Did you know ants are beneficial to your lawn and garden? That’s why we recommend repelling ants to keep them away from your home and outdoor living spaces instead of exterminating the colony.
These 8 natural ways to repel ants in your yard and home will keep ants out of sight and out of mind. Then, you can enjoy the benefits of ants in your yard without them biting you or getting into your food.
- 8 Natural Ways to Repel Ants
- Home remedies that don’t repel ants
- Practices to prevent ants
- When to exterminate ants
- When natural methods aren’t enough
8 Natural Ways to Repel Ants
1. Essential oils
How it works: Essential oils are highly concentrated and have very strong smells, especially to ants. Some (but not all) essential oils mask the scent trails ants use to navigate, which confuses them and sends them in the opposite direction. Some essential oils that repel ants are:
- Peppermint oil
- Cedarwood oil
- Tea tree oil
- Vetiver oil
- Orange oil
- Cinnamon oil
What to do:
- Step 1: Put five drops of the ant-repelling essential oil of your choice on a cotton ball. Place several of these cotton balls around your kitchen, garden, or any area where you see a lot of ants.
- Step 2: Replace the cotton balls every two days until you stop seeing ants in that area.
- Step 3: Fill a spray bottle with 15 drops of the essential oil of your choice for every ¼ cup of water. Shake well.
- Step 4: Observe the ants to find their ant trails (anywhere you see many ants walking in a row). Spray the essential oil solution along those trails.
- Step 5: If you have an indoor ant infestation, diffuse an ant-repelling essential oil in the affected room.
Downsides: You’ll have to reapply essential oils often for them to remain effective, especially the oil-soaked cotton balls. There might be some trial and error in choosing which oil to use because all the recommended oils may not work on all ant species.
2. Cayenne pepper / Black pepper
How it works: The spicy, strong scent of cayenne pepper (or black pepper, if that’s what you have) irritates ants, and they try to avoid it. Pepper’s scent also masks the ants’ pheromone trails that lead them to food sources in your yard and home.
What to do:
- Step 1: Sprinkle cayenne pepper or black pepper in a circle around any anthills you see in your yard.
- Step 2: Sprinkle the pepper in front of pipes, vents, doors, windows, and anywhere else ants might enter your home. If the ants are already inside, try to locate their nest, and sprinkle pepper around the entrance.
- Step 3: Mix cayenne or black pepper with water in a spray bottle.
- Step 4: Spray the mixture along ant trails (anywhere you’ve seen ants marching in a line) and anywhere else ants congregate.
- Step 5: Pour the mixture inside the anthill or nest. It probably won’t kill the ants, but it will burn them, irritate them, and encourage them to pack up and leave.
Downsides: Cayenne pepper and black pepper might irritate your pets, especially if they sniff it and it goes up their nose. Try to keep pets away from areas where you’ve sprayed or sprinkled pepper.
3. White vinegar
How it works: Vinegar’s strong smell overwhelms ants’ senses and masks their scent trails leading into your garden or pantry. Disrupting those trails will confuse the ants and send them somewhere else to look for food.
What to do:
- Step 1: In a spray bottle, combine equal parts white vinegar and water.
- Step 2: Spray the solution anywhere you’ve seen ant trails to erase them and keep more ants from following them in the future.
- Step 3: Spray the solution around the parts of your yard you spend time in (sidewalks, driveways, playgrounds, patios, etc) and in front of possible entry points into your home.
- Step 4: Pour the solution inside the anthill or nest to dislodge the ants remaining inside.
Downsides: Vinegar damages plants and dries out the soil, so use it sparingly in the lawn and garden.
4. Lemon juice
How it works: The high acidity of lemon juice disrupts and erases ants’ pheromone trails. The scent also disorients and repels ants.
What to do:
- Step 1: For indoor ants, soak a paper towel in lemon juice and wipe down your kitchen counters, the floor and shelves in your pantry, and anywhere else you’ve seen ants looking for food.
- Step 2: Soak another paper towel and wipe down windowsills, door frames, and other potential points of entry to keep more ants from getting inside in the future.
- Step 3: For outdoor ants, mix 3 parts water and 1 part lemon juice in a spray bottle.
- Step 4: Spray the solution all around anthills in your yard and along ant trails.
- Step 5: Spray the perimeter of your outdoor living spaces to keep ants out.
Downsides: The acid in lemon juice can cause digestive issues for pets if they ingest it, but they probably won’t try to lick lemon juice sprays because their instincts tell them not to. Lemon juice can damage paint, so be careful where you spray it.
How it works: Just like cinnamon essential oil, ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks smell disgusting to ants and mask ant trails with their strong scent. Ground cinnamon also can clog ants’ spiracles, which they use to breathe, and suffocate them to death.
What to do:
- Step 1: Sprinkle ground cinnamon in a circle around anthills or in a line blocking the entrance to indoor ant nests.
- Step 2: Spread more ground cinnamon along ant trails and in any area where ants congregate.
- Step 3: Create a barrier of ground cinnamon in front of doors, windows, pipes, vents, and any cracks or crevices ants could use to get inside your home from the yard.
- Step 4: Place cinnamon sticks around your garden and other high-traffic areas of your yard to repel ants. You can add a few drops of cinnamon oil to the sticks to increase their potency.
Downsides: As with any powder, rain or watering the lawn can wash away ground cinnamon barriers. You may have to reapply often.
6. Chili powder
How it works: Like pepper, the spicy scent of chili powder irritates and repels ants. Chili powder’s burn isn’t enough to kill the ants, but it’s enough to send them running away.
What to do:
- Step 1: Surround anthills in your yard or indoor ant nests with a layer of chili powder.
- Step 2: Sprinkle more chili powder along ant trails and anywhere ants congregate, inside or outside.
- Step 3: Spread chili powder around your outdoor living spaces and potential entry points into your home.
- Step 4: Pour a solution of chili powder and water into the anthill or indoor ant nest if possible. This will disturb the ants remaining in the nest and encourage them to find a new place to live.
Downsides: The spicy scent of chili powder may irritate your pets, and they definitely shouldn’t eat it or sniff it up-close. You’ll have to reapply outdoor chili powder any time rain washes it away.
7. Citrus peels
How it works: Ants hate the smell of citrus, so they steer clear of it. The acid in citrus also erases pheromone trails.
What to do:
- Step 1: Save the peels of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits.
- Step 2: Dry the peels. You can either leave them in a sunny spot for two to three days or bake them in an oven heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes.
- Step 3: Grind the dried peels in a grinder or food processor until they form a powder.
- Step 4: Spread the powder around ant beds, ant trails, and anywhere you’ve seen ants in your home or garden.
- Step 5: If you have enough powder, sprinkle the perimeter of your outdoor living spaces and potential entry points into your home.
Downsides: It might take a long time to collect enough peels to make a sufficient amount of powder. If you spread the powder outdoors, you run the risk of rain or sprinklers washing it away, and then you have to make more to replace it.
8. Ant-repelling plants to grow in your garden
How it works: Some herbs and other plants give off strong scents that overwhelm ants’ senses and keep them out of your garden. Here are a few plants that repel ants and aren’t too difficult to grow:
What to do:
- Step 1: Visit a local greenhouse or plant store and find one of the plants listed above. Buy enough of the plant to create a cluster or border.
- Step 2: Plant the ant-repelling plants near spaces you want to keep ants away from. You can plant them in a border around your garden or a small flower bed near a patio or play area.
- Step 3: Do your research on how to take care of your plants. They will only be effective at repelling ants as long as you keep them alive, healthy, and fragrant.
Downsides: Some ant-repelling plants are toxic to pets if ingested. According to the ASPCA, garlic, lavender, mint, and tansy are all toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Check the ASPCA’s database before planting any ant-repelling plants where your pets can get to them.
Home remedies that don’t repel ants
Not all popular home remedies are effective at repelling ants. You’ll often see these recommendations, but they don’t work consistently.
- Chalk: A line of chalk blocking an ant trail may temporarily confuse ants, but it doesn’t actually do anything to repel them.
- Coffee grounds: Coffee grounds may temporarily deter some ant species, but you have to replace the grounds pretty much every day for them to be effective. The ants will just move the coffee grounds out of the way.
Practices to prevent ants
Here are some things you can do to make your yard inhospitable for ants and give them fewer options for getting inside your home.
- Maintain your lawn consistently to keep it thick and healthy. Ants love bare, sparse stretches of land with no vegetation. You should mow the lawn every week, water it plenty (but not too much), and fertilize it every few months.
- Trim trees and shrubs regularly so the branches don’t touch the house. Ants can use branches as a bridge to get inside your home.
- Clear your lawn of dead plant matter such as fallen leaves, dead branches, or logs.
- Never leave out food waste, either inside or outside. That means no crumbs, no fruit rinds, nothing.
- Move woodpiles away from the house. Best case scenario, store your wood inside a shed or garage where ants are less likely to infest it.
- Keep trash cans and compost bins in the middle of a driveway or patio, away from the lawn. If you see ants near the trash can or compost pile, relocate it.
When to exterminate ants
Sometimes, ant repellents aren’t enough. Some species can be persistent and keep coming back again and again. Plus, if an ant nest gets too big, it can damage the lawn.
In cases like these, you might have to give in and exterminate the whole ant colony. But that doesn’t mean you have to use pesticides. There are plenty of natural ways to exterminate ants using baiting techniques or dousing the nest.
Some natural remedies to get rid of ants are:
- Diatomaceous earth (DE)
- Borax or boric acid
- Boiling water
- Baking soda or baby powder
- Dish soap and water
When natural methods aren’t enough
Pesticides should be a last resort, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never have to use them. If an ant colony is particularly large or resists natural treatments for another reason, you can try chemical ant baits and contact insecticides before calling in a professional.
Did you just get rid of ants and don’t want another infestation in the future? The best way to keep ants out of your yard is to keep your lawn healthy. Healthy lawns don’t attract ants. And when you need help with lawn care, you can turn to Lawn Love’s local pros.
Main Photo Credit: Andre Moura | Pexels