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Keep Ants from Being Household Nuisances

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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This is the time of year insects, especially ants, are finding their way into homes. Barb Ogg, University of Nebraska Extension Educator, has the following information for controlling ants in and around the home.

Though ants aren't a health threat, they are a nuisance when they enter homes. Unfortunately, there aren't easy and permanent ways to keep ants outside. Nuisance ants often are a recurring problem during warm months, but most are only seasonal and go away by themselves.

Sealing cracks and crevices can be effective and long-lasting if done thoroughly, but some ants are so tiny it may seem impossible to seal them out. To help reinforce sealing efforts, it may be necessary to use alternate control methods. Because ants live in colonies, controlling single ants with sprays won't be very effective for long. Controls are most effective when they adversely affect the colony.

Ants may invade homes because something has happened to their outside food sources or simply because the house happens to be near their colony. Temporary control methods such as using ant and roach killer, spraying the periphery of the house or wiping ants away with water, vinegar or bleach don't make a long-term impact.

Instead, it is helpful to locate the colony. Identifying ants can be helpful in knowing where the colony might be located and knowing what type of controls might be needed. Different ants may require different control methods.

One simple option is to eliminate food sources and ignore the problem. Some types of ants feed on sweet things, even drops of honey, left out on counters or in other places. Coconut-smelling odorous house ants -- the most common nuisance ant -- are included in this group. Ants that find a food source communicate to nest mates there is an abundance of food. It doesn't take long for a hoard of ants to appear on the food source. Cleaning up potential food sources creates less incentive for large groups of these ants to invade a house.

If unsure what type of ants are in the house, try using a liquid bait containing boric acid that specifically attracts sweet ants. Ants must feed on the bait for it to be effective. Once they do, they carry the slow-acting poison back to the colony where it spreads throughout. This method can take a couple of weeks to work, but if it does, it provides a long-term solution that doesn't require the effort of finding the colony. Be sure not to use insecticides and sweet baits simultaneously, as insecticides would kill the ants before they could take the bait back to the colony.

Ants that don't feed on sweet bait may not be attracted to sweets. For these ants, it may be necessary to locate and directly treat the colony with insecticides.

Colonies of black carpenter ants, which cause structural damage to houses, can be difficult to treat because their colonies often are inside wall voids. To control such colonies, it may be necessary to hire a pest control professional who has the right equipment and a greater arsenal of treatment options than homeowners.

The presence of carpenter ants and other ants living in walls or cracks often is an indicator of an underlying moisture problem, such as leaky plumbing. Investigate ant infestations to figure out if there is a water problem that needs to be fixed.

For more information on ants, visit

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(This resource was updated May 20, 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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