Living Smart: How do I get rid of ants?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Although ants generally donít cause harm to people ó they donít carry disease, like some other pests ó an infestation can be a major nuisance.

"Ants can be extremely persistent creatures, seemingly coming from nowhere and can be difficult to entirely get rid of," says Kelly Garvin of Greenix Pest Control in Dublin, Ohio.

Fortunately, DIY and professional pest removal options are available.

REASONS FOR ANT INFESTATION

Ants typically invade your home for one reason: food. Most feed on sugary or greasy items.

Sugar ants ó also called odorous house ants ó are one of the most common ant invaders and among the first pests to show up in the spring. Theyíre about one-eighth of an inch or smaller and are attracted to food sources.

The common pavement ant, which is brown to black and about 1/10th of an inch long, will set up colonies near driveways or patios and then send out scouts to search for food in your home. They eat meat, grease, seeds, dead or live insects, and can sting and bite if disturbed.

Carpenter ants, which are black and up to half an inch long, look for protein rather than sugar, and will eat through wood to find nesting locations. Small piles of wood shavings called "frass" found under windows or door frames are signs of carpenter ants.

Moisture ants are larger ó about 4 to 4.5 mm long ó and are usually an indication of excessive water somewhere. Either can be a problem in bathrooms.

Knowing what type of ant youíre dealing with can help you prevent or combat an infestation.

KEEPING ANTS OUT

The first step to prevent an ant infestation: clean house. If you see scout ants in your home, kill them immediately. Make sure you donít leave any food out and keep all kitchen surfaces clean.

If you continue to see ants, make sure youíve closed off possible entry points, including sealing small cracks in your walls or under windows. Start by caulking potential entry points, such as window casings.

Next, you can lay down barriers like salt or talc under doors to turn ants away, or apply scents such as vinegar, peppermint oil or cinnamon. Bear in mind, however, that anything you put down will also be of interest to pets and children, so be careful what you use.

DIY METHODS FOR ANT REMOVAL

If ant explorers have morphed into a full-on colony, then you need a plan.

Start with soap and water. This will not only kill chemical trails, but any ants it touches. Add citrus to the water to increase its effectiveness.

You can also purchase pest sprays and baited ant traps from local grocery and hardware stores. These use a mixture of sugars and ant poison, such as boric acid to attract, trap and kill ants. Proceed with caution when using poison.

Bear in mind, too, that these traps wonít work on protein-feeders like carpenter ants, since the sweetness wonít interest them.

In addition to trapping ants inside, you can also spray around the exterior of the home where the house meets the pavement or ground to prevent more ants from infiltrating, says David Anderson of Eastside Exterminators in Woodinville, Washington.

Garvin recommends spraying problem areas with a mixture of Windex, vinegar and water. She says spreading Diatomaceous Earth in carpeted areas around the bathroom is a safe and natural way to kill ants because itís a food source.

"The Windex or vinegar is really a quick fix and not really that effective, but it will remove the immediate ants and wipe away their pheromone scent they use to follow trails," Garvin says.

Dan Miles, owner of Total Exterminating in Indianapolis, suggests spraying all cracks around the baseboards and the base of the toilet if the infestation is in the bathroom.

HIRE A PEST CONTROL PROFESSIONAL

Large-scale infestations require assistance from a pest control professional.

Pros address ant problems by locating the colony itself; typically this starts by laying bait traps, which contain poisoned food taken back to the nest. Once found, exterminators can use a variety of techniques including chemical sprays to totally eliminate the ants in your home.

In the case of carpenter ants, early detection is critical. Left unchecked, they can cause significant damage to your home. A pest control professional may need to drill small holes in your wall to make sure the entire colony has been eliminated, and will often book a follow-up visit to make sure problems donít recur.

ó Additional reporting by Angieís List Contributor Doug Bonderud