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How to Get Rid of Ants Safely and Without an Exterminator

Written by Nickel - 70 Comments

Summer is here, which means that it’s time to deal with all sorts of creepy, crawly critters. With four kids in the house, we’ve had to deal with our fair share of ants in the past — though it’s been less of an issue as the kids have gotten a bit older and a bit less messy. While there are a lot of commercial solutions out there, such as Terro Ant Baits, I wanted to share a quick, cheap, and easy tip for do-it-yourself ant control.

First, pick up some boric acid powder (available at most drug stores) and mix a small amount of it 50:50 with table sugar. There’s nothing particularly scientific about this ratio, so it’s fine to just eyeball it. Next, put some of this mix into a small container such as the the cap from a milk jug or the lid from a 2 liter bottle. Finally, drizzle some water into it to make a slurry (i.e., a thick suspension). That’s it — you’re now ready to kill some ants.

Once your concoction is ready, simply set the mix in the path of the oncoming ants (they usually form a foraging trail) and then wait. At this point it’s important to be patient and not kill any of the ants yourself. The reason for this is that you want them to take your tasty treat back to the nest with them. Boric acid is toxic to ants, but it doesn’t work immediately. As such, you need to let them forage and then take it back home to share with their nestmates — this will ultimately wipe out the entire colony.

A few notes:

It might take a bit for the ants to get interested. I’ve noticed in that past that they really get going after dark, so if they don’t take interest right away, there’s still hope. Within a day or two your problem will be gone.

As I noted above, it’s important to resist the temptation to squash them once they get interested in your tasty treat. Let them have their fill and then take it back to the nest to feed it to the queen and her young’uns.

A word of caution… While boric acid is relatively low in toxicity when it comes to humans — in fact, it’s traditionally been used as an eye wash in a low concentration solution — you still shouldn’t ingest it. As such, you should keep children and/or pets away from it.

There are different kinds of ants. Some prefer sweets, whereas others prefer grease and fats. While I’ve never tried this myself, I’ve heard that mixing boric acid with peanut butter is an effective treatment for grease-eating ants. So… If sugar doesn’t work, give peanut butter a try.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the most effective way to combat the ant problem is to avoid it in the first place. Simply cleaning up after messy kids, wiping up food spills, sweeping up crumbs, etc. will go a long way toward keeping the ants away.

Need proof that it works? Check out Jim’s post on how to get rid of ants. If it worked for him, it’ll work for you.

Published on June 6th, 2008
Modified on December 28th, 2008 - 70 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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70 Responses to “How to Get Rid of Ants Safely and Without an Exterminator”

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  1. 1
    Funny about Money Says:

    If you lay down a narrow trail of boric acid (it should be light) across doorways and windowsills, it will discourage ants from entering your home.

    But they find ways.

    When I moved in to the House from He**, one of its many demonic traits was vast infestations of ants. The landscaper didn’t want to work in the yard because of the aggressive little ladies, who belonged to a variety with a particularly annoying bite. I managed to get rid of them with two strategies:

    1. Call in birds that eat ants. Most birds will eat a few, but flickers and thrashers just love’em. Get yourself a bird feeder and hang it near the ant nests. This takes a few weeks, but it helps a lot. BTW, don’t leave the bag of birdseed where the ondts can get it: they’ll poke holes in the plastic and consume the seed in days.

    2. Get two packages of ant baits in different brands (they’re not necessarily identical). Place a few of each near ant hills. I had two dogs that I didn’t care to have eating the baits, and so I took the cages off my house fans and set them down over the baits. This effectively kept pets out but allowed the ants to come and go. And that WORKED.

  2. 2
    Frugal Dad Says:

    I’ve heard club soda is a good way to kill ant hills, but I like your method because killing the mounds doesn’t really do much – it just forces them to relocate.

  3. 3
    Jeff Says:

    Nickel,

    We use the boric powder as well, but I mix it up with a little powdered sugar and snow cone syrup. The little guys can’t resist such a solution and as you said in a couple days are completely gone.

  4. 4
    Thriftyguy Says:

    I’ve used the little aspartame sweetner (nutra sweet) packets you get at the diner or store and mix it just as described for boric acid and it did amazingly well against ants. Some ants I found liked grease better than sweet but I just added a little margarine to the mix and it did the trick to attract them and get rid of them.

  5. 5
    erytheis Says:

    As someone who gets ants the second week of May no matter what, I don’t know where they come from, the Terro baits worked wonders. I has tried others in the past and had to wait up to 2 weeks for results. Within 5 days the ants were gone with terro and I haven’t seen them again this year! (If I could figure out where they come from in the first place it would be bette, but oh well.)

  6. 6
    Dudiman Says:

    When I had an ant problem and called the exterminator, they used a mixture of boric acid and mint jelly. They put small amounts around the area where we had ants. This included taking the electrical outlet covers off and putting a small amount of the mixture inside the outlet boxes.

  7. 7
    Penelope @ Our Fourpence Worth Says:

    We live in the desert where ants, black widows, and all manner of unsavory creatures of all shapes and sizes abound, but because we have pets we are really cautious about insecticides.

    I recently discovered an all-natural product called EcoSmart which is made of vanilla, cinnamon and rosemary oils and is safe for pets (though it’s probably still best to keep pets away from it until it dries). We’ve only just begun using it, but we really like it. It kills insects on contact, is safe, and best of all smells really nice!

    I bought 3 cans the first day and picked up another one yesterday to make sure we never run out.

  8. 8
    craftymom Says:

    Thanks for the tips! I didn’t realize ants like grease. Sugar, I knew. Yesterday afternoon I put out a mixture of powdered sugar and boric acid along the house in the back yard. I look forward to see the results soon!

  9. 9
    Funny about Money Says:

    Ants’ craving for sugar vs. oily substances shifts according to the season and according to the hive’s nutritional needs. Sometimes they’re searching for sweet stuff; other times they’ll look for meat or rich oily seeds and (by extension) greasy human food.

    That’s why it’s a good idea, if you use ant baits, to use two different brands. Read the instructions to be sure they’re actually different.

    BTW (esp. @ Penelope), you do not want to kill off all the ants near your home, and you absolutely positively don’t want to get rid of any black widows that are outdoors (where they prefer to reside). Black widows kill and completely consume any number of insect pests, including (b’lieve it or not) cockroaches. And ants are effective scavengers that police your yard and form an important part of the ecosystem.

  10. 10
    Pamela Grundy Says:

    Thank you for this! We have terrible ants this summer, it’s maddening. I’m going to try every single hint posted here. God, they’re everywhere, I feel like I’m in a 50s Sci Fi flick.

  11. 11
    Max Rockbin Says:

    A big problem even for professional exterminators are ants that have multiple queens. Odorous Ants and Argentine ants are all over the West Coast now (and, I’m going to guess, Argentina). If the hive senses a threat (like half the hive dying from boric acid) a queen will jump ship and start a new hive. Or, more likely, several queens will start several new hives. Which is no fun.
    The only solution I’ve read about is to actually find the hive and kill wontonly and without mercy. The bait/poison idea might work (and comment 9 is right that you want to try both an oil/protein aka peanut butter bait as well as a sweet/sugary bait aka peanut butter, because, as the comment said, sometimes they feel like a nut, and sometimes they just want the sugar).

  12. 12
    PJ Says:

    Good Luck using this on those new raspberry ants the ones that were brought over from another country and like to infest computer systems and electronic devices because that is what they are attracted to, Do some research to solve that one .. there are infestations in Texas, as so I have heard and read.

  13. 13
    Sakis Says:

    You can also mix borix acid powder with a yolk and some flower to create spheres which ants, cockroaches and every other insect will eat and die.

    However, when playing with chemicals like borix acid make sure kids don’t eat it!

  14. 14
    Wouter Says:

    I have heard that ants are mostly covered with a fatty layer or something that repels water and that their breathing holes are on their under side. If it is true or not it gave me an idea when our first child was born and we had a big problem with ants. I did not want to use any pesticide so I just used a very weak dishwashing liquid soap and water mixture in a spray bottle. Most small black ants “drown” nearly instantly when you spray them with this. Red ants seem not to be to bothered by it – at least the ones here in South Africa.

  15. 15
    jon Says:

    If you know where the ant hill is an environmentally friendly ant killing solution is boiling water. We used to get this occasional moving ant balls that came out of nowhere in the summer that would cover the sidewalk (and bite you if they could). A pot of boiling H2O and they got a lot less aggressive :)

  16. 16
    Shushma Says:

    Instead of killing ants, is there something that would chase them from the home? I’d really like to avoid killing if i could. thanks.

  17. 17
    Starbugs Says:

    Why you murderer you!!!!!

    (also u can use ground up Camphor to repel them.. it works good.. and it quite fast-acting)

  18. 18
    tbiggs Says:

    Cockroaches too!

    I moved into a house in the city which had been cockroach-infested for many years. We had lots of pets so we didn’t want to use poison – and the neighbors told us they’d been using poison for years without getting results anyway.

    For cockroaches, you don’t even have to mix it with sugar. Just lay down a continuous line of boric acid powder all along the backs and sides (anywhere they’d be entering) of the food cabinets and closets where they’ve been coming in to steal your food.

    Something about the design of cockroach feet traps the boric acid powder, they track it back to the nest, and… doom. You’ll have to be patient, though; we saw fewer cockroaches within 3-4 days, but it took weeks before they were completely gone. Make sure to maintain the lines of boric acid during that time.

  19. 19
    Matthew H. Says:

    Diatomaceous Earth has worked for me. You lay a thin line or “spay” into cracks and holes and the ants will ultimately leave you alone. Sure it kills a few, but then the remaining ants learn that this area kills ants and will go foraging elsewhere. It is safe for humans and pets, but like anything else, caution is advised.

  20. 20
    Kevin Says:

    Well if anyone hasn’t mentioned it yet, you can simply plant mint bushes. Ants do not like them for one reason or another and will stay away. Also, if you do kill ants, leave the bodies of the dead around for a while. Ants are smart enough to realize when they see bodies lying everywhere to not come back for a while.

  21. 21
    David Dresser Says:

    OK, thing is, there are ants and there are ants. Some ants have one queen and are territorial. If you get the borax to that queen, you win that battle. But some ants have figured another way to be a plague. They have multiple queens and kill other kinds of ants (a bad thing) but mutually support their own kind. It is said 5000 acre conglomerates of these (probably Argentine) ants exist in Texas & California, NM & AZ. What works with fire ants in MS and FL and TX may be sneered at by other kinds of these creatures. Diatomaceous earth (be sure it is not for the pool and dangerous, but OK for pets & kids) is amazing and boric acid with either sugar or grease (peanut butter is good) is great, but patience is required and those multiple queens … one treatment does not get them all. Anyway, they will be back. Soap kills the immediate ones but the queen is unaffected. Boiling water and fizz may work for a minute, but watch out. There is a theory that these are not genuine forms of life but are advance troops from Tralfamodore, so squeamish and spiritual persons should not worry about killing them. There is no lifeform harm in smashing a sparkplug or crossthreading a bolt. Really, they will be back.

  22. 22
    fractal Says:

    For those who dont want to kill their pet ants…

    You can use talcum powder across doorways and other “paths” to help keep those armies occupied. Until they start piling up the dead bodies and making a bridge to get across your primitive human barrier.

    The only REAL solution = complete annihilation!

  23. 23
    Jenny Says:

    ooo this really helps. we’re always getting ants with my sons sticky messes, so now I know how to stop them. YAY!

  24. 24
    Toby Says:

    Anyone know how well this (the boric acid mix) would work with carpenter ants? That’s our big issue. I don’t care too much about the little ones that eat some food, but the big carpenter ant ones that tunnel through my post and beam house AND eat my food…

    I know part of the prevention of such an issue is keeping wooden parts of your house well away from the ground, as well as stay on top of any leak issues, but once they’re in what’s the quickest most efficient way to be rid of them?

    Thanks.

  25. 25
    me Says:

    to kill ants…….instant grits……you yankees will have to get someone from the south to ship you some, just sprinkle a little around…easy, cheap, harmless…………….and if you really want to know, the grits expand from the liquid in the ants stomach, and the ant,,,,,well explodes, the noise will not keep you awake

  26. 26
    Virgil Says:

    @kevin,
    I dont buy the mint bush idea. The reason being that our driveway is lined on both sides with mint, and there are ants all underneath the bricks, digging up the sand in all directions.

  27. 27
    @ish Says:

    Dissolve the boric acid first then combine it with warm honey (microwave), when it cools – you’ve got yourself one ant killing solution. The worker ants will ingest it, then feed it to their queen. Dead hive in a couple weeks.

  28. 28
    angela Says:

    Yep – grits work wonders! I also like the boric acid and sugar… but we have been putting grits around ant piles since I was little!

  29. 29
    gina Says:

    For a couple of days we have had ants like crazy, they are in our oven and bedrooms thats the most places, and i keep a clean house, but how and where do we find the and nest or hill? ants aint new to us but it being this bad is. Thank You

  30. 30
    teri staublein Says:

    I have crazy raspberry ants in Keller TX. To me they are a cross between a pharoah ant and a crazy ant. If you apply a residual to pharoahs they bud out and since the colnies have multiple queens no commercial over the counter residual is working. No bait has worked. I saw on a blog just moments ago that Termidor has an emergency approval for these crazy things. And they are. They did run out all the fire ants in my yard. However they made a bee line for the bug zapper and are now checking out my ac. Nothing has worked on them and the next step for me is a professional company to come out.

  31. 31
    Helen Grondin Says:

    Want to know where you puchased EcoSmart? I also live in the desert with all the goodies. The ants and black widows are giving me and my guinea Pigs a pain in the back side. They are starting to attack the babies the ants are. Keeping everything clean but they still want to be in their pens. Also I’m tried of getting bit.

  32. 32
    kel Says:

    hey.. im in the uk and have just started gettin ants really bad (although i thought i was prepared after last years mess!) Ive just read a few tips on here and really hope they work for me!! i will let ya know in a few days!! :-)

  33. 33
    mary brouse Says:

    that still dosent give me any tips!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!please i need help bad now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!any way i spray windex In my kitchen but they still come back!okay so i go outside to water ONLY ONE PLANT AND IM OUT SIDE FOR A MINUET AND WHEN I COME I AND THERE MORE ANTS THEN LAST TIME!!!! PLEASE READ THIS !

  34. 34
    uberlurker Says:

    Quick tip: dish detergent. I use green Palmolive, but any soapy kind should work. Smear it, full strength, wherever the ants appear (assuming this is not on a surface it will damage). Go water a few plants. Come back and wipe up the dead ants with hot water to dissolve the detergeant.

    You may have to repeat this a few times, but it will kill them dead.

  35. 35
    Emily Says:

    We have an alarming number of ants coming out of tiny holes in the walls & our electrical outlets. We have tried everything we can think of, but they just keep coming back. Anyone have any new ideas? We have a new baby, so we really shouldn’t use chemicals, but we are almost to that point!

  36. 36
    Ali Says:

    Please help me! We have ants IN the microwave. Seems every time I close the door, they come in droves. We’ve tried the vinegar solution and clean up with bleach cleaner whenever we see them but it is EVERY DAY and EVERY TIME we use the microwave. They only like the microwave – we have kids who leave crumbs EVERYWHERE and they don’t go near that.

    I know ‘my’ ants prefer grease (rather than sugar). Can you do the Borax solution bait in a microwave???

    Any assistance is deeply appreciate!

    ps- we actually have a professional service which performs monthly service and they said they can’t touch the inside of appliances – worthless!

  37. 37
    Get Rid Of Ants Says:

    I have found a simple method for getting rid of all types of ants. The key is not to have too much borax or the ants will not take the bait. The details can be found at clearblogs.com/getridofants/. I hope that you find this useful.

  38. 38
    Johann Says:

    I used the 50:50 ratio with sugar. The ants weren’t interested, then I tried peanut butter, then I tried condensed milk. Nothing seems to get them to take the bait. The just walk past it like it’s not even there. Should I reduce the boric acid to bait ratio?

  39. 39
    Johann Says:

    I didn’t read commend 37…sorry I will reduce the ratio.

  40. 40
    Slava Says:

    I use 7,5 gallons of gasoline and BIC lighter .
    Just burn down the house. Watch them running away .
    But first insure your house

  41. 41
    J Says:

    Sprinkle sand where they are coming in or where the mound is present.

  42. 42
    Dillardcl Says:

    I’ve had the boric acid and sugar mix around for a few days and they seem to really like it. So I am wondering how many days it takes for them to all die? So I know if I should be trying something else. My daughter wants me to call an exterminator.

  43. 43
    Pam Says:

    I have a problem with very very tiny grease ants. I had butter out and they were on the stick of butter and all over the butter dish. They are so tiny I can not find where they are coming in. Will the boric acid work on grease ants????? If not, does anyone else have any suggestions?

  44. 44
    nodrog Says:

    For tiny grease ants , Mix 1 OZ. of water in a 4 OZ. Glass, With 5 teaspoons of white powdered suger, 1/4 teaspoon of boric acid only!! MIX well. You want the water, suger, and boric acid to well. Now mix 1 teaspoon of peanut butter in to it, mix it well.The cap from a milk jug or the lid from a 2 liter bottle will make good beat traps. Boric acid is relatively low in toxicity when it comes to humans, but you should keep children and/or pets away from it. For larger ants Two times the mix. It’s important to be patient. Best of luck to you!! :)

  45. 45
    Cynthia Says:

    I’ve just had to shell out 425.00 because ants are getting in the contact of my air conditioner unit and shorting out the relay. It cost me 300.00 on 7/8 to have it replaced, only to have to replace it again today, 7/21 to the tune of 125.00. I’m at wits end. Can anyone tell me the name of the ant that is drawn to electricity so that I know what I’m up against ?

  46. 46
    Marianne Says:

    i get ants every summer, but this year is the worst. usually the traps that i get take care of the ants right away. but this summer i have sets of traps from 3 different companies , boric acid powder, and bug spray, but nothing is doing any good. they are walking over the boric acid powder and it is not bothering them. every day they crop up in a different place, hundreds of them at a time. i am using masking tape to zapp them,, i guess i have to keep trying different things like the solutions on this site with pepper salt and chaulk, etc.

  47. 47
    Nicole Says:

    PJ- I have an ant problem at my computer. I wouldn’t say “problem” because it’s only one ant at a time…but it’s always around/on my computer, walking around on the desk. I keep killing it or blowing it off and only one keeps coming back. I don’t get it…I put an ant trap by the computer and it didn’t stop it one bit.

  48. 48
    Howi lil Says:

    I have poured salt down the antholes in the backyard then killed any of the ants that were trying to get back home. It worked wonders and it is all natural not to mention cheap, and if the kids get in to the salt, it is safe.

  49. 49
    Jeaniekona Says:

    in Hawaii I have ants pouring out of electrical outlets – in the bedroom, bathroom, light switches (some switches crackle when I turn them on, or don’t work at all!) What’s the best plan to eliminate these shocked ants?

  50. 50
    Lisa Says:

    Windex kills ants instantly. It also repels them. Thanks for the borax tip, and I am also going to try the grits idea!

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