Evicting Many Thousands of Tiny Unwanted Tenants
April 22, 2015 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Last year, we had carpenter ants, and we asked them to leave. This year, the ants are back. I'm prepared to bring in professionals to explain matters to them more forcefully. However, I'm almost more scared of the solution than the problem. Talk to me about safety issues with poisons used to chase the bastards out.

They are definitely carpenter ants. I had a long section of damaged gutter removed (just before snowpocalypse hit, yay for timing?) in the late fall, and their tiny little frozen corpses were all in there. I had hoped that by removing the damaged wood, etc. combined with the ridiculously cold winter, that we had seen the last of them.

Well, it's too early for them to be coming from the outside, and they are back, and brought a few new relatives. The Pest Control people tell me this means a colony somewhere inside the house. I've never disliked the word colony so much before.

We have cats who get into everything (if this were mice, it would be so handled already), we have one human in the house with an auto-immune disorder, and we have a nearby neighbor who is a cancer survivor. As a result, we and the neighbor have pretty much agreed we don't use chemicals, pesticides, anything like that when dealing with problems in or around our properties. However, I also don't want another ant-filled year like last, and I can't have them eating my walls. We live in these walls too! The cats like it warm.

The Pest Control company purports to be as green as possible, and tells me they will use MaxForce Carpenter Ant Gel, inserted into tiny cracks and crevices where humans and felines cannot come into contact with it, and that we not, therefore, mutate.

At first glance online, this looks... okay maybe? Possibly even something people self-apply? In our case, I am willing to pay professionals to apply it to areas I can't reach, and to make sure it is done in a way that is safe, as long as I am sure it really is safe.

What am I not thinking to ask, and what should I look out for, and is this not as big a deal as I am making it out to be in my head?
posted by instead of three wishes to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: **realized looking at my post just now, that most people don't have wooden gutters. We do, which is why the ants were very happily living in a wooden section of our home that is necessarily exposed to a lot of water.
posted by instead of three wishes at 9:51 AM on April 22, 2015

I have had luck killing off several varieties of household ants with Terro. The toxin is a small amount - less than the size of a dime - of Borax dissolved in a gel-like bait applied several times, so not a threat to anyone else (even the cats, at this quantity). Basically, you poison the workers, they in turn poison the queen, and the colony collapses.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:54 AM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

One of the things that kind of sold me on paying someone to deal with our ant problem was the "you don't want to hit them with anything too toxic, because if you do they won't be able to take it back to their nest and really destroy the hive."

In the end you're dealing with your comfort level for exposure levels that don't show measurable effects in humans (if they did, there'd be monster lawsuits). And probably not in cats. And remember that insects are susceptible to biological pathways that mammals aren't, though I haven't checked to see if this is the case with MaxForce Carpenter Ant Gel.

And given the comfort level thing, I'd definitely pay someone who's got experience applying it, and feedback from numerous installations, to apply it.
posted by straw at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mine were tiny kitchen ants, not carpenter ants, so I don't know if this would work here, but after trying a bunch of different things with no luck, what knocked them out entirely was a homemade paste of borax and fruit jam, spread on pieces of index card and laid in their paths. The bulk of them were gone in 24 hours; stragglers were gone in about 3 days. They've never come back.
posted by okayokayigive at 10:08 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mrs w0mbat used borax on our household ants. She mixed sugar and borax and dabbed a damp cotton wool ball on it, left the ball near the entry point. It was amazingly effective, much more so than commercial products I've tried in the past.
posted by w0mbat at 10:09 AM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Carpenter ants are chiefly a problem where you have wood that is getting, and staying, wet. Which is generally a problem even without the ants -- you need to control the water issues or the ants will eventually come back, even if you eliminate the current population.

That said, I live in a ~100-year-old wooden house in a temperate rainforest climate and have had to deal with carpenter ants in several different parts of my structure. Diatomaceous earth based products have been fairly successful at eliminating nests and, while they do require some precautions, are not especially dangerous to mammals.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:10 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here in Florida, those Carpenter Ants are everywhere.
I used a combination of Terro spray and gel traps.
You gotta be vigilant inside and outside; maybe use a one two punch of Exterminators and Terro.
Also, look around the perimeter of your house and make sure that there aren't any tree branches touching the roof; little dudes can use that tree branch as a bridge to the Promised Land.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:43 AM on April 22, 2015

I doubt this will solve your problem because it doesn't kill ants.

However, you may still be interested to learn that cinnamon confuses ants, and they will strongly avoid it. Where by "confuses ants" I mean that if there is cinnamon on the edge of the counter and you can get them onto the cinnamon, they will walk right off the edge of the counter. I have lived in several places where I made a cinnamon border and shook cinnamon at any ant entry point. The cinnamon usually works for a month or few, but then it needs to be reapplied. Cinnamon powder is kind of messy to look at. but I imagine a cinnamon oil spray would work even better.
posted by aniola at 9:37 PM on April 22, 2015

I found this question since I'm looking for advice myself. Since Terror was advocated above, I thought I should chime in. Although I love me some Terro for the ever-present small ants, in my experience it does not work on the carpenter ants in my home (in Portland, Oregon). I found this on Terro's own website:

Our liquid ant bait is made up of three main ingredients, Borax, sugar and water. This combination works to attract sweet-eating ants on the hunt for a food or water source. Although it is not their primary diet, carpenter ants do occasionally feed on common sweets such as syrup, honey, jelly, sugar, salt, and fruit and would be attracted to the sugars in TERRO liquid bait during these times.

Once the ants drink the bait and share with the rest of the colony, the bait works it's magic. So with carpenter ants, it's a matter of catching them in the right phase of their feeding cycle, when they are actively on the lookout for sweets.

posted by polecat at 3:17 PM on June 17, 2015

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