How can I get rid of carpenter ants?
June 2, 2008 11:37 PM   Subscribe

My apartment is being overrun by carpenter ants that won't go away. How can I get rid of them?

First, understand that I'm from Los Angeles and I never saw a single carpenter ant for thirty years until I moved to New York state. When I first saw one of these monstrous mutants ants (oh, and freakish centipedes as well), I freaked out. I thought they were coming from the window sills at first, so I sealed them with tape and I thought it was working. Well, they're back and in larger numbers. They often play dead, they carry off their dead brethren, they keep growing larger, and they crawl all over me! I've tried little bait stations but they had no effect. My girlfriend decided to use ground pepper to control them, but I highly doubt that will do anything. So, what's the secret to eradicating these large, hideous beasts?
posted by mithiirym to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Ground pepper will just make the ants angry; carpenter ants require chemical weapons. Boric acid could work; you sprinkle it along all the baseboards and anywhere else you think the ants might be getting in.

If Boric Acid doesn't work you need an exterminator to bring in the big guns.

Note that having a cat or small dog complicates matters. You might need to have them stay somewhere while you take care of the ants since the chemicals needed could make them sick and/or deceased.
posted by Justinian at 11:46 PM on June 2, 2008

2nding the boric acid (actually, just get the borax laundry stuff, it's way cheap). Put it at every possible crevice. It's also not going to hurt you at all, unless you douse your food in it.

And speaking of food, go clean your kitchen/anywhere there is food. Clean out your trashcan with soap (or get a new one if that's easier). It also might not hurt to bleach some commonly used ant trails to get rid of the thick layer of pheromones I'm sure they've been depositing all over your stuff.
posted by phunniemee at 12:05 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's an informative Carpenter Ant fact sheet from the University of Kentucky (the control section offers an interesting solution).
posted by plokent at 12:07 AM on June 3, 2008

Oh, and in the meantime, vacuum up the ants. Vacuum up some borax, though, (or cornstarch, I think cornstarch will suffocate them) so they don't crawl out again. And then kill any new ones you see so they can't lay down more tracks.
posted by phunniemee at 12:08 AM on June 3, 2008

I would call the exterminator now. When we had them in our house, no amount of borax/other poisoning would kill them. It got so bad that they were crawling all over our ceiling and dropping down on us from above. (Shudder.) We had to find the actual colony and zap 'em out from there. So far, fingers crossed, they now consider us inhospitable hosts.
posted by meerkatty at 1:28 AM on June 3, 2008

Never leave dirty dishes in the sink. Rinse EVERYTHING. Clean your kitchen counters every day. Don't leave clothes or stuff lying on the floor -- you won't be able to see them. Kill any that you come across and dispose of the bodies yourself. If you can, call the exterminator. It may be pricey but it is worth it -- these ants can do a lot of damage.
posted by Locative at 2:03 AM on June 3, 2008

Do you have a dishwasher? When we were assaulted by the ants we read that they're attracted to water, and indeed a number of them seemed to be invading from that area. We switched to hand-washing (and drying!) our dishes and in about a week they went away, never to return. (We switched back to the dishwasher, even.)
posted by nev at 6:11 AM on June 3, 2008

Carpenter ants are attracted to rotting wood. Somewhere in your building there is rotting wood. If your landlord repairs the rot, your carpenter ant problem is history. If he isn't willing to do the repairs, then maybe some of the other posters' suggestions will help.
posted by subatomiczoo at 6:29 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You must, absolutely must, get whatever wood rot has attracted them repaired. Even if you kill a colony, foraging ants will inevitably rediscover and rebuild in the vacated tunnels. To a carpenter ant, an abandoned colony (especially one with adjoining wood softened by rot) is like finding a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan. It is like having Gopher show up at your house and offer you permanent residence on the Love Boat, with occasional layovers on Fantasy Island.

I have had a LOT of carpenter ant problems. I bought a run-down house nine years ago with an infestation in it, and they plagued me for five years afterwards.

It is not an overstatement to say I hate them like nothing else on this earth.

The best solution long-term for killin' 'em (bonus: also the most environmental) is diatomaceous earth. This is available from farm co-ops and the like: it's a dessicant that breaks down insect exoskeletons and kills them through dehydration. It has no immediate effects, but if you put some in the insects' path they will avoid it like the plague. Essentially, it's like rolling in broken glass for ants.

I literally get a bag of the stuff and a turkey baster and blast the little so-and-sos with it; the advantage is the dusted ant returns to the colony and rubs against other ants, spreading the dessication effect. It's environmental, it's 100% safe for mammals like house pets and hu-mans (it's at farm supply places because farmers put it in animal feed to kill internal parasites), and it works on a mechanical rather than chemical level, so the insects will never adapt to it (unlike the problem with, say, roach sprays in the long term).

This doesn't have any visible effect immediately, but if you're patient and alert and keep dusting them, and figure out where they enter the apartment and blast diatomaceous earth into those crevices with the turkey baster, you will kill them. BUT if your water problem and subsequent wood rot is not corrected, they will come back over and over and over. Forever.

Clean house like June Cleaver on speed (paying special attention to food), dust every crevice with d-earth and/or boric acid (the two can complement each other), try to find the colony (you can do this with a stethoscope and LOTS of patience) and dust the little bastards with d-earth at every opportunity.

Look for the wood rot. If the landlord doesn't act immediately, try to contact the owner of the building: it is in their best interest to get this taken care of yesterday. These things are evil incarnate.
posted by Shepherd at 7:17 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

They like water and rotting wood. They're on the move looking for nesting sites right now. Carpenter ants can really damage buildings, so your landlord should take action. Meanwhile, those ant traps really help, though there are several varieties, and I don't know which poison comes out on top in the toxicity vs. effectiveness battle. After reading through the ant questions on askMe, I used Terro on a huge outdoor ant mound. Quite successful, though the little guys are back this year.
posted by theora55 at 7:37 AM on June 3, 2008

Just so you know, those freaky centipede things? They eat carpenter ants. That's the one reason we let them stay alive in our place and we have way less problems with the ants than our landlords do upstairs.
posted by JonahBlack at 7:45 AM on June 3, 2008

I had carpenter ants, nasty little bugs. You can watch one and follow it back to where it is coming in, usually a hole in the floor or wall that they carve themselves. Terro is an awesome ant killer, but you can't let it run out or the ants won't get the poison. It is basically a borax/melon liquid they LOVE to snack on. The liquid traps aren't any good, ants will just haul in sticks to build rafts to get across the mysteries lake of food. Also, tell your landlord, these things are just as destructive as termites and may require an exterminator and inspection.
Good luck!
posted by idiotfactory at 9:26 AM on June 3, 2008

First of all, killing ants is a common practice:

But I know from experience that exterminators are really the quickest, most effective, best way to KILL THEM ALL.

I researched killing ants really extensively one night and settled on buying Viktor's poison-free mint ant killer for my infestations of those small, indestructible ants. This spray really does work but the toothpaste smell makes my girlfriend complain too much for it to be worth using in my own house.

Things that did not work for me:

cayenne pepper
regular pepper
washing away their scent trails
using ant hotels from Home Depot, many different brands

The only other thing I've found that worked is a little ant hotel that an exterminator gave me. It's got brown paste inside it and it's clear. No label of any kind. Works like nothing else. They feasted on it like crazy for a week and then they never came back. Didn't ever have ants again in that house but unfortunately it was a rental as was the exterminator and I never got a chance to ask him what brand/formula that was.
posted by metajc at 11:10 AM on June 3, 2008

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