Since the dawn of time, humans have been looking for ways to rid themselves of insect and animal pests, including ants. The search has led to some interesting home remedies and myths, including the idea that baby powder and ants don't mix well. Baby powder is said to deter ants in two different ways, and it can reduce their numbers. It's not likely, however, that baby powder alone will cure your ant ills.
The Pheromone Theory
When you see ants out and about, you're usually looking at worker ants out scavenging for food. As they walk around, ants release a pheromone trail. This trail helps them find their way home and gives other ants a trail to follow to food sources.
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Sprinkling scented baby powder in these areas and at entry points in your home is said to exclude ants. The theory here is that the smell of the baby powder overwhelms the smell of the ants' pheromones. Somehow they know this, apparently, and avoid walking through the baby powder.
In truth, experts have found that ants do dislike walking through baby powder, but no one is entirely sure why. For now, entomologists assume they simply don't like getting the powder on their bodies for some reason. In short, using baby powder as a deterrent might decrease the number of ants you see, but it's probably not going to stop them all.
The Suffocation Theory
Another popular talcum powder and ants theory is that you can use the powder to suffocate the ants. Ants do breathe through tiny holes on their bodies called spiracles. Clog these spiracles with something like baby powder and the ants won't be able to breathe, eventually suffocating. Or so the theory goes.
Not only is this a pretty cruel way to kill an insect, but experts say it's also nonsensical. In reality, baby powder isn't dense or heavy enough to block the ant's spiracles. The ant would easily be able to shake the powder off during respiration and keep right on going.
What Baby Powder Does Do
Like many urban myths, the idea of killing ants with baby powder probably started with a nugget of truth. Because ants can't or won't walk through baby powder, you can use it to protect yourself against red ants. Getting rid of potentially dangerous fire ants usually involves digging up their nest, throwing it in a bucket, and then filling the bucket with soapy water to drown the ants.
To prevent the ants from crawling back out of the bucket or climbing up to reach you via the shovel handle, experts advise coating both the sides of the bucket and the shaft of your shovel with baby powder. This is the only effective way to combat ants with baby powder.
Better Ant Control Methods
When dealing with an ant problem, diatomaceous earth is a much better option than baby powder. Made from tiny fossils, diatomaceous earth has sharp edges that cut the ant's exoskeleton as it walks through it. This causes the ant to dry out and die.
Diatomaceous earth is a powder, so you can sprinkle it where you see ants and use a duster to treat cracks and crevices where ants may be lurking. Although you should try not to inhale it, food-grade diatomaceous earth is safe to use around children and pets.
Commercial ant baits also work well. It's true that these baits do contain potentially toxic chemicals. They are typically enclosed, however, with openings only large enough to admit ants. It's wise to place these bait stations where kids and pets can't reach them, but their covered nature makes them much less dangerous than other types of poisons.
If you're struggling to get your ant problem under control, consider hiring a professional exterminator. If you have concerns about the toxicity of pesticides, most exterminators are happy to discuss them with you. If you ask for the safest or most natural pest control options, your exterminator should be happy to oblige.