Oh my god the ants, help!
June 2, 2014 7:25 PM   Subscribe

We've been battling a carpenter ant infestation unlike any before. In past years we've had NO PROBLEM getting rid of them quickly. This year, they seem to be all over the house, and we're trying all the same tricks with no luck. I don't think we've ever been cleaner and we've been keeping things in airtight containers as we normally do. I have questions about how this could happen and what I can do.

Facts: Two story home with a basement and outdoor (concrete) patio in the city. Ants have been spotted in kitchen, 2nd story bathroom, and as of today, the TV room that is next to the bathroom on the second floor. House is cleaned regularly, especially the kitchen where they are the most common. Countertops are cleaned at least once a day and we are good about not leaving out food. However, even the littlest accidental crumb left results in ANT TERROR (on our part, not theirs). Today I slipped and left an empty granola bar wrapper in a bowl on the coffee table in the TV room (which again, is on the second floor and far, far away from the kitchen) and I came home to more ANT TERROR. There were barely any crumbs in the package at all! Maddening. Also potentially important: We live next door to an abandoned house where all kind of animals and random passers by take shelter. The house is barely just a roof over head, especially at the back of the house where there is no siding at all, just exposed wood and huge holes right into the house, as well as broken windows. Lots of trash inside the house, too.


Why the 2nd floor bathroom? What are they sustaining themselves on there, and bonus, how did they get there when the other other major sighting, until today, is the downstairs kitchen? Is there piping connecting or something? They have definitely been hanging around there, not just scouting.

Could it be that our leaky faucet, which pumps water onto the kitchen counter (sometimes even after the faucet is turned off and we are long gone, leaving standing water around the sink) is encouraging this uncontrollable ant infestation? We are working to fix this AT THIS MOMENT, but I'm curious.

Where might the colony be? Is it possible that it is IN our house? or more likely next door in the abandoned house or in its yard? Or somewhere in the ground... somewhere else?

What more can we do? We are currently using the bait traps and trying to keep everything as clean as we can. Putting borax traps down is not doable as we have a cat and a dog. Thanks!
posted by your mom's a sock puppet to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I briefly lived in a house with a carpenter ant infestation.

Re the second floor bathroom: Carpenter ants, if that's what you have, like to make tunnels in wood and travel that way. They could, theoretically, just go up the stairs at night though. The standing water doesn't help, as it could be providing an accessible source of moisture for them or any other insects you have.

They like damp and rotting wood. They like to eat insects, but from what I understand they may not have to. You should see if your house has structural problems that attracted them or an insect problem that you just may not have noticed. Most insects tend to not be fond of human interaction, so this is totally possible. Sometimes predator insects - like carpenter ants, spiders, centipedes, etc - are the first sign that you have something else living in your house too - like beetles, etc. This was definitely the case with the house I lived in - the carpenter ants were just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not sure that anyone here can tell you where the colony is. You probably need to hire a professional pest management company for that.

Actually, you just need to hire a professional pest management company for this period, especially since you're seeing a lot of activity. I would go nuclear option on this, but ymmv. I was surprised to find out that there are very effective things that can be done that are safe for pets. Just make sure to remember to notify your neighbors, if you have any, that they should look out for migrating populations of insects. And know that you may need to follow up on this with pest control maintenance visits, repairs and upgrades to your house, etc.

The house next door definitely isn't going to help you with pest management. There may be avenues you could pursue that might result in it being kept up better by the owners, torn down, or otherwise improved, but I'm unfamiliar with this.
posted by Verba Volant at 7:49 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

House is cleaned regularly, especially the kitchen where they are the most common.

I read that regarding bait, carpenter ants go for a protein-laced bait for a small part of the year, a sugar-laced bait for another small part of the year, and for (decaying) wood the rest of the year. I don't think it matters how clean your kitchen is. Spend a while poking at your interior wood with a screwdriver and figure out where it's rotting.

I'd get a pest control person to do the house, and then a painter to do the exterior a plumber and a carpenter. Most but not all of the poisons the pest control person would use for carpenter ants are safe around non-invertebrate pets, so just get the names and look them up before application.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:59 PM on June 2, 2014

Response by poster: OK, sorry, they aren't carpenter ants, as my husband has just informed me. They are much smaller black ants (I was confusing ant types, sorry). They definitely eat / take any food left out. They might be odorous house ants or pavement ants?
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 8:01 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If they are eating your food in kitchen, this has worked for me.

Reduce volumes if not so much needed.

2 cups Sugar
1 cup Water
2 TBS Boric Acid (Borax)
Mix and place in small saucers around the home.

They should have a party gorging on the treat you've provided. Let them. It may look gross, the shear volume of them that show up for the party. They will take the poison back to the colony and presumably feed the queen. She should succumb and the outcome should be favorable for your kitchen.
posted by Fortnight Bender at 8:13 PM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yup, sounds like stink ants.
posted by hollisimo at 8:21 PM on June 2, 2014

Mix and place in small saucers around the home.

Or cat-proof tupperware with holes drilled in it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:24 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had the same problem last year in my house in Chicago. The mix of borax, sugar, and water is the only thing that got rid of them. I used this method with the cotton balls. Good luck!
posted by smich at 8:49 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you've tried Terro already and it didn't work, move on to this stuff. It's exterminator-grade.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:14 PM on June 2, 2014

We used to have an annual infestation. I tried everything mentioned in this thread (except the "this stuff" amazon link) and either there were more of them to replace the ones I killed in various ways or they didn't die. I thought they had big nest(s) in or right next to the house.

I finally found an exterminator who comes 3 times a year from early spring through end of summer (live in northern US) to spray the ground just along the exterior of the house and I have not seen an ant in the house since. The exterminator convinced me that the ants go in and out of the house so if he sprays a ring along the house and no plants/leaves/trees touch the house, then the ants will not get in. I'm not thrilled about the poison but I am really happy to not be living with so many ants. Again, he does not enter the house. I imagine that there would be similar results from spraying with a big jug of poison from Home Depot or similar.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:52 AM on June 3, 2014

We have a seasonal invasion of carpenter ants, and Terro, along with caulking up entry holes, has knocked them back each time.

Before poisoning them, watch them closely and trying to figure out where they're getting in. This takes a Zen-like patience and focus, but you *will* eventually figure out at least some of the entry points.

The downside, of course, is that they're fascinating little creatures and you'll start to take an interest and feel sympathetic. Poison them anyway - they're eating your house.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:12 AM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

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