Growing up on the Washington coast, we didn’t deal much with ants. We scratched at fleas, we were grossed out by spiders, we got bit by mosquitoes. But my only experience with the insatiable little buggers growing up was a traumatic one: I leaned for a minute against my grandmother’s laundry-line pole while talking to my parents in the back yard, and suddenly they were crawling all over me. I screamed bloody murder as my parents stripped off my clothes and batted them away. I was frightened to death of them until I became a teenager; their anthills gave me the heebie-jeebies.
I’ve met many families that don’t want to use harsh chemicals to kill bugs, because they’re afraid of poisoning their family and pets. It’s a valid concern; some pesticides can kill you. But an abundance of commercially available pesticides doesn’t mean you have to buy and use them. With many pests, knowing their natural predators and biological deterrents can go a long way in the fight against invasion. I’ll be writing a series of articles about pest deterrents, one at a time.
Ants are the bane of many houses; they seem innumerable and impossible to get rid of. But they aren’t as crafty as you think. Ants, like all insects, are motivated by food. The first thing to do, when you have an ant problem, is to clean up; if you have honey or syrup in the cupboard, put it in a bag you can seal (this also helps save your shelves.) Get rid of crumbs and sweep your floors. Encourage your children to help you (chances are, if you have small children, that they are a main source of crumbs around the house!) Make sure you vacuum your children’s rooms, too, or your room and floor if you like to eat in bed. The point is: keep food contained!
Then figure out where the ants are coming from. If you just see a random one once in a while, chances are you don’t have enough of a problem to worry about. An abundance, however, has a source. If you can’t find it, figure out where the ants like to hang out (I found that in the south, the daddy long-legs would set up shop close to ant sources; they are one of its natural predators.) Put cucumber slices, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, old coffee grounds, or mint leaves (cloves work too) around the area. You can also leave a night light in areas that don’t have them; doing this for a few days confuses the ants, who get used to looking for food in the darkness. Discouraging them this way can change their habits and get them to look elsewhere for sustenance.
Cinnamon and garlic also work well. If you have ants on a deck or porch, you can shove garlic cloves between slats in boards to keep them away. You can put cinnamon sticks on your windowsills or in the edges of your doorways, on shelves and in drawers. Cut off water sources- dry your sinks and surfaces.
Need a stronger ant attack? Apple cider vinegar makes a great spray for floors and counters where ants hang out. Apple cider vinegar will require its own blog post someday, because it’s just that great, but it is a natural insecticide that, considering the toxicity of others, is well worth the pungent smell.
Pay attention to where the ants go. If you put cloves or black pepper near them, they may beeline in a certain direction- this can provide helpful clues to how, exactly, they’re getting in your house.
If you’re a gardening type, add mint or rosemary to your garden, or keep the plants near your doorways or windowsills. Mint makes ants unable to detect certain smells. If you don’t have mint or rosemary, experiment with other pungent-smelling herbs, like tea tree or eucalyptus or thyme. Many herbs are natural pest deterrents; this is why we love them in our flower and vegetable patch!
The most important things to remember about pests is that they don’t merit your anger. They’re there because they’re looking to do what we all want to do: eat and sleep comfortably. It seems a little silly to me for a family to bug bomb their house when they don’t even want to sweep or clean the counters. Use your natural remedies as a lesson for your children and others about the interconnectedness of life, and most of all, be persistent! Bugs don’t show up overnight and they might not go away overnight either.
Peace and love.
Good references for natural ant control: