Few sights are more disturbing than opening a kitchen cupboard or lifting a container on the countertop to find a swarm of ants creeping around your food. Ants in the kitchen may be a problem year-round, but they can be especially troublesome in the fall and early winter, when cool outdoor temperatures send the insects indoors. And as you've probably noticed, ants are especially fond of sweet food, and can often be seen nosing around honey and jam jars or near sugar canisters.
So, if you find yourself ready to do battle with ants, fortunately there are easy ways to keep them at bay and/or combat them without the use of pesticides or other harmful chemicals. Below, our favorite tips and tricks.
Use Homemade Repellent Powders
Any number of ordinary household powders and substances are known to repel ants when sprinkled around doorways and other entry points to the kitchen.
Pepper and other spices and herbs. Sprinkle finely ground-up herbs and spices around areas where ants have been seen. Some especially effective types include black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, cloves, garlic, bay leaves, mint leaves, and basil. The smell of these herbs and spices will cause ants to move in the opposite direction.
Coffee grounds. Although they may soil and stain surfaces (so be careful how you use this one), used coffee grounds sprinkle along ant trails will disrupt their activity. Sprinkled beneath door sills on the outside of the door, coffee grounds will dissuade ants from entering.
Talcum powder. Talc is a clay mineral in very fine crystal form. Its texture is unpleasant to ants, so a barrier of sprinkled talcum powder may prevent ants from crossing.
Cornstarch. Ants try to eat cornstarch, but because it is indigestible to them, it kills them. The best method is to place a pan of cornstarch near where you think they are nesting. You may be able to kill the entire colony with this method.
Diatomaceous earth. One of the best natural remedies is to lay down a layer of diatomaceous earth, sometimes called DE. This is a finely ground powder made from shells of tiny ocean organisms. The sharp edges of the particles will cut the bodies of ants, and kill them if ingested. Sprinkle a layer of DE around doorways and other entry points, and ants are unlikely to cross it.
Cucumber peelings. Grated up finely and sprinkled along a floor, doorway, or the back of countertops, cucumber peelings have an odor that repels ants.
Use Repellent Liquids
In addition to powders, there are a number or liquid solutions you can use to treat floors, cabinets, and countertops to dissuade ants from visiting your kitchen.
Citrus fruits. The juice of lemons or another citrus fruit spread along thresholds or the edges of the floor will repel ants. One cup of lemon juice mixed with four cups of water makes an excellent repellent liquid to wipe along floors and countertops.
Soapy water. Make a simple solution of water and dish detergent, and wipe it along door sills and windows, or wherever you have seen ants, and allow the solution to dry without rinsing it. The smell of the detergent will repel ants for several weeks.
Vinegar and water. Mix up a solution of 2 cups vinegar in a half-bucket of warm water. Fill a spray bottle with the solution. Use the spray, or a cloth moistened with the vinegar solution, to spray or wipe down kitchen countertops, the inside and outside of kitchen cabinets, and the exterior of your kitchen appliances. This remedy can also be used on the furniture and floors in other rooms. Once the vinegar dries, the smell will vanish, but ants will be repulsed for a week or more. When washing floors, add vinegar to the water — this will erase the scent of invisible trails the ants are using to journey through your kitchen.
And lastly, of course there's this…
Keep Surfaces Clean and Foods Tightly Covered
This may be stating the obvious, but being somewhat compulsive about your cleanup and food storage habits will go a long way toward preventing ants from being drawn to your kitchen. Keep flour, sugar, and other dry ingredients in tightly sealed plastic or glass containers. Place a bay leaf in each container — it will make the ingredients less attractive to ants. Keep garbage containers clean and tightly sealed, and make sure that materials you are recycling are completely clean before putting them into recycling bins. Regularly remove wet trash from inside the house to the outdoors garbage cans.
Seal the Entry Points
Although it can be hard to find and block every entry point to your home, look for cracks and holes around windows and doors and along the cracks where walls rest on foundations. Seal any openings you find with a good-quality caulk. You may not block all ants, but there will certainly be fewer that find their way into your kitchen.