ants! ants! ants! kill! kill! kill!
July 29, 2008 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Help me rid my apartment of ants!

They're little black sugar ants, and up until a couple of weeks ago, they were everywhere. I made sure food was packed away, bought a bunch of those little ant "hotels", sprinkled cinnamon and boric acid everywhere... nothing helped. (The ants avoid the cinnamon and boric acid. But they just move to another location in my apartment.)

I finally gave up and called in an exterminator. He sprinkled something that looked like pepper in various places, said "leave that stuff there for a week," and left. I had to go out of town for ten days. I just got back, and there are still ants running around on the kitchen counter.

However: that pepper-like stuff did help. I'd say it killed (or scared off) 80% of the ant population. I feel like if the exterminator had just sprinkled some more if it, in a few more places, I'd be antless.

Does anyone know what the "pepper" is? I don't want to call the exterminator back and pay him to sprinkle stuff on the floor that I could sprinkle myself.
posted by grumblebee to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've had good luck with the Terro gel stuff that comes in a syringe. You squirt out a little puddle, all the ants gather round and suck it up like antelopes at a watering hole, and a day later it's tumbleweeds blowing across your kitchen floor.
posted by Camofrog at 7:46 AM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

I use paprika in Armenia.

But, just to throw this out there, did you try Torro?
posted by k8t at 7:47 AM on July 29, 2008

Torro = Terro
posted by k8t at 7:48 AM on July 29, 2008

Terro Gel Trays, nothing works better.
posted by iamabot at 7:49 AM on July 29, 2008

Terro's active ingredient is borax. But it does contain something sweet that they'll nibble on and then get the poison, so it might work better than plain borax.

I don't know what the pepper might be, but the best commercial product I've found is Combat Ant Killing Gel. You put a dab on a small piece of paper or cardboard, stick those in various locations, and leave that stuff there. Ants eat it, go back to the nest and poison the rest of them. Available in most larger hardware places. The active ingredient is not borax but something called Fipronil.
posted by beagle at 7:55 AM on July 29, 2008

Another vote for Terro. It works. I had the tiny sugar ants in a couple rooms. I also had them coming through walls. They were driving me insane and I couldn't get rid of them before Terro. Since Terro I haven't seen one. I used the liquid where you would place a couple drops on the cardboard squares they provide. You place the baits where you see ants. Place and watch them come. Do not disturb until the bait is gone and then add another.

You can buy Terro everywhere: Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. It's like 5 bucks or something.

You can use the control recipe on this page, but Terro is just as economical and the same stuff. I did this at first but another Metafilter user told me to use Terro.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:02 AM on July 29, 2008

I have been using Ortho Max for a couple years with great success. No ants at all, or spiders, or beetles, etc. About every couple months spray it around door and window frames, dryer vent, anywhere bugs might try to get in. I purchase it at Target.
posted by netbros at 8:12 AM on July 29, 2008

We've used diatomaceous earth with pretty good results when we get invaded. It's nontoxic, but can be mildly irritating if breathed it. It works by cutting the ants into little pieces as they try to walk across it (really). We sprinkle it along baseboards or wherever they're getting in. It does make your kitchen look like it's been caulked with cocaine, though.
posted by rtha at 8:18 AM on July 29, 2008

A quick google suggests that they run away from black pepper, so it's always possible that's what the peppery substance was...
posted by twine42 at 8:25 AM on July 29, 2008

I don't know Terro, but I've used similar borax based products with great results. Even better, I made my own (50% borax, 50% peanut butter), which I then made available to the ants in little containers. You could try it with honey instead of PB.
posted by bluefrog at 8:26 AM on July 29, 2008

I wouldn't recommend it, but my best success in ant removal happened by accident. I was living in a university-rez condo, right next to construction. The construction must have disrupted an ant hill (or a dozen), and we were infested. It was horrible -- they were everywhere.

Until one of my roommates has a birthday. We had cake. A ton of cake. With a ton of icing. We put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, un-rinsed, with all the cake and icing stuck to the plates.

I got up the next morning, and found my dishwasher *full* of ants. The entire bottom of the dishwasher was black. I have never been so disgusted. I screamed, slammed the dishwasher door shut, and just started a hot-water cycle (didn't even bother with soap -- no way was I opening the dishwasher again!). When it was done, I started another cycle, just to make sure they were all dead and gone. I might have done a third cycle as well.

The ants never came back after that.

Obviously, it's not like they were able to take poison back to their nest; I'm convinced the ant colony had moved into our dishwasher overnight.
posted by cgg at 8:26 AM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

(of course, the only way to test the theory is to scrape up some of the poison and sprinkle it on your pasta...)
posted by twine42 at 8:27 AM on July 29, 2008

Another vote for Terro -- their products for "sweet-eating ants" have always worked for me when I've needed them.
posted by gimonca at 8:29 AM on July 29, 2008

I have personally seen an ant infestation stopped by regularly wiping down the counters that they're on and then sprinkling pepper (literal kitchen pepper) on it. We all laughed at what hippies we were being, but then it worked.
posted by salvia at 8:44 AM on July 29, 2008

another vote for Terro. i was skeptical, but the ants are gone! though they do come back every summer. but then we just give them more terro.

cgg: omfg. i'm cringing right now.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:48 AM on July 29, 2008

"The ants avoid the cinnamon and boric acid. But they just move to another location in my apartment."

Wait, what? Where are you putting the stuff? Ant behavior is pretty straightforward and predictable, but just throwing powder around isn't going to do much except create "no ant zones." Your goal is to create a no-ant zone large enough to encompass your living space.

It sounds like your current ant problem is just random wandering ants in search of food. You're not seeing ant highways or swarms, are you? If you are, follow the antline back to the ant hole and dust it! Otherwise what you're seeing are scouts in search of food. When they find some they'll start laying an ant trail back to the point of entry.

If you're doing the cinnamon thing (and I'm the one that's been advocating cinnamon for ant control in Ask for years) remember it's mostly just a barrier. It's not going to kill off any ants. What you want to do with this stuff is find the point of entry and dust that. If you don't know where they're coming from because you're only seeing singletons, leave them some food so you can figure it out. The art of Investigative Ant Blasting is best practiced in a reactionary way: wait for an antline, use it to find their entry point, cut it off.

If your experience with ants is anything like mine, you'll find the points of entry are sometimes surprising. I had an antline originating from the light switch in a bathroom. I had an antline coming out of the overflow drain in the tub. I had an antline mysteriously penetrating an apparently airtight window. In some of these cases, cinnamon isn't going to do the job simply because there's nowhere to apply it. In such cases, go ahead and cut loose with the ant spray.

Eventually you'll have created barriers of some kind at all their points of entry and the singletons will start to die off faster than new ones arrive, but it doesn't happen all at once.
posted by majick at 8:49 AM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've had pretty good luck just spraying the little ant trails with windex and wiping them up. The Windex both kills the ants and destroys their scent trails, confusing those that follow. Generally a few days of this (with all food boxed up tightly) and they stop appearing.

I've never had a really serious infestation to deal with, so ymmv.
posted by rusty at 8:53 AM on July 29, 2008

Response by poster: majick, you're right, I'm just seeing randomly-wandering scout paths right now. In the past, whenever I found a trail, I would follow it to its source and spray borax in the hole. For the next couple of days, I'd just see the scouts. Then there would be another trail in a new place. I'd repeat with borax with the same result. That trail would stop, the scouts would return, and a new trail would form. I think the problem is that there are a zillion potential ways that ants can get into my apartment. It's an old building, there are lots of little cracks in the walls, spaces between walls and pipes, etc.

For the past two days, since I've been back in town, all I've seen is scouts -- no trails. So maybe the "pepper" worked and I'm seeing the lone survivors wander about. Maybe they'll die and that will be the end of it.

Thanks for all the advice, folks. If the ants persist, I'll buy some Terro.
posted by grumblebee at 9:20 AM on July 29, 2008

I did the same thing as rusty. One day I returned to my apartment to find my roommate's laundry basket covered with ants. I put the laundry on the porch, and wiped out the ant trail with some grapefruit-scented all-purpose-cleaner. Spraying the cleaner on the ants killed them instantly, and nothing else tried to get in.

Being infested with ants isn't fun... but it is fun to watch the fuckers die. Camofrog said it best: "a day later it's tumbleweeds blowing across your kitchen floor." After they die, they are light, crunchy, and blow around. So amusing.
posted by jrockway at 9:22 AM on July 29, 2008

We had an ant problem for years and nothing helped, I mean nothing. They would usually just find another point of entry into the apartment.

This is what we have done. Keep the kitchen pretty clean and wipe up any spills right away. Dishes get throughly rinsed with hot water right after eating. Anything going into the garbage with any food particles gets sealed up. We use cheap plastic bags to seal up the trash that ants might be interested in. I suppose you could just take the kitchen garbage out really frequently if you don't like the idea of adding so many plastic bags to the landfill. I also have a special hand vacuum (with a bag) that I suck any ants that I see into.

We did this a long time before it worked, but eventually I walked into the kitchen one day and noticed that I could not find a single ant.
posted by free pie at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2008

Oh, and also: all food in the cupboards gets sealed up. We use those chip clips to seal the bags inside any cereal boxes.
posted by free pie at 10:28 AM on July 29, 2008

The sweet borax syrup works because the foragers take it back and feed it to the queen. When she dies, the nest dies. But depending on the nest, it can take up to 4 weeks for the spring to completely unwind after the queen is dead. There are no new eggs, but existing eggs hatch and existing workers continue caring for the larvae, and so on. Eventually the ant that resulted from the last egg that was laid dies of old age, and then the nest is gone completely.
posted by Class Goat at 10:47 AM on July 29, 2008

" I think the problem is that there are a zillion potential ways that ants can get into my apartment. It's an old building, there are lots of little cracks in the walls, spaces between walls and pipes, etc. "

It won't dramatically reduce your scout problem, but may I suggest preemptive cinnamon or boric acid use in these places? If you can imagine a line of ants coming out of a place, stuff it full of ant repellent.

I'm in the "way too many scouts, with much rarer ant highway incursions" stage of de-anting a new home now, and it's taking weeks. I could probably reduce the time it takes to ditch the scouts with some poisoned ant bait, but waiting them out has worked before and it'll work this time.

I'm lucky not to be living in a shared building now, so I could reasonably bait and kill them outdoors before their incursions if the going got rough. If you've got access to the exterior of the building, a couple of sacks of ant bait might not be a bad investment. You'll see the greatest returns if you're living on the ground floor and ants are nesting outdoors and nearby as opposed to in the walls, obviously.

If you can, there's no harm in carrying the fight to them!
posted by majick at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2008

Response by poster: If you've got access to the exterior of the building, a couple of sacks of ant bait might not be a bad investment.

HUGE NYC apartment building (city block of solid building), top floor. :-(
posted by grumblebee at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2008

"HUGE NYC apartment building (city block of solid building)"

Don't take me as second guessing you, but... have you thought about talking to the building management? Pest control is in fact something most landlords are on the hook for in many places, particularly in shared buildings, and, hey, you're ON THE TOP FLOOR. If the ants are stacked high enough to reach you, there's probably a more serious underlying problem that your scouts are only barely indicative of.

I'm aware most apartment building management outfits are useless to the point of appearing maliciously so, but it's another avenue to explore, perhaps.
posted by majick at 2:18 PM on July 29, 2008

Response by poster: Our building has an exterminator that comes once a month. You have to sign up if you want him to come to your apartment. We signed up, he came, he put down the "pepper." He'll come again in about three weeks.

Actually, the ants appeared a couple of days after he came in June. We hadn't signed up back then, because we didn't have a problem. My guess is that ants descended on us because they'd previously been in someone else's apartment, and that apartment got a visit from Sgt. Pepper.
posted by grumblebee at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2008

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