8 Natural Ant Repellents

aerial shot of black ants crawling across orange clay

Are ants marching into your garden uninvited? If you want to send them packing but don’t want to use harsh chemicals, don’t worry. You can keep ants out of sight and out of mind with these 8 natural ant repellents, ensuring your home and outdoor living spaces remain ant-free.

While ants are beneficial to the environment, you wouldn’t want to be their snack or share your meals with them. From aromatic herbs to plants that naturally repel ants, these natural remedies can help you say goodbye to ants without resorting to colony annihilation.

8 natural ant repellents

When you’re dealing with an ant problem but still want to take advantage of the benefits of ants, there are a few natural ways to repel ants in your yard.

1. Ant-repelling garden plants

closeup of woman's hands holding lavender
Peter Fazekas | Pexels

Some herbs and 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:

  • Garlic
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Tansy

How to use ant-repelling plants:

  • 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: Take care of your plants. They will only be effective at repelling ants as long as you keep them alive, healthy, and fragrant.

Note: Some ant-repelling plants can be 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.

2. Cayenne or black pepper

black pepper in a small pot
YelenaYemchuk / Canva Pro / License

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.

How to use cayenne or black pepper as ant repellent:

  • Step 1: Sprinkle cayenne pepper or black pepper in a circle around the anthills in your yard.
  • Step 2: Also 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 will burn, irritate, and encourage them to pack up and leave.

Note: Cayenne and black pepper might irritate your pets, especially if they sniff it and it goes up their nose. So, try to keep pets away from areas where you’ve sprinkled or sprayed the pepper.

3. Chili powder

closeup of chili powder in bowl
Karolina Grabowska | Pexels

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. The spicy scent of chili powder may irritate your pets, so don’t let them sniff or eat it.

How to use chili powder for repelling ants:

  • 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 property 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.

Note: You’ll have to reapply outdoor chili powder any time rain washes it away.

4. Cinnamon

closeup of cinnamon sticks
Pixabay | Pexels

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.

How to use cinnamon as ant repellent:

  • 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 can use to get inside your home.
  • Step 4: Place cinnamon sticks around your garden and other high-traffic areas of your yard to repel ants. You also may add a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to the sticks to increase their potency.

Note: As with any powder, rain or watering the lawn can wash away ground cinnamon barriers. So, you may have to reapply often.

5. Citrus peels

mandarin orange sitting in its peel
SHVETS production | Pexels

Ants hate the smell of citrus, so they steer clear of it. The acid in citrus also erases pheromone trails. Although, it might take a long time to collect enough peels to make a sufficient amount of powder.

How to use citrus peels for repelling ants:

  • Step 1: Save the peels of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits.
  • Step 2: Dry the peels by leaving them in a sunny spot for two to three days. You also may bake them in an oven for 25 to 30 minutes at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Step 3: Using a grinder or food processor, grind the dried peels 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 left, sprinkle the perimeter of your outdoor space and potential entry points into your home.

Note: 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.

6. Essential oils

hand holding eyedropper putting essential oil in bottle
Formulate Health | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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: Ants dislike the menthol compound found in peppermint essential oil. Its strong, minty scent disrupts their ability to communicate and navigate, deterring ants from entering treated areas.
  • Cedarwood oil: The cedrol content of this oil is known as a natural insect repellent. Its strong aroma disrupts the pheromone trails of ants, making it difficult for them to follow established routes.
  • Tea tree oil: Apart from repelling ants, tea tree oil also helps eliminate the scent trails, disrupting their communication and foraging patterns.
  • Vetiver oil: This oil contains compounds like nootkatone, known for insect-repelling properties.
  • Orange oil: The citrusy scent of orange oil is unpleasant to ants. Plus, it contains d-limonene – a natural insect repellent.
  • Cinnamon oil: The cinnamaldehyde content of cinnamon essential oil can help repel ants. Its strong and spicy aroma also disrupts ants’ communication and can act as a natural insecticide.

How to use essential oils as natural ant repellent:

  • Step 1: Prepare several cotton balls. Put five drops of the ant-repelling essential oil of your choice on each cotton ball. Place 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. And, if you diffuse peppermint essential oil in your home office, it also can help boost your productivity.

Note: 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.

7. Lemon juice

hand holding lemon on cutting board
Lukas | Pexels

The high acidity of lemon juice disrupts and erases ants’ pheromone trails. Its scent also disorients and repels ants. Keep in mind, though, that if your pets ingest lemon juice, its acid content can cause digestive issues.

Steps for using lemon juice to repel ants indoors:

  • Step 1: For indoor ants, soak a paper towel in lemon juice and wipe down your kitchen counters, floor, pantry shelves, and anywhere else you see ants looking for food.
  • Step 2: Soak another paper towel and wipe down window sills, door frames, and other potential points of entry to prevent ants from getting inside your home.

Steps for using lemon juice to repel ants outdoors:

  • Step 1: Mix 3 parts water and 1 part lemon juice in a spray bottle.
  • Step 2: Spray the solution all around anthills in your yard and along ant trails.
  • Step 3: Spray the perimeter of your outdoor living spaces to keep ants out.

Note: Lemon juice can damage paint, so be careful where you spray it.

8. White vinegar

closeup of white vinegar bottles on shelf
Mike Mozart | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The strong smell of vinegar can overwhelm the ants’ senses and mask 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.

How to use white vinegar as ant repellent:

  • Step 1: In a spray bottle, combine equal parts of white vinegar and water.
  • Step 2: Spray the solution anywhere you’ve seen ant trails to erase them and prevent more ants from following them.
  • Step 3: Spray the solution around parts of your yard you often use, like sidewalks, driveways, playgrounds, patios, 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.

Note: Vinegar damages plants and dries out the soil, so use it sparingly in the lawn and garden.

Home remedies that don’t repel ants

Not all popular DIY 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.

How to prevent ants in your yard

Here are some things you can do to make your yard inhospitable for ants and give them fewer options for getting inside your home.

  1. Maintain a lush lawn: 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 sufficiently (but not too much), and fertilize it every few months.
  2. Trim shrubs and trees: Regularly trim trees and shrubs so the branches don’t touch the house. Ants can use branches as a bridge to get inside your home.
  3. Remove dead plant matter: Clear your lawn of dead plant matter, such as fallen leaves, dead branches, or logs.
  4. Eliminate food waste: Never leave food waste out in the open, either inside or outside your home. That means no crumbs or powdered sugar on your breakfast table, no fruit rinds on your countertop, nothing.
  5. Store wood properly: Move wood piles away from the house. Store wood inside a shed or garage where ants are less likely to infest it.
  6. Place trash bins strategically: 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

closeup of crazy ants on leaf
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Sometimes, ant repellents aren’t enough. Some ant species can be persistent and keep coming back again and again. And 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 it still doesn’t mean you have to use pesticides. There are plenty of natural ways to exterminate ants, like using baiting techniques or dousing the nest.

Some natural remedies you can use to get rid of ant colonies are:

  • Diatomaceous earth (DE)
  • Borax or boric acid
  • Boiling water
  • Baking soda or baby powder
  • Dish soap and water

Pesticides should be a last resort. But if an ant colony is particularly large or resists natural treatments for another reason, you can try ant traps, chemical ant baits, or contact insecticides. And if you see these pesky little pests carrying tiny bits of your food before you even serve them on the table, it’s time to call in the antbusters.

FAQ about natural ant repellents

What attracts ants to my yard?

Ants will be attracted to your yard if there is plenty of food and water, like yard debris, decayed wood, standing water, leaking pipes, bird baths, or fountains.

Should I squish the ants?

No. Squishing ants will release pheromones that trigger more ants to come to the location. Pheromones are how ants communicate with each other, sending a message about a food source or danger.

What season are ants more active?

Ants tend to be more active during spring, thanks to warmer temperatures. You can expect increased ant activity from March to October.

Hire a pro to get your ants under control

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 well-maintained – healthy lawns don’t attract ants. And if you want reliable ant control, you can turn to a local pest control pro who knows the best natural ant repellents.

Main Photo Credit: Pexels

Lydian Pine

Lydian Pine is a creative writer and studio artist whose work first debuted in a short story anthology. She graduated from the University of North Texas in 2020 and enjoys video games, theatre, and swimming. Lately, she has started to study entomology as a hobby.