How to Get Rid of Sugar Ants

By Kealia Reynolds | Advertiser Disclosure

Come springtime, sugar ants will begin to invade homes in search of food and water. Though these 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 remedies and chemical solutions 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. When we think of the term sugar ants, we’re probably thinking of 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. They 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.

Types of sugar ants

There are several types of sugar ants, including those that live outdoors and come indoors to eat, as well as others that prefer to live and feed inside your home. Outdoor sugar ants can include acrobat ants, false honey ants, or rover ants. Some common indoor sugar ants are carpenter ants, pavement ants, and pharaoh ants.

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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. Here are a few different forms of ant control:

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. The 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 homeDiatomaceous 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 the ants’ digestive systems and kills them from the inside out. Sprinkle the powder along ant trails and wipe up the substance after a month.

Chemical methods to get rid of sugar ants

For other ant control methods, 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 black ants will take the bait back to their ant colonies 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:

  • Flood the nest with running water from a garden hose for 5–10 minutes or pour boiling water over the nest.
  • 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.

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How to prevent sugar ants from invading your home

Since these black ants are most prevalent between March and September, take countermeasures throughout the year to prevent them from entering your home.

  • Wipe up any sugary messes—Sugar ants feed on all kinds of sugar and sugar-filled products, like honey, jam, cake, candy, fruit, and soft drinks, so be sure to remove these items from your kitchen and wipe up any residue they leave behind.
  • Look for damp areas—Most 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 mealsEven 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 ants to follow.
  • Take the trash out regularly—Holes in garbage bags can attract sugar ants to discarded food and lead them straight to your trash. Use strong garbage bags to prevent holes from forming and take the trash out every time it gets full (once or twice a week).
  • Seal holes in entryways—Since ants typically enter your home through cracks and crevices, inspect your doors and windows for holes. Seal any existing holes and cracks with caulk.
  • Set out herbs in your kitchen—Peppermint, sage, and tansy have strong scents that can help keep ants away. Lay these herbs around your kitchen as an additional preventive measure against sugar ants.
  • Treat the exterior of your home with pesticide—As another defense, spray your foundation with a natural pesticide to prevent sugar ants from invading your home.
  • Call an exterminator—If none of the listed methods are working for you, we recommend calling a pest control company to evaluate the problem, offer remediation methods, and eradicate the existing ants.

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Frequently asked questions

How did I get a sugar ant infestation?

Most sugar ants come from outside your home and follow scent trails through openings in your home and foundation. Once a single ant makes it into your house, it lays a scent trail for other ants to follow.

How do I keep sugar ants out of the kitchen?

To keep sugar ants out of the kitchen, make sure to wipe up any sugary spills as soon as they happen, take out the trash as soon as it’s full, clean your sink regularly, and lay out cloves or bay leaves.

How do I get rid of these ants?

Some natural methods to get rid of sugar ants including sprinkling  diatomaceous earth around your house or using a vinegar solution to get rid of the ant trail. Some chemical solutions include setting out an ant bait or wiping down your countertops with an all-purpose cleaner every night.

Can sugar ants damage my home?

Though these black ants aren’t harmful, they can be a nuisance once inside your home. They can chew through paper, cardboard, and thin plastic to get to their food source and attract other pests into your home.

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