Originally posted last May, a Facebook friend reminded me that it’s been a bad season overall for pests, so I thought it might be worth a re-run.
I’ve gotten rather good at dealing with ants — and I also picked up a dynamite recipe for ant bait — and since it would be a shame to waste all this wisdom, I pass it along.
Grace’s First Law: Don’t waste time with guilt.
You can go to confession for being a bad steward if you want, but the ants will still be there afterward. The ants don’t care if you’re Martha Stewart, and there is no scientific correlation between the number of invading ants (or spiders or other crawley friends) and your niceness as a person.
Corollary to Grace’s First Law: Don’t waste time trying to out-clean your ant problem.
You could dip your entire kitchen or bathroom in Mr. Clean, and foraging ants would STILL find the specks of stuff they need to take back to the hungry ant-babies. They’re interested in shelter, water and food. Two out of three will still mean you see ants.
Second Corollary to Grace’s First Law: Don’t waste time with topical solutions
– either the “earth-friendly” ones like lemon juice (which doesn’t work, by the way), or the earth-unfriendly big, aggressive bug sprays. Taking out one ant trail isn’t hard; taking them out day after day isn’t even that hard, if that’s what you’re into. But you won’t begin to solve your ant problem until you make an impact on their home base, and chances are you won’t be able to do that with ant spray.
You actually want the ant trail, because it’ll tell you what kind of food they like and give you some idea of where they’re coming from. And then you need bait that goes back home with them and polishes them off. I happen to know just the thing and it’s easy to prepare, inexpensive, environmentally-friendly and very effective. The secret ingredient is boric acid — Borax.
Excellent Ant Bait
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 T of powdered Borax (buy it on where you get laundry detergent)
Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar and Borax. Stir it until the sugar and Borax dissolve completely, and then continue cooking uncovered over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 6-10 minutes. You want it to be a clear, runny syrup — don’t overcook it or you’ll get Borax caramels (yuck!). Take it off the heat and let it come to room temperature. Don’t leave it too long or it will form a skin.
Ideally, you’ll want to keep this in an airtight squirt bottle (like the ones to deliver targeted amounts of condiments). You can pick up something like this at a craft store or at Walmart in the party aisle.
(For the record, this is the same stuff as Terro, which comes in neat little plastic containers and doesn’t harden up as fast. But this recipe costs a LOT less than buying Terro.)
Most ants will go for this stuff like you can’t believe — when they encounter it, they absolutely stop and start eating it immediately. So you’ll want to:
- Put the bait down where they can’t miss it, but where you can just leave it for a few days. (I followed a trail back near the kitchen door. That was ideal.)
- You want as many taking the bait as possible, so give them a line of it as opposed to a pool. Something about 1/8″ wide and the length of your finger is good, but more if the infestation is worse.
- You can refresh the bait from time to time if you want, but they’ll continue eating it when it’s pretty dry.
- You should see more and more for a few hours. The number will stay consistent for about a day, and then it’ll start to dwindle.
- After about three days, mop it up even if you still see a few ants around and just see what happens. If you still get ant trails happening, it either means you didn’t take out the queen, or you’ve got more than one colony to deal with. So just do it all again until you win.
(You could do a Mad Scientist laugh at this point — “Bwah ha ha!” — but it seems like bad form.)
- If your ants ignore this, they may be ants that are more interested in peanut butter or meat — there are alternate recipes in that case, so shoot me an email.
- According to Terro’s FAQ page — this stuff isn’t harmful to kids or pets. In our case, the dog has shown zero interest in it, so I can’t say for sure. But I know that it’s not a problem if it gets on your skin — it’s just sugar syrup and soap.
- Don’t put it directly on anything like wood, because it’ll damage the finish.
How it works
For the science-minded, you may be interested to know that what’s happening is that the borax that the ants ingest doesn’t break down and stays in that grainy, gritty texture. The bad news for ants is that that means the borax will eventually do a number on their hard exoskeleton from within, and when it does, they die. If you kill off a big bunch of them, you’ll have less, but will have to do this again at some point; if you kill off the queen, you win (unless you’ve got multiple colonies to deal with).
Happy days (for your household, if not for the ants)
5/17 update: I still had stragglers coming a week later, so I put down a little fresh bait. There weren’t a lot of ants, and they only wanted to eat the bait, so I was able to keep them out of the rest of the kitchen.
2012 update: I believe that eventually all the ants were gone. But I have to admit that I’m relying on my memory at this point; apparently, I didn’t update back in 2011 when I might have been more certain. I’ll say this, though — for the few pennies and 10 minutes of cooking that it takes to come up with this ant bait, it’s hard to improve on it, IMHO.