Few things are more horrifying than waking up to a kitchen full of ants. One of these critters picks up a whiff of food, sends out a bat signal to the rest of the colony, and before you know it, an army of ants has turned your home into a soup kitchen.
While it can be unsettling (and frankly, disgusting) to see that your counters transformed into a sea of wriggling brown bugs, you don’t have to let ants take over your home. There are safe and natural ways to get rid of these pests without putting your family or your food at risk.
Safe Ways to Get Rid of Ants Around Food
You want to get rid of the ants in your kitchen, but you don’t want to put your food at risk. Here are a few natural ant deterrents that are safe to use around food.
Most insects hate the smell of peppermint. Use this to your advantage by applying peppermint essential oil to your windows and doors. As an added bonus, the oil will make your home smell fresh.
If you don’t want to use essential oil, you can mix water and Dr. Bonners castile soap (mint aroma) at a 1:1 ratio in a spray bottle. Spray the solution onto the ants to kill them.
Baking Soda and Powdered Sugar
Baking soda and powdered sugar works in a similar way to get rid of ants, but is safer to use around food. The ants are attracted to the sweet powdered sugar, and the baking soda works its magic to get rid of the ants.
Just mix equal parts baking soda and sugar with just enough water to make a runny paste. The ants will be attracted to the bait, and bring some back home to the nest to share with other colony members.
Clean Up With White Vinegar
Once the ants have been eliminated from your kitchen, you’ll want to make sure they don’t come back. Ants leave a pheromone trail behind them each time they visit your house, so all the other ants know where to come get some food. To make sure this doesn’t happen we need to wipe away any traces the ants left behind.
When you are cleaning your kitchen, place some white vinegar on a sponge and wipe any areas visited by the ants. The white vinegar does a great job of wiping away any scent trails left by the ants. It also eliminates ohter pesky odors, leaving your kitchen smell fresh!
Depending on your type of countertop or floor, you want want to give the area a secondary wipe down with water so the vinegar doesn’t linger. Vinegar can cause a problem with with porous surfaces such as granite. See Good Housekeeping’s article on cleaning with vinegar for saftey tips and even more ways to use this handy product in your kitchen.
Common Ants Found in the Kitchen
Ants may all look the same to the naked eye, but there are many different species of ants that can invade your home. In fact, there are more than 16,000 recognized species and subspecies of ants.
The good news? Only a handful of species is interested in invading your kitchen.
Some of the most common species found in homes includes:
Odorous House Ants
The odorous house ant is one of the most common species found in homes. Black or dark brown in color, these are the ants you typically find skittering across your countertops.
If you find these guys in your home, they’re either scouting out food sources or looking for shelter from the rain.
Odorous ants are attracted to sugary foods and dead insects. They get their name from the strange smell they emit when they’re crushed – it smells like rotting food.
Ghost is a fitting name for these ants, which have pale legs and a nearly-transparent abdomen. They can be hard to see, especially if you have light-colored counters – but they can and do invade homes from time to time. This species is most commonly found in Florida, but they can survive in other climates as well.
Ghost ants love to eat sweets, and they’re often found in homes foraging for whatever sugary goods you may have lying around. Just like odorous house ants, these critters emit a rancid smell when they’re squished.
If you have giant ants in your kitchen, they’re probably carpenter ants – and they’re not after your food. Brown or black in color, these are some of the largest ants in the United States, and they rarely venture into homes.
These guys like to build nests in decaying wood, so if you see them inside of your home, that’s not a good sign. In this case, you want to have a professional come in to not only exterminate the ants, but also repair the decaying wood in your home.
If it looks like the ants in your kitchen are passing crumbs down the line, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Rover ants, which are very tiny, will pass food along like a conveyer belt.
Dark brown or pale blonde in color, these ants congregate in large numbers.
Why Do The Ants Keep Coming Back?
Why do ants keep coming back anyway? There are a few reasons you may be having trouble keeping these critters out of your home.
The first thing you should know is that ants leave a chemical trail behind when they find a food source. This trail guides other ants in the colony to the food source – almost like a road map or GPS. Once this trail is made, ants will continue invading your home until you destroy the trail, destroy the nest or get rid of the food source.
If you don’t eliminate food sources, ants will keep coming back. That’s why it’s so important to keep all of your food items stored away in airtight containers.
Removing food sources and cleaning your kitchen with a solution of half vinegar, half water will remove the chemical trail and any tiny crumbs you may have missed.
Another reason ants keep coming back is because they can. There’s a good chance you have cracks, crevices or gaps in your home that are giving these critters easy access to your humble abode. Sealing up these entryways with caulk or a foam sealant (for larger openings) will help keep these insects at bay.