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House Ant Control

- How to safely control ant pests -

Summary: Certain ants commonly invade homes looking for food and water. These ants are generally small and can be a nuisance but cause little damage. Use sanitation and insecticidal baits to keep them under control. Don't use aerosol ("spray can") insecticides.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

House infesting nuisance ants

There are a few species of small brown ants that commonly invade homes. These house-infesting ants include odorous house ant, Argentine ant,and pharaoh ant and a few others. These small ants are difficult for homeowners to tell apart but fortunately exact identification is not necessary for effective control. The good news is household nuisance ants generally do not cause damage and pose no particular health risk.

All ants live in colonies dominated by an egg-laying queen and worker ants (females) forage outside the colony for food. Typically, ants are attracted to a variety of food types including carbohydrates (sugars), proteins (meats), fats and oils. Colonies, or "nests", are located in protected places in walls, under floors, under cabinets, and such and individual colonies can be quite large with thousands of ants.

ants attracted to liquid ant bait

Worker ants feeding on liquid ant bait. Ants consume the bait and take it back to their nest where it disrupts the colony. Photo by E.A. DeAngelis.


House ant control

Your first step should be sanitation. Clean up crumbs, cooking oil, and all sources of water. This alone will go a long way toward reducing ant problems by depriving foraging ants of food and water. Also, patch holes around pipes and wires that pass into the living space. Ants use these "highways" to gain entry from colonies located in walls, the crawlspace, and so forth.

Next, use ant bait to suppress or eliminate colonies. Do not use conventional aerosol insecticides as these can be messy and ineffective. Insecticidal sprays can actually make matters worse by causing colonies to disperse and by blocking access to bait placements.

Effective ant baits are available commercially as liquids, gels and granules, liquid baits can even be homemade (see Using Homemade Ant Baits). Place liquid and gel baits near ant activity and trails, granular baits can be used outside around the perimeter of structures and in similar places (see below).


Baits work better than sprays

Baits work much better than conventional insecticides because of the unique way worker ants feed the colony, including the queen. When a foraging worker locates food she returns to the colony and recruits other workers to the food source. The recruited workers collect food (see photo above) in a special pouch called a crop and return to the colony where they feed other ants, a process called "trophallaxis". Because of this behavior the most effective baits are slow acting, giving the worker time to get back to the nest and pass the poisoned bait to other colony members, and eventually the queen. Conventional insecticides disrupt this behavior and can render baits ineffective.

Many small infestations can be controlled with inexpensive liquid baits that are available commercially and can even be homemade. Larger, difficult-to-control infestations should be treated with granular baits on the outside and gel baits inside homes. Granular baits can be used to treat large outdoor areas such as the perimeter of a building. Gel baits can be used indoors as spot treatments. See the package instructions that come with each product for use details.

Every situation will be a little different but if you notice ants outside that seem to be moving toward the house then treating the outside perimeter with a granular bait such as Advance Granular or Maxforce Granular may be needed. These baits can also be used for general ant control outdoors. If you've tried liquid bait indoors and still have a problem then gel baits like Maxforce Gel, Advion Gel or Optigard Gel may be the answer. Each gel has a different active ingredient and food component so a little experimentation on your part may be needed.

Control of Common Nuisance House Ants With Baits

(1) Place baits near ant activity, do not contaminate area with insecticide. You can initially place a plain, sugary bait (no insecticide) to train workers to the placement. If ants appear to be feeding on bait, as in photo above, replace plain bait with one laced with insecticide. For small infestations use ready-made, or home-made, liquid boric acid baits. But, for large, stubborn infestations use commercial gel or granular baits, both are available here (DoMyOwnPestControl.com).

(2) Replace individual stations when they are exhausted or completely consumed.

(3) Within a week the number of ants should be significantly lower.


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Jack DeAngelis, PhD,  , email:  [email protected]

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