Summer - ice pops, BBQs, ants. In their tens and thousands, our paved back gardens and summery-smelling homes can quickly be overrun by these little critters.
Marching in unison, on a perpetual path - they seem to come from nowhere and without warning. Despite us knowing little about these harmless insects, they make us feel dirty, infested, and ashamed. We're compelled to get rid of them, and fast.
It's easy enough to head straight to the shop and pick up a product that will kill the poor critters. These pest control solutions are usually relatively effective, however, only on the ants in sight. The rest of the ants, and indeed, the problem causing the ants, remains untreated and identified.
The trick to effective ant removal is finding the cause and source of the ants. An appropriate method for eradicating them from the home can then be chosen, keeping ants permanently at bay.
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What causes ants in the home?
What causes ants to invite themselves into our homes, anyway?
Well, every ant in a colony has a strict role to play. None of these roles involves annoying humans, you may be surprised to hear! No, it's the job of providing food to the queen ant that lures these critters inside - this is why most ants will be found in the kitchen. Most ant nests, where the queen resides, are located outdoors, it's only when we tempt them in with valuable resources that they become a problem in the home.
To prevent ants from using our houses as a fridge, we should try to remove all traces of food and drink. Sugary items, such as sweets, fizzy drinks and those obligatory Summer ice creams present a real problem, as ants can pick up such odours with their antennae. This means it's essential to always wipe up spillages properly, and keep packaging tightly fastened.
Another rare and more serious cause of ants in the home is the nest being located in rotting wood in the house's structure. Ants are fond of making their homes in rotted wood, as it is easy to burrow through and provides warmth and protection.
What are the most common types of ants in the UK
Luckily for us Brits, ants in the UK are relatively harmless. In some other countries, ants, such as the Fire ant, have caused serious issues in the past, including death to humans and other animals.
The two most common ants that invade UK homes are the Black Garden Ant and the Pharoah's ant.
The Black Garden Ant
Despite the name, the Black Garden Ant is dark brown in colour. The worker ants (those tasked with sourcing and collecting food) are around 3-5mm in length. Their name denotes their preferred nesting place - in soil, lawns and close to buildings. They come inside solely to search for sweet food, hence why they're often found in kitchens.
Surprisingly, and unlike many other house pests, Black Garden Ants actually carry no germs or disease - they primarily present an annoyance to humans as opposed to an actual health risk.
The Pharoah's Ant
Light yellow in colour, like the golden headpiece of a Pharoah, the Pharoah's Ant is smaller than the garden ant - the workers being just 2mm long.
The Pharoah's Ant presents a more significant problem for two reasons. The first is that, unlike Black Garden Ants, Pharoah ants do bring harmful germs into your home. Secondly, due to their tropical origin, they prefer warmer environments, making our homes an ideal place for them to infest.
What problems do ant infestations cause in the home?
Of all the different types of pesky house pests, ants are actually rather harmless. Carrying little disease and not equipped to cause any real damage, they are more of an annoyance than anything else.
As mentioned above, however, some ants, such as the Pharaoh's ant, pick up and carry germs from faecal traces in the garden. If there are young children in the home, this could be a concern.
Whilst uncommon to see red, wood or flying ants in the home, these species are prone to biting. Ant bites leave painful marks on the skin - not something most of us would consider a 'home comfort'.
In extreme cases where electrical areas become infested by ants, wiring can also be damaged. This can not only be a costly inconvenience but also dangerous if the problem goes unnoticed.
How to kill ants naturally - is natural always best?
The majority of us don't like the thought of causing needless harm to animals. There are plenty of ways to harmlessly remove ants from the home, however, depending on the problem at hand, this may not always be suitable.
When to choose a cruelty-free ant-removal method
Ants in the home don't always mean you have to resort to extreme measures. These ants, which enter your house in search of or following the scent of food, will often go away when deterred.
If the problem is the above, and not an ant nest itself, then a natural method will usually more than suffice.
The first thing to understand is that, although annoying, ants actually help us. They play an important role in our ecosystems by turning soil, aiding in decomposition and feeding on the eggs and larvae of more damaging insects such as flies, fleas and bedbugs.
By choosing a natural ant removal method, you are not only being kinder to the animals but to your home, too. The chemicals inside ant killers are extremely toxic and can be very harmful if they get into the wrong hands. They can also cause much damage to our environment. In order to prevent such occurrences, it's much better to choose a natural solution.
When to choose a shop-bought, lethal, ant-removal treatment
Although there is a strong case for going natural to remove ants, it's not always enough.
If you are faced with an ant infestation in your home, caused by a nest either inside, or very close by, more drastic action may be needed. Perhaps you have an ant nest in the children's area of your garden - you will want to remove all traces of the insects so they can play peacefully.
Whilst natural removal methods are preferred, they are more effective at repelling ants as opposed to eradicating them completely. In order to guarantee the entire ant nest is removed, it's best to choose a powerful product designed specifically for that purpose.
Harmless, natural ant removal solutions - 4 steps to an ant-free home
If you think your ant problem can be managed by natural means, follow this four-step guide:
1. Seal and block ant entry points
The likelihood is that ants will be entering and leaving your home through the same crack each time. Fully seal these holes, and the ants will no longer be able to come into your home - simple.
Spend some time watching the ant trail to fully identify problem areas.
Once identified, you can use sealer, putty or plaster to ensure the areas are tightly closed - you can even use Vaseline if you're really desperate! If the problem seems severe, you might want to consider renewing the skirting boards.
2. Collect and dispose of ants
It may sound obvious, but collecting the ants in your home and returning them to their rightful place - outdoors - could be all it takes to remove them.
In order to do this without harming any of their lithe limbs, place a plate containing sweet food down in the infested areas. The ants will be attracted to the food, climb on, and you'll then be able to take the plate outside.
Use natural products to hide ant scent trails
Ever wondered why ants follow one another in regimented lines? This is made possible as they leave a potent trail behind them for other ants to follow. The trail is made up of the chemical pheromone and makes it possible for other ants to find the pathway to food.
Remove the trail with one of the following ant removal methods, and they won't be able to follow it into your home.
- Vinegar-based solution - mix 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 cups water & 12 drops of peppermint, clove or Eucalyptus oil. Wash over affected areas to remove the ant trail.
- Peppermint essential oil - add a few drops to cotton wool and wipe over trail/entrance points. Leave 'ant balls' in place to deter ants.
- Tea tree essential oil - used in the same way as peppermint essential oil.
Naturally prevent ants from returning to your home
Just like us humans, there are many smells that ants find extremely unpleasant. Any of the following, if placed on or near ant entry points, will act as a potent repellant.
- Cucumber (sliced or peeled)
- Herbs and essential oils (placed on cotton wool as 'ant balls')
- Cinnamon (sticks or powder)
- Coffee grinds
Effective insecticides for ants removal
If you have a serious ant problem in a lawned area you often use, you may wish to completely kill off the ants. In order the eradicate the population entirely, you'll need to kill the Queen ant, as she is responsible for all reproduction.
Finding the nest is simple - follow the ants as they follow the pheromone ant trails to and from the nest.
Once the nest has been accurately identified, choose a product labelled for lawn use that contains one of the insecticides from the list below:
NOTE: follow instructions on packaging closely and take care with harmful chemicals.
I hope you enjoyed my article. Follow the above, and your home will be ant free in no time!