Here's How to Get Rid of Ants in Your Home and Yard for Good

ants on table
Here's How to Get Rid of Ants, Indoors and OutChris Stein - Getty Images


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Most of the time, ants mind their own business in your backyard. They usually stay outdoors in the garden, living in massive social colonies where everybody has a job, from finding food to caring for the queen. Until they don't. "They’re not a problem until they’re marching across your counter," says Dan Suiter, PhD, urban entomologist with the University of Georgia Extension. "And there’s never just one ant."

The good news is they don’t carry disease, and only two types (fire ants and Asian needle ants) sting. Nevertheless, no one wants them as houseguests! And you might not want them hiding out in your grass either—especially when you go to pull out your Pioneer Woman picnic basket or if you have kids and dogs running around.

So, we've researched exactly how to get rid of ants in your home and yard. Here, you'll find a variety of solutions to keep your space ant-free. And if you need to get rid of other pests as well, check out how to get rid of gnats and how to get rid of mosquitoes so you can enjoy your summer without constant itching and swatting!

how to get rid of ants
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How to Get Rid of Ants Indoors

Find their food source.

“Generally, the ones that cause the most problems indoors are sweet ants, which are attracted to something such as a spilled soda or syrup,” says Suiter. “They never stop searching for food, day and night.”

If you see a single ant meandering around by itself, she’s looking for food (interestingly, all the ants you see out exploring are females!). Once she finds food, she drags her bottom to leave a trail of pheromones back to the colony so everyone else can find their way back to the bounty. Halt the party by cleaning up their food source, and spray a cleaning solution on the surface to wipe up and destroy the pheromone trail, says Suiter.

Set out ant baits.

It’s tempting to spray ants with insecticide, but it doesn’t really accomplish anything. “We call it revenge spraying. It feels good, but it’s not going to stop your problem,” says Suiter. “The root of the problem is the queen. Baits are like a smart bomb which target the whole nest.” Ant social structure involves food sharing, so when the ants discover the bait, they’ll feed, then pass it on to another ant, who passes it on to yet another ant—and hopefully, eventually the queen. This "cascade effect" is what you’re going for!

Baits come in liquid, gel, paste, or granule form, and some are enclosed in a plastic or metal container. Others you dab onto a napkin or piece of paper. It’s best to place baits outside near ant activity; if you put them indoors, you’re enticing them to come inside. Follow the label instructions exactly, and keep away from curious pets (the chemical concentration is minuscule, but pets could swallow packaging).

Give the ant bait time to work.

Within a matter of days, you should see a slow decline in the ant population. However, sometimes ants won’t like the bait! “Ants have palates, and if they don’t take the bait immediately, you’ll need to try a different formula,” says Suiter. “It’s not like they’re going to change their minds.” Read the label to identify the active ingredient, then replace with a different type of bait.

How to Get Rid of Ants Outdoors

Do some sleuthing.

How far ants will travel for food depends on the species, but it’s generally within about 25 feet of the nest. The colony is almost always found outside, so look around to identify where they’re foraging, says Suiter. Inspect leaf litter, under rotting logs, in mulch beds up against the house, or any area where it’s warm and damp. You’re not looking for a nest—just trying to find where they’re hanging out so you can try to eliminate potential hideouts.

Clean up.

Remove anything that harbors ants: Leaf or brush piles; mulch right up against the house; and clogged gutters. Cut back vegetation against the foundation of your house, and trim limbs that touch your home, which provide a highway for ants to head indoors. “Ants are 'edge-followers' and will trail along the edges of sidewalks or countertops, so eliminate any vegetation that touches the structure and gives them easy access to your home,” says Suiter.

Use repellants.

If you can’t get rid of mulch near your house, you can try repellants. Look for products containing essential oils such as spearmint, peppermint, and cedar. A granule that contains essential oils can be sprinkled over the mulch near your house, then watered in. Essential oil sprays also are available, applied with the hose, but they’re very short-acting.

Unfortunately, some ant colonies can be gigantic (hundreds of thousands of ants!), so even baiting won’t kill them all. You also have no idea where the queen is located—and even if you kill thousands, the queen only needs a few workers to support her and rebuild the colony. If baiting and cleaning up the environment near your home don’t relieve your ant problem, apply a spot treatment outdoors only with an appropriately labeled pest spray around windows, doors and foraging sites. Be persistent! It’s not a “once and done” exercise, says Suiter.

how to get rid of ants
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How to Keep Ants Away for Good

Seal entry points.

Make sure you don't have any cracks or crevices in your doors or windows for ants to crawl through by caulking and sealing those exposed areas.

Keep things tidy.

Sometimes the simplest things can help the most. For example, you'll want to properly contain ant-attracting sugary sweets like honey, syrup, and sugar. This also applies to pet food! You can use airtight containers and foil or plastic wrap to do this. On top of that, be sure you're regularly cleaning any areas where crumbs may fall and linger. You'll also want to take out the trash often and be sure your trash can isnt harboring any lingering residue that ants may be interested in.

When to call the pros

If you’re still not having luck despite all your efforts, professional pest control companies have other products at their disposal that aren’t available to the homeowner. Have faith! With patience and persistence, you can get rid of your uninvited guests.

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