How to get rid of ants (Without calling an exterminator)

How to get rid of ants (Without calling an exterminator)

I Hate Ants.

At our old house, Kris and I were constantly at war with the little devils. Every time we suffered another invasion, every time they managed to find the pantry, every time they discovered the cat food, every time they ruined my chocolate chip cookies, I would berate them with colorful euphemisms.

Eventually, it got so bad that we had to bring in an exterminator. It seemed crazy to hire an exterminator to deal with little sugar ants, but nothing else we tried would work. So we plopped down $100 every three months to keep the ants under control. (It may not have been $100 for each visit — Kris thinks it could have been $300.) It didn't really help. After the exterminator visited, the ant problem would subside for a couple weeks, but then we'd be right back at war with them again.

Sad but true: the ants were one of the reasons I wanted to move out of that house.

I Hate Ants.

We've been lucky at our new house. In the almost four years that we've lived here, we haven't had an ant problem.

Then on Tuesday night, Kris asked, “Why is there an ant highway at the bottom of the stairs?” In our secret couple-language, an “ant highway” is the long teeming swarm of ants running from their point of origin to whatever it is they've decided they're hungry for. Kris followed the ants to their destination; I traced them to their source. They were traveling through four rooms to find their treasure: a sticky mess I had made on the kitchen floor. There were hundreds (thousands?) of ants feasting on a hunk of goo.

I berated the little bastards with colorful euphemisms.

But I didn't call the exterminator. Kris and I are older and wiser now. We've learned that we don't have to pay $100 to get rid of ants. Instead, we use about one dollar's worth of a single product: Terro. I hate ants, but I love Terro.

What is Terro?

Terro is essentially borax mixed with sugar water. You can buy a small bottle for about five bucks at your local hardware store or supermarket. When your home is invaded by ants, you take a business card and sprinkle it with drops of Terro. You place the business card near whatever it is the ants are devouring, and then you wait. It may take a day. It may take two. And during that time, the ants will swarm all over the area (keep adding more Terro!), but gradually they'll carry this sticky sweet poison back to their nest, and the entire colony will perish like some freakish doomsday cult. It's delightful.

Is it possible to spend even less to get rid of ants? The Frugal Life has a large list of tips for getting rid of ants. Kris and I have tried most of these. They didn't work for us. Some of them (like cinnamon or cayenne pepper or soap) deterred the ants for a while or thwarted their immediate goal, but they didn't actually address the root problem, which is the fact that we had a nest (or two) of ants outside our house. Terro does this. And for whatever reason, we've never had luck spraying the little critters with Raid (or other chemicals). (Though doing so is very cathartic.)

Yes, this post reads like a product endorsement. I don't care. Nobody paid me to write this. I'm just grateful for a product that can save me so much money. And kill the damn bastards that invade my home.

Flickr photo by sbfisher.

Addendum: I have the best readers in the world. Your comments are great. And, via Michael, here's a short story called “Leinegen Versus the Ants”. Those of us who have been there can sympathize!

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Ben @ Trees Full of Money
Ben @ Trees Full of Money
12 years ago

I HATE ANTS!!

We had this exact same problem! I was away on business and talking to my wife on the phone. She heard our 19month old daughter in the den yelling uck! uck! uck!

My wife ran in and found ants everywhere! Of course there was nothing I could do at the time so she had her father come over and spray RAID everywhere. along the inside basement foundation. This was a month ago, and so far no more ants! If they comeback, I’m “looking forward” to trying out the Terro!

So
So
7 years ago

So, is your wife completely unable to kill ants herself? Jeez.

Libby
Libby
6 years ago
Reply to  So

She probably wanted to take her child out of the house…and you care why?

tami
tami
5 years ago

We have tried everything and nothing is getting rid of them. Raid Borax and other products are not working now what?

Greg
Greg
5 years ago
Reply to  tami

I tried Advion Ant gel and it worked like a charm, they come running out all over it eat and disappear, you just have to have some patience, if theres alot of colonies you need to apply more often. I got it under control in 3 days and have not seen an ant in several months. Just follow the instructions on application. It is far less toxic to humans than raid.

Katybeth
Katybeth
12 years ago

I am sending this to my parents, who wage a huge New Mexico war against ants each year. Although, if it works I’m not sure what my dad will find to do with his time.

Thank you!

Starving Artist
Starving Artist
12 years ago

Um, JD? When I get ants, I usually find that it’s something I forgot to clean up, so I just make sure to scrub the kitchen down. Cleanliness is next to antlessness, as they say.

You want to know what freaks me out, however? I live in a really nice garden level apartment, very dry, large and plentiful window, hardwood floors. It’s beautiful. Except every other month, I find a BIG EARTHWORM writhing on my carpet. I have no idea where they come from, but man, they give me the screaming phantoids.

Mrs. B
Mrs. B
6 years ago

I just finished spraying all those pesty little critters in my kitchen. apparently they like the brand of cat food I get. I’m going to the store NOW to get Terro!

Robert
Robert
12 years ago

Getting rid of the food/sticky-stuff-on-the-floor that the ants are eating is a surprisingly effective tactic–and it’s free…

Josh
Josh
12 years ago

I read somewhere that if you put water in an old tin – like a tuna can – and put that under the legs of a table, the ants can’t get to the table. Of course, the ants can take over the rest of the house…

p.s. That photo is going to give me nightmares! 🙂

Momma
Momma
12 years ago

Rather than spend money on boric acid, try $.02 worth of corn meal! Sprinkle corn meal wherever you see ants. They take it back into the hills, everyone eats it, it swells up and kills them. No more ants. No harm to pets or children. No toxins to clean up. Just a Momma’s tip.

Syrie
Syrie
7 years ago
Reply to  Momma

Yeah, tried this, it DID NOT WORK. Believe me, I take care of my elderly stroke-victim mother in her own home, to make sure that she gets the care that she needs, NOT what is provided at a nursing care facility. She has to wear disposable underwear & we have pads on her bed, so we have a problem with ants, but I didn’t want to put out poison, as we have pets & small nieces & nephews that frequently visit. I was told about the corn meal method, tried it for an entire month, but would come in &… Read more »

Mary Jean
Mary Jean
7 years ago
Reply to  Syrie

I tried it and it did not work at all. The stuff was terrible, what a waste of money. I went back on this site and realized that this reading was AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR TERRO!! WAKE UP EVERYONE THIS IS A PAID SPONSORSHIP.

Ant Hater
Ant Hater
7 years ago
Reply to  Mary Jean

Taro does not work.

I have used many bottles of Taro in an attempt to do away with the sweet-loving ants that infest my house. As yet I have had only limited temporary success on occasion.

I hat ants and truly want to destroy the colony. Taro does not work.

Ned F
Ned F
7 years ago
Reply to  Mary Jean

Why such an angry response just because it didn’t work for you? Methinks she doth protest too much. Maybe it works for some but not others, it’s cheap… I think worth a shot.

Colleen
Colleen
5 years ago
Reply to  Mary Jean

Ant Hater, maybe it didn’t work for you because taro is a root vegetable used to make poi. Terro is liquid ant bait. Try that, not a tropical potato.

Deb
Deb
5 years ago
Reply to  Syrie

We’ve had an infestation of two types. Ghost (little white/beige butts) and regular black ants. Instead of buying that Terra – which is borax and sugar water, I bought Borax and mixed it with double amount of sugar. ie. half cup of borax 1 cup of sugar and the same amount of water as the borax – so in this example half cup of water. boil the mixture down – if there’s too much borax, the ants sense it and won’t eat. It took about 3 days for the black ants. now the ghost ants are eating up. I’m going… Read more »

Rog
Rog
1 year ago
Reply to  Deb

Now when you say boil the mixture down how long do I boil it? It’s been on for a few minutes now and was turned a dark yellow color after being very clear

FrugalJane
FrugalJane
12 years ago

Try talcum powder (or even talcum deodorant for hard to get places). It keeps the ants out and is more environmentally friendly and cheaper.

kodi
kodi
7 years ago
Reply to  FrugalJane

tried to talc/baby powder….it doesn’t keep them away

Cairsten
Cairsten
12 years ago

My product that I swear by, not just for ants, but for any hard-shelled pest, is diatomaceous earth. Sprinkle that liberally around, sit back, and wait. Pests crawl over it, it makes cuts in their carapace, and they die of dehydration — the pest equivalent of bleeding out. Best of all, it’s not poisonous, so perfectly safe for areas where food, pets, and children need to co-exist with it.

Jen
Jen
7 years ago
Reply to  Cairsten

Agreed! DE (diatomaceous earth) is a fabulous solution for anyone who wants a foolproof pest-fighter that is actually safe enough to eat *and* costs way less than an exterminator.

Caveat: You must buy food-grade DE (available on Amazon), not pool-grade. The difference is in the much higher percentage of cancer-causing silica in the pool grade. Food grade is safe to eat, breathe, touch, and even rub on your pets in flea season.

Nicholas Jordan
Nicholas Jordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Jen

I am interacting with one “Wizzie” Brown who is A&M Extension Service – she says DE is not greatly effective for the S. Invicta that I am fighting though says that Laundry Grade Borate – Borax, or sodium tetraborate; Must be applied in a sheen that ants will eventually carry into the nest; For the species I am battling the mound is only a trash-dump and they come up just where ever they please

David
David
12 years ago

Thanks. I’ve had to use something similar but more chemical in nature. Same basic principle. Raid is a temporary and worthless solution because it doesn’t destroy the nest. (We get them in the walls here in my apartment building.)

I put the solution near their entrance and then use my special technique to get rid of the invaders: The vacuum.

If your vacuum is the least bit powerful, the suction will kill the ants. Killed and cleaned in one swoop, no chemicals.

Abbie
Abbie
12 years ago

I’ve had luck with lavender as a spider repellent (damn things like to show up on the wall next to my bed and scare the bejesus out of me) and I’ve read that bay leaves are also effective if left on windowsills.

Lavender is also a good alternative to cedar protecting wool items from the dreaded moths. I knew there was a reason it was one of my favorite scents.

Kelly
Kelly
5 years ago
Reply to  Abbie

Thanks for the giggle….u sound like me 🙂

D.C.
D.C.
10 months ago
Reply to  Kelly

I have the little tiny black ants. I find them on my kitchen counter. Can’t find where they are coming from. I have tried borax mixture, terro, corn meal, cinnimon oil. Nothing works except orkin and I cant afford them. I had ants in the past and all of the above worked, but they were the larger variety. These ants are so tiny they are hard to see. I need something guys! I’ll try anything, even an exorcisim if it will work.

fiveberies
fiveberies
12 years ago

I’m not a violent person, but there is nothing that gives me more glee than watching an ant die. Or carry poison back to their home. We’ve battled them, too, and I’m totally on board with the Terro inside, and we use the diatomaceous earth on the outside (Make sure it stays dry!).

I hate ants. We had them so badly at this house, I would wake up during the night and fling off my covers and turn on all the lights, because I was dreaming that they were crawling all over me.

I hate ants.

mark
mark
5 years ago
Reply to  fiveberies

As I write this I am looking at about 800 small tiny ants on my window seal eating Tero. I have been fighting them since mid April in in WV. It is now mid October and the temperature is about 50 degrees but they wont give up. Through all this misery I had to tell you I never laughed so hard when you said you felt them crawling on you and threw off your blankets because that’s exactly what I did 2 nights ago.

deepali
deepali
12 years ago

I’m with Cairsten. Diatomaceous earth is basically ground up fossils, but so fine that it won’t harm your pets or kids. Kind of like eating dirt. I’ve sprinkled it around the baseboards of the house and nary a pest in site (works well for roaches!).

Cats are also good pest catchers…

Annie
Annie
12 years ago

I agree with Momma. We used grits for ants–just sprinkle it on top of the ant hill. Very effective and cheap!

julie
julie
12 years ago

what a great post! thanks for the info!!!

Miranda
Miranda
12 years ago

Thanks for the great tip! We actually get hobo spiders where we are. We have an exterminator that uses organic chemicals come and treat the inside and outside of our home to keep the arachnids out. I think it’s been keeping the ants out, too.

Jarick
Jarick
12 years ago

Terro works wonders for me. Just have to watch the beagle around it.

And keeping a clean kitchen and having well-sealed doors and windows is key to preventing the problem in the first place, but not everyone has those luxuries…

Dustin
Dustin
12 years ago

If you can find their nest, boiling water works wonders. Just boil up a pot of water and dump it on the nest. They’ll cook up in a matter of seconds and be gone. Not to mention it’s safe for the kids, the dog, the cat, the hamster. Just keep them away for a bit until it cools off.

Steven
Steven
12 years ago

Haha! I take it you don’t like ants JD.

Starving Artist, how in the world does an earthworm get in your house?

The worse problem that I had was a small snake in the middle of my dining room floor. That was scary.

Wesley
Wesley
12 years ago

Terro, huh? Sounds much cheaper than the Sevendust I’ve been using. Sevendust definitely does the trick, but at $5 a bag, Terro’s got it beat.

Thanks for the tip!

Josh
Josh
12 years ago

Momma – good suggestion. Seeing as the cornbread I make is not edible, I may as well give the cornmeal to the ants.

Rob Mammenga
Rob Mammenga
8 years ago
Reply to  Josh

Im glad I found this. Its a broken record, I have ants AGAIN! The numbers are biblical. Terro did kill them when they came in, but they just keep coming! I clean up piles of em, but it never stops until winter. Got a few ideas from here, CORN MEAL, who knew? Wish I knew that a few years and a few hundred dollars ago. Im trying that TODAY!
Thanx, to the author of this site. You ROCK!
Rob in Lexington, Il.

Vered@MomGrind
12 years ago

The Terro liquid worked for us, except for one persistent, recurring nest where we had to use the Terro ant dust. I wasn’t too happy about it, since it’s poisonous, but the liquid just didn’t do it. The ant dust solved the problem within a few hours.

Gwen
Gwen
12 years ago

I live in Texas and my house came with every pest known to man. Roaches, termites, various kinds of ants, spiders: big and hairy or small, slugs, gecos, lizards and my favorite, the snake. The termites were treated before I moved in, no activity, they’re gone. Then one kind of ant moves into their old homes. Sugar ants appear in the kitchen. Slugs (in a drawer? WTF?) won’t go away. The pink, small gecos are fine. They give my cats entertainment. The larger lizards scare the cats. The dead baby copperhead in my kitchen….um…. not a fan of that one… Read more »

AntHunterExtrordinaire
AntHunterExtrordinaire
7 years ago
Reply to  Gwen

Sounds like you’ve got some real problems! I have a recurring ant problem, and the Terro cut them down majorly last year, but they have come back in force this spring. I’m back to using terro, and am going to get some boric acid and make a little stronger batch (I’ll get those little bastards) and see what happens. On red ants I used some yellow crystals of ant poison (can’t remember the name) and they would kill multiple colonies within 2 hours, but the little house ants were too small to deal with it so it didn’t work for… Read more »

Steve
Steve
12 years ago

If Terro is borax + sugar, can you just make your own cheaper?

denise
denise
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Yes, you can make your own Borax and sugar. You mix it with a little water. The ants will come to it and after about 3 days, they begin to dwindle. I’ve used Terro. Not sure if it’s more effective than my mix. I need to try it again.

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

my grandmother swears by terro. we haven’t had ant problems too much- but i’m a super neat freak and all food items are stored in airtight containers.

(we had various food contamination problems when i was a kid…)

ChazFrench
ChazFrench
12 years ago

My favorite and affordable product is called “Grants Kills Ants” You stick it in the ground or behind an appliance along the “Ant Highway” and they start eating the jelly contained inside the metal casing. That jelly has poison in it and they carry it back to the hive and eat it, and since ants eat their dead, it spreads quickly.

The entry hole to the jelly is too small for pets or children. but you should be careful regardless.

Get a Grip Girl
Get a Grip Girl
12 years ago

Made me laugh…can almost feel your frustration JD

Movingonup
Movingonup
12 years ago

Terro rules! I had the same problem about 10 years and nothing worked. I’ve been using it since then.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Okay, wise guys. Obviously my messiness is the source of the ants, at least in this case. (When we lived at the old house, they had a super-human (or super-antian) ability to get into anything food related.) And cleaning the mess up does make it so they’re not clustered in that spot. But they’re still always scouting for more stuff in their nefarious ant-like ways. Ugh, I hate them. @Momma Does the cornmeal really work? I hadn’t heard that one before. It sounds like it’s an urban myth. But if you promise me you’ve tried it, I might take a… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
12 years ago

How ironic…we have a really bad ant problem here too. I went outside and poisoned all the nests I could find, but these things will not subside. I’ve tried all my usual tactics and nothing. So today my Mom says that she got some new stuff for me to try. And guess what it is? Terro. I had never heard of it until today and now you write this little post on it. Last I had checked, one ant was eating it, but I’m hoping they give in to peer pressure…all the cool ants are eating it. 🙂

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

I feel like I should have a “Get Rich Slowly product page” where I hawk those things I feel most strongly about. Like Terro. And, well, Terro. (Have I really raved about another item before? The Kill-a-Watt electricity usage meter? Programmable thermostats? Surely there’ve been a couple of other things?)

john (Nifty News & Decent Deals)
john (Nifty News & Decent Deals)
12 years ago

Thanks for the tip. We get an occasional visit from tiny ants every now and then, usually for the same reason (someone, usually me, spilled something). I’ll have to give this a shot next time. Any idea if this is pet safe? Some stuff is okay after it dries. Perhaps not with the Borax. I like this bit from Amazon: “Attracts and kills all common household ants including argentine ants, ghost ants, cornfield ants, pavement ants, acrobat ants, white footed ants, little black ants, odorous house ants, crazy ants, big headed ants and other sweet eating ants.” I think I’d… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

Oh, I hear ya! Last year, we just about went NUTS trying to get rid of the ants that invaded every single freaking night without fail. Like you, we eventually found something that worked, but we found another cheap solution as well: We used that blue painters’ tape to seal off every point of entry we could find. We just didn’t want any kind of chemicals *in* the house because we had a young child who was still crawling then. Using the tape inside and the pesticides outside worked like a charm.

John
John
12 years ago

Does anyone have thoughts about cheap ways to kill cockroaches? Killing them slowly and painfully would be most satisfying, but really anything that will keep them from coming back is good.

@JD,
Would you include Bacon Salt on the product page? My life has been changed for the better from buying Bacon Salt on your recommendation.

kristi
kristi
6 years ago
Reply to  John

Bay leaves repelled cockroaches for me. I moved into a new apt and they bombed to no avail. Someone told me to break large leaves into 2-3 pieces and toss around…after less than a day I didn’t see any. I now have them all around the house in conspicuous spots. (Behind beds, dressers, tv centers, under couches etc.) Every 3 mos or so I vacuum up the old ones and put out new ones. Going on 4 yrs and never seen one. You can buy them in bulk and makes it cheap. ***Bay leaves are poisonous if consumed (for humans… Read more »

Julie
Julie
12 years ago

Thank you! Thank you! I am totally stopping at Lowe’s on my way home.

danielle
danielle
12 years ago

now if someone can just tell me how to get rid of the squirrels in my attic 🙁

June Bonfield
June Bonfield
6 years ago
Reply to  danielle

At our other house we were surrounded by black walnut trees. The squirrels thought the house was a den ….they cost us thousands of dollars in damage and exterminators ….UNTIL I bought a trap….I filled a garbage can with water…trapped the squirrel ….with gloves on I picked up the trap and put it in the water filled garbage can put the lid on the can. after a while I got rid of the dead squirrel and repeated the action over and over again…..when a squirrel was in the trap all the other squirrels stayed far away….

Michael
Michael
12 years ago

J.D., don’t forget Bacon Salt.

I recommend everyone who dislikes ants read the short story, “Leiningen versus the Ants.”

Beth
Beth
12 years ago

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who did like ants. I am so thankful for the advice, I have a roommate who has a bad habit of leaving plates of food on our kitchen counter. He might as well be inviting the buggers in through the front door!

Jennifer
Jennifer
12 years ago

Ha! Terro is great! A couple summers ago I told my sister about our ant problem, and she gave me those pre-filled plastic Terro traps. It wasn’t sugar ants we had; it was these giant ants that just roamed the house. I’m used to sugar ants being attracted to stuff I leave out, but that didn’t appear to be the motivation behind these giant black ants wandering around and freaking me out. Their nest was somewhere in the walls of our house. I found a higher-traffic area, set out one of the traps, and pretty soon, the entire plastic trap… Read more »

Glen
Glen
12 years ago

Since I already use borax for cleaning and laundry, I just mix it up with some peanut butter and put it in an area my cat can’t get to. The ants will swarm on the paste for about a day, but after that, no more ants.

I also spray Poison-Free Ant and Roach spray by Victor (a cedar-based product) in those areas that my cat can get to (like near his food bowl). Not as effective as borax in the long term, but keeps the ants away for a day or two.

GEMMERZZ
GEMMERZZ
12 years ago

Hmm, I hadn’t heard of this product yet! Baby powder has worked tirelessly for me, though I’ve never had such a large crowd of ants.

Missy
Missy
12 years ago

We buy a big bag of generic powdered sugar and a box of Borax (found in the laundry detergent aisle). You mix equal parts (usually a tsp.) together and put into a lid (from the recycle bin of course). Then put it where the ants are. No liquid, easy peasy. No more ants.

Plus, it is cheap.

Ed
Ed
12 years ago

When I started reading the post, I thought “I wonder if he’s tried Terro”! I completely agree with the recommendation of Terro. The first day or so you’ll see the huge pile of ants at the Terro, streaming to and from the nest, and think “What have I done?”, but just wait, you’ll be happy. As to the recommendation to try to make your own, I tried that before I found Terro (I didn’t know until this post that it was borax), and it didn’t work for me. For $5 for a bottle that will last for years, I’ll go… Read more »

Bill
Bill
12 years ago

Terro is the bomb! I’ve used it myself and it works. I used to live on an anthill, in an apartment, so no matter how clean I was, it didn’t matter because one of the neighbors would always invite the damn little super-human ants in. My roommate really hated ants.

I just hated the mess. And I abhor RAID and other sprays…

99k
99k
12 years ago

Wow! I have never heard of Terro! I wish I had! Luckily, we haven’t had any ant problems in this house either, but I’m right there with you on the hatred of ants. Ugh.

Ana
Ana
12 years ago

Hee! I loved this post. My family have been waging wars against ants as long as I can remember. I now live on the 8th floor and apparently the little blighters are too lazy to walk up that high, but I dread the day I’ll have to live near the ground again. My mother has tried just about everything, but I’ll copy down all these tips in case there’s something new. Josh (#5) wrote: “I read somewhere that if you put water in an old tin – like a tuna can – and put that under the legs of a… Read more »

Heidi
Heidi
12 years ago

Great post JD… I too am mostly a pacifist (I even feel kind of bad when my mom kills the snails in her garden, even though I understand why she has to do it), but nothing creeps me out quite like an ant-swarm >:(

My husband and I have been dealing with ants lately, and the Terro works wonders… ironically, in response to those who post about “keeping the area clean”? Our ants have completely ignored ALL of our food mess, and are going straight for water! So now we give them tasty poison to drink instead >:)

Naurhir
Naurhir
12 years ago

I am a big fan of the Terro pre-filled traps myself. I have had little ant-motels by Raid and Contact, and other companies, but most ants here (Phoenix, AZ) are attracted to them. Insert Terro, and I don’t have any more issues.

I on the other hand, would love to hear what people use for scorpions. We see them inside at least once a week and the little buggers hurt. We use a black light + raid outside on our cinderblock walls to kill the ones we find, but we are losing the war.

lori
lori
12 years ago

The ONLY thing that really works is to kill a ton of them all along the path where they are traveling. I just use a piece of paper and put it on top of the trail and smash them and leave their dead bodies there. They will all be gone in several days. I’ve tried everything and this works every time and it’s VERY cheap!!!!! The other ants quickly get the message and stay away.

MrsMoney
MrsMoney
12 years ago

I have ants in my bathroom!! I have no idea how or why they are there but they are so annoying. Thanks for this tip!! 🙂

icup
icup
12 years ago

$33 a month isn’t bad. That’s a little cheaper than I pay for my exterminator. They come once a quarter, and I don’t have to ever see any bugs. I consider it part of the cost of owning a house.

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