It’s a compliment, I’m sure, the way ants are descending on my kitchen. The sticky sweet smell of homemade strawberry jam is irresistible if I do say so myself. But after watching them take an afternoon dip in my coconut oil I’m not feeling very hospitable.
I draw the line at coconut oil, y’all. This is officially an ant problem.
Certain spices, such as cinnamon and cayenne pepper, are thought to repel ants, but I haven’t had much luck with them. So this year, I dug around on some university entomology pages for effective alternatives to synthetic pesticides – here’s what I turned up!
How To Get Rid Of Ants Naturally
Before getting started with the methods below, it’s important to identify whether the invading ant species can cause other problems. My area has mostly odorous house ants and pavement ants, but there are carpenter ants in the region, too. They can cause structural damage to the home, so I used this identification guide to make sure I wasn’t dealing with them before moving forward.
Fortunately, fire ants don’t usually invade houses, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
1. Borax & Sugar Water
This method, combined with the Ant Spray below, is what’s worked best for me. The Borax/sugar water serves as ant bait that the scout ants take back to the colony, then the Borax does its work.
To use this method: Dissolve 1/2 cup of sugar and 1.5 tablespoons Borax in 1.5 cups warm water. Dip cotton balls in the mixture and place them in shallow containers around the affected area. Resist the urge to kill the ants that swarm because you need them to take the Borax back to the colony. After doing this a couple of times and cleaning the kitchen thoroughly our ants were completely gone.
Alternative: Some ants prefer protein to sugar, so if the cotton balls don’t work try mixing borax with some peanut butter and placing it in a few small dishes for the ants to find.
2. Essential Oils
When a forager goes out and discovers food, it marks the path from the food to the nest using a pheromone trail. Other ants, who smell with their antennae, then follow the path. Certain botanical scents help erase these scent trails so that the ants can’t return to food sources – here are a few of the most effective ones:
Peppermint Essential Oil
Not only does this one really work, it smells great to boot! It’s often used to support alertness and mental clarity. Not a bad oil to have around, huh?
To use: Place a few drops on a cotton ball and wipe on baseboards and other entry points. You can also leave a peppermint-infused cotton ball in cabinets and other areas as needed. Repeat every few days until ants are completely gone, or see below for how to use it as a spray.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree is a great all-purpose oil to have around. I use it as a disinfectant in homemade cleaners and a general antiseptic.
To use: Place a few drops on a cotton ball and wipe on baseboards and other entry points. You can also leave a tea tree-infused cotton ball in cabinets and other areas as needed. Repeat every few days until ants are completely gone, or see below for how to use it as a spray.
Clove Essential Oil
In addition to disrupting scent trails, clove oil kills ants on contact.
“Eugenol is a component of clove oil. It is a fast acting contact insecticide that is effective on a wide variety of household pests such as cockroaches, ants, dust mites, flies, wasps, spiders, crickets, and fleas. It is also used on some ornamental plant pests such as armyworms, thrips, aphids and mites.
Eugenol has little or no residual activity [meaning it’s effectiveness fades quickly], although the scent of cloves will linger. Products based on eugenol are considered minimum risk pesticides with very low risk of damage to the environment or user.” (1)
To use: Clove oil works best when mixed with another oil. It is very strong, so I recommend using it in very small amounts. See recipe below for ideas.
Lemon or Orange Essential Oil
Citrus oils contain d-limonene, which is toxic to ants. It also masks their scent trails. (Orange, lemon and grapefruit essential oils all contain d-limonene)
To use: Place a few drops on a cotton ball and wipe on baseboards and other entry points. You can also leave a citrus-infused cotton ball in cabinets and other areas as needed. Repeat every few days until ants are completely gone, or see below for how to use it as a spray.
Ant Away Spray
- 1/4 cup purified water
- 1/4 cup vodka (Used to help suspend the oil in the water. If you don’t have any available you can just use water and shake often)
- 15 drops peppermint essential oil
- 15 drops tea tree essential oil
- 7 drops citrus essential oil (orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc) OR 1-3 drops clove essential oil
Pour all ingredients into a small spray bottle.
How To Use The Essential Oil Ant Spray:
Shake bottle, then spray around baseboards, crevices and other other entry points for ants, plus anywhere you’ve seen ants. If you’re spraying on a food surface like kitchen countertops, omit the tea tree oil and add 15 drops peppermint oil. Repeat every few days until ants are completely gone.
3. Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is “an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (such as bed bugs, ants or fleas) it compromises their waxy coating so that their innards turn into teeny tiny bug jerky. But it doesn’t hurt mammals. We can eat it. ” (2)
And in fact many do. It’s rich in silica, which is good for hair and nails, and is thought to help clear parasites and bacteria, heavy metals, etc.
It’s also odorless and non-staining, and can be used safely indoors.
How To Get Rid of Ants With Diatomaceous Earth:
Gently sprinkle a thin layer in places ants are likely to be: on windowsills, beneath the fridge, under cabinets, garbage cans, etc.
Note: DE that is used to filter pools is not safe to breathe. Food grade DE is. More info here.
4. White Vinegar
Like essential oils, the smell of vinegar repels ants and also masks their scent trails. It is best used with another repellent, like citrus peels or essential oils.
How To Make Vinegar Spray:
Add 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup water to a spray bottle. Add 30 drops of one of the essential oils listed above, if desired. (If you are using clove oil, I recommend using just a few drops as it is very strong)
How To Use The Spray:
Shake the bottle, then spray your vinegar mixture around the baseboards and any known entry points, plus anywhere you’ve seen ants. Repeat every few days until ants are completely gone.
5. Citrus Peel Spray
How To Make Citrus Peel Spray:
Add peels to a pot, then pour in enough water to cover them. Or if you prefer, add 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar. Heat water/vinegar until steaming, then turn stove off. Allow to steep overnight, then strain and pour the liquid in a spray bottle.
How To Get Rid of Ants With Citrus Spray:
Shake bottle, then spray around entry points and baseboards. This spray is also ideal for use on most countertop surfaces. Repeat every day until the ants are gone.
6. Castile Soap
Like diatomaceous earth, soap also dissolves the waxy coating on the outside of the ant.
How To Make Bronner’s Soap Spray:
Fill a 1 quart spray bottle almost all the way to the top. Add 1/4 c. peppermint castile soap, attach nozzle, and shake gently to mix.
How To Use The Spray:
Shake bottle, then spray around baseboards and entry points for ants. Repeat daily until ants are completely gone.
7. Baking Soda & Powdered Sugar
This is the same as the boric acid/sugar method – the powdered sugar attracts the ants and the baking soda kills them. Mix 1 part sugar with 1 part baking soda and then place your mixture in shallow lids wherever you see ants. More details here.
8. Lemon Juice
Works for the same reason as vinegar. It is best used with another repellent, like essential oils.
How To Make Lemon Juice Spray:
Add half lemon juice and half purified water to a spray bottle. Optional: Add 15 drops of lemon, orange, peppermint or tea tree essential oil for every 1/4 cup.
How To Use The Spray: Spray around baseboards, entry points for ants and just about anywhere you’ve seen ants. Repeat every day until ants are completely gone.
Other Tips For Getting Rid of Ants In The House
These habits are helpful for both dealing with a current ant infestation and preventing a future one.
- Keep the kitchen sink and countertops clean and dry so that food residue does not attract ants
- Sweep and mop the floor daily until the infestation resolves
- Keep any food left out in airtight containers
- Empty kitchen trash cans regularly so that food smells don’t draw ants
- Keep pet food bowls clean and wipe up any food or water that is spilled
- Caulk any unnecessary entry points (weathered window seals, etc.)
How To Get Rid of Ants Outside
If you see anthills or ant colonies outside that could be the source of the issue, try pouring boiling water over it. The water will kill lots of ants and probably collapse the nest, which will encourage any that are left to relocate somewhere else.
Products Mentioned In This Post
- Peppermint essential oil
- Tea tree essential oil
- Clove essential oil
- Orange essential oil
- Lemon essential oil
- Diatomaceous earth
- Dr. Bronners soap
Do you have a tried-and-true method for keeping ants away?
Please share it below!
1. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. Less Toxic Insecticides. Retrieved from https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/less-toxic-insecticides/
2. Diatomaceous Earth (Food Grade): Bug Killer You Can Eat. Retrieved from https://richsoil.com/diatomaceous-earth.jsp
3. University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology
4. Texas A&M University Department of Entomology