They tried getting into the kitchen, but I consistently destroyed their scent trails (pepper, LA's Awesome de-greaser) and eventually they gave up (or just went elsewhere).

The ants are after two things: food and water. The barriers you set up are fairly trivial to a monster ant colony (or supercolony, as some suspect the Californian Argentinian ants are now), so instead you should focus your energies on sealing off the food and water supplies in your studio. Rather than spraying pesticide all over your living space, clean everything. Open all the windows, move all the furniture out of the kitchen, scooch the fridge and the stove out from the wall, and buy one of the super-concentrated bottles of cleaning solution (I really do like the LA's Awesome brand, and it's always $1 at the dollar store). Get a big box of storage baggies and some re-usable storage containers, and make sure everything in your pantry is sealed up tight. Make it all sparkle, and police future spills with the fervor you'd use to kill ants.

Do the same for your main room. Also double check all standing water points for clogs, pools, etc. Sinks, the shower/tub, under cabinets, window sills. Maybe even buy some caulk and have at the interior edges of your water-cabinetry.

Then you get to enjoy a super clean apartment that has nothing the ants are looking for and, hopefully then, no ants.
posted by carsonb at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

There very likely are be more ants back at the nest than you'll ever kill. Seal up the entrance or set a barrier of fresh cedar mulch or cayenne pepper would be my plan.
posted by Shane at 9:59 AM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, thanks for all the advice so far.

If I am going to give up on the Terro slow-kill, what's the most effective and least toxic way to kill the ants that I do see now? I think both Raid and the "magic chalk insecticide" are pretty toxic..

And...what is the best way to seal up the entrance?
posted by tacoma1 at 10:07 AM on July 15, 2012

You don't have to kill the ants. All you have to do is kill the queen.

The way you do that is to buy a special kind of ant bait. It's a thick sugar syrup with boric acid dissoved in it. They sell it at major hardware stores. You pour it onto a piece of cardboard and leave it somewhere that the ants are thick. They find it, and take it back, and feed it to the queen, who is eventually killed by it.

Once the queen is dead, the nest will continue to run until all the remaining eggs have hatched and the resulting ants die of old age. Then it's over -- about 3-4 weeks.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:20 AM on July 15, 2012

By the way, one reason to use boric acid is that it isn't very toxic to humans and and other mammals. The LD50 is 2.6 grams per Kg of body weight. (The LD50 for table salt is 3 grams per Kg.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:27 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

We lived in California for decades and ants just go with the territory. My mom swears by Grant's Ant Stakes. Easy to use, no stink or mess and you can hide them. Also, no more ants!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:33 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Silicone caulk is the best way to seal the entry points.
posted by batmonkey at 10:41 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Chocolate Pickle: The Terro baits I'm using are sweet gel mixed with boric acid. My worry is that what if there are too many ants, like a California "super-colony" of Argentine ants, to actually get to the queen and wipe her out? Those colonies have multiple queens.

I don't know. I'm torn between letting the Terro baits do their thing and even get a few more baits so the ants don't run out OR killing those I see, sealing the entry point I know of, and either way keeping the apartment very clean....
posted by tacoma1 at 11:09 AM on July 15, 2012

You just have to keep at it. This is a war of attrition, and wars of attrition are slow.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did i say borax? I meant what chocolatepickle said: boric acid. Just checked the label to be sure.
posted by Ys at 12:11 PM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: In my experience, Terro is pretty much the best non-toxic-to-people stuff out there. You can mix up your own with sugar water and borax, but if the Terro didn't do it on its own in the first round, then your own mix probably won't, either.

I suspect there is more than one colony involved here -- or a supercolony. So you'll probably have to use a combination of poisoning the ants with Terro / something similar, removing the things that interest them (as mentioned above, food and water) and sealing their points of entry.

First off, you probably will have to replace the Terro traps; if you have lots of ants you need lots of Terro. I understand the ant horror show issue. When I use Terro I try to put it as close to the ants' point of entry as possible to minimize their presence in my space. Even if they have a line going across your kitchen, they'll eventually stop bothering to go on a such a long trek if you put the trap right where they're coming in under your sink.

Second: remove things that interest them. This means sealing up your food, cleaning the heck out of your floors and counters, taking your couch and bed apart to vacuum up any errant crumbs, etc. You also need to remove their chemical trails by using some form of liquid cleaner to thoroughly clean the places they've been wandering. I've had some luck using Method's wood cleaner to clean wood floors; it seems to have a strong enough odor that the ants get confused. If you have a floor you can use bleach on, I would use that.

Third: seal your place up. In my own house I have used weatherstripping, wood filler and silicone caulk to seal up points of entry. Windows and doors are thoroughly sealed, etc. You could probably get away with this sort of weatherproofing / repair in a rental as long as you do it well; it's not very noticeable. In your specific case I would recommend taking a flashlight and looking very carefully under the sink to see where the ants are getting in, and close that entry point if possible. You can use spackle and caulk to seal around the pipes in the wall or cover cracks between wall and floor, etc. It IS very hard to totally seal off ants' access -- they are very small -- but I figure the harder you make it for them to find their way, the more likely it is that they will decide someone else's apartment is more enticing.

You might also talk to your neighbors and see if they are having a similar problem. If you coordinate your efforts it will work better than just one person trying to get rid of the ants.
posted by BlueJae at 12:12 PM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: One other question: at this point, the ants aren't going near my houseplants. But I do like to water the plants from the bottom up, leaving them in a little dish of water, especially when I go away. Is this an ant invitation?
posted by tacoma1 at 12:25 PM on July 15, 2012

Caluking the points of entry does help. But you do run the risk of them finding other points of entry. These buggers get creative when they're hungry!

Good luck--I'm battling them myself!
posted by luckynerd at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: BlueJae: Your answer is really helpful. But won't the Terro baits be rendered ineffective if I caulk up the entry points and the ants can't return to nest to give poison to each other?
posted by tacoma1 at 12:28 PM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: Luckynerd: my studio is bungalow style and has many points of entry! Sealing most or all points seems an impossible task.
posted by tacoma1 at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2012

I am an entomologist and I just moved to L.A. I also have ants at my house. I like the Hot Shot gel bait I picked up at Lowe's. Many ants have two feeding cycles: sweet-feeding cycle and grease-feeding. This seems to work for both. As soon as I see ants, I put out a couple of blobs of the gel and that takes care of it. I had to use it a few times, but it seems to be under control for now.
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:47 PM on July 15, 2012


Best. stuff. ever.
posted by brownrd at 1:04 PM on July 15, 2012

I don't know how your studio is situated, but can you caulk up the entry points and put the Terro outside?
posted by corey flood at 1:27 PM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: When I lived in santa barbara, my best two friends were masking tape and orange peel based spray. As soon as you find a place they are getting in, cover it well with masking tape, and then wipe off their trail within your place with the orange stuff. They avoid it for a long time, as long as you don't clean it off. Non-toxic and in my hands way more effective than the toxic stuff. Eventually you might want to do something more permanent with the masking tape, but it's quick and easy.

Our place had a million points of entry as well, but somehow this worked despite that.

good luck!
posted by lab.beetle at 1:28 PM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: Do NOT leave your plants in water-filled saucers. I did that during an ant invasion and returned home to what I now call "the raging cthulu of a million ants, churning and swirling amok."

In addition to the indoors cleaning/poisoning advice, my landlord has sprayed the outside of the building with pesticides, which helped to keep ants out. I also have swept cinnamon into cracks and crevices too small to seal, which helps a bit at keeping the ants out. I'm in LA, too.
posted by holyrood at 2:42 PM on July 15, 2012

I have had good luck with the Terro type liquid baits to stop an active invasion, and Grant's traps as more of a long term preventative barrier.
posted by jockc at 3:33 PM on July 15, 2012

Best answer: I use a multi pronged approach of terro, boric acid powder, and a mint spray called Essentria IC3. Where possible, I use the terro outside--where I see ants coming inside, I just locate the opposite point on the exterior wall and put terro there. This draws them out and I can put the terro there for days without having to deal with the lines and activity inside my abode. Then I use boric acid powder along baseboards and door jams, and the mint spray works to kill on contact and also has some repellent action. (I used to get Victor's mint ant spray, which worked better than the Essentria, but I can't find Victors anywhere anymore.)

As others have pointed out, you should try caulking wherever practical. And please don't use insecticide chalks which are supernotgood.
posted by gubenuj at 10:29 PM on July 15, 2012

We've had great success using baby powder to block off ant entry-paths (they just will not cross the stuff), and tea tree oil to wipe away the scent trail (like lab.beetle's tape and orange spray)...

Blocking their entrances via caulk or powder or whatever is a sweet alternative to letting them come in wherever and hoping that you will be able to kill them all.

You don't have to block every possible entrance, just the ones they try to use. You have to be a bit vigilant with this, so it might not be helpful before your departure.
posted by eyesontheroad at 10:49 PM on July 15, 2012

As an apartment dweller, I want to say that my problem was never this bad, but I skipped straight to buying the outdoor ant baits and just putting a bunch of them around the building in places nobody else would bother them, and that seems to have worked well all last year and this year so far. I went back and pulled them up at the end of the summer and got new ones this year. Unless there's somehow literally no way to do that, I wouldn't assume your only plan of attack is indoors.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:49 AM on July 16, 2012

Some ants like sweet. Some like protein. What is good to kill one kind, isn't good for the other. My recollection in LA was, they go for protein. The ants really loved cat food! Sweet baits didn't attract them. In Wisconsin, the opposite was true. Sugar syrup with a bit of arsenic destroyed them in a few days. (Jones was the brand. IIRC, little red bottle. But that might have been Terro).

You can conveniently wipe live ants up by spraying them with a light solution of water and dish liquid. It pretty much makes them stop moving. Wipe up the entire path of them to disrupt their efforts.

Stores are happy to sell you bait traps that are inappropriate for the ants where you live. Mostly they are sweet.
posted by Goofyy at 5:56 AM on July 16, 2012

I had good luck (not in LA) with spraying all around the apartment with Murphy's Oil Soap. It even recommends using it to control ants on the bottle. Spray it all around the perimeter of every room and also around the entire building. People might ask you what you are spraying, but most people wouldn't object to a little soap being sprayed around.
posted by koolkat at 6:09 AM on July 16, 2012

Personally I have used Raid for years and never had problems with toxicity (and I have a cat who seemingly licks everything I own). About twice a year I will see a line of ants marching steadily into the kitchen from my deck - I spray around the door frames and the windows, shut the cat upstairs for a day, and live the next few months ant-free.
posted by cccp47 at 2:01 PM on July 16, 2012

I live in the country outside Sacramento, and have had plagues of ants with thousands overrunning my kitchen. Terro and other ant baits were only partially helpful at best, even after waiting for days for them to take effect. Then just as I was so desperate as to call Terminix and have them spray poison around my landlord told me about ant chalk. I found some Black Flag Ant & Roach Killing Chalk at a local hardware store (though most don't carry it). It's a pyrethrin-based stick of chalk, and all you do is locate where the ants are coming in (usually a tiny crack or hole) and draw a circle around that place with the chalk stick. That's all! Within a day all the ants in the kitchen (or wherever) are dead, and they don't come back. I couldn't believe it! I didn't have a reinfestation for about 3 months, and as soon as I saw some coming back I did the chalk thing again. Done!

Those two episodes were it for about a year. Recently I noticed some ants coming in from under the carpeting in the living room. Took the chalk stick and just drew a line where the carpeting joins the baseboard. That took care of it, but just a couple weeks later we woke one day to find an ant highway from the corner of our sliding door to the garbage can. (It's the beginning of winter, so they're scouting to come inside.) Circled the entry point with chalk, and within the day they were all dead and haven't come back.

This sounds unbelievable, but I can assure you it works like a miracle. I've fought with ants for years with all sorts of poisons and bait and traps. Nothing even comes close to this chalk. It's sometimes called Chinese Ant Chalk, which I suppose is the same stuff, but I know from experience that the Black Flag stuff works like a dream. And it's cheap! I have yet to find a hardware person who knows about it, even where they sell it, and it's often relegated to the top shelf or bottom shelf. Makes an ideal stocking stuffer! Best kept secret in the world of home pest control. Get it. You will be amazed and delighted.
posted by Tom Blees at 7:33 PM on November 19, 2012

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