I’m up at the Columbia River Gorge for the Gorge Games, an action sports extravaganza with everything from slalom skateboarding to kiteboarding, adventure racing to river boarding. They did their best to be a sustainable event with abundant receptacles for recycling and even composting, which I’ve never seen at an event like this. One other thing they had that really got me thinking was ants — ants strutting across the picnic table, ants crawling up my leg, ants basking in the dog dish, ants absolutely everywhere.
Across the country ants are a typical summertime bummer that can ruin a picnic or make a whole house or apartment feel dirty and creepy. Although most ants don’t bite, sting or cause any lasting structural damage, their presence can be so annoying that spraying pesticides or leaving traps around seems absolutely essential.
Yet, among other toxins, many ant control products contain permethrin, which is a strongly suspected human carcinogen. Plus, toxic pesticides tend to backfire because they only target the 5 percent of a colony that actually ventures out and they split a single colony into multiple colonies, which will then yield more ants.
For a more effective and greener method, consider an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to rid your home of ants. IPM is a chemical-free approach that takes a lot more strategizing and usually a little more time, but given the risks of pesticides, it’s worth it.
Stop being such a good host
The first question to ask is why are they there? You may need to know a little bit about the exact type of bug you’re dealing with and what are their habits and preferences. For ants, it’s pretty easy — food. To get rid of ants you need to quit feeding them. That means cleaning up your counters, garbage areas, and cupboards and putting all shelf food, including pet food, in sealed containers or in the refrigerator.
Close the ant door
Next ask: Where are they coming in? With their in-your-face parade style of travel ants make this one easy, too. Follow the line of ants back to where they are entering your home and block them. That may mean sealing a hole or crack or fixing a screen. If the entryway is not sealable, create a barrier of coffee grounds or any combination of cayenne pepper, lemon juice, cinnamon, or a citrus-oil-soaked string, which will deter them from crossing.
For ants already inside, try making your own anti-ant spray. Combine 2/3 cup vinegar, 12 drops peppermint oil, and 2 cups water in spray bottle and squirt the ants. Or put cornstarch in your vacuum bag or canister and vacuum them up.
If the ants have taken over your carpeting, and the previous methods don’t work, garden-grade diatomaceous earth is a good less toxic alternative. Sprinkle onto the carpets and then use a broom to work it in to the fibers. Let sit overnight and vacuum thoroughly in the morning. Always use a mask when working with DE and it’s a good precaution to keep pets and kids out of the room until you’ve vacuumed it up.
A little IPM strategizing can go a long way in raining on the summertime ant parade and taking back your home greenly and cleanly from the little buggers.
Kimberly Delaney is the author of Clean Home, Green Home: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Eco-friendly Homekeeping forthcoming this fall from the Knack imprint of Globe Pequot Press.