How to get rid of ants: 14 non-toxic ways to deal with ants in the house, kitchen and garden

The experts weigh in on the best methods for getting rid of ants

Ants on a crumb of food
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We've asked the experts and compiled the research to understand how to get rid of ants in the house.

Ants want the same thing any creature does: water, food, and shelter. Which is why these bite-sized bugs have a habit of invading our homes. And whilst these tiny insects aren't harmful or hazardous to health they can often be an unpleasant sight, or worse, chew their way through important electrical wiring. And when it gets to summer, the appearance of lots of flying ants can present a problem too.

Though we can make every effort to keep our home clean and tidy, even cleaning those forgotten areas, it sometimes not enough to keep the critters at bay. Which is when remedies to remove ants come in handy. "What I hear the most from people is that they have kids, pets or are strictly anti-chemicals, and are looking for alternative ways to fight household problems such as pests," says Jordan Foster, a pest management expert at Fantastic Pest Control. "If you’re unsure about getting rid of ants, you can try these natural repellents first before contacting pest professionals who will put a stop to the nightmare."

How to get rid of ants in the house

Sealing any cracks or entry points, regularly cleaning floors and countertops and making sure not to leave food out are just a few of the ways you can prevent an ant infestation in your home. But there are plenty of natural and non-toxic repellents you can use too.

It only takes one ant to enter a house to lay the trail for a whole army to follow - with these clever insects leaving behind a scented pheromone path that guides the rest of the pack in - so even the most diligent cleaners can suffer at the hands of these tiny tyrants. Try some of these expert-approved methods to get rid of ants, without adding chemicals or toxins to your home.

Ants crawling over a kitchen counter

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Lemons

Citrus fruits like lemon, limes and oranges are a great natural ant repellent, according to Robert Collins, a pest control expert from Myjobquote.

"Lemons are toxic to certain types of fungi that ants feed on, therefore placing lemon peel or lemon juice around your home will cause ants to stay clear," he tells us.

"You can also use citrus-scented cleaners around your home, although avoid synthetic scented solution as there will have no effect."

2. Peppermint oil

A University of Georgia theses found that plant-extracted essential oils like spearmint and peppermint were repellent to Argentine ants.

This particular breed of ants are considered harmless, much like the black ant and black garden ant that are commonplace in the UK.

Pop a few drops in an oil incense burner and place near the source of your ant infestation. Or dilute some oil in water and spray on the affected areas.

A viable alternative to chemical ant repellants, peppermint oil is safe to use around kids and makes your house smell great too.

3. Tea tree oil

Another essential oil that doubles as an insect repellent can be found in your bathroom cabinet.

One study found that tea tree oil has both "insecticidal and repellent effects".

It's also kind to skin and is therefore another great safe, natural remedy to get rid of ants in the house.

As with peppermint, spray a diluted form of tea tree on the direct cause or allow it to disperse via an oil burner.

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Blue Velvet Essential Oils 2 Pack Gift Set Peppermint Tea Tree - £5.99 |  Amazon

A pack of two 10ml essential oils, tea tree and peppermint, for use in diffusers, oil burners homemade cleaning products - and they double as insect repellent too!

4. Talcum powder

Pest control expert Jordan Foster informs us of another genius talcum powder hack that most people might be unaware of.

"Talcum powder can be used and ants won't come through it," he says. "Plus, talcum or baby powder is safer for pets and kids too."

The talcum powder works by breaking the ants' pheromone trail. Plus Dan Stein, author of Dan's Practical Guide to Least Toxic Home Pest Control, also notes that the powder gets absorbed through their skin and clogs up their airways, killing them off for good.

5. Glass cleaner

Another common ant repellent is a good old bottle of glass cleaner. You can spray directly onto the source or dilute with liquid soap and spray on the offending area.

It works by removing the scented pheromone trail that ants leave behind and rely on to find their way back.

How to get rid of ants in the kitchen

Cutting off the ants' food source is the first port of call. As Jordan says, "Keep in mind that ants are attracted to sweet and starchy things like sugar, honey, and cornmeal. And keep food tightly sealed in containers or plastic bags." 

But if you're still spotting a stream of the bite-sized bugs then consider trying a few of these tips to getting rid of ants in the kitchen.

Ants on top of a jar of sugar

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Cinnamon

One study has shown that trans-cinnamaldehyde - a compound found in cinnamon - is effective at killing and repelling ants, including biting red ants.

"Not only does cinnamon keep ants away, it will leave your home smelling lovely and fresh," says Lucy Askew, a spokesperson for Hillarys.

"Put cinnamon near the entrance of your home and it will act like a natural repellent because of its strong smell. You could also add some essential oils to the cinnamon to boost its smell."

Another trick is to coat cotton balls with powdered cinnamon or cinnamon oil and leave out near ant sightings.

7. Vinegar

We know that vinegar boasts many uses, but did you know it's a natural bug repellent too?

"As soon as you see some unwanted ants, mix up a solution of 50% regular or white vinegar and 50% water and pour it over the area that you saw them," says Edward Jonkler, managing director at Remora Cleaning. "If you want to you can even use a 100% vinegar solution."

Whilst the vinegar does kill ants it can repel them first: "Ants can smell the vinegar even after it dries – therefore, this method is a long-term solution to your problem," adds Edward.

8. Cornstarch

Edward also swears by cornstarch as a solution to annoying ants. "For this to work you must generously cover them in cornstarch and then pour water on top of this pile of cornstarch," he tells us. 

"This is a messier approach to removing ants from your home but it is effective. After a while, vacuum up the cornstarch to make sure that they are all removed and dispose of the vacuum bag immediately."

The cornstarch won't actually kill ants, but it will attract them to the area, enabling you to dispose of them with your hoover.

9. Salt and Pepper

Our go-to trusty seasonings are known to turn off ants, deterring them from returning to the kitchen. "Spreading salt near any corners where ants would enter and crawl back into will keep them from making an appearance in your home," says Lucy at Hillarys.

"You can also sprinkle pepper by the entrance or make a solution of pepper and water and spray it near the problem areas," she adds.

Both black and cayenne pepper are loathed by ants and good to use here. Whilst Epsom salt will dehydrate ants.

How to get rid of ants in the garden

Ant nests are found outside in the garden, so if you're suffering from a real infestation then chances are you'll have to tackle the source first. However, destroying the nest should only be a last resort, as it's important to remember that ants have an essential part to play in our ecosystem and help us humans by eating up other pests like fleas and bed bugs.

If ants are overrunning your home then you can try these repellents in your garden before seeking professional help.

An ant on a leaf

(Image credit: Getty Images)

10. Boiling water

"Pouring boiling water down any ant holes you have spot in your garden is a very effective and immediate way to kill ants," Edward of Remora Cleaning tells us.

"Even though ant hills look small on the outside, they are often home to extremely wide and big colonies underground. Therefore, make sure to pour a fair amount of water in each hill you see."

In one experiment, researchers found that pouring hot water on an ant colony reduced the number of fire ants by 60%.

11. Coffee

Who knew that your morning brew could be the secret to getting rid of ants in the house and garden?

Pest management expert Jordan tells us that ground coffee is known to keep sugar ants away. "We recommend only using it outside around entryways," he says.

Researchers tested three different coffee varieties against three ant species - ghost ant, big-headed ant and Pharaoh ant. They found that Arabian coffee gave the "high mortality against all three ant species". So be sure to buy and scatter a bag of this for optimum results.

12. Chalk

Chalk is another effective ant repellent.  Its ability to repel ants is linked to the calcium carbonate which interferes with their ability to trace the pheromone route laid by other ants.

"Draw with chalk under doors, nearby windows, on patios, around cracks or wherever you’ve noticed ants appear," advises Jordan.

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CRAYOLA Anti-Dust White Chalk (Pack of 12) - £1.99 | Amazon

12 chalk markers deal for writing and drawing on blackboards, with special anti-dust formula in these chalks minimises the inhalation of dust.

13. Boric acid

"Boric acid can be used to get rid of house ants," says Jordan. "You can sprinkle the acid around the entry points of the ants and it will act as a repellent; they won't cross the acid and keep away from your home."

One study found that boric acid killed 100% of ghost ants after 3 weeks. As this insecticide is acid-based, we'd advise restricting it's use to outside only, targeting patios and cracks in exterior walls specifically.

14. Diatomaceous earth

Pesky carpenter ants have a habit of hiding in damaged or wet wood. Think tree stumps and damaged trees, old patio furniture, and other outdoor structures.

Jordan Foster tells us that this fossilised rock powder is the answer to fending off this particular ant species.

"For carpenter ants, you can use Diatomaceous earth," he says. "This ingredient is often mentioned when it comes to DIY pest control not only for ants but for bed bugs and cockroaches too."

"In my professional opinion, it won't do much good for a large infestation of cockroaches, but it will help keep ants away from your home," he adds.

When to call in pest control

If you're experiencing recurring infestations, have exhausted every natural ant repellent option and are still struggling to get rid of ants in the house - then it's time to seek professional help.

"A professional ant exterminator will survey the area first to check the extent of the infestation before determining which ant treatment is best," says pest control specialist Robert Collins. "They will apply a specialist powder to the affected area, including around entry points and cracks. The ants will mistake the powder for food and will carry it back to the nest, preventing further ant production."

Robert tells us that the price of a professional ant removal service is "normally around £100 to £500".  "However, this will depend on the extent of the infestation and any damage caused,” he adds.

The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) has a handy database that allows you to find a qualified pest control service in your local area.

If you're struggling with ants in the house, you might want to check out these expert-approved natural remedies for insect bites.

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Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.