With the good ... comes the ants
March 28, 2018 1:53 AM   Subscribe

I have ants. I do not want ants. Ants have been here longer than I have, and they'll be here long after I've gone. I'm the only one on the lease and they've ignored my no trespassing sign in very tiny writing so I need other ways to let them know they're not welcome. Complication: I don't think they are very concerned with my wishes.

I love my new rental on the top floor of a heritage tin and timber building on the river in my sub-tropical town. As do the little black ants. I'm not going to get rid of them; they inhabit the landscape as much as this building does, but I want to know how to manage them. What strategies do I need to adopt in all my rooms. What pitfalls await me where I come back from work to find ants swarming across my.... and how can I avoid them. Beginner and advanced tips welcome with the caveat that I can't eradicate them all together without breaking the nuclear arms treaty, and my landlords' hearts.
posted by Thella to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have a truce with the ants in my house. They don't come into the kitchen, and I don't harass them about whatever unmentionable thing it is they are doing in the bathroom (which involves entering by the washing machine and exiting by the toilet and occasionally having a party in the sink on the way through).

My strategy is that the kitchen door thresholds all get sprayed with insect spray in a line across them on a regular basis, and I also dot those ant baiting plastic discs you get from Woolworths around the edges of the kitchen here and there to act as totemic warding items.

Back when I didn't used to have a cat I'd buy the ant baiting liquid and pour it out into little dishes. It was extremely effective. But not good with pets or kids in the house.

Supposedly all kinds of scents also work to deter them (lemon, I think, peppermint, and bay leaf, and cinnamon, and a few other suggestions) as does baking soda, and Diatomaceous earth. I haven't found a good cheap source of the latter here in Australia (you can buy it in Bunnings, but it's not cheap) and I've tried all the former things, the only one seeming to have any effect was the peppermint. When I wiped down the kitchen counters with peppermint oil in a previous house that had an ant/kitchen problem, it really worked.

Another thing you need to remember is that they follow scent-trails, so after you remove them from the parts of your house you want to keep off-limits, you need to wipe down the areas where they have been with something like bleach, to remove the scents they left that said, "hey, party over this direction".
posted by lollusc at 2:31 AM on March 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Advion Ant Gel had excellent results for me, better than the Terro ant baits. They will swarm the gel for 2+ weeks and it will get worse before it gets better, but eventually the bait will make its way to the queens and the colonies will die off.
posted by kdar at 2:59 AM on March 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

I can certainly tell you that they like moisture. Once, in college, I stupidly crammed a load of not-quite-dry laundry into a drawer and then just left it there for a few days. When I opened the drawer, I found an entire ant colony living in my t-shirts. That was not a good day.

The biggest thing you can do to keep them out of your living space is deny them food and water. Keep surfaces clean, don't leave food out, make sure your kitchen and bathroom get fully dry between uses. You may end up having to transfer things like half-empty pasta packets and cereal boxes into sealed containers. Just don't give them access to what they want, and they'll mostly look elsewhere. Think of it as motivation to keep your living space sparkling.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:05 AM on March 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've used HIT chalk in the past and they vanished overnight and didn't come back. I thought it was made from borax but Google says it has pesticides. My box was blue so maybe there are different formulations.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:33 AM on March 28, 2018

If you need to leave things out, build moats. We take a shallow bowl half filled with water, add a glass, or a ramekin or even a smaller upside down bowl and then balance the plate or bowl on top. Ta dah! The ants can't get to your food because they will drown in the moat. The cat food bowls were also arranged in a similar fashion because dear god do the ants love cat food.

I prefer to let them do their own thing and then return to wherever (and then I wipe their trails as suggested above) because that way their departure is tidy and doesn't require me to clean up after a massacre. But that does mean ceding parts of the kitchen to them so YMMV.
posted by kitten magic at 4:41 AM on March 28, 2018

When we lived in a detached house with ants, this Borax plan worked extremely well for us.

When we lived in a triplex with ants, not a damn thing ever worked and they were part of the reason we finally moved. If you share a wall with someone who isn't willing to work with you on ant eradication, I really don't think there's a way to get rid of them.
posted by 256 at 5:37 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I replaced the kitchen cabinets, I put boric acid powder along the walls. It kills them. You might be able to pull baseboards away from the wall and lay down boric acid. Every year they will invade my rural mailbox on a post. Cinnamon discourages them, and my mail smells so festive. In spring, when they go looking for new territory, they will seek water. If you have big carpenter ants, talk to the building owner; they can be quite destructive.
posted by theora55 at 6:37 AM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I swear by this stuff, Terro in a little bottle. You put a drop or two on a piece of cardboard and put it in the places the ants come in or out, cracks, crevices, entry and exit paths. They swarm it for a few days and then are miraculously gone. Generally not dangerous for pets. Otherwise it's mostly what you think: watch out for water and crumbs, don't bring food into your bedroom, clean off countertops and etc. You seem to have a sensible outlook which will help significantly.
posted by jessamyn at 6:48 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some ants like sweet, some like grease. I make tiny dishes out of aluminum foil, then mix boric acid with sugar syrup and/or bacon grease and put in the little dishes. Put both kinds where the ants are. It takes a while but eventually they go away.
Boric acid is a little hard to find. I got mine at Rite Aid.
posted by H21 at 7:00 AM on March 28, 2018

I agree to deny food and water. Ziploc bags and plastic or glass containers are a good strategy for cabinet storage. Keep kitchen counters wiped up. Keep toothpaste wiped up in the bathroom.

Another good idea is to vacuum baseboards, as ants will often seek out protein and may come after shed hair, or the eggs of other small insects living along the baseboards. We vacuum the baseboards maybe quarterly, not like every week or anything.

If you see just a couple of ants, they are exploring for food. If you smush the first few and leave them right there where you smush them, the next ones that follow will determine that this is a very bad area for ants, and they will remove the dead bodies and communicate to their friends not to go there.
posted by vignettist at 8:43 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

My house was built on an ant hill, I swear. I have tried all of the above. Advion ant gel is the only one worth its salt, ime. I squirt the gel into bits of snipped up plastic straws and lay it out along their foraging paths. The ants swarm it and a few days later you get to enjoy a couple months of ant-free living. Repeat forever. Put it out everywhere that you see them, in case you have multiple colonies invading your place. Throw away the straw bits when you're done and wash your hands.

Diatomaceous earth will also help with keeping them out of certain things. Like if they're crawling into your bed, put it all around the legs of the bed frame. (It kills them by cutting through their exoskeleton, so it's not instantaneous but they don't like it.)
posted by purple_bird at 10:13 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I lived in an apartment for 5 years that had an annual, spring ant situation. They would originate from one particular wall in my bedroom. Seconding the suggestion of trying Terro gel - it got rid of them each year.
posted by aquanet at 10:41 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Homemade Terro (Borax and sugar syrup—google for proportions—you want them to take it back to the nest, not die on the spot) has been effective for me in the kitchen. Very meticulous caulking ended the bathroom invasion.
posted by she's not there at 12:34 PM on March 28, 2018

We have a lot of ants - Putting Antrid where I can see them results generally in a temporary feeding festival, followed presumably by a death festival back at the nests. Note, this isn't extinction, there are still millions of ants in the house but the ones going into the house seem to drop off.

Diatomaceous earth. I haven't found a good cheap source of the latter here in Australia (you can buy it in Bunnings, but it's not cheap)

Here's a pro tip: Cover your entry and exit points with a line of talc - almost like an exorcist putting out salt to banish evil spirits. Magnesium based talc is better than cornflour, but both will work. Ants absolutely loathe the feel of the miniscule granules against their tiny, tiny feet, and will not cross it if it's 3cm thick or so.

With a combination of periodically deployed ant-rid + exorcist talc, I've managed to banish them from the house, even around the cat bowls with is quite an achievement, the persistent little bastards.
posted by smoke at 3:29 PM on March 28, 2018

(oh re: cats and Ant Rid - I would just find where they were entering from outside, and put the ant rid there. My cats are Inside Cats so it meant they couldn't get it).
posted by smoke at 3:31 PM on March 28, 2018

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