How To Get Rid of Sugar Ants: 5 Steps To Take
Want to know how to get rid of sugar ants for good? Read on for information on sugar ants and how to deal with an infestation.
Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy the sweet taste of sugar. Many people head into their kitchens, only to be greeted by a swarm of sugar ants taking over a sweet treat or sticky spill on the countertop. While sugar ants are not inherently dangerous, they are nonetheless unwanted and unsightly pests inside the home. For those struggling with how to get rid of sugar ants in the house, read on to learn about these creatures—and how to get rid of them once and for all with DIY or professional intervention.
Time required: Dependent on the size of the infestation; as little as 48 hours or as much as 3 weeks
Estimated cost: $5-10 for home treatment; up to $200-250 for professional intervention
Identifying Sugar Ants
In order to most effectively get rid of unwanted pests, homeowners will first want to identify what species has invaded their home.
The name “sugar ant” is a catch-all term referring to various species that display similar sweet-seeking behavior. One such species is the banded sugar ant, typically only found in Australia. In North America, the ant colloquially called the “sugar ant” is also known as the odorous house ant.
Odorous house ants are black or brown in color and have 12 distinct antennae segments. They are also one of the smaller species of ants, measuring between 2.5 and 3 millimeters (around 1/10th of an inch) in length. As the name implies, this species’ most distinguishing characteristic is its odor. When crushed, it releases a smell akin to a rotten coconut. In addition to these distinct characteristics, sugar ants can also often be identified by their behavior. Homeowners can typically find tiny sugar ants in the kitchen or around open food, especially sweet and sticky substances.
Brown or black sugar ants can be easily confused with pavement ants, which are also small, black or brown insects. However, pavement ants can run slightly larger, between 2.5 millimeters and 4.2 millimeters (approximately 1/10th to 1/6th of an inch). They also have pale legs, dual spines, and small stiff hairs all over their bodies. Though pavement ants may also show up in kitchens looking for grease spots, they are most commonly found in sidewalk cracks.
In short, some signs of sugar ants in a home include:
- A collection of small black or brown insects gathered near an open food source.
- A trail of small black or brown insects leading toward food crumbs or spills.
- A rotten coconut odor (if the ants have been crushed).
Tips for How to Get Rid of Sugar Ants
- Understanding what attracts ants—and how they gain access to a home in the first place—can help reduce the likelihood of a sugar ant infestation.
- In the event of a significant infestation, or if home treatments have not been effective, it’s best to call in an exterminator.
- Sugar ants bite only in self-defense, and their bites do not typically cause symptoms in people (unless the recipient has significant allergies). If the bitten area is painful, another species of ant—such as a fire ant—may be the culprit.
- When using one of the best ant killers, it’s wise to research any environmental and health effects.
- Some ant killers are harmful to people and pets, while others can negatively impact local soil and water sources.
STEP 1: Seal any potential entry points to the home.
Ants can easily enter the home through the smallest of openings, including gaps in the foundation, cracks in the wall or flooring, and open windows or doors. Once inside the home, they can also make their way into small spaces in and around cabinets and drawers.
Small interior gaps, such as those around baseboards, can be sealed with caulk. For cracks in the exterior, including the house foundation, spackle can fill in the space. A coat of paint over the spackle, or any small cracks in the wall, can add further protection (and visual appeal).
STEP 2: Eliminate any open food sources.
After sealing any potential entryways into the home, it’s time to eliminate the sugar ants’ motivation to explore further by blocking any open food sources. Food should be kept in in airtight containers to prevent ants from catching a whiff or getting to the source. Homeowners will want to clean any food spills, particularly sweet or sticky ones, immediately.
In addition to eliminating the food sources, it’s also important to keep any sugar-ant hotspots clean. Ants communicate via scent trails, which allow other ants to know where to search. Wiping down countertops with soapy water or cleaning spray removes any scent trails, which helps stop attracting other members of the colony.
STEP 3: Use bait traps to capture any ants.
Bait traps are effective in luring and capturing ants. Several homemade sugar ant trap options exist, many of which take advantage of sugar ants’ proclivity for sugary substances. One common sugar ants bait is corn syrup mixed with boric acid—the acid is of low toxicity for humans and pets, but acts as poison for sugar ants. For ants attracted to greasy substances, mixing shortening, sugar, and borax can create an effective bait for sugar ants.
STEP 4: Try natural methods.
Aside from regularly cleaning up crumbs and spills around the home, there are a few natural methods for getting rid of sugar ants:
- White vinegar. Using a mixture of one part white vinegar to one part water, spray the ants’ entry point and trails, as well as any baseboards in between to effectively kill sugar ants. Ants are typically most active in the morning and late afternoon, so homeowners may wish to time their spraying to maximize the number of ants killed.
- Essential oils. A mixture of water with a few drops of essential oils like lavender and peppermint can also be an effective insect repellent (and may smell much better than a vinegar solution).
- Other foods with strong odors. Foods like garlic, cloves, bay leaves, and used coffee grounds can deter sugar ants from their scent trail by confusing them. Coffee grounds, which are highly acidic and will burn the ants, can be particularly effective when placed outside the home near an ant entry point. Garlic can be hung up in a kitchen pantry, while spices like cloves and bay leaves can be set out on the counter to discourage sugar ants from gathering near any crumbs or spills.
- Food-grade diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a substance that is deadly to insects but non-toxic for humans and household pets. It is a fine white powder made from crushed marine phytoplankton that can be sprinkled along ant trails to destroy the ants’ digestive systems.
STEP 5: Hire a professional to effectively eradicate sugar ants.
While home treatment for sugar ants can be effective for small or one-off instances, larger or ongoing infestations likely require professional intervention. An exterminator has extensive knowledge of sugar ants and other pests, as well as access to the most effective tools and treatments to eradicate them. A professional from one of the best pest control companies such as Terminix, Orkin, and others can also provide insight into how to prevent any future infestations.
The average cost of professional sugar ant extermination is typically between $200 and $250; however, exact rates will vary depending on geographic location and the extent of the infestation. Homeowners may also opt for ongoing treatments or maintenance services, which come at an additional cost, but may be well worth the piece of mind provided by an ant-free home.
By following the above guide, homeowners will be able to effectively identify sugar ants, as well as how and why they make their way in. They will also be equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to eradicate sugar ants and prevent future infestations. When in doubt, hiring a professional exterminator can ensure a sugar ant population is eliminated.
For those seeking additional information on getting rid of sugar ants, read on for answers to frequently asked questions.
Q: How do I get rid of sugar ants in a natural way?
Some natural home remedies for sugar ants include a water and white vinegar solution, water with some drops of lavender or peppermint oil, or food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE). You can also try other foods with strong odors, such as garlic, bay leaves, or used coffee grounds.
Q: What attracts sugar ants to my house?
Sugar ants have strong scent receptors and are attracted to the smell of food, especially sweets and meats. They typically build their nests in warm, moist locations; though sugar ants most often nest in kitchen cupboards and pantries, it’s not uncommon to find sugar ants in the bathroom.
Q: Will sugar ants bite me?
Sugar ants, like flying ants, are considered to be mild-mannered, as they bite only in self-defense and do not sting. Bites from a sugar ant do not hurt, nor do they cause any symptoms (unless the person has a severe allergy).
Q: What scent keeps sugar ants away?
Strong odors like peppermint oil, lemon juice, coffee grounds, whole cloves, and bay leaves repel sugar ants. And even though there’s a lot of differences of termites vs. ants, termites also hate these smells.
Q: Do sugar ants hate vinegar?
Sugar ants (and ants in general) hate the smell of vinegar, which interferes with their scent trails. Rather than allow themselves to get lost in a location with vinegar, ants will typically attempt to leave the location of the odor.
Q: How long do sugar ants live on average?
The lifespan of a sugar ant depends on its role in the colony. Male sugar ants, responsible only for mating, live approximately 20 days, while worker sugar ants have a lifespan of up to seven years. A queen sugar ant being taken care of by her subjects, can live 10 to 15 years
Sources: Forbes, HomeAdvisor, The Spruce, Kapture Pest Control