How to get rid of ants with vinegar, home repellent sprays and more

Got an invasion? Here's how to get rid of ants for good – plus tips for ensuring they don't come back with vinegar and easy homemade repellents

A large group of ants on white ceramic kitchen sink with yellow rubber gloves and dish washing brush in background
(Image credit: The Maids)

Want to know how to get rid of ants? Ants are mostly harmless (although they can bite if provoked)... 

As is the case with figuring out how to identify bugs of all kinds, an ant infestation is hard to spot but can be pretty unpleasant by the time it is established.

While they're not the worst insects we've encountered, knowing how to get rid of pests like these will make living at home more hygienic and certainly stop us shuddering from all the skin-crawling scenarios that are in our head (or are they?)

Getting rid of ants is relatively easy, but you need to keep on top of the process and look at the environment you live in to determine what is enticing them. 

Sticky saccharine-sweet BBQ sauce stains in the cupboard? Granulated sugar crystals near your hot beverage station? These are all the fun places for the Formicidae family to do the conga up your kitchen work surfaces.

How to get rid of ants

'Ants are persistent pests.' says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design, Home Depot.

'An infestation can be hard to control because of the nature of the insect, but there are specific steps you can take to get an ant problem under control. With the right ant killer and some simple preventative measures, you can stamp out ants and keep them out of your home all year round.'

Before we cut to our tips, we'd recommend everyone with ants give their home a really good clean and keep on top of the housework for the foreseeable future. 

And if you discover that you have an ants' nest, or too many critters to deal with alone, don't hesitate to contact the experts for advice. 

Only got a small ant issue? You can try the following:

A sponge cake presented on a cake stand with sliced cake on plate in kitchen with stovetop, moka coffee maker and ombre cookware in background - (V46009)

(Image credit: Adelina Iliev)

1. Find the source of the problem

There's no point in treating an ant infestation if you don't identify the source of the issue. This is detective work, so you'll want to get out your magnifying glass (if necessary) and follow the trail of ants to wherever they're going.

Our bet? It's towards something sweet. So if you enjoy a spot of baking on the weekend, make sure your bags of sugar and dried fruit are sealed tight.

On the contrary, it's not just the kitchen you need to worry about. If you like snacking on your best sofa you could be inviting ants to lay into your leftovers. But by knowing how to clean a couch you can get rid of cookie crumbs before they seek out the sugary scent.

Enjoy a lazy weekend with breakfast in bed? Beware of giving ants an invitation into your intimate space one expert says.

'Whilst many find cleaning under the bed to be a chore, it’s still an important one especially if you eat in bed,'  says Martin Seeley, sleep expert and CEO of MattressNextDay.

Pizza boxes, food plates, and even crumbs can attract flies, ants, and even cockroaches to appear. To prevent this from happening, use your hairdryer to blow dust out from under the bed, so you can then hoover it up. Do this at least, twice a month to ensure those pesky ants don’t have time to gather and cause health issues.

An open pantry with dried foodstuffs including pasta and assortment of spices with framed wall art

(Image credit: Katie Jane Watson)

2. Ensure food is stored in air tight containers

If you've discovered that the source of the problem is a tasty food source (shock!), do what you can to contain the issue. Place all sweet foods in air-tight containers and ensure that jam, honey, and the like are not leaking.

Modern green shaker kitchen cabinetry with brass handles and blue and white kitchen trash cans inside

(Image credit: Wren Kitchens)

3. Empty your bins regularly

A trash can full of rotting food is a literal theme park for an ant. So, make sure your bins are keeping the blighters out as best they can, and ensure you're emptying it as often as possible. 

In the warmer months, it might also be a good idea to get your bins cleaned regularly to get rid of any liquid remnants and food crumbs.

'Having your bin enclosed within a kitchen cupboard is not only a great way to achieve a sleek and minimalist design, but it can be a great way to keep your kitchen hygienic and deter ants,' says Darren Watts, design director at Wren Kitchens.

'Ants are attracted to waste bins in particular, and will accumulate around that area if they find an entry way into the kitchen. Having your bin enclosed in a cupboard will hinder the entry point for ants, as well as blocking any smells, making it harder for ants to discover the bin.'

'However, when having an enclosed kitchen bin, it’s even more important to keep it clean and throw away the rubbish regularly.'

spray bottle with vinegar and baking soda - GettyImages-1218750111

(Image credit: Getty)

4. Use vinegar to cut their lines of communication

Despite being teeny tiny – ants are actually pretty clever. You may not know this, but they actually communicate using pheromones which they release while crawling around. 

If you've spotted a few ants in your kitchen, it's also worth noting that ants send out spies to scope out your space so this could be the first sign to get pest-proofing, before they invite their pals in.

But now that you do know, you can outsmart them by spraying a water and vinegar solution in areas that you've spotted ants. This kitchen idea will disrupt their lines of communication.

A small glass brown bottle with pippette containing peppermint essential oil

(Image credit: Thinkstock (V10979))

5. Prepare a natural repellent

If you're not keen on using harsh chemicals in your home, create a solution of water and lavender or peppermint essential oils to repel the ants. 

Spray liberally in your home, particularly in ant hot spots.

Alternatively, if you have young children or pets in your home there are other food-based repellents that ants hate. These are products you might find in your fridge, store cupboard or pantry, so you won't have to worry about toddlers ingesting them accidentally, or your dog licking something toxic off of the floor.

'Spices with strong fragrances such as cinnamon, red pepper, and mint can drive ants away from areas of infestation. Sprinkle the substances where you see heavy activity and particularly around doorways and windows. Coffee bean grounds can be similarly effective in driving ants out but seem to work best in transition areas such as around porches, patios, and garages.' says Fishburne.

'Cucumber and citrus fruit peels contain chemical compounds similar to those used in some ant repellents. Placing cucumber, lemon, or orange skins near areas of ant activity can quickly encourage the insects to move on.'

So when life gives you lemons – find out how to use lemons to clean your home.

6. Make a homemade repellent spray

If the natural route isn't making any difference whatsoever, it might be time to take it up a notch in the form of this cheap and easy homemade spray from Chemistry Cachet to open a can of whoopass on the creepy crawlies.

Here's what you'll need and how to use it.

  • 2 cups of vinegar, distilled
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoon Dawn or Fairy dishwashing liquid
  • 3 tablespoons table salt
  • Spray Bottle

How to:

  1. Mix ingredients together and add to a spray bottle.
  2. Shake well before spraying each time.
  3. Saturate the area the ants are crawling. They die in a few seconds. Make sure to spray the entire pathway they have used too.
  4. Allow the ants to shuffle of this mortal coil, then wipe the area off with a paper towel.
  5. The lingering vinegar and dish soap scent deters them from coming back to this area too. Make sure to wipe surface to prevent any possible residue.

'Straight white vinegar makes a great ant spray.' adds Fishburne.

'You can saturate ant trails to kill on contact, or spray counters and other areas and either wipe up after a few minutes or allow the treatment to dry in place. The acid in vinegar kills ants and disrupts their scent trails, making it harder for more ants to follow the path.'

7. Pick up specific ant repellents

ants crawling on kitchen worktop - GettyImages-1217118154

(Image credit: Getty)

Homemade stuff not worked? Perhaps it's time to bring in the big guns. Ant repellents containing boric acid are essential, though you'll want to check that the solution you opt for is pet safe, won't harm your children and is laid out of reach of either.

8. The best product for getting rid of ants

So, what products should you use to get rid of ants? We'll say categorically: don't even think about tackling the problem with a pesticide spray. 

Yes, you will see a couple of ants dead on contact; it won't kill any of the ones you can't see, though, and you will be spraying a toxic substance around your home. If you have children and/or pets – this is a no-go. 

What you need is an ant poison in gel form. There are two main types of products available: one comes in a tube and can be injected into entry points using a syringe; the other is a bait trap like the TERRO T300B Liquid Ant Killer(which has over 91,000 reviews), and is accessible only to ants (not your pet or toddler), which makes them ideal for placing in places ants frequent. 

The gel has been sweetened and made attractive to the ants: they carry it off to the nest bit by bit, which ensures the successful elimination of the entire colony within weeks. Our favorite product is the TERRO Liquid Ant Killer ll T200, 2 oz (over 19,000 reviews on Amazon) – this stuff is strong, and it works.

You can also DIY your own boric acid solution by mixing one part borax to three parts powdered sugar. Alternatively (and surprisingly), ants go nuts for protein sources so you can also combine a large spoonful of peanut butter with a tablespoon of powdered sugar and a teaspoon of borax and leave for them to feast on. The best 'cutlery' in our eyes, is a drinking straw that has been cut in half.

Lastly, diatomaceous earth works to dehydrating their exoskeletons and kill ants. We particularly like the HARRIS Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade, Half Pound with Easy Application Puffer Tip we found on Amazon which you can use in between your kitchen cabinetry. Once this is done, use your handheld vacuum cleaner to clean their bodies up.

And while you're there, discover the proper method to clean kitchen cabinets to prevent repeat offenders that escape execution from returning. 

9. Carry out preventative measures

While you should now be an expert in how to get rid of ants, one hot day doesn't make a summer, so to stop these unwanted guests from entering your property, you need to cut off any routes or tempting places any would be attracted to.

Some of these locations include:

  • Microwaves: By knowing how to clean a microwave properly, you can get rid of any food debris and odors which ants might be enticed by in your microwave oven.
  • Toasters: As a bare minimum, clean out the inside of toasters and empty/wipe inside the crumb tray regularly. But, we have a whole in-depth guide on how to clean a toaster too.
  • Kitchen trash cans: Clean the inside and outside of garbage cans. Use can liners and keep lids tightly closed. 
  • Fridges: Though ants probably won't like the chill of your refrigerator, they may find themselves a free meal at the bottom of this food-storing appliance where you may have accidentally dropped something delicious for them to eat. Find out how to clean a fridge to prevent this from happening. Organizing a fridge so you're making the best use of the space and not cramming it with ingredients can also mitigate ants munching on bits and bobs.
  • Stoves: Whether it's a greasy oil stain, or a sticky syrup patch, make sure you clean a stove immediately after making a meal. Otherwise the ants will be at your scraps!
  • Pantries: Pantries are often packed full of tasty baked goods, cereals, honey and more. So make sure you know how to organize a pantry, and stock up on pantry storage containers. Pantry shelving can also be a culprit, so look out for ketchup rings and other sugary condiments which ants can feed off. No shelves? Monitor your pantry organizers.

10. When to call in the experts

If you find that a few ants have turned into an army and your marching orders have fallen on deaf ears, you might be facing a full blown invasion. The best thing to do is call in the pros to inspect your new housemates, identify the species and properly eradicate them.

Why are ants suddenly in my house?

'Ant activity spikes in the spring and fall. Changes in weather, including heavy rains or drought, can drive ants indoors looking for more hospitable areas in which to live. They can enter through any small opening in the home, and if you see one, more will soon follow.' says Fishburne.

'Though small individually, an invasion of ants can cause all kinds of household problems. They can contaminate food and spread diseases, and some biting and stinging ants produce allergic reactions in humans and pets. Further, some species of ants can cause structural damage and chew through household wiring.'

Are common ants poisonous?

'Garden or black ants aren’t thought to carry diseases, the trouble is you don’t know where they’ve been foraging outside, so you won’t want them marching through your food cupboards,' says Karole Patton, senior marketing manager, Rentokil North America.

'Ants will travel in a wide range searching for food, following chemical trails they have established and clustering around the source of food, becoming a nuisance in homes and businesses. Outside, small piles of earth around holes in the soil and at the base of exterior walls can indicate their origin.'

Even Martha Stewart explains more. She says: 'Many species of ants are beneficial, as they eat other, more harmful insects, such as fleas and bedbugs. The problem with ants is largely a matter of comfort; they're not likely to cause disease,'

'When ants invade a house, they are generally just looking for food. That said, ensuring your home is swept clean of any crumbs and food residue can help keep these pests away.'

Jenny McFarlane
Senior Digital Editor

Jenny is Senior Digital Editor and joined the team in January 2021. She also works on the homes brands' video show, on the Future Homes Network, which is packed full of ideas to help you make the most of your own home and garden. Since getting on the property market with her first apartment and then more recently a house, her passion for interior design and gardening has taken on a new lease of life. Jenny's currently on the lookout for a doer-upper to put her stamp on. She loves collecting and salvaging unique items (much to her other half's despair) but sniffing out stylish home bargains is her one true love. When she has a spare minute, she loves to do a spot of crafting, having studied textiles at Uni – although she hardly gets the chance with a toddler who keeps her permanently on her toes.