Ants in Your House

Ants inside your home or apartment can be a seasonal or year-round problem. Many ant species build their nests outdoors, and become a nuisance when they forage for food inside your home. Once they discover a good food source, they may continue to come inside, collect their food and leave to take the food back to their outdoor colony. However, other ant species enter the interior of the building, build their nest inside and become permanent indoor residents. Some of the more common ant species that may invade and choose to reside inside are pavement ants, carpenter ants, odorous house ants, thief ants, acrobat ants and pharaoh ants. Any of these ants can be challenging to control, but the pharaoh ant is known as one of the most, if not the most, difficult indoor ant to control. Unless you live in one of the southern states, outside and inside ants are usually a problem during the warmer spring, summer and fall months than during the winter.

Inside ants may be found near their food sources, moisture and in hidden, protected places like wall voids, under appliances, behind window frames and beneath floors. Ants are commensal pests, meaning they like to live close to people and eat some of the same things we do – sweets, meats, starches and liquids. It isn’t surprising that they like to take up residence inside our homes, apartments and office buildings?

How does the homeowner or building manager control ants? Most homeowners and building managers agree that ant control one of their most worrisome problems because ants are frequently encountered and persistent. There perception that there isn’t a single practice or strategy to control all ant infestations is entirely correct. Prevention and control activities often differ with various ant species, ant nest locations and the ant’s preferred foods. As with most other pest problems, using a complete, integrated pest management program works best. Some important components of a successful ant control program are:

  • Correct identification is crucial because ants are not all the same. Different ant species may have very different behavior, habits and habitats. Knowledge-based ant control is one of the most important services that your pest management professional provides. Knowing where the pest ant is found; their activities; and their likes and dislikes are crucial to effective ant management.
  • Remove and minimize moisture since ants need moisture to survive, fix water leaks around pipes and anywhere on the roof. Make sure gutters and downspouts direct rain away from your house.
  • Keep things clean. Remove food particles in the kitchen and other places where you eat. Keep floors and cabinet tops clean. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight. Clean the dishwasher and other appliances regularly. Empty and clean trash containers. Keep foods that are attractive to ants in sealed containers or inside the refrigerator. Don’t forget to inspect the areas where you eat while watching television since most of us like to snack while watching the show. When you grill and eat outdoors, be sure to clean the grill and remove any food residue from the tables, deck or patio.
  • Implement exclusion techniques, so ants don’t get inside your home. Ant workers (foragers) come inside through holes, cracks and gaps in the exterior of the home. Seal locations where wires, conduit or pipes enter the house. Keep tree limbs pruned so they never overlap or otherwise touch the house because ants can use branches to “trail” into the home. Since ants deposit and follow chemical scent trails, there is some value in removing these scent trails using a wet sponge or washcloth.
  • Keep ants away from your house by removing or minimizing their harborage sites. Don’t leave things near your home that may provide the protection and moisture the ant colony requires to prosper. Move mulch and landscape timbers at least 1-2 feet away from the foundation. Keep groundcover plants thinned out or totally remove them if possible.
  • Move debris away from the house. Remove rock piles or boards and do not allow anything that keeps soil moist to accumulate under the deck. Routinely inspect under splash blocks near the foundation. Remove any tree stumps, fallen logs or tree limbs. Keep firewood stored as far from the house as possible and do not bring firewood inside or store it in the garage.
  • Use a vacuum to remove ants that may be found either inside or outside the home.

When using ant control products, keep these things in mind:

  • Never spray an insecticide to control only the ants you see. This usually doesn’t work because you are spraying only a small portion of the colony. Ant colonies consist of many workers, one or more queens, plus the ant larvae and pupae. Effective control of the colony depends on eliminating queens and the workers. Without doing so, the colony will continue to thrive and may even move to another location if the ants sense that some members of the colony are dying.
  • When doing ant control inside your home, the best option is to use insecticide baits that attract ants. Foraging ants think the bait is another food source, and take it back to the nest for the queen and other colony members to eat. With this method, the entire ant colony is controlled.
  • Do-it-yourself pest control for inside ants almost always challenges the average homeowner and often results in frustration and failure. Since these ants can be very difficult, it is best to seek expert advice and service by contacting your pest management professional.