Dear Dot: How Can I Tackle an Ant Problem Without Toxic Pest Control?

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Dear Dot,

Did you run an article about ants? I am unable to stop the swarm in my kitchen. Have tried Terro which has always worked for me in the past, but my bottle might be out of date. Tried cinnamon, clove, borax with sugar dry, borax with sugar wet. Tonight I am trying something made by Raid. 

Any help would be appreciated!

—Harriet

The short answer: Mix equal parts baking soda and confectioners’ sugar and sprinkle where the ants seem to congregate or be entering your home. Note that you must use confectioners’ sugar, not the regular stuff, because ants might be able to separate regular sugar from the baking soda. Baking soda is toxic to ants (and can also be toxic to pets but only in large quantities, making it preferable to Borax). And then spend some time investigating the origins of the ant invasion.

Dear Harriet,

It seems that if you want to live in a place where ants can’t annoy you, you will need to move to Antarctica, Greenland, or Iceland — though it’s likely just a matter of time (and climate change) before ants find their way there, too. 

There are an estimated ten to 100 quadrillion of them on the planet (quite a range but I think we can forgive whomever was tasked with counting them for being a few quadrillion off) so I suppose it’s not surprising that a bunch of them have decided, to your chagrin, to take up residence Chez Harriet. 

But clearly they have overstayed their unwelcome; and while I understand that you are at your wit’s end and are, thus, pulling out the Raid, let’s consider alternatives so that you can avoid a solution that, yes, will kill the ants, but that will also pose health risks to people and pets, especially babies. Dr. Death, an eco-friendly pest control company serving Las Vegas (with the industry’s greatest name), tells us that “The two specific ingredients [in Raid] that are not safe are cypermethrin and imiprothrin. … Essentially, what makes them so deadly to bugs can also make them poisonous to [us].”

So let’s consider methods that are less toxic (to humans and animals, not so much for ants).

And thank-you for keeping me abreast of your attempts, Harriet: Readers, Harriet has been offering Dot a play-by-play of the ant drama in four acts playing out at her home. To wit:

Dear Dot, [see original question, above]

Dear Dot, These ants have been on my kitchen counter for the better part of a month. 

Dear Dot, They are small like sweet ants but seem to resist sweet traps of any kind. Cinnamon keeps them away, but I read that just makes them start another colony. I need to get poison back into their nest to kill the Queen. Uggh!

And finally, a video from Harriet and this: Dear Dot, These ants responded to peanut butter! I put Borax in with some. 

Indeed, Borax is toxic to ants. It kills them slowly, which gives them time to take this ant poison back to their colony, where they Jim Jones all their buddies. But bad news about Borax, Harriet: while it’s often touted as a “green” product,  Borax is also toxic to humans and pets and needs to be handled carefully. 

So what’s an ant-averse eco-minded homeowner to do? I took your question to the place where all life hacks find an audience: Tik Tok. Specifically, Whitney White, an Airbnb cleaner in Colorado, who Toks (Tiks? Dot is flummoxed) under the handle @simplecleanfit_whit.

Whitney responded with her all-natural get-rid-of-ants remedies, including a remedy similar to your Borax method, Harriet, but less potentially toxic. Mix equal parts baking soda and confectioners’ sugar and sprinkle where the ants seem to congregate or be entering your home. Note that you must use confectioners’ sugar, not the regular stuff, because ants might be able to separate regular sugar from the baking soda. Baking soda is toxic to ants (and can also be toxic to pets, but only in large quantities, making it preferable to Borax). 

Whitney also suggests a 1:1 mix of water and vinegar, sprayed directly on the ants. 

But getting rid of ants is less effective than ensuring they don’t get into your house in the first place. While the occasional ant can hitchhike into your home on your shoes or the bottom of your pants, it’s worth looking for any openings around windows or doors that make entry easy for these interlopers and then making appropriate repairs. Whitney suggests using your vinegar spray near doors and windows through which ants might be beating a path to your home. The vinegar acts as a repellent, making the ants reconsider the potential comfort of your home.

I leave the last word to Harriet, who added this denouement: “Tried with sugar, but the ants just walked on by … It was peanut butter that did the trick.”

So there you have it folks. Though, again, baking soda is preferable to Borax in terms of potential toxicity. 

Antsily,

Dot 

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