Sunday, September 7, 2008
Few pests are harder to get rid of than ants once they've established themselves in your home. If you're tired of stumbling upon a swarm of ants on a regular basis, you'll need to make a concentrated effort to keep these uninvited guests away. This article will review every course of action available to you--why it works, whether it's safe around pets and kids, and how to do it properly. == Steps == Shut down the ant buffet. The reason ants are coming into your humble abode is because it's a free-for-all (or at least it was at some point in the past, and they're hoping it might be again). The cleaner you keep the house, the less they'll have to eat, and the more they'll look elsewhere for goodies. Wipe down all surfaces. Tables and counter tops should be regularly sprayed and cleaned with a mild bleach or vinegar solution. Sweep, mop and vacuum regularly. Put food in air-tight containers. This has the added bonus of keeping the food fresher. Keep the sink clean: no dirty dishes, no standing water for ants to drink, no food in the drain. Put pet food bowls in a slightly larger bowl and add some water to the larger bowl, creating a moat around the pet food that the ants can't cross (too bad you can't put one of those around your house!). A lone ant brings home the bacon--or in this case, the cat foodSquish the scouts. Colonies regularly send out lone ants to check for food sources. If you see an individual ant strolling across your coffee table, don't let it make it back to the nest alive. It'll tell the colony where you spilled the apple juice. If the scout made it back to the nest and brought back some friends, they'll be following a scent trail, single file. Unless you're ready to bait them as described below, kill them all. Quickly. Spray the trail with all purpose cleaner or a bleach solution, then wipe it up with a wet paper towel. Only do this if you can get them all, however, because spraying like a mad man might encourage them to split up, go home, and establish new colonies. For a less hands-on solution, vacuum them all up, then vacuum some talcum powder or diatomaceous earth to finish them off. Barricade your home. Since ants are tiny, they can find thousands of tiny doorways into your residence. Some of them of are easy to identify; others will only be discovered when there's a parade of ants of marching through them. Seal windows, doors, and any cracks the ants crawl through with caulk. An additional benefit with this is better temperature control and lower energy bills. Plus, it's the least risky method when kids or pets are involved. Line suspected entryways with deterrent substances. Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder that kills ants by pulling all the moisture from their bodies. Since it's so absorbent, however, it's only effective in dry environments. You also don't want anyone in the house (pets included) sniffing it up. Talc in various forms is presumed to deter ants, although the mechanism is poorly understood. Tailor's chalk and baby powder usually contain talc and can be used to create a barrier for ants. Regardless of which form of talc you use, keep in mind that there are concerns about the potential carcinogenicity of talc, although baby powder is used by many parents nonetheless.*Many sources recommend using normal chalk, but this is made of gypsum, not talc, and could be the result of confusion with "ant chalk" (an insecticide that looks just like normal chalk; outlawed in the US in the '90s, but still sold in Chinatowns illegally).*Some baby powder brands are made of corn starch and will not work effectively against ants. Check the ingredients. Cornmeal can be used as a weapon against ants, and it's not poisonous to people or animals. Ants eat it and after consuming water, the cornmeal swells inside their digestive organs, causing them to die. Dried clovesYou can also apply scents and substances that ants simply don't like for various reasons: vinegar, peppermint oil, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne pepper, whole cloves, and bay leaves. Some of these might be harmful to pets and irritating to curious children. Excavated ants' nestBring down the nest. If ants continue to raid your home, you're going to have to raid theirs--except that you're too big to get inside. If you're able to locate the nest, however, you can pour several gallons of boiling water into it and that'll be that. But if you don't know where they're coming from, your only alternative is to bait them. Commercial bait product at workPick your poison. Mixing boric acid powder or borax with sugar water is the most common bait (that is what a popular commercial ant poison, Terro, basically consists of). Boric acid affects ants both externally (when in powder form; similar to diatomaceous earth) and internally (when ingested). The ants bring the poison (borax or boric acid) with them to the colony and spread it around. If you get the quantity and timing just right, you can wipe out a large colony, but it might take several weeks to a few months. A bait that's too strong will kill the ants before they make it home, and a bait that's too weak will only weaken the colony temporarily, so here are some recipes that people have had success with:*1 cup water, 2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons boric acid*3 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar and 4 teaspoons of boric acid. Remove any deterrents (from previous steps) and wait for the ants to show up. Don't lure new ants with the bait; you could attract new colonies. Once there's a trail, place the bait next to it (not on it, or else you'll interrupt their march home). If you have pets and/or children around (see Warnings below) put the bait in a jam jar. Screw the lid tightly and seal with adhesive tape. Pierce two or three small holes in the lid, and smear the outside with a little bit of unpoisoned bait. If you're concerned about the jar getting knocked over and the poisoned bait spilling out, loosely pack the inside with cotton balls. Just to cover all the bases, leave out some peanut butter bait as well (peanut butter mixed with borax or boric acid powder). Ants' cravings vary depending on the needs of the colony (sometimes they want sweets, sometimes they want something oily) so providing both will increase the likelihood that they'll take the bait. Give them as much fresh bait as they'll take, replenishing it as needed, and let them bring it back to their nest (no squishing or killing!). Once they've had their fill, remove all bait; you don't want to attract a neighboring colony.