When you use chemical pesticides to exterminate ants, you potentially contribute to groundwater pollution and harm bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.
Try these natural ways to get rid of ants in your yard and home instead. They’re safer for you, your family, your pets, and the environment.
Not all the substances we recommend come directly from nature, but they’re all much safer than chemical insecticides and don’t contribute to water pollution. These methods should work on most common species of ants that infest lawns and homes.
- Natural ways to get rid of ants
- Home remedies that don’t get rid of ants
- Practices to prevent ants
- Why you might not want to exterminate ants
- When natural methods aren’t enough
Natural ways to get rid of ants
1. Diatomaceous earth (DE)
How it works: Diatomaceous earth (DE) is made of tiny fossils left behind by microscopic organisms called diatoms. Those fossils are too small to hurt humans, but they’re deadly to ants. DE particles slice through ants’ exoskeletons, which dehydrates and eventually kills them.
What to do:
- Step 1: Buy food-grade (not industrial-grade) DE. It looks like powder and usually comes in a bag. You can find it at most garden supply stores.
- Step 2: Sprinkle the powder around anthills, ant trails, and anywhere else you’ve seen ants congregate.
- Step 3: Sprinkle more powder in a perimeter around patios, driveways, swing sets, and other high-traffic areas of your yard to kill ants that try to invade your space.
- Step 4: Spread powder in front of doors, windows, vents, and other possible entry points into your home. If you already have ants inside, spread DE powder around your pantry and sink, where ants are most likely to find a food source.
- Step 4: Replace the DE powder any time it gets wet. That means after every rain and every time you water the lawn.
Downsides: DE becomes ineffective any time it gets wet, so you have to reapply it often, especially outdoors. While DE isn’t toxic, it can cause irritation if you breathe it in or get it in your eyes. We recommend wearing a dust mask and safety goggles while you apply DE.
2. Baking soda / Baby powder
How it works: Baking soda and baby powder both suffocate ants by clogging their spiracles, which are pores in their exoskeleton that they need to breathe. If ingested, baking soda will create a chemical reaction inside the ant that kills it.
What to do:
- Step 1: Sprinkle either baking soda or baby powder inside the ant nest or anthill, all around the nest, along ant trails, and anywhere else you’ve seen a lot of ants.
- Step 2: Create a barrier of baking soda or baby powder around your outdoor living spaces, potential entry points into your home, and indoor food sources. Ants may cross the barrier, but they should die soon after.
- Step 3: For more widespread control, mix equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar to create an ant bait. Ants will be attracted to the sugar and eat it, then take it back to the nest for other ants to eat it, too. They’ll ingest the baking soda with the sugar and die.
Downsides: Baby powder is safe to use anywhere, but baking soda can dry out your grass and soil. Water will wash away either one, so you have to reapply after rain or watering your lawn.
3. Boiling water
How it works: Boiling water burns ants and kills them on contact. It also destroys the inside of the nest, so any ants that survive will likely move on to somewhere new.
What to do:
- Step 1: Boil a large pot of water.
- Step 2: Rake away the mound covering the entrance to the underground nest.
- Step 3: Slowly pour the boiling water directly into the nest’s entrance. Make sure as much water as possible goes into the hole instead of soaking the ground around it.
- Step 4: Repeat after a few days if the ant colony remains active.
Downsides: Boiling water can burn you badly, so you have to be careful while handling it. It also burns your grass and soil and might create a soggy spot in the lawn. Plus, there’s a risk that the water will cool before reaching the queen deep underground and will fail to kill her.
4. Borax / Boric Acid
How it works: Borax is a powder made of boron, oxygen, and sodium. Boric acid is basically a more processed version of borax. Both contain boron as the main ingredient, and both kill ants by disrupting their digestive systems when ingested.
What to do:
- Step 1: To create an ant bait, combine borax or boric acid with food that attracts ants. If possible, make multiple baits, some with solid food (such as sugar) and some with liquid food (such as syrup).
- Step 2: Place multiple baits in different places you have seen ants, inside or outside. Potential locations could be next to an anthill, in the middle of an ant trail, or near a food source.
- Step 3: Don’t kill ants when you see them swarming the bait. Let them carry the food (and the borax or boric acid) back to their nest, where even more ants will eat it.
Downsides: Both borax and boric acid are toxic to humans and pets if inhaled or ingested. They might cause irritation if they touch you directly, so wear gloves and safety goggles while making and setting up the baits. Direct contact from borax or boric acid damages plants, as well.
5. Soapy water
How it works: The soap breaks down ants’ cell membranes and destroys the protective wax coating that keeps them from losing water and dehydrating to death. If you add oil, the oil will clog ants’ spiracles (which they need to breathe) and suffocate them.
What to do:
- Step 1: Combine 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap or ¼ cup of Castile soap for every quart of water. You can add canola oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil to make the mixture even more effective.
- Step 2: Spray soapy water directly on any ants you see outside the nest to kill them on contact.
- Step 3: Pour the solution into anthills in your yard (or indoor ant nests, if possible) to kill the ants remaining underground.
- Step 4: Repeat spraying and pouring the solution as needed. Soapy water will only kill ants it comes in direct contact with, and it has no lasting residual effects.
Downsides: Soap can damage some plants, so you have to be careful about applying it in the lawn and garden.
6. Garden hose water
How it works: Drown underground ants by filling the entire nest with regular water from the hose. Some ants can survive underwater for 24 hours, so you may need to drench the nest more than once.
What to do:
- Step 1: Rake away the aboveground anthill to expose the underground nest.
- Step 2: Turn on the garden hose and direct the water into the entrance to the ant nest. Let the water run for about 30 minutes.
- Step 3: Repeat as needed if the colony remains active.
Downsides: Soaking the soil with so much water at once can drown grass and other plants. The process will create a soggy spot in the lawn for at least a few days.
7. Artificial sweeteners
How it works: Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Nutrasweet, and Equal contain saccharin or aspartame, which act as neurotoxins in ants. They kill ants by damaging their brain cells.
What to do:
- Step 1: Mix the artificial sweetener with 1 tablespoon of milk, apple juice, or another sweet liquid to help attract ants.
- Step 2: Leave the mixture in a dish where ants are likely to find it, such as next to the anthill or anywhere you’ve seen ants congregate. For best results, place these baits in several locations.
- Step 3: Leave the baits alone and don’t kill ants walking to and from them. Let the ants carry the bait back to the nest, where ants remaining underground (and hopefully the queen) will eat it.
Downsides: No significant downsides.
Home remedies that don’t get rid of ants
While many home remedies are effective at exterminating ants, there are some that don’t work so well.
Here are a few we don’t recommend:
- Cornmeal: Cornmeal attracts ants and can be used in baits with another natural ant killer, but there is no evidence that cornmeal on its own kills ants.
- Cornstarch: Just like cornmeal, you can use cornstarch to attract ants, but it won’t kill them.
- Neem oil: Neem oil is used to kill aphids, which some ants “farm” as a food source, but not the ants themselves. Wiping out the aphids won’t necessarily wipe out the associated ants.
Practices to prevent ants
You can keep ants from ever infesting your yard and home if you keep up with a few simple practices like these:
- Take care of your lawn by mowing to the right height, watering the right amount, and fertilizing on the right schedule for your grass type. Ants are far more likely to infest a bare, patchy lawn than a thick, healthy one.
- Relocate compost bins and trash cans away from the lawn, where ants are more likely to find them and get into them looking for food waste.
- Remove plant litter such as dead branches, fallen leaves, and decaying logs from your yard ASAP.
- Store woodpiles inside of a shed or garage if possible. If not, at least store them away from the house. Ants can easily climb woodpiles and use them to get into windows, vents, and other cracks and crevices.
- Trim trees and shrubs so they don’t touch the house, which creates a pathway for ants to get inside your home.
- Clean up food waste immediately, whether it’s crumbs on the couch or an ice cream cone you dropped outside.
Why you might not want to exterminate ants
Exterminating your ant population might not be the best option for your yard even if you use eco-friendly home remedies like the ones we covered here. You might choose to keep the ants out of your living spaces with natural ant repellents instead.
Some home remedies to repel ants are:
- Some essential oils such as tea tree oil, peppermint oil, or cinnamon oil
- Cayenne pepper or black pepper
- White vinegar
- Lemon juice
Why is repelling ants a better choice in some cases? The presence of ants in your lawn can benefit your grass and plants. Ants aerate the soil, carry plant matter underground to enrich the soil, and prey on other insects that want to eat your plants.
So, before you exterminate the entire colony of ants living in your yard, weigh the pros and cons of leaving them alone and letting them do their thing.
When natural methods aren’t enough
If natural methods don’t work and your ant problem is unbearable, it might be time to consider chemical pesticides. Learn more about the different ways to use insecticides in our complete guide to getting rid of ants in your yard and home.
Sometimes, even pesticides won’t be enough to wipe out an ant infestation. In complicated situations where you can’t figure out why your ants won’t go away, you may need to call a professional pest control technician to solve the problem.
How can you prevent an ant problem in the first place? Consistent lawn care is one of the best means of prevention. But keeping a lawn healthy takes a lot of time and work. That’s why Lawn Love’s local lawn care pros are here to help.
Main Photo Credit: Guillaume de Germain | Unsplash