Fascinating social creatures that ants might be, when they swarm your food prep areas, invade your yard, or otherwise make their creepy-crawly presence known, you’d rather be rid of them. That can prove challenging, since North America is home to almost 1,000 species of ants, with each colony hosting an average of 1,000 individuals. Depending on the species, ants can damage a home, attack pets and people, and contaminate household food with bacterial and disease-causing organisms, including salmonella.
Worker ants spread out in large search patterns looking for water, food, and shelter, all of which they can find in your home. Dry heat or a lack of moisture drives ant colonies to search for more humid locations, while ample food sources and protection from the elements encourage ants to take up residence.
The best ant killer capitalizes on the insects’ tendency to hunt, gather, and then bring the poison back to the nest, wiping out the entire colony. Others set up perimeters that keep ants out. Targeting the problem with the right insecticide while also ensuring your loved ones’ safety can become easier once you understand ant species and pesticide ingredients. Read on to learn all about ants and why the following killers rank tops at annihilating the pesky intruders.
- BEST OVERALL: Terro T300 Liquid Ant Bait Stations
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Ortho BugClear Insect Killer for Lawns & Landscapes
- UPGRADE PICK: Advion Ant Bait Gel Indoxacarb-Case
- BEST FOR OUTDOORS: TERRO T1812 Outdoor Liquid Ant Killer Bait Stakes
- BEST FOR CHILD SAFETY: Orange Guard 101 Home Pest Control
- BEST KILL-ON-CONTACT: 2-Pack TERRO 600 1-Pound Ant Killer Dust
- BEST FOR FIRE ANTS: Amdro Fire Ant Bait Granules
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Ant Killer
Before purchasing an ant killer, identify the species invading your home or yard. To ID a particular pest, reference AntWeb, an online database of every ant species worldwide. However, those who reside in North America most likely will encounter one of the following:
- Odorous house ants are small brown or black ants that nest in walls and under floors. They are drawn to sugar and are most active in the spring and summer months.
- Pavement ants are brown or black in color. They commonly swarm over paving tiles in what looks like an epic battle with other pavement ants. Some pavement ants, known as alates (or swarmers), have wings and can fly to begin new colonies.
- Carpenter ants are one of the largest ant species in North America. As the name implies, carpenter ants have a fondness for wood. This destructive species, which contains both swarmers and workers, bores holes in walls, floors, and ceilings, leaving telltale piles of sawdust in their wake.
- Fire ants, which are small and reddish-brown in color, build mounds in the yard that look like piles of loose dirt. This species poses the most immediate threat to humans and pets, as their painful sting produces a burning sensation as well as swelling and itching. Those allergic to insect stings must be especially careful, since fire-ant venom can cause swelling of the throat and trouble breathing.
Types of Ant Killers
Ant killers come in two main types: baits and kill-on-contact pesticides. Baits draw insects in with attractive scents and tastes and provide small pieces of poisoned bait that ants can carry back to the colony. Active ingredients like fipronil or hydramethylnon have a delayed effect, which allows the worker ant to carry or ingest the bait without dying immediately.
Therefore, they either return the bait to the nest for consumption or die within the nest where their bodies release the poison. Baits generally are considered the best option when unsure of the nest’s location.
Kill-on-contact pesticides use active ingredients such as deltamethrin or d-limonene to kill ants and other insects when applied directly. The ingredients can destroy the nervous system or exoskeleton of individual ants, but ants do not carry the product back to a nest. Due to this limitation, kill-on-contact solutions are best for perimeter defense or if the nest is visible.
There are a few key factors to consider when shopping for ant killers. Whether you want an ant bait or something with a more natural approach, these considerations will help you make the best choice for your home.
Ant killers either have a delayed onset or work instantly, depending on the active ingredient. For serious infestations that include daily sightings of 10 or more ants in a given area, both an instant killer and a delayed-onset poison to target the nest can knock out the problem.
Sodium tetraborate decahydrate (simply known as borax), hydramethylnon, and fipronil have delayed onset, allowing ants to gather the poison and return it to the colony and distribute it. They also signal other ants to go retrieve more poison.
Delayed-onset ant killers poison within 24 to 72 hours; however, the length of time needed to destroy a nest depends on poison placement, nest population, and many other factors. In general, delayed-onset poisons should be used continually until the bait is no longer being taken and ants are no longer seen.
The chemical deltamethrin is among active ingredients that work immediately by interfering with ants’ central nervous systems. For a natural alternative, d-limonene, which is made of up to 95 percent of the components in orange peel extract, deteriorates the coating of the respiratory system, causing ants to suffocate.
Ant killers can be applied in a wide variety of ways. With so many different application methods, you may wish to try a few to see what works best for your specific situation.
- Bait stations are small, plastic containers into which ants enter, grab a piece of poisoned bait, and march back home none the wiser. To keep kids and pets away from harmful poisons, place bait stations in low-traffic areas, such as behind appliances or in a crawl space.
- Gel baits are squeezed into cracks or behind appliances. Ants slowly consume the gel over time, sealing their colony’s fate.
- Liquid baits can be suspended on small stakes in the yard. A diagonal opening ascends like a staircase, allowing ants to take bait from each step of the access hole at the same time. Liquid bait can also be used in simple bait stations.
- Granule bait may be sprinkled in or around a nest. Ants grab the individual granules and return to the colony.
- Sprays can be aimed directly at ants or applied as a surface poison that is absorbed through the ants’ skin.
- Ant dust is a powder that kills through contact or ingestion. It can be used to create a perimeter around a home or to seal off cracks and other entry points.
Prior to treating an ant infestation, consider the safety of people and pets in the home.
Some bait stations and gels use bright colors to call attention to their threat, but these colors can attract children and animals looking for a toy or treat. Put bait stations only where kids and pets can’t access them. Sprays and ant dust can be absorbed through family members’ skin, posing a serious risk if used in high-traffic areas.
Fortunately, d-limonene, the natural active ingredient in some kill-on-contact insecticides, is harmless to humans and pets. However, it doesn’t provide the same level of defense as a more potent product, and it won’t be useful against an unseen nest.
Ant killers may include extra features such as stay-fresh tabs that keep the bait as potent as possible or helpful applicators, like a syringe for gels or a shaker for ant dust. Bait stakes work out in the yard or garden and some outdoor insecticides have waterproof options.
Our Top Picks
The list of top ant killers below can help you get started in choosing the best ant killer for your home or yard. These picks consider safety, application, use, and features.
Thanks to a sealed bait station loaded with borax and a stay-fresh tab users simply snap off to activate, the Terro T300 Liquid Ant Bait Stations remain effective for up to 3 months. The design also securely contains the bait, freeing users from handling the chemical.
Terro T300 comes in a pack of six stations; simply leave them in low human-traffic areas where ants have been spotted. Their small size packs plenty of bait for ants to take back to the nest, but the stations can fit in out-of-the-way spots to lessen the chance that curious kids will pick them up. Though borax takes about 2 to 3 days to destroy ants by interfering with their digestive system, the product’s longevity can keep a home ant-free for the entire infestation season.
With bifenthrin and zeta-cypermethrin as the active ingredients, this Ortho BugClear ant killer lawn spray is suitable for treating new and ongoing ant infestations outside the home. The two active ingredients kill affected ants by slowly shutting down sodium channels that allow the nervous system to function properly, leading to ant starvation, paralysis, and death.
This ant killer lawn spray is an affordable approach; it comes in a ready-to-use 32-ounce spray bottle that contains enough ant killer solution to treat a lawn infestation for up to 6 months. It’s a versatile product that can also work against ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, spiders, and more than 200 additional insect species.
Gel ant baits and ant killers, like this Advion Ant Bait Gel product, are long lasting and easy to apply. The four included plungers each contain 1 ounce of ant bait gel. To apply, users slowly discharge the plunger for precise application around sinks, under or near garbage containers, and around appliances, like the fridge or stove. The gel bait is intended for indoor use. Though it costs more than ant dust, it makes less mess and users can easily apply it right where ants appear.
The active ingredient in this gel ant bait is called indoxacarb. It can be ingested or absorbed through touch and begins to immediately shut down the ants’ nerve functions by preventing the flow of sodium ions into the cells of the nervous system. The ants stop feeding, become paralyzed, and slowly die, but not before tracking the gel back to the nest where it can spread to other ants in the colony.
Terro Outdoor Liquid Ant Killer Bait Stakes include eight green stakes that users can easily insert into the ground in a perimeter around the home to draw in and destroy nearby colonies. The bait is housed behind an ascending staircase, which allows more ants to access the bait at one time and increases the total number of ants a single stake can address.
The stake design prevents the bait station from being blown or knocked over, and the casing further protects the bait from the elements. Tuck the stakes around plants in the garden or outdoor structures to attack ants where they nest. Before inserting the stakes, remember to remove the activation tab that keeps the bait fresh until it is ready for use.
If curious kids and pets are present, or if ants are an issue in a food prep area, Orange Guard 101 Home Pest Control is a smart solution. The active ingredient d-limonene, formulated in a water-based spray, is environmentally safe and nontoxic to people and animals.
Spray the formula directly on ants to kill on contact, and apply it in a perimeter around the home and in cracks and crevices to prevent infestations. While d-limonene affects insects’ respiratory systems, causing them to suffocate, its strong aroma also deters ants, roaches, and fleas. This product comes in a 1-gallon jug of liquid.
Deltamethrin, the active ingredient in Terro 600 Ant Killer Dust, can either be absorbed through an ant’s exoskeleton or ingested, where it immediately begins interfering with the insect’s central nervous system. To kill ants inside the home, sprinkle behind appliances or apply in cracks and crevices to block them from entering in the first place. Note that since this ant dust is waterproof, it is equally effective outside.
This contact killer comes in two shaker containers for controlled application on grass, flowers, and around the perimeter of a home. TERRO 600 Ant Killer Dust offers up to 8 months of protection (per container) against fire ants, carpenter ants, cockroaches, spiders, and ticks. The dust will immediately begin killing individual ants, plus it attaches to their bodies so they can carry it back to the nest to treat the infestation at the source.
Amdro Fire Ant Bait Granules attract workers from nearby fire ant colonies, where hydramethylnon kills by inhibiting the ants’ internal systems. The granules, which come in a 1-pound container, are designed for sprinkling around the lawn or near visible ant mounds.
It takes between 24 and 72 hours to kill the ants that take the bait. Within that time, the poison has been effectively shared with the queen and nest. Be sure to read the safety instructions for pets and children. And, for best results, do not apply during rainy weather. This product’s innovative two-step method can kill visible or hard-to-find red-ant nests.
FAQs about Ant Killers
The answers to several commonly asked questions appear below for those who are interested in the best ant killer and how it works.
Q. What is the most effective ant killer for indoors?
The most effective ant killer for your infestation can vary depending on whether the ant nest is indoors or outdoors, but Terro T300 Liquid Ant Bait Stations work well for indoor infestations.
Q. What do professionals use to kill ants?
Professionals rely on a variety of products based on the location and severity of the infestation. Common active ingredients used by professional exterminators include abamectin, cyfluthrin, fipronil, permethrin, bifenthrin, hydramethylnon, pyrethrum, and boric acid.
Q. How do you get rid of an ant infestation?
You can get rid of an ant infestation by treating the home with ant killers and ant baits to help lure the ants to the product and ensure the destruction of the colony when affected ants carry the poison back to the nest.
Q. What ingredients are best for use in homes with children?
Products with the active ingredient d-limonene are environmentally safe and nontoxic to people and animals.