Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Ants, Naturally

It's that time of year.  The insects want in.

I saw a few ants in our first-floor bathroom, apparently coming in from under a baseboard.  What could possibly have lured them from outdoors into the bathroom, I can't imagine.  It's just a toilet and a sink, a bar of soap.  No crumbs of cat food like near our back door, where—big surprise—I found more ants.  The back-door ants do not appear to be of the same colony as the bathroom ants, because there we found no ants between the bathroom and the cat dish.  So, we have two infiltrations.  What to do about it?

Of course, there are multitudes of pesticides, especially for ants, that you can spray around the perimeter of your house to kill the bugs and keep them out.  But those aren't particularly green, are they?  Here's the natural solution:  Borax, sugar, and vinegar.

Borax (a naturally occurring sodium compound), if you don't know, is a laundry booster, but just like baking soda and vinegar, it has so many other household applications.  We use it to clean our toilet bowls.  It really makes that porcelain shine!  It's also a great ant killer.

Note: Just because borax is natural, it's not necessarily environmentally friendly. What I mean is it can be toxic in varying amounts to people, animals, and plants—it does kill insects, after all.  So, don't sprinkle it all over your house if you have pets or kids, and don't use it near your food.  Instead, make a borax trap, as I'll describe now.

In a small plastic container with a lid, like a yogurt cup or a Cool Whip container, mix three parts sugar with one part borax.  Add just enough water to moisten the granules and mix them together.  They'll turn syrupy.  Poke some holes in the sides of the container near the bottom but above the surface of the borax-sugar bait.  Put the lid on the container and then set it outside, out of the way of normal people/animal traffic, near where the ants are marching.

Second step: Indoors, use a vinegar-soaked cloth to wipe down the floor and baseboards or other surfaces where the ants have been.  The vinegar is not toxic, so it's safe to use liberally inside.

The sugar disguises the borax and attracts the ants, so they head for the trap instead of for your kitchen, and they eat the borax-laced sweetness and carry it back to their buddies to share.  But the borax, when ingested, essentially dehydrates the ants until they're nothing but a crusty ant shell.  Meanwhile, the vinegar repels the ants for a brief period.  It stops working when it evaporates, so you'll want to keep the vinegar on hand for one or two follow-up wipe-downs, until the ants get the idea that your house smells like vinegar and/or they've all died from eating the bait.

You're probably wondering if any of this actually works.  Yes, it does!  So far, anyway.  Almost two weeks ago, I laid borax traps, one against the exterior wall of the bathroom, and one just outside our patio door.  We were ant-free for two or three days, but then I spotted a few in the bathroom again.  I checked the traps, and they did have some dead ants in and around them, but a few explorers were still interested in coming in the house.  I simply did another quick vinegar application (to remind those ants why they stopped coming inside the first time!), and we haven't seen any more indoor ants since.

Now, the weather has been erratic lately, bouncing around from chilly and damp to warm and humid to cold and windy to mild and sunny, so, I can't rule it out as a contributing factor in the ants' disappearance.  We'll see as spring progresses whether the ants stay away, which will mark the true success of the all-natural ant-trapping-repelling business.

Linked to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Eat Make Grow


  1. Good luck in your Ant Vendetta!

  2. We love Borax, but I never thought to use it on ants. Thanks for the great tips! :)

    1. Do you mainly use it for laundry? Cleaning? Something else? So far I've only used it on the toilets and the ants.