How to Get Rid of Fire Ants in Your Yard

closeup of fire ants

Nothing ruins a fun day in the backyard like a fire ant sting (or more likely, many fire ant stings at once). Learn how to get rid of fire ants in your yard so you can protect yourself and your family.

You can use chemical fire ant treatments or try eco-friendly home remedies. We’ll go over both methods to help you come up with an effective pest control plan.

How to get rid of fire ants with pesticides

According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the most effective method for getting rid of fire ants with pesticides is this two-step method:

  • Step 1: Scatter fire ant bait products all around your yard, where worker ants will find them when foraging for food. 
  • Step 2: Drench the mound with liquid or granular insecticide labeled for use against fire ants. 

Broadcast treatment 

The first step in getting rid of fire ants is to spread fire ant bait in all areas of your yard. 

What is fire ant bait? Fire ant bait is a type of pesticide that combines a substance that attracts ants, often soybean oil, with poisonous chemicals such as hydramethylnon, indoxacarb, or spinosad. 

How does fire ant bait work? The goal with baits is for worker ants to pick them up when they are foraging for food and carry them back to the nest. In the nest, the whole colony (including the queen) will share the “food” and the poison along with it. 

Bait pesticides are slow-acting but extremely effective at wiping out the entire colony. You may not see results from baits for a few weeks or even months, but they can eliminate 80% to 90% of the colony in that time. 

illustration showing the inside of an ant nest, through the ant hills

How to broadcast fire ant bait in your yard:

  • Choose a bait made specifically for fire ants, as they are different from insecticides for other types of ants.
  • Apply at the right time for the most effective treatment. Late August to mid-October is the best time of year to treat fire ants. Late afternoon or evening is the best time of day to spread bait because that’s when fire ants usually forage for food. 
  • Wait for a dry day to apply bait to your yard. The ground should be dry, and there should be no rain in the forecast for at least 24 hours. 
  • Follow instructions on the product label to make sure you use the correct amount of bait for your property size. 
  • Use a fertilizer spreader to broadcast bait across your lawn and cover large areas faster. Apply the bait across the entire yard, not only near fire ant mounds. 
  • Keep pets and children out of the yard for at least 24 hours after spreading fire ant treatment. 
  • Re-apply fire ant bait once or twice a year for continued control. Fire ants can be quite resilient. 

Mound drench

fire ant mound drench
abbamouse | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The final step in the two-step method is treating individual mounds. You can use liquid or granular (solid) insecticides labeled for use against fire ants. 

Liquid mound drench:

  • Poke a large hole in the mound with a dowel, broom handle, or similar tool. 
  • Pour the liquid insecticide into the hole after mixing it according to the product label. The product label also should tell you how much of the insecticide to use. 
  • Spray the insecticide in a circle around the mound using a hand sprayer. The circle should be about 6 to 10 feet in diameter. 

Granular mound drench:

  • Sprinkle insecticide granules all around the mound, about 3 feet out in every direction. 
  • Sprinkle the granules on top of the mound, too. The product label should tell you how much to use. 
  • Wet the mound and surrounding area after spreading the granules so the insecticide can soak into the ground. 

Whatever type of insecticide you choose, always carefully follow the instructions on the product label. Keep pets and children away from the treated area for however long is necessary for the specific product you use. When in doubt, wait at least 24 hours. 

How to get rid of fire ants naturally

While the two-step chemical method described above is the most effective way to eliminate fire ants, there are some natural home remedies that work well, too. 

These are the best natural methods for use against fire ants. You can learn more about these and other home remedies in “Natural Ways to Get Rid of Ants in Your Yard and Home.” 

Boiling water

closeup of boiling water in pot on stove
Scott Akerman | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The most popular home remedy for fire ants is dumping boiling water into the mound. The hot water kills ants on contact and destroys the inside of the nest. 

  • Step 1: Boil a large pot of water. 
  • Step 2: Poke a hole in the fire ant mound with a dowel or broom handle. 
  • Step 3: Slowly pour the boiling water into the hole. 
  • Step 4: Repeat as necessary. 

Diatomaceous earth (DE)

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a powder made of microscopic fossils. It doesn’t hurt humans, but the tiny particles damage fire ants’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate and eventually die. 

  • Step 1: Poke a large hole in the mound. 
  • Step 2: Sprinkle DE powder directly inside the mound.
  • Step 3: Sprinkle more DE powder all over and around the mound. 
  • Step 4: Repeat after rain or watering your lawn. DE powder doesn’t work after it gets wet. 

Soapy water

Soap decomposes the wax coatings that fire ants use to retain water. Without that exoskeleton, ants dehydrate. You can add cooking oil to your soapy water solution, and the oil will suffocate the ants. 

  • Step 1: Mix 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap or ¼ cup Castile soap with a quart of water. Add 1 teaspoon of any cooking oil to increase the solution’s effectiveness. 
  • Step 2: Poke a large hole in the top of the fire ant mound.
  • Step 3: Slowly pour the soapy water solution into the mound. 
  • Step 4: Put the soapy water solution in a spray bottle to spray ants you see outside the nest. 
  • Step 5: Repeat as needed. 

Natural ant baits

You can make your own fire ant baits by mixing a sugary or protein-based food with a substance that poisons ants. Natural baits work the same as chemical baits, just without the chemicals. 

Here are some substances you can use as poison in your homemade fire ant baits:

  • Baking soda
  • Borax
  • Boric acid
  • Artificial sweeteners

After you make your own ant baits, place several of them near the nest and any area of the yard or home where you’ve frequently seen fire ants foraging. 

How to prevent fire ants

closeup of fire ant mound
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

If you don’t have fire ants yet or you just got rid of them, it’s time to think about prevention. There are simple steps you can take to keep fire ants out of your yard, home, and electrical equipment. 

How to keep fire ants out of your yard

Fire ants’ favorite habitats are open, sunny areas. They need a water source to survive and often build nests near ponds, rivers, and other natural bodies of water. It’s common to see them nesting in or around decaying logs and tree stumps, too. 

Eliminate these conditions wherever you can to make your yard less appealing to fire ants. Here are some things you can do:

  • Break up open space in your yard with landscape features so fire ants don’t have room to build their extensive colonies. 
  • Keep your yard dry with proper drainage and infrequent watering. At most, water your lawn with 1 inch of water once a week so the soil has time to dry out in between. 
  • Remove decaying wood such as logs, fallen branches, or tree stumps from your yard as soon as you can. 
  • Fertilize your lawn on a regular schedule so the grass grows thick and healthy. Fire ants have a harder time building their nests in dense grass. 

If you’re really serious about keeping fire ants out of the yard, broadcast fire ant bait once or twice a year before the ants ever have a chance to move in. 

How to keep fire ants out of your home

Fire ants prefer to nest outdoors most of the time, but that doesn’t prevent them from wandering into your home in search of food. 

Here are some steps you can take to keep fire ants out of your home:

  • Create a barrier around your home’s foundation with a chemical insecticide labeled for use against fire ants. 
  • Spread ant repellents in front of possible entry points, such as doors, windows, pipes, or vents. You likely already have several ant-repelling substances in your cupboard. 
  • Seal any cracks and crevices in your foundation with caulk, concrete, epoxy, or another airtight sealant. 
  • Trim trees and bushes regularly to keep branches away from the house, as ants can use any branches touching your home as a bridge to get inside. 
  • Store food securely so there’s nothing to attract fire ants inside. Keep your food in the fridge or in airtight containers in the pantry. Clean up crumbs and throw away food waste immediately. 

How to keep fire ants out of electrical equipment 

Homeowners often find fire ants nesting inside electrical equipment such as transformer boxes, circuit breakers, switch boxes, and air conditioners. Fire ants bring soil inside the equipment to build their nests, causing corrosion, short circuits, and other electrical issues. 

Here’s how to keep fire ants out of  your electrical equipment:

  • Seal entry holes with glue. 
  • Protect circuitry with Arinix tape, a product recommended for this purpose by the USDA’s Extension Foundation and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
  • Apply fire ant insecticides around electrical units. Note: Don’t spray insecticides inside electrical equipment because you could cause damage. 

How to identify fire ants

The easiest way to identify fire ants is to feel the intense burn from their sting, but you probably don’t want to do that. Here are some less painful ways to distinguish fire ants from other ant species

Note: Fire ants are an invasive species from South America. They’re often referred to as red imported fire ants, or RIFA for short. Don’t mistake red imported fire ants for other types of red ants

What fire ants look like 

Fire ants are known for their bright red or reddish-brown color. They range in size, but in general, they’re pretty small for ants, at 1.5 to 5 millimeters long. That’s about the size of a sharp pencil point to about the width of a pencil eraser. 

What fire ant mounds look like

fire ant mound
Alabama Extension | Flickr

Fire ant mounds are distinct from other ant mounds because there’s no hole on top. Fire ants push soil up from underground to build their anthills. Workers enter and exit the nest through underground tunnels that can extend several feet out from the mound. 

You’ll usually find fire ant mounds in flat, sunny areas and near water sources. The mounds can reach up to 2 feet high if left undisturbed. 

Fire ant behavior

The most noticeable thing about fire ant behavior is how extremely aggressive they are. If you disturb a fire ant nest, huge numbers of them will swarm out to attack you.

Fire ants have a habit of splitting off from their colonies and forming new ones. Multiple mounds in different areas of the yard could mean fire ants. If you treat fire ants without eradicating the whole colony, it can sometimes cause them to move to another area and build a new nest. 

Fire ant stings

Fire ants don’t bite, they sting. If you suffer one fire ant sting, you’ll probably suffer many more. Each fire ant stings several times during one attack, and they tend to attack in swarms. 

Beyond the pain, fire ant stings cause skin irritation and small blisters that look like pimples. For most people, the damage doesn’t go beyond that. But some people have severe allergic reactions that can include trouble breathing, swelling of the throat, and even anaphylactic shock.

If you suffer a fire ant sting and don’t have a severe reaction, you can reduce the pain of the blisters in these ways:

  • DON’T SCRATCH blisters caused by fire ant stings. Scratching will cause more pain and irritation and increase the risk of infection. 
  • Apply a cold compress to the irritated areas of your skin on a cycle of 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off.
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream to reduce itching and stinging. 
  • Apply antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.

When to call an exterminator

Fire ant control isn’t easy. Those little red devils tend to come back again and again. In many cases, you can handle fire ant infestations on your own, but you have to be persistent with your treatments. 

If you don’t have the time or energy for repeated, extensive fire ant treatments, you can hire a professional exterminator to handle the infestation for you. Professionals have better tools and chemicals than homeowners have access to, and they have expertise. 

Remember that one of the best ways to prevent fire ants (and many other common pests) in your yard is to keep your grass healthy. But lawn care is hard work! Let Lawn Love’s pros take care of your grass for you so you’ll never have to worry about fire ants in the first place. 

Main Photo Credit: Marufish | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer and indoor plant enthusiast hailing from Florida. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing her two cats around the house and trying to keep her houseplants alive.