Come springtime, sugar ants will begin to invade homes in search of food and water. Though sugar ants aren’t dangerous to humans, they’re rather annoying pests that can be difficult to control. Here’s everything you need to know about getting rid of sugar ants—from which natural and chemical remedies are best to prevention methods that keep these ants from coming back.
What are sugar ants?
Sugar ants, or banded sugar ants, are small black ants native to Australia and exclusive to that part of the world. The ants we consider to be sugar ants are actually pavement ants or pharaoh ants—both common household ants. Pavement ants are black or reddish brown with pale legs while pharaoh ants are yellow or light brown.
These ants are attracted to sweets and all varieties of sugary foods and scraps. Sugar ants also eat fats, proteins (obtained from eating other insects), and plant pollen. Once they find a food source, they’ll haul food back to their nest for the rest of the colony.
Where do sugar ants come from?
Most sugar ants come from outside your home. They have about four to five times more odor receptors than other insects, and can smell food and follow scent trails through cracks, crevices, vents, and other openings in your home and foundation. Only one ant needs to find an entry point. Once an ant finds a food or water supply, it lays a pheromone trail—a basic scent trail—for other ants to follow.
Sugar ants also come from existing nests inside your home. Their nests are typically in undisturbed spaces, such as inside walls or in basements.
How to get rid of sugar ants
Before getting rid of sugar ants, first locate and then follow their visible trail as far as you can—this will help you determine their entry point into your home and give you a starting point for remediation. After locating the trail and entry point, decide which type of natural or chemical method you want to use.
Natural methods to get rid of sugar ants
If you want to stay away from harsh chemicals when treating a sugar ant infestation, try the following natural home remedies:
Use a vinegar solution to remove the sugar ant trail—Mix one part vinegar and one part water and pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which removes the scent of an ant trail and acts as a deterrent against these pests. After finding the ants’ entry point, spray along baseboards and all possible entrance paths and trails to prevent ants from traveling along these routes. Wipe up the dead ants with a paper towel and discard them once they’ve been sprayed. To maximize this home remedy, spray in the morning or late afternoon when ants are most active.
Place used coffee grounds around your home—Ants hate the smell and acidity of coffee because it burns them. Spread used coffee grounds around pet bowls and other areas where you want to repel ants. You can also sprinkle coffee grounds outside your home to prevent ants from entering.
Lay out whole cloves or bay leaves—The compounds that produce the strong smell in cloves and bay leaves do a great job of repelling sugar ants. Lay out whole cloves along baseboards and place bay leaves under countertops to deter ants.
Hang garlic in your pantry—Similar to cloves and bay leaves, garlic has a strong odor that confuses ants and throws off their scent trail. Tie garlic on strings and hang them from your pantry door knobs and shelves.
Make a homemade insect repellent—Mix one part water with a few drops of lavender or peppermint essential oil and pour the solution into a spray bottle. Spray the solution on your kitchen island and on pantry shelves to deter ants from manifesting in those areas.
Lay out a homemade ant trap—Set out honey or corn syrup on a plastic plate. Sugar ants will be attracted to the bait and get stuck in the gooey substance. Once the ants are dead, throw away the plate and remove the trash from your home.
Use organic commercial products—Solutions like Orange Guard or EcoSMART Organic Ant & Roach Killer are organic solutions that do a great job of killing sugar ants. Orange Guard is an all-natural spray that includes orange peel extract to kill ants and the EcoSMART Organic Ant & Roach Killer is an organic and non-toxic liquid made with plant extract to prevent ants from coming back.
Sprinkle food grade diatomaceous earth around your home—Diatomaceous earth is a fine white powder made from the crushed remains of marine phytoplankton. Food grade diatomaceous earth is completely non-toxic for humans and pets, but deadly for insects. Diatomaceous earth gets into sugar ants’ digestive systems and kills them from the inside out. Sprinkle the powder by ant trails and wipe up the substance after a month.
Chemical methods to get rid of sugar ants
For additional ways to get rid of sugar ants, try the following chemical solutions. Before using these methods, make sure you read the instructions and take necessary safety precautions to protect yourself from harmful chemicals. Additionally, be sure to keep chemical solutions away from pets and children.
Set out an ant bait—The idea behind using ant baits to get rid of a sugar ant infestation is that the ants will take the bait back to their colony as food. Once the other ants have ingested the poisonous bait, they’ll slowly begin to die. Most ant baits (sweet baits) will contain boric acid or Borax, a slow-acting poison that kills the ants. Try Terro liquid ant baits—these ant killers are extremely effective against common household ants.
Wipe down kitchen countertops with an all-purpose cleaner every night—Not only will this help sanitize your kitchen, but it will also break down the pheromones that ants use to follow each other.
How to remove sugar ant nests
If you notice sugar ant nests outside your home, take steps to get rid of them immediately to prevent them from entering your home. A sugar ant nest resembles a mini volcano—a little mound with a small hole on top. To remove one of these nests, follow these tips:
Dump a cup of bleach down the nest hole to kill the ant colony.
Sprinkle baking soda down the hole and around the entire nest.
How to prevent sugar ants from invading your home
Since sugar ants are most prevalent between March and September, take countermeasures throughout the year to prevent them from entering your home.
Look for damp areas—Sugar ants are attracted to dark and damp environments like bathrooms, garbage disposals, and kitchen sinks. Wipe away excess water with a dry towel and fix any plumbing leaks to prevent ants from forming a nest in these areas.
Routinely clean your sink—Thoroughly rinse dirty dishes and drain the sink of any standing water. After the sink is cleared of all dishes, wipe down the sink in its entirety with a dry paper towel and make sure you haven’t left any residual food or moisture behind. A garbage disposal may also be a big draw for sugar ants. To destroy their pheromones, pour a little bleach into the garbage disposal every few days—this should destroy any ant attractants.
Sweep or vacuum your kitchen floor after meals—Even trace amounts of food left behind on counters or floors are enough to lure a trail of ants into your home. Sweep or vacuum at least once a night during the summer to make sure any pheromone trails aren’t left for other sugar ants to follow.