Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ants Go Marching: Avoid and Control Ants!

By Jennifer Li, Children's Environmental Health Writing Intern for Toxic Free NC

Ants are an important part of the natural environment.  They feed on pests like fleas, flies, and termites, and their tunneling helps aerate the soil and recycle organic matter.  However, ants can also be common household pests, and dealing with them can be a headache.  The key to avoiding these pests is to understand your options.  Fortunately, there are many toxic-free and environmentally friendly methods that can be used to stop an ant problem!  These non-toxic methods are safer and are effective for longer periods of time.

Ants want to get in our homes and child care centers in order to find food.  Follow these three important steps to keep ants out:
1. Remove food.
* Use ant-proof glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids to store food (including pet food).  Glass jars should have a rubber gasket or seal. Ants can climb up the threads of screw-top jars!  Dry goods like flour, rice, and sugar can also be stored in containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
* Clean up daily, especially kitchen floors, cabinets, and underneath appliances.
* Ant-proof your trash.  Make sure the food waste in your garbage can doesn’t stick around—Clean it out! Rinse out empty food containers before you throw them away or recycle them.  Don’t leave food scraps in the garbage overnight.  Take out the trash often.

2. Remove entryways.  Seal up cracks and crevices that give ants a way in to your child care centers and homes.  Use caulk to seal the cracks between walls and floors, around windows and doorframes, and around cupboards and bathroom fixtures.  You might also install door sweeps and weather stripping to prevent ants from slipping in under the doors.

3. Remove outdoor ant hiding places.  Avoid attracting carpenter ants by removing any piles of wood from under or around your home. Diseased plants, tree prunings, fallen fruit, and fallen leaves can also make great hiding places for ants!

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

So, you’ve done all you can to keep the ants out.  But, what do you do when you’ve got ants in your home and need to control them?  The first step is to locate their nest and their path from their nest to their food source, since ants follow a regular trail.  The last step to deal with these ants involves either killing or repelling them, and several non-toxic methods to do so are included below.  Make sure you keep up the ant prevention steps described above!  Even if ants are repelled, they may find another path to their food source.  Even if ants are exterminated, another ant colony may show up and discover the food source later.

Getting Rid of Ants
1. Soapy water.  Drown ants marching through your home by wiping them up with a sponge and dunking them in soapy water.  Also, wipe up the trail they leave behind—that way, their buddies won’t be able to find their way inside again.
2. Pet food barrier.  Ants cannot cross soapy water.  You can create a barrier by putting your pet’s food dish in the middle of a pan of soapy water.
3. Borax ant-bait.  Borax is a low-toxicity laundry powder that kills ants.  Borax does not vaporize into gas, so it is safer to handle than many household pesticide products.
       Recipe for Ant Bait 
       * 3 cups of water
       * 1 cup of sugar
       * 4 teaspoons of Borax

Mix ingredients and divide the mixture between 3–6 screw-top glass jars.  Loosely pack the jars halfway with cotton balls or other cotton stuffing.  Screw the lids on tightly and seal with tape.  Then, poke a few holes in the top of the jars, and place them near points of ant entry and along their trails. Mark the jars clearly as ANT BAIT and be sure to put them where pets and children cannot reach them.

If you work with large amounts of Borax, inhaling the powder can be irritating—wearing a mask is helpful!  As with all potentially hazardous materials, store Borax and boric acid out of the reach of children and pets.

4. Conserve outdoor ant nests. While ants are a pest when they come inside, they are important allies in your garden.  Native ant colonies eat lots of pest species like fleas and termites and aerate the soil.  Did you know that they also fight off fire ants?  Keep the outdoor ants happy by leaving their nests undisturbed.

If you have fire ant mounds, be very careful!  Fire ants are notorious for their bites and stings.  Keep a lookout for their mounds, which look like hills of loosened soil.  Marking them with flags or sticks will help others from accidentally disturbing them.  When dealing with fire ants, BE CAREFUL and wear shoes and socks rolled over long pants.

You can learn more about how to deal with fire ants at http://www.toxicfreenc.org/informed/fall08/fireants.html

Inside your house, ants are annoying little pests.  If you follow the steps above, you’ll be able to keep them where they belong—doing their important work in the great outdoors!

Jennifer Li is passionate about advocating for improved health in communities. After interning at the Museum of Life and Science last summer to promote healthy living, she is excited to build on her experience to make a difference in improving environmental health with Toxic Free NC.


Did you find this article helpful? Approximately once a month, Toxic Free NC volunteers or staff write a newsletter-ready article, focusing on children's environmental health, that we send to child care centers across North Carolina.

These articles contain helpful tips on ways child care centers, staff, and the children's parents can reduce kids' exposures to toxic chemicals and pesticides...we also think they're great for using in your home, too!  We hope you find the article useful and feel free to share.

If you would like any of the past articles, please email Lynne Walter for copies or to be added to our Child Care News list.  Examples of past articles include:

  • Having Fun in the Sun: Avoiding Sunburn, Skin Cancer, and Toxic Chemicals, too
  • Toxic-Free Gardening with Kids: 5 Tips for Gardeners at Home, School, & Child Care on Getting Rid of Bugs Safely
  • Insect Repellent and Kid Safety
  • Get Pesticides Out of Your Kids' Classrooms: It's Easier than You Think!
  • Mosquito Management in Child Care

* Get Rid of Ants Toxic NC Factsheet: http://toxicfreenc.org/informed/pdfs/ants.pdf
* The ABCs of Coping with Fire Ants Toxic NC Factsheet: http://toxicfreenc.org/informed/pdfs/fireantssheet.pdf
* EPA Pest Control and Pesticide Safety Guide: http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/Cit_Guide/citguide.pdf

Text Copyright 2013 by Toxic Free NC.  NC Child Care centers have permission to use text for educational purposes with their parents and staff, provided full credit is given to Toxic Free NC www.toxicfreenc.org

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