To chase ants from inside the house, lots of folks employ vinegar.
ILLUSTRATION: ELAINE A. CARDELLA
How to get rid of ants: A compendium of successful strategies to rid your home and outdoor areas of invasive ants without using chemicals.
Farming Advice and Folklore: How to Get Rid of Ants
Have drugs, AIDS, the nuclear threat, crime and the
troubled economy stopped jockeying for position as the
primary threat to the American way of life? You might think
so, judging from the content of much of MOTHER'S recent
mail. And what's the major menace confronting our readers?
We must admit this flood of mail on a single subject was
prompted by a "Dear Mother" letter published in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 107,
in which Sandy Hawley of Marshall, Texas, asked for
help—suggestions on how to control an invasion of
ants; a method that didn't involve the use of
harmful chemicals. Readers rushed to Sandy's aid with an
array of artillery on how to get rid of ants.
To chase ants from inside the house, lots of folks employ
vinegar. Used full strength, it can be wiped on counter
tops, shelves, base cabinet floors and thresholds—any
surface the ants traverse that can't be harmed by the
acidic liquid. Or put vinegar into a spray container and
spritz wherever ants are likely to hide. If the soil
outdoors is dry, you can spray the stuff around entrances
to the interior.
Cinnamon sticks placed four feet apart around the perimeter
of the house, both indoors and out, as well as sprinklings
of ground cinnamon in cracks, have kept ants from a
Canadian reader's house for 14 years. Cinnamon is a popular
repellent, but so is pepper. There must be quite a turnover
on grocery shelves of cayenne pepper, because our mail
indicates that it's used extensively on ant invaders. Just
dust it along their paths, and they'll soon opt for a
detour. One reader grows an extra supply of Capsicum
frutescens for this very purpose; she minces the dried
peppers and challenges the ants to their own version of
walking on hot coals. Then again, the proponents of ground
black pepper feel it's every bit as powerful as the red.
Cucumber peelings are another favorite. They're thought to
be toxic to ants, and one user said that by regularly
replacing the slivers of peel as they dried up, her house
was cleared of ants in a week.
Several formulas were also recommended. Foolproof and
nontoxic is the claim for this one: Mix 1/4 cup of sugar,
1/2 cup of sorghum molasses and 1 package dry yeast.
Portion this into jar lids, and place them where ants have
been spotted. Another is to combine 4 ounces of boric acid,
1/2 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1/8 cup of
shortening and enough water to make a paste. Roll bits of
this dough into pinhead-sized balls, and place them where
ants travel. But don't use this if you have small children
Instead of chasing ants away, one ingenious soul draws them
near. He drops a few spoonfuls of honey into a small
plastic bag and leaves it on the floor overnight. There are
dozens of prisoners to dispose of (he doesn't say how) in
the morning. After about six days of this, the ants know
when they've been outwitted, and they depart for good.
One last suggestion for indoor intruders is to shake
powdered cleanser on the trails. After the ants have gone
(and they will go), the cleanser is easily wiped or
vacuumed up. This took care of hundreds of the little pests
for one homeowner, who also used it on the patio to foil an
army of carpenter ants.
Outdoors, those expanding hills aquiver with determined
troops are, as they say, "a whole nother" problem. Quite a
few Southern readers swear by grits. They suggest pouring a
cup or two on the ground near the anthill. Evidently the
hungry soldiers succumb to indigestion and bloating. One of
our grits theorists thinks the queen ant becomes too
constipated to lay eggs. Regardless of why this attack
succeeds, a 10-acre Florida homestead was proclaimed
"basically ant-free" after just a few assaults.
One politic reader says to find two anthills, dig a
scoopful of ants from each one, and then exchange them,
placing each battalion in an enemy camp. This evidently
starts a war, and the ants eliminate each other.
Here is a much more benign conclusion reached by a
thoughtful landowner. "Some 10 years ago, I purchased 42
acres of forest, in which many of the trees were
ant infested. I felt that to preserve the woods, I had to
eliminate the ants. I was only 'doing my part.' Since then
I've learned that Mother Nature has her own set of checks
and balances. Who are we to question her placement of the
ant? She assembles all the necessary elements to create the
delicate ecosystems covering the earth. Now I leave it to
her to let the ants control themselves as long as they are
not extreme annoyances. Today the same trees are still
infested, but there are lots of brand-new trees growing
strong and healthy to take their places. You can see how
I've eliminated my ant problem. I've merely changed my
For myself, I prefer this last approach if at all possible.
I also prefer to believe a story told about Albert
Schweitzer. It seems his house in the African jungle was
absolutely overrun with ants, as it had inadvertently been
built straddling a main route of the insects' interstate.
The benevolent doctor squatted down and addressed the ants:
"Now look here," he said. "I'm drawing a chalk line across
the floor from one side of the house to the other. I
respect your perseverance, your industriousness, your team
spirit. But this is my home, not yours. However, realizing
you need to get from here to there, you may use the house
as a thruway if you march right along this line and don't
The ants seemed to accept his proposition, and they and he
coexisted without further confrontation.