We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Ant Wars

It feels as if ants are taking over our house. Ok, that's an exaggerating, but there sure is a steady stream of them coming into the kitchen.

After returning from a visit to my parent's I noticed ants on the counter. I had to laugh when My Bigger Half suggested I brought them home with me, rather than they were here before I got home. After all, he hadn't seen them until I got home. He laughingly accepted that I didn't bring them, after I showed him the path they followed from the front door to the counter.

I took several approaches to getting rid of them:

  • cleaning up the counter and sink
  • squishing them
  • feeding my worms with the compost that was stored on the counter
  • spraying vinegar water on the counter and along the marching path
  • spraying Kit's Magic Kleaner on the counter and along the marching path
  • sweetly asking the ants to go away
  • begging the ants to go away
  • sprinkling corn starch at the entry/exit point
  • using MaxAttrax Ant Bait

I was hugely disappointed none of the environmentally friendly approaches worked on ridding us of them. Well, I didn't make the time to research what to do about them, just relying on my knowledge of pest control. I didn't go into the crawl space to fight them at their source, or to even locate their source. In desperation I let My Bigger Half buy ant bait, and that did the trick.

Cleaning the counter and sink didn't work, but it did make it easier to find them and squish them. A clean counter also improved my chances of deterring them with my sprays.

I finally quit squishing them so I could see where they were coming from, and ultimately where they were going to. Smart, huh. They were emerging from the wall beside the front door, marching across the floor, up the cabinet, across the counter, and disappearing into the dishwasher cabinet (not the machine, but the cabinet that holds the machine).

Once their path was learned I knew where to spray, and spray I did. The spray worked, at least in the sense they didn't use that path anymore. Those persistent little ants instead went around. The bigger my spray area the longer they had to march to get around the spot to reach their destination.

I don't know why I didn't Google a better solution than ant bait, but I didn't. Interestingly, as I sat to write this article I did some research and found wonderful solutions. Now you have those solutions I didn't use.

I did learn that my vinegar solutions might have worked if it had been closer to a 50:50 solution of vinegar:water, or even straight vinegar. I won't use the bleach that was recommended in several places. I would have tried using Borax, mixed with sugar, if I'd known about it then. Chili powder was another "natural" way of killing ant colonies, an approach I'd be willing to try too.

What kind of ants did we have? I don't know. They were small, marched in single file, were social (they'd stop to communicate with other ants they were passing), and persistent. We haven't had them for almost a month now, so it seems we indeed rid our home of the ants. Yaaay!

To learn more about little black ants:

And if you like watching videos to learn more about this, here are some for your viewing pleasure:

Insect Pest Control: How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally

How to Get Rid of Ants Safely


I've won this war for the first time this year. What did the trick? Coffee grounds. They won't cross a solid line of coffee grounds. Of course, you have to live with the mess (like around my pet bowls), but I haven't seen an ant in weeks!

Lynn Crump at June 29, 2010 11:40 AM

Spent and dried coffee grounds are the trick, eh? That's good to know. And when you are done with them there you can sweep them up for your compost pile or worm bin. Nice!


Kit Cassingham at June 29, 2010 11:56 AM

Yes, Kit, I also fight these little buggers every year. I have found that keeping the bushes outside my kitchen window trimmed helps (they start coming in later in the year) but the only thing that really gets rid of them is poison. They are persistent and once they find a food source, they will not give up. By the way, their food source can be so miniscule, you will not know they are feasting on it. Keeping any and all food crumbs cleaned up helps cut down on the amount invading your home. There is a powder which you can sprinkle outside, if you can find their nest. I have found them inside potted plants before. They start laying their eggs and moving them around in the spring, so that is the easiest time to find them and destroy them first. You cannot reason with them and expect them to leave. None of the so-called natural remedies works and who wants coffee grounds all around on their kitchen counter anyway?! Sorry if I sound a little jaded; I have been in this war for about 10 years now. I kill them off each spring/summer and new ones come out every year. I am getting better at my timing and my positioning though! Good luck!

Tammy Whitley at June 29, 2010 1:54 PM

Hi There!
Boric acid has been my fav treatment. Since you never know if you have sugar or grease ants, i usually mix it with a little peanut butter and sugar. It covers them both. Note: if you are worried about killing the ants, rather than just deterring them... don't use this. It's a colony killer. Ants eat their dead.... if you kill them by poison, they take the dead back to the colony and share the "food" which is poison.

Flip from pittsburgh at June 29, 2010 4:29 PM

Don't use coffee grounds around animals - they can kill because of the caffiene - fresh or used, ground or beans!

I haven't had indoor ant problems, but when I see them "roiling" on the grass getting ready to swarm, I boil a couple of pans of water and kill them that way - safe for my dogs, wildlife and the watershed creek. It takes them a few days to swarm (at least when I've tracked it, so I started looking for a safe way to kill them) and I don't want the dogs to get into the middle of millions of ants, so the boiling water works very well.

Is anyone else having a bumper crop of ant hills this year? They are everywhere! As long as they stay out of the house... :)

Anne at June 29, 2010 5:19 PM

Anne, thanks for the additional pointers. I like the boiling water idea, presuming you know where they live.

Does decaf coffee have little enough caffeine to not harm pets? It's good to know that any form of coffee deters ants.


Kit Cassingham at July 2, 2010 11:44 AM


Don't know about the decaf - I looked up on the web and found several websites that say no to decaf also (still some caffeine in decaf they state). On that note, cocoa mulch is also a killer for animals.

Another thing I thought of that worked on yellow jackets in the ground - listerine (took two days of pouring a giant bottle down the hole each evening, followed with some water, then no more wasps - I used the genenic brand, worked just as well)!

Maybe it would work on the ants, I'm going to try that along the garage where the pavement meets - it's where the dogs could get bit, haven't noticed them before, just a regular nest, but starting to be a problem (at least a few hundred running around on the sidewalk the past few mornings). I'll open up the caulking more (has holes in it), pour in the listerine, see how it does, hopefully able to recaulk. :) The dogs don't like the smell, so they stay away from it, dissipates in a few days.


Anne at July 3, 2010 8:13 AM

I've never had ants in my house. But I've had something much worse--a massive infestation of cockroaches!

My niece a few years ago, was living in public housing. (The buildings since then have been condemned and are boarded up) In her apartment, they were crawling everywhere--walls, floors, ceilings, in cabinets, countertops, furniture, even completely infested her car. I can't even describe what it was like. They sprayed and bombed over and over, it never seemed to phase them.

For a time, she was bringing her laundry to do at my house. Well, you guessed it...a couple hundred roaches rode along in the clothes baskets every time, and moved into my house. UGH! GROSS!

It wasn't long before I was overrun with the nasty critters. NOTHING would kill them. Traps--zilch. Combat gel--nope. Sprays and bombs--they just stood there and laughed at you. At one point they were so bad, I'd go in the kitchen several times a day, with a gallon jug of ortho-MAX in my hand, directly hitting as many as I could, while stomping on a hundred or so each time...while screaming, "Die you @#%^&%$#, Die!" After days of doing that, there was no noticeable reduction in the population. I couldn't afford a professional exterminator.

Finally got rid of them. In two words: Boric Acid! It took awhile, but it worked. I sprinkled it everywhere. Floors, counter tops, inside cabinets, under furniture, along baseboards, all over the bathroom...you name it. We walked through boric acid for days. I refreshed it every couple of days. After about a week, I started seeing less and less of them. Finally, they were gone.

Even now, every once in awhile, we'll start seeing them again, I guess a batch of eggs somewhere hatches. But I start putting out the boric acid for awhile, and then they disappear again. It's messy, but it works. It doesn't poison the house. And best of all, they don't develop an immunity to it like they do with most poisons.

Kathi at July 3, 2010 8:33 AM

Anne, Listerine sounds like an interesting idea. Let us know how it works on the ants. I'm going to try it on my flying-stinging things, though I'm not sure it's going to be as effective since I think they are living under my lap siding. Oh, I wonder about staining. Time to think about that some more.

But my ants haven't shown up again. I do have giant ants that periodically walk across the front porch or the garage. They don't seem to bother anything, but are they BIG!


Kit Cassingham at July 5, 2010 6:20 PM

Kathi, I hear cockroaches are stinky too, not just disgusting. Glad to hear the Boric Acid works on them as well. I wonder if that would work on bed bugs....

Thanks for sharing.


Kit Cassingham at July 5, 2010 6:23 PM


I could find no authoritative info on coffee grounds, or small amounts of caffeine, harming mammals. I'd like to see some documentation on exactly how, and when, coffee grounds in small quantities has hurt a dog or cat.

I did find some advice on using coffee grounds to rid dogs of fleas, externally. Perhaps some posts should be vetted when pre- or proscribing things? I've seen at least one dog (mine, passed when he was 18 yrs) drink a bit of coffee (with milk). Made him a bit frisky--no ill effects noted. Some breeds (not all) of dogs are sensitive to the theobromine found in chocolate. On the other hand I don't think ingesting large quantities of coffee grounds would do much good for anyone.

Another 2ยข. :)


Riley at July 9, 2010 4:01 PM


Thanks for this $.02 donation to my retirement fund. :~D I truly appreciate your comments and ideas.

Not to sound flippant, but I think you have just done the vetting I didn't do. It's hard for me to manage all of the post vetting and get my articles written too. Seems I'm relying on readers like to to cover my backside.

Excellent idea. I'll try to be better about doing that myself. Continue to watch my back, though -- please.

Kit Cassingham at July 9, 2010 7:29 PM

Urged forward by Riley I did a bit of research on the effects of caffeine on pets. I first checked Snopes.com and found only this article about coca mulch.

Then I found the Yes/No answers on Yahoo Answers and an article abouth foods in general that aren't good for our pets on DogGuide.

I'm going to go with the stance that caffeine could be lethal to your pet, so avoid foods and ant deterrents that contain caffeine.


Kit Cassingham at July 13, 2010 11:09 AM

I asked my vet about coffee grounds, caf and decaf - she has seen dogs and cats ill and death caused by both. It's the same as chocolate, some animals can handle it, some can't. I wouldn't want to take a chance on causing the death of one of my pets (or wildlife), so I'll stick to my original statement not to use them at all. :)

Listerine - worked, but took longer for the ants to die than the water, so I'll go back to boiling water.

Got rid of more ants in the sidewalk cracks by using the hose to get rid of the soil they had dug up or brought in - once their "nest" dirt was gone, they were gone too - haven't come back since/yet. I'll use the hose again a few days before I recaulk the cracks.


Anne at July 18, 2010 2:38 PM

We tend to get moisture ants rather than suger ants. They're both small black ants, but ours show up in the laundry room rather than the kitchen. We've used diatomaceous earth sucessfully for 6 years now. It has a physical rather than chemical effect. Diatomaceous earth is made from dried out diatoms (1-2 celled sea creatures); it's simply a white powder to us, but it is sharp enough to cause cuts on crawling insects. Those cuts make the insects dehydrate & die. The 1.5 pound box has lasted us 6 years so far, and seems to be about 1/3 full still.

Anonymous at July 18, 2010 11:37 PM

Anne, thanks for the warning. I'll deal with ants without the aid of coffee grounds. No point trading one poison for another, as far as my cats are concerned.


Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 8:02 AM

Whoever left the comment about Diatomaceous Earth, thanks. I've seen it referenced in "ant war" articles and wondered about it. You make one more reference to it.

I guess we may try that, should we ever be attacked by ants inside again.


Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 8:04 AM

Like a previous commenter, I use D- earth. I get it at Lowe's, in the organic pest control section. It comes in a bag...maybe 6-8 lbs? Anyway, it does last forever!

Diatomaceous earth works on roaches, fleas and ants, as well as sow bugs, stink bugs and other garden pests.

Having 3 asthmatics in the house, plus numerous rescued pets and 2 small g-daughters, I don't want to use anything that might cause a negative reaction if ingested.

I had heard of a possibility of damaged lungs if inhaled, and so initially I kept the animals and kids away from the area, and cleaned it up after a few hours, but we've had no issues at all, so I usually just leave it ...YMMV. ;o)

For ants and roaches I sprinkle it inside cracks and tiny pin holes, inside cabinets along the walls, along baseboards, windowsills, etc...any points of entry.... and leave it.
For fleas, I rub it directly into my dogs' coats, working it down to the skin (they love that!) a day before their bath.
I also sprinkle it over every rug, dog bed and upholstered furniture, wait a couple hours and vacuum it up.

Outside, I sprinkle it liberally over the ground surrounding my plants, and on them too. I just leave it..refreshing after it rains.

I've also heard that food grade D-Earth can be added to a pet's food, to clean out internal parasites, but I haven't tried that. I will say that I'm sure my dogs ingest it when they lick themselves, but I've never noticed an effect, positive or negative.

Kate at July 31, 2010 9:07 AM


Thanks for sharing your experience with Diatomaceous Earth. I'm getting increasingly comfortable with the concept of using it.


Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 3:36 PM

There was a recent post on one of my dog lists of someone using food grade D-earth, dusting their entire yard to keep away fleas and ticks.

Don't know if it really works, haven't tried it myself - I'm very lucky to not have ticks at all, even with deer on the property (but they don't come in the dog's yards and I keep the dogs out of the woodrows); only fleas twice in 12 years, when bunnies tried to nest in the dog yards. I wonder how many beneficials the D-earth would also kill though.

On a side note for mosquito control - we have tons of dragonflies this year (they land on your hand sometimes if you put it out for them!), which has kept the mosquitos down, even with the more than average rain we've had since April.


Anne at August 1, 2010 5:22 AM

Yes...roaches DO stink. Horribly! If you have very many of them, you can smell them in the cabinets. When you smash them, they stink to high heaven. I have heard (don't know if it's true) that if you have problems with mice in your house, they will leave if the cockroaches move in. (I think I'd rather have the mice...lol)

The boric acid worked good with the roaches, and I understand it works for many other insects, including fleas. Bedbugs? hmmm I have no clue!

Kathi at August 1, 2010 4:21 PM


Good question about the D-earth killing beneficial bugs like lady bugs and dragon flies.

Thanks for bringing that web of life back into focus for me.

Aren't dragonflies the coolest! I didn't realize they were involved in mosquito control. Sure beats sprays! Or D-earth.


Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 10:59 AM


I don't recall boric acid or D-earth being mentioned in articles about bedbugs.Here's a link to an article I wrote about it for EcoNomicallySound.com (my site to educate hoteliers about running a green hotel) Sleep Tight....


Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 11:04 AM

We use food-grade diatomaceous earth for inside-the-house ant control and it works very well. No chemical side-effects to worry about, but it does leave white powder in and near the cracks where ants emerge. Roaches are not a problem because we have a vigorous population of spiders -- who eat roaches. Nothing else has worked as well as D-earth for us.

Charles Funaro at August 2, 2010 11:38 AM

According to some quick research DE may be harmful to wasps (that might be good pest deterrents), and it helps control bedbugs. It doesn't hurt worms. But I didn't find any reference to bugs like ladybugs.

Articles I have found:
1. http://www.greenharvest.com.au/pestcontrol/diatomaceous_earth_info.html
2. http://wolfcreekranch1.tripod.com/defaq.html
3. http://www.ehow.com/how_5049476_use-earth-safely-pest-control.html


Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 5:06 PM


Great info on the bedbugs - they are getting to be a major problem in the US with so much international travel. When I stay in a hotel now (which is rare, dogs and I prefer the RV!), I check the room thoroughly - not just for bedbugs - found ant traps once, and multiple times food scraps under the bed - not good things for my dogs to get into. I also bring sheets from home to use on the beds and the floor (hotel room carpets rarely if ever get cleaned) - for where my dogs lay.

I did some ladybug research, did find some info that it seems like they could be killed (honey bees too if used on plants for pest control) by D-Earth.

Another dragonfly point I remembered - people like to put up purple martin houses, but I found research years ago that P.M.'s favorite food are dragonflies, so it will actually hurt mosquito control if you are in a dragonfly area, to house P.M.'s. Dragonflies eat mosquitos their entire lives - larval and adult.

It's been like a flying symphony lately - the barn swallows and jumbo dragonflies flying around the back acres around dusk catching bugs! The barn swallows love it when we mow later in the day - they nearly collide with you going after the stirred up bugs. It's neat to watch the two species coordinating their efforts - they never collide even though both are very fast flyers!


Anne at August 20, 2010 10:46 AM


Thanks for tracking down the impacts of D-Earth on beneficial insects like ladybugs, honey bees, and dragonflies. It makes sense that it could indiscriminately hurt insects.

Your story of the barn swallows and dragonflies catching bugs is wonderful. Enjoy your symphony and ballet for many nights and years to come.


Kit Cassingham at August 21, 2010 2:36 PM
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