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How to Get Rid of Ants Without Toxic Chemicals

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about science, travel, and gardening.

Several common household chemicals are non-toxic and effective at killing or repelling ants.

Several common household chemicals are non-toxic and effective at killing or repelling ants.

Living in a household with several pets and kids, I prefer to use non-toxic pest control options over commercial pesticides that may impact wildlife in our yard. I use these methods to keep my house and kitchen free from these tiny pests!

10 Natural Ways to Kill or Repel Ants (Kid- and Pet-Safe)

There are many non-toxic ant repellents and ant killers available in your own kitchen, including baking soda and vinegar. Each method has its own mechanism of action, and either eliminates the ant colony’s pheromone trail or kills the ants.

The 10 basic ways to kill (or repel) ants that are discussed in this article include:

  1. Baking soda
  2. Vinegar
  3. Coffee grounds or chalk
  4. Neem oil
  5. Boiling water
  6. Lemon Eucalyptus
  7. Soapy water
  8. Diatomaceous earth
  9. Cayenne pepper
  10. Citrus peels

Continue scrolling to learn more about each of these methods and find out which one works best for you.

If you see a large black (or sometimes red) ant in your house, it is likely to be a carpenter ant. These ants are omnivorous, but are classed as a type of sugar ant.

If you see a large black (or sometimes red) ant in your house, it is likely to be a carpenter ant. These ants are omnivorous, but are classed as a type of sugar ant.

1. Baking Soda

Baking soda is known to kill ants and is non-toxic to pets and children.

  • Mix confectioner’s sugar in equal parts with baking soda.
  • Leave the mixture in a shallow dish for ants to consume.
  • Alternatively, sprinkle the baking soda/sugar mixture on counters or floors where ants congregate.

Do not use granular sugar, as ants will separate the sugar from the baking soda, rendering the mix ineffective. This method works for sugar ants but is not effective for grease ants.

2. Vinegar

Vinegar doesn’t generally kill ants unless you drown the insects in the liquid. Drowning works with any liquid, however, and isn’t specific to vinegar. Vinegar is weak acetic acid and effectively eliminates the pheromone trail ants use to find a food source. Once the trail is eliminated, ants will no longer follow the trail into your house.

Wipe down baseboards and areas ants are found with vinegar to deter repeated infestations. Vinegar is effective for both sugar and grease ants.

3.Coffee Grounds or Chalk

Coffee grounds can be used to create a physical barrier around the ants' entry point into the house. While some claim coffee has a strong smell the ants don’t like, it is more likely the physical barrier of the grounds that prevents them from entering the house.

Drawing a chalk line works in a similar fashion—ants don’t like crawling over chalk, and will avoid crossing a chalk line. These methods are not insecticidal but are a great way to deter ants from re-entering a house once the initial infestation has been cleared.

This repellent will work for sugar and grease ants but may be ineffective for some ant colonies, as they may actually work to clear the physical barrier to regain entry to the house.

4. Neem Oil

Neem oil is a very effective insecticide and has the benefit of being safe for humans and pets. Studies have been performed using this oil to control fire ants in Texas, indicating neem effectively reduced the number of fire ant hills in a specific geographical area. This oil works as a suffocating insecticide, which means it must come in contact with the insects to kill them.

The materials needed to make a neem-oil spray include a natural soap product (either castile soap or a coconut-based soap), neem oil, water, and a spray bottle.

  1. Add 1 ¼ cups of water to the spray bottle.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of natural soap.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of neem oil.
  4. Swirl contents to combine—do not shake the bottle to avoid foaming the soap ingredient.

Neem oil is effective for all ant species and can be found in most hardware stores for $20–$25 for 16 fluid ounces. This oil may also be purchased through online vendors.

5. Boiling Water

While the ants inside the house are the ones causing problems, they often originate from an ant colony in the garden bed near the house foundation.

Check planters and yard areas near the house—once a colony is located, pouring boiling water into the colony will effectively kill the ants that are entering your house. This method is effective for all types of ants.

Lemon eucalyptus oil is from the Australian tree Corymbia citriodora.

Lemon eucalyptus oil is from the Australian tree Corymbia citriodora.

6. Lemon Eucalyptus

This essential oil is obtained from an Australian tree and is not related to citrus in any way. One of the few essential oils safe for use around pets, it can be used undiluted on a saturated cotton ball as an ant deterrent. This method will repel all ants when the oil is rubbed on baseboards or other locations ants enter the house.

Do not confuse Lemon Eucalyptus oil with Eucalyptus oil, as Eucalyptus oil is toxic to cats.

7. Soapy Water

Fill a spray bottle with 2 parts water to 1 part castile or coconut-oil soap. If sprayed directly on the ants, the soap disrupts the surface tension of the water, causing ants to drown and allowing water to enter the ants’ spiracles. Spiracles are tubes that form the respiratory system of the ant, and once blocked, the ant will suffocate and die.

Soapy water will also remove all pheromone traces to prevent new ants from following the trail. This method is effective on all types of ants.

8. Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is the fossilized remains of microscopic creatures called diatoms. This product comes in two forms, an insecticide form and a food-grade form. For use around children and pets, purchase the food-grade DE.

This is a very effective pesticide, which works by cutting the ants’ exoskeletons. Once the exoskeleton is pierced, the ants dehydrate and die. Sprinkle pure food-grade DE around ant hills and areas they are found inside the house to eliminate the colonies.

Cayenne pepper does not kill ants, but it works as a powerful deterrent.

Cayenne pepper does not kill ants, but it works as a powerful deterrent.

9. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper does not kill ants, but it is a good repellent. Ants don’t like the smell of pepper and will avoid it. Place cayenne pepper around areas where you notice ants to discourage them from entering your home.

If you don’t have cayenne pepper in your spice cabinet, black pepper will work with the same efficacy. Cinnamon is another spice that serves the same function and is non-toxic to cats and dogs.

10. Citrus Peels

Grate or thinly slice peels from oranges, lemons, or limes and place them at entrance points to the house or around the ant colony outside. Ants hate the smell of citrus and will actively avoid it. As with the pepper and coffee methods, this is a repellent and not an insecticide.

It is also possible to create an orange-peel liquid to repel ants. Thinly slice orange peels away from the pith, and place the peels into a blender with ¼ cup of warm water. Puree the liquid, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time until the liquid is thin enough to pour over ant hills or indoor places ants like to hide.

Instead of bringing toxic chemicals into your home to deal with ants, consider using these safe, natural alternatives.

Instead of bringing toxic chemicals into your home to deal with ants, consider using these safe, natural alternatives.

Many essential oils are toxic to our furry household companions. Consult your veterinarian before using any essential oils in your house if you have a dog or a cat.

Many essential oils are toxic to our furry household companions. Consult your veterinarian before using any essential oils in your house if you have a dog or a cat.

Essential Oils to Kill and Repel Ants (Not Pet Safe)

Several sites recommend the use of essential oils as a natural way to eliminate ants. For households with cats and dogs as companions, however, this could result in a tragic poisoning and emergency vet visit. The following essential oils are toxic to dogs and cats.

Which Essential Oils Are Toxic to Pets?

Essential OilToxic to DogsToxic to Cats

Winter Green

Yes

Yes

Sweet Birch

Yes

Yes

Anise

Yes

No

Garlic

Yes

No

Citrus (d-limonene)

Yes

Yes

Peppermint

Yes

Yes

Ylang Ylang

Yes

Yes

Pine

Yes

Yes

Juniper

Yes

No

Cinnamon

Yes

Yes

Eucalyptus

No

Yes

Yarrow

Yes

No

Pennyroyal

Yes

Yes

Lavender

No

Yes

Garlic

Yes

No

Thyme

Yes

Yes

Tea Tree

Yes

Yes

Clove

Yes

Yes

Oregano

No

Yes

How to Get Rid of Ants Without Killing Them

Any of the methods that involve repelling ants will prevent them from entering your house in the first place. Unfortunately, once ants are inside your house, it is difficult to relocate the small invaders without causing harm to the insects.

The only way to relocate ants to the great outdoors without killing them is to use a bug vacuum device. There are several inexpensive options on the market which can be purchased online. My kids have a “Nature Bound” bug vacuum and observation chamber that we frequently use to relocate wayward insects outside.

Prevent Vacuumed Ants From Returning

Once the ants are removed with a vacuum, action must be taken to prevent them from re-entering the house. Use vinegar to clean up all pheromone trails and grated citrus peel around their nest outside to discourage the ants from returning to your house.

Having difficulty locating the anthill near your house? Try turning over rocks in the landscape to reveal their colony.

Having difficulty locating the anthill near your house? Try turning over rocks in the landscape to reveal their colony.

Is Borax Safe to Use?

I do not recommend the common borax-and-sugar recipe found in many DIY ant-killer articles. While borax is all-natural, it is also a skin irritant, harmful when ingested in large quantities, and may be a hormone disruptor. The one time a borax bait might be recommended is to control grease ants, which are notoriously difficult to get rid of.

If this method is required, make a bait using 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and ½ teaspoon of borax. Keep this bait away from all pets and children, placing it directly in the vicinity of the grease ants. It will take a few days for the ants to carry the bait back to the colony and die, so this method is not an instantaneous fix.

Pros and Cons of Using Ant Control Measures

MethodEfficacyToxicityAnt Type Affected

Borax/Peanut Butter

Kills an ant colony over the course of a few days.

Borax is a skin irritant and should not be used near kids or pets.

Grease Ants

Baking Soda

Kills an ant colony over the course of a few days.

None

Sugar Ants

Vinegar

Effective ant repellent. Removes pheromone trail. Does not kill ants unless they are drowned in the vinegar.

None

All Ants

Coffee Grounds or Chalk

Least effective method. Ants often remove physical barriers.

Coffee can cause toxicity in dogs. Use chalk if you have a dog in the house.

All Ants

Neem Oil

Extremely effective ant killer and repellent.

None

All Ants

Boiling Water

Effectively kills outdoor colonies of ants, removing the source of the infestation.

None

All Ants

Lemon Eucalyptus

Repels ants from the house. Does not remove the pheromone trail or kill ants.

None

All Ants

Soapy Water

Kills ants and removes the pheromone trail.

None

All Ants

Diatomaceous Earth

Kills ants on contact. Does not remove the pheromone trail or repel ants.

None

All Ants

Cayenne Pepper

Repels ants. Does not kill ants or remove the pheromone trail.

None

All Ants

Citrus Peels

Repels ants. Does not kill ants or remove the pheromone trail.

None

All Ants

Bug Vacuum

Removes ants temporarily. Does not clear pheromone trail, repel, or kill ants.

None

All Ants

Pharaoh ants are extremely tiny, very invasive, and live only 4-12 months.

Pharaoh ants are extremely tiny, very invasive, and live only 4-12 months.

FAQs About Ants

Ants are fascinating creatures. For example, did you know that only fertilized eggs become female? Like bees, ants are haplodiploid. Females are diploid (have two complete sets of chromosomes) and males are haploid (have one set of unpaired chromosomes). Unfertilized ant eggs become males, and ants have the ability to control how many males are created within their colony.

These fascinating creatures have many interesting characteristics!

How long do ants live?

Different species of ants have different lifespans. The Pharaoh ant lives for only 4–12 months, while the black garden ant can live for up to 4 years!

The Jack Jumper ant, located in Australia, is the world’s most dangerous ant. There have been at least three human fatalities since 1936. The fastest recorded death of a human adult was within 15 minutes of envenomation.

The Jack Jumper ant, located in Australia, is the world’s most dangerous ant. There have been at least three human fatalities since 1936. The fastest recorded death of a human adult was within 15 minutes of envenomation.

How many ants are there in the world?

There are more than 13,000 ant species in the world! In tropical rainforests, they comprise more than 50% of the abiding insect population.

What do ants eat?

Ants are omnivores, which means they eat plant and animal material. Many ants will hunt and kill other species of ants. In short, there is very little an ant won’t eat!

Do ants sleep?

Ants do sleep, but for less than one minute at a time. They may take these short naps up to 250 times per day! Frequent, short sleep cycles mean that there is an almost constant level of activity within each colony and no time of day when ants are completely at rest.

How many times can an ant lift its own weight?

Ants can lift up to 5,000 times their own body weight, according to the Journal of Biomechanics article cited by Entymology Today.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Leah Lefler

Comments

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 16, 2021:

Using grits is an interesting idea, Kathleen! Completely all natural, non-toxic, and an excellent alternative to some of the other physical barrier methods like coffee and chalk!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on June 15, 2021:

Grits.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 15, 2021:

In the past, we have also used the commercial chemical traps. Some of these use Borax, which is natural (though not non-toxic). Boron is a known endocrine disruptor, though only if it is eaten. We don't want our pets or kids being exposed to pesticides, so we frequently look for non-toxic methods for controlling pests.

Ants are fascinating creatures and getting rid of the pheromone trail is critical once they have been removed from the house. If the pheromone trail isn't wiped clean using vinegar (or other methods, including soapy water), the ants will simply find their way back inside again!

I'm glad this article was helpful to you, Glenn!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 15, 2021:

I am glad you found it useful, Rawan. I hope it helps people use all natural methods to keep ants out of their homes!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 15, 2021:

That is an interesting tip, Peggy. I will definitely need to try that one the next time I find an anthill near my house! We usually have a can of soda lying around, and it would be an easy and inexpensive way to get rid of the ants.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on June 15, 2021:

Every few years, I end up with ants finding their way in, usually in my kitchen. I’ve struggled with various methods of eliminating them, but now that I read your article, Leah, I realize I haven’t tried every possible trick.

I have to admit that I turned to the use of store-bought chemicals that might be toxic. But the next time I have ants, I will experiment with some of your suggestions that work safely as a physical barrier.

Ants have a way of communicating, using pheromones, and when they learn that there is a deterrent in their path, they instruct the others not to bother.

Rawan Osama from Egypt on June 15, 2021:

Thsnks for sharing it , its very useful!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 15, 2021:

This article is fascinating and helpful for deterring or killing ants. Another tip: If you spot an anthill outdoors and have any type of soda, pouring it over the anthill will eliminate it. I read that somewhere and have tried it with good results.

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