Small Ants in House, Getting Rid of Ants Around Houses

Ants in the House

— Several species commonly enter houses in search of food and water —

Summary: A number of different ant species invade homes, especially kitchens, in search of food and water. A few species can even nest in walls and ceiling. Most of the time these ants do little damage but should be controlled because some nests can become very large and bothersome.

Nuisance (house) ants

Certain ants, for example fire ants and harvester ants, attract our attention because they can sting people and animals. Some, like carpenter ants, are important because they damage building materials. And some ants only become pests when they enter homes in search of food and water.

The last group of ants usually causes no structural damage, and pose little health risk, but are important because of their numbers alone. These are the house-invading ants, nuisance ants or simply house ants. Common house ant species are: odorous house ant, Argentine ant, pharaoh ant and a few other species.

Most ants that invade homes are yellow, red, brown or black in color, constricted at the waist, and 1/8-1/4″ long. If you find ants that are larger than about 3/8″ (in the US) you’ve probably found carpenter ants. You may also occasionally see ants with wings (all species), these are the so called «reproductives».

Worker ants feeding on liquid ant bait. Ants consume bait and take it back to their nest where it disrupts the colony. Photo by E.A. DeAngelis.

Other common names: sugar ants, moisture ants, sweet ants.

Ant control in houses

While house ants generally cause no direct damage they can become a nuisance if the nests get too large. The safest, and best approach to ant control is to use baits. Baits pose little risk and most are relatively inexpensive. There is no need to apply insecticide sprays for these pests. In fact, insecticide sprays often disperse colonies and make matters worse (see below).

Use baits NOT sprays to control ants

Baits are a food that is attractive to worker ants that may be laced with a slow-acting insecticide. Workers locate bait and carry some back to the nest where it poisons the colony. Insecticide sprays are not effective because most can be detected and avoided by foraging worker ants.

How baits work

Baits work best because they target the colony. Ants are social insects and live in highly organized colonies. This social organization allows ant colonies to grow very large but if the colony is disrupted the ants will die. Baits work by disrupting these complex colonies, often killing the egg-laying queen in the process.

See Ant Control and Ant Baits for additional information.

Control of Common Nuisance House Ants With Baits

(1) Place baits near ant activity, do not contaminate area with insecticide. You can initially place a plain, sugary bait (no insecticide) to train workers to the placement. If ants appear to be feeding on bait, as in photo above, replace plain bait with one laced with insecticide. For small infestations use ready-made, or home-made, liquid boric acid baits. But, for large, stubborn infestations use commercial gel or granular baits, both are available here (

(2) Replace individual stations when they are exhausted or completely consumed.

(3) Within a week the number of ants should be significantly less.

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How to get rid of ants – the safe and simple way

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Here’s how to get rid of ants and keep them out of your kitchen and home for good

Want to know how to get rid of ants? Have you discovered an army of ants marching in single file across your kitchen units? Remember the sugar granules you spilt as you were making your tea? Unless they were mopped up immediately, you’ve created a tempting spot for ants to gather. If you’re serious about getting rid of these small colonial insects, read our how to get rid of ants guide.

Discover more how-to guides in our care and cleaning section

Why are there ants in my house?

You’d be correct in thinking that ants are usually found in nests outside, then how have they made it into your house? Well, the clever (but annoying) insects often head into our homes to forage for food.

It’s not surprising ants usually head straight for the kitchen with all that tempting food about. An ant scout will leave the nest to look for food, laying a trail of pheromones as it goes. If it finds food it will follow the trail back to the nest and leave more pheromones, creating a stronger trail which the other ants in the colony will follow. If there’s been a sugar spillage or you’ve left out a pile of dirty dishes it won’t be long until an army of ants is parading across the kitchen worktop.

How to get rid of ants in the house?

1. Clear away food

Image credit: Lizzie Orme

If you want to get rid of ants the obvious thing to do is keep food off their menu by storing yours away in airtight containers. Next wipe away any food and drink spillages immediately, not forgetting to clean the inside of cupboards and under the kitchen cabinetry.

Try not to leave that pile of dirty dishes out by the sink for too long. Ants won’t turn their noses up at leftover pet food or food waste either, so wash up your pet bowls straight after feeding time and take out your rubbish regularly, keeping bin lids tightly shut at all times. You should also keep and eye out for oil splatters around the cooker and even other dead insects that might be lying around, ants are extremely resourceful.

2. Use a natural anti-ant spray

Image credit: Tim Young

Once you’ve removed the ants’ food sources, give your kitchen surfaces and floor a final wipe down using an eco-friendly homemade anti-ant spray, made with one part vinegar to one part water. Homemade lemon and peppermint oil sprays will also do the trick. Ants can’t bare strong smells, so the vinegar or oils will work a treat in deterring the house invaders and masking there scent trails, making them loose there direction.

If there are any rogue ants still searching for food, wipe them away starting from the beginning of their trail and all the way along to the end of it, then wash them down the plughole. This might seem cruel but stopping a few ants in their tracks like this, will in turn stop a whole army of them coming into your home.

Once the ants’ food sources are taken out of the equation, they’ll search elsewhere for food, preferably away from your home, however if they keep coming in you’ll need to take further action…

3. Block up entry points

Follow the trail of ants back to their nest to find out where they’re getting in, then fill any cracks and crevices with sealant, especially around the doors and window frames.

4. Put down ant deterrent

If you’ve tried blockading them but they still keep coming in, line the doors with natural deterrents such as salt, chalk, curry powder, pepper and cinnamon. If you chose to do this, be careful as you don’t want any getting in your pet or child’s nose, mouth or eyes. To keep cupboards ant free, soak a few cotton wool balls in peppermint or citrus essential oils and pop them in the corners.

You can also use petroleum jelly and talcum powder to line doors, however if you’ve tried absolutely every natural deterrent going, to no avail, you might find that a domestic ant killer works best.

How to get rid of an ants nest in the garden

Ants are essential to a balanced ecosystem and help us by eating up other household and garden pests like fleas and bed bugs. For this reason, destroying an ants’ nest should only be a last resort.

The ants you see in your house and scuttling around the pavement are only 10% of the colony. If you are seriously struggling with an infestation, then you’re going to need to target the nest.

Natural ant killers

Vinegar and Lemons

All the detriments we mentioned earlier, will be even more effective when blasted directly into every nest entrance. Lemons and White vinegar are the most effective, undiluted vinegar will kill ants, but diluted is still an effective deterrent. The lemons can be squeezed into each entrance, with the leftover peel scattered around the entrances. Ants will go to great lengths to avoid the smell of citrus, it will also destroy scent trails. Remember to keep replacing the peels each day until all the ants have gone.

Boric Acid

If you want to make sure you’re targeting the queen, this is a good options. Ants adore anything sweet and sticky, so by rising boric acid with sugar or syrup you can guarantee it will be taken back for the queen to snack on. Mix one part boric acid with three parts sugar, and stir in one hot water to created a syrup-like paste. Blob the mixture around the entrances to the nest. The boric acid works quickly by damaging the ants exoskeletons as well as their internal organs,

How do I kill fire ants inside my house?

Fire ant colonies can migrate into homes and other structures in search of food, water, and nesting sites, especially during periods of extreme outdoor heat, drought, or flooding rains.They can enter through any cracks and crevices.

How to get rid of fire ants in your house:

  • One method of preventing fire ant problems in structures is to eliminate points of entry. Several weep hole covers have been marketed for use to exclude ants from entering structures. A study has shown that some of these covers effectively exclude the red imported fire ant (Drees, 2002). An aperture of 0.5 mm should exclude red imported fire ants. However, achieving exclusion using spackling, caulk, or other sealants can be difficult or impractical.
  • Another method is to treat fire ant nests with an insecticide or fire ant bait. If the ants are nesting outside and coming into the house for food, the best way to control them is to treat the nest outside directly with a pesticide.
  • The situation is more complicated if the ants are nesting inside the house. Baits formulated for indoor use can be used.The workers will take these back to the colony and feed them to the queen.
  • Trails of foraging ants can be sprayed with a contact insecticide, but these treatments do not directly affect the colony.
  • If the ants are nesting in a wall, an outside perimeter treatment may actually make things worse by acting as a repellent and keeping ants indoors. For ants nesting in walls, a contact insecticide should be used. You may need assistance from a professional pest control operator to apply this product. Make sure the product you select is labeled for use indoors.
  • Always read and follow the directions on the label.

Related Content


Drees, B. M. 1995. Red imported fire ant multiple stinging incidents to humans indoors in Texas. Southwestern Entomol. 20(3):383-385.

Drees, B. M. 2002. Evaluation of Guest Control, Inc. weep-hole screens for brick veneer structures in Red Imported Fire Ant Management Applied Research and Demonstration Reports 200-2002, Texas Imported Fire Ant Research & Management Project. Texas A&M University System. College Station. P. 17.

Find more information about fire ants in eXtension’s Imported Fire Ant Resource Area.

How Do You Kill Small, Red House Ants?

Get rid of small, red house ants using cotton balls saturated in a boric acid and sugar solution. Boric acid is relatively safe for humans and pets, but is toxic to ants. Worker ants take the toxin back to the colony where it kills other ants.

    Dissolve boric acid and sugar in water

Add 1 teaspoon of boric acid powder to 1/4 cup of sugar in a dry bowl. Mix until well blended. Add 2 cups of warm water and mix until the dry ingredients all dissolve.

Saturate cotton balls

Drop cotton balls into the solution, saturating them with the sugar water. Lift the cotton balls from the bowl, and place them on old jar lids to catch any drips. If there are pets in the home, place the cotton ball in a small, disposable plastic container in which you have punched holes to give ants access to the boric acid.

Distribute the material

Place the lids containing the cotton balls near ant trails discovered in the home. If possible, follow the lines outside the home to discover the ant colonies, and place cotton balls there. As ants discover the bait and swarm to it, there is an initial increase in the number of ants in the area. As the boric acid kills the ants, the number decreases.

What Are Those Big Red Ants in My Yard?

If you come across a colony of big red ants in the yard or near your home, your first instinct may be to sound the fire ant alarm. However, not only are fire ants actually pretty tiny, but there are more than 700 species of ants in the United States, and spotting the differences between the various types of red ants can be tricky.

Learning more about the different species of big red ants common to your area can make it easier to identify the ones you are seeing. Here are a few basic facts about fire ants, as well as some big red ants you may encounter.

Are red ants and fire ants the same?

Not all red ant species are fire ants, and not all fire ants are red in color. In fact, most ants are not actually red. They are various shades of brown. True fire ants sport a red or reddish-brown appearance and belong to the genus Solenopsis.

  1. Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) are the most common red ants in the United States. They are believed to have entered the country from South America via the port of Mobile, Alabama, in the 1930s. Legend has it, they traveled here in the ships’ ballast tanks where soil was used for stabilization. Since their introduction this invasive species has infested land in 15 southeastern states.
  2. Tropical fire ants also invaded new territories via shipping routes and are almost identical to the RIFA variety. The heads of tropical fire ants are larger and more square-shaped, however. Unlike many ant species, tropical fire ants live in the soil and are most commonly found in dry, coastal areas of Hawaii and the southern United States.
  3. Southern fire ants — also known as desert or California fire ants — are found across the American South, as well. The red version prefers a desert-like climate, and its mounds are smaller and looser in form than other varieties. The Southern red fire ant is most commonly encountered in arid regions of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Other species of red ants can be mistaken for fire ants due to their reddish-brown appearance and a few similar characteristics.

  1. Carpenter ants can grow to five-eighths of an inch in size. Most fire ants only grow to be as large as a quarter of an inch. They are often found on trees and plants or near easy food sources indoors, such as pet bowls or sugary spills. Along with other ant species, carpenter ant swarmers are also sometimes mistaken for termites, due to their appearance and the fact they do build colonies in wooden structures and trees.
  2. Tawny crazy ants are a relatively new species in North America, but they are fast gaining dominance in the areas where they are currently found. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin discovered that tawny crazy ants have begun wiping out RIFA colonies and taking over their territory.
  3. Velvet ants are actually members of the wasp family. Some species have red bands, and the female velvet ant lacks wings, so their appearance can be similar to red ants. Though the sting of a velvet ant can be painful, these “ants” are not known to be aggressive.

Which red ants are dangerous?

Unless they are the fire ants mentioned above, red ants are generally more annoying or destructive than they are dangerous. For example, carpenter ants are probably more interested in the food you have spilled or left behind.

While carpenter ants don’t eat wood, they nest in it. They can cause damage to wood structures in the process of creating galleries they use for nesting.

Tawny crazy ants do not have stingers, but they can bite. Although their bite is mild, an encounter can be unnerving because they tend to swarm in chaotic fashion.

They are more likely to alarm you by invading places you don’t normally expect to find ants. Tawny crazy ants are known for building colonies in odd places like pipes, car engines and computers, and for sometimes short-circuiting electronics. Once they move in, they can be very difficult to get rid of.

Fire ants, especially RIFA, will defend themselves by biting and stinging if they feel threatened, and their stings can be both painful and dangerous. When these big red ants sense a threat, they may respond by crawling up the victim to investigate the disturbance. Once the person realizes ants are crawling on him or her and reacts by brushing them off or something similar, the ants will likely perceive that as a threat and begin to bite and sting the victim. Each fire ant is also capable of stinging multiple times.

Approximately 1 percent of the population is hypersensitive to ant venom, and for some of those individuals, fire ant stings can cause lethal allergic reactions. Victims who are young, elderly or have suppressed immune systems are most likely to experience a severe reaction. Even healthy individuals risk experiencing anaphylactic shock if stung multiple times.

What are the signs that a fire ant bite is serious?

According to the Mayo Clinic, if you experience the following symptoms after a fire ant bite, seek immediate treatment.

  1. Skin reaction, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
  2. Low blood pressure
  3. Constriction of your airways and a swollen tongue or throat, which can cause wheezing and trouble breathing
  4. A week and rapid pulse
  5. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  6. Dizziness or fainting

Avoid coming in contact with fire ants whenever possible. Fire ant mounds can be as large as 2 feet high and are often found in sunny areas of lawns, pastures, parks and fields. Mounds may also be present in rotting logs, around stumps and trees and sometimes under houses and other buildings.

Regardless of the species, red ant colonies can quickly get out of control in the house or the area around it. Terminix® offers professional services and lasting solutions tailored to your pest control situation. Contact Terminix today to learn more.

The Best Mouse Trap Method

Everyone has seen the cartoon mouse trap: A big wedge of cheese perched precariously on a small wooden rectangle, just waiting for an unsuspecting mouse to come along. Most modern mouse traps don’t use pieces of cheese, although they can still use food as bait. One of the most popular baits, believe it or not, is peanut butter. There are still versions of the snap trap from cartoons, but there are also other kinds like electronic traps. Because these traps usually mean dealing with dead mice, plenty of people wonder if there’s a way to help get rid of mice without classic mouse traps. Although mouse traps are the most effective in helping to get of mice, you can also try the following natural methods to see if they help remove these pesky rodents.

How to Help Remove Fruit Flies from Your Home

Fruit flies are one of the most common household pests and they can be a huge nuisance for homeowners. Not only that, but researchers have found that fruit flies can “transfer bacteria from a contaminated source, food, or waste to surfaces or ready-to-eat food.

How to Naturally Get Rid of Bugs on Plants

Buying houseplants can put you at risk for harboring unwanted pest infestations. Before these bugs cause damage to your new plant, know how to take care of them using natural remedies.

How to Help Prevent Mosquito Bites

Itchy bites and illness may occur after exposure to some arthropods such as mosquitoes and ticks. The bites can cause discomfort and, in some cases, transmit pathogens (bacteria, viruses and protozoans) that can cause a variety of diseases. Some examples of diseases that are of concern in the United States include: (mosquito) chikungunya, dengue, La Crosse encephalitis, West Nile fever, Zika; (tick) Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The good news? There are many precautions you can take to help avoid bites from mosquitoes and ticks.

What You Can Do About Those Small Red Ants in Your Kitchen

Seeing small red ants in your kitchen may make you want to panic. Do you have an infestation? Are you dealing with fire ants? How do you get the invaders to leave? Follow this guide for answers to these questions.

Identifying the Small Red Ants in Your Kitchen

Many species of ants are easily confused with fire ants. Though you don’t want any ant visitors indoors, correctly identifying the type you’re dealing with will make it easier to pick the best way to get rid of them. For example, some species are attracted to plants you have around the house. These are the small red ants you’re likely to deal with in the United States:

  • Argentine ants: These ants have a light brown or reddish body, but you can tell them apart from fire ants by their black heart-shaped abdomen. These ants are roughly 0.13 inches long and build colonies under the shelter of wood, leaves, and stones. They aren’t picky eaters but love sugary substances and protein.
  • Caribbean crazy ants: These ants are a golden reddish-brown, making them easy to confuse with fire ants. This species is smaller, though, and doesn’t grow much longer than 0.13 inches. They’re common in Florida and Texas and eat a variety of foods.
  • Fire ants: Fire ants are red all over and grow between approximately 0.13 and 0.5 inches long. You can also identify red fire ants by checking their mounds. This species will build colonies without openings in the soil. They use underground tunnels to get access to their nests.
  • Odorous house ants: These ants are smaller and darker than fire ants. You can identify them by their smell as well — they emit an odor like rotten coconuts when squished. This species prefers sugars and dead insects.
  • Pharaoh ants:Pharaoh ants are small, growing up to approximately 0.063 inches long. This makes them considerably shorter than red fire ants. Pharaoh ants are also more of a reddish brown and have a black abdomen. These ants will eat proteins, sugars, fats, grease, and other insects (dead or alive).
  • Pyramid ants: These ants have a red head and thorax but, like Argentine ants, have a black abdomen. They grow about 0.13 inches long and build nests in the sunshine unobstructed by any debris. Pyramid ants have a varied diet that includes fats and oils.

What Draws Ants to Your Kitchen — and How You Can Keep Them Out

Image via Flickr by Charlie Stinchcomb

Ants come into your home to survive. To make your property less appealing to these visitors, consider what ants are looking for and how you can take that away from them:

  • Food: Though some ants have dietary preferences, few are picky eaters. The small red ants in your kitchen are likely inside because they’ve found a food source. Prevent this from happening by cleaning up spills and crumbs immediately and performing routine deep cleans.
  • Moisture: Ants need food and water to survive. They’ll go wherever they can find both. Some ants also prefer a dark, damp environment where they can build their nests. Many species build colonies in walls or floorboards or use tunnels that other ants or termites have abandoned. Check for leaky pipes that will help sustain an ant population in your home, and look for cracks in the walls or foundation that ants may use to access your property.
  • Shelter: Ants are likely to come in your home and hibernate in the winter, where they’ll remain dormant until the weather warms up — meaning you could have an infestation for months and not know it. Some ants may even come inside seeking shelter from the rain. To keep this from happening, use prevention methods like removing debris from your yard and applying a spray of vinegar and water to your doors and windows.

Regions Where You’re Most Likely to Have an Ant Problem

Image via Flickr by emrank

Ants live on every continent except Antarctica, so if you don’t work to deter ants, you could have an infestation in your home. Though ants live everywhere people do, they’re cold-blooded insects that require warmth to live. This means ants are most active in warmer months. Some of the more aggressive and particularly problematic species are abundant in the Southern states, Central America, and the Southern Hemisphere.

Pharaoh ants, for instance, live throughout the United States but thrive in the warm climate of the South. Other species, such as Caribbean crazy ants and red fire ants, proliferate in Florida, Texas, California, Hawaii, and similar areas. If you live in one of these regions, take extra precautions to make your home unappealing for ants and make sure you’re maintaining your yard to avoid attracting them.

Getting Rid of Ants in Your Home

When ants find a way into your home regardless of your prevention attempts, you’ll need to step up your efforts to curb an infestation or irradiate a colony that’s already established itself as your new neighbor.

Clean Your Yard

Many ant species love taking shelter under rocks or fallen leaves or building colonies into decaying wood. Maintain your yard to make it less inviting for these insects.

Make a Natural Insecticide

A mix of soap and water sprayed on ants will kill them on the spot. However, this won’t target the colony. If you want to kill the queen and keep more ants from entering your home, pour boiling water or a puree of citrus peels down a mound entrance to kill ants. You can also mix cornmeal with boric acid. Ants will harvest the food and take it back to the colony, killing the queen and her workers.

Hire a Professional

Some of the DIY methods recommended are best for prevention or targeting mounds outside. If you’re dealing with an infestation or find that ants have built nests in your walls, contact a professional for help.

Small red ants in your kitchen will never be a welcome sight. Make your home less appealing for these insects, and reach out to a pest specialist if needed to handle an infestation.

See also:  Couch bugs?
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