Chances are, you've got a pantry stocked with something that an industrious blogger has dubbed an all-natural home remedy for ant control. Coffee, lemon juice, peppermint, dish soap, cornmeal, vinegar and baking soda are the tip of the iceberg, while warm and spicy cinnamon is an equally common contender. While you don't have much to lose by sprinkling it on your countertops -- and you might end up with a holiday-scented kitchen -- hard evidence isn't in favor of ground cinnamon as an ant control method. Cinnamon essential oil, on the other hand, has science on its side.
Cinnamon's strong scent has led to its adoption as an eco-friendly ant repellent. Ants communicate by leaving a pheromone trail, and the theory goes that strong-smelling cinnamon disrupts this essential form of communication, which deters ants from the area. This same reasoning applies to other commonly suggested home remedies, such as vinegar, citrus, coffee grounds and peppermint.
Spicy but Inconclusive
Melissa Breyer, co-author of True Food: Eight Simple Steps to a Healthier You and managing editor at Treehugger, reports positive results from simply sprinkling ground cinnamon in the spots where ants congregate, and she's certainly not alone. But entomologist Wizzie Brown of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service records different findings, at least in the case of fire ants. In a 2012 study, she found that ground cinnamon applied to fire ant mounds in the same fashion as a pesticide dust actually increased fire ant activity compared to untreated mounds. This hasn't stopped home-remedy enthusiasts from using the technique on household ants, but be warned that your mileage may vary.
The Oil Effect
Because cinnamon essential oil distills the scent of leaves into an intensely fragrant substance, it serves as an effective household ant repellent, based on the same pheromone-disrupting principle as hit-or-miss cinnamon grounds. A 2014 study from the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the University of Technology in Perlis, Malaysia, concludes that cinnamon essential oil yields positive results in both repellency and insecticidal activity, meaning it can actually burn and kill ants when directly applied.
How to Apply
For home use, using cinnamon essential oil for repellency is a safer bet then using it to kill ants. To apply at home, don a pair of gloves and create a solution of about 1 percent oil and 99 percent water. After a thorough house cleaning, locate the areas where ants enter and dwell. Dampen a microfiber cloth with the solution and wipe down the affected surfaces. For prevention, spray your empty trash bins with the solution. You can also create a barrier around entry points by dipping a cotton swab in pure cinnamon essential oil and using it to "draw" a perimeter. Do not apply 100-percent cinnamon oil around exposed food, though, as the substance produces an extreme burning sensation. Brands of essential oil may vary, so always closely follow the instructions and warnings provided by the manufacturer.