How to get rid of ants – and no, you don’t have to kill them

These are the best ways to deter ants the natural way.

If the warm weather has seen your home subjected to an ant invasion, you’re not alone. Ants love it when the temperature ramps up, which is why we see so many of them during the summer months. And as ants are team players, you’re likely to be faced with a swarm of ants, not just one or two.

Although ants are a nuisance when they come inside, they have an important role to play in the ecosystem, helping to decompose dead material, improving soil health and controlling pests. So you may prefer to deter them naturally, which is where our tops tips on how to get rid of ants without killing them come in.

black garden ant on branchCredit: Shutterstock/Coulanges

While I don’t mind ants in the garden – they are busy workers and have an important role to play ­– I’m not so keen when they invite themselves inside my house. This is where my hospitality falls short and I’m happy to usher them out.

1. Seal off any entry points

Prevent ants from getting inside

Before working out how to get rid of ants from your home, you’ll need to do some detective work to discover where they entered. “Examine your home carefully for cracks, gaps and openings,” says Todor Stoev, pest control specialist at Fantastic Pest Control.  If you discover any entry points, Stoev advises to block them with sealants such as caulk or silicone.


2. Keep your kitchen clean

Hide the treats

It’s unsurprising that ants are attracted by food, sugar and moisture, making our kitchens a prime target area for ant infestations. “The key is to wipe up spills, clear up crumbs and don’t leave sugary treats uncovered,” says Ben Keywood, an entomologist at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

Even when just one ant finds a tasty food source, it won’t be long before you have a scurry of its friends following on behind. “Worker ants ‘scout’ new areas for food, so initially you’ll usually only find one or two in your house,” says Keywood. “But if these scouts find a food source, they will return to the colony and ‘tell’ all the other ants where to go!

“Capturing these scouts and putting them back outside (well away from the house) will prevent them from doing this,” he adds.

small red ants on a spoon with sugarCredit: Shutterstock/RHJPhtotos

Keep your sugary treats out of reach

Instead of leaving an open sugar bowl on the worktop, ready to add to your tea or coffee, keep it covered in a container with a sealed lid.

3. Play on their sweet tooth to keep ants outside

Once you start, don’t stop

Keywood suggests playing on an ant’s sweet tooth as a means of a deterrent. “If you place something sweet and irresistible outside in the spot where you release them, they’ll then go back and tell the colony to head there instead of in your house,” he says.

What is the best food to entice the ants to stay outside? “Fruit such as cut apple or apple cores are good,” says Keywood. “You just need to ensure you maintain this food source to prevent them returning.”

4. Create a biodiverse habitat for ants in the garden

Keep ants where they are meant to be

“Ants generally don’t want to go in your house,” explains Keywood. “So, if you create a biodiverse habitat in your garden, the chances of them finding natural food sources are higher. This reduces their need to venture further to scout for things to eat.”

To improve the habitat in your garden for ants and other insects, Keywood recommends leaving some areas to go a bit wilder and undisturbed. “Longer grass, logs piles, ponds and stone features all offer different characteristics that provide homes for wildlife,” he says. “Insects are a vital food source for frogs, bats and birds, so the more habitat you can provide, the more likely you are to welcome other garden visitors.”

Keywood also recommends taking an organic approach to gardening by avoiding the use of chemicals or sprays to combat problems with insects.

Ants’ role in the ecosystem

Although, at times, you may find that ants are annoying little creatures, they benefit the ecosystem. “Ants prey on other invertebrates that may damage our plants and they play a major part in keeping soil healthy,” says Keywood. “The complex chambers they create underground also help aerate and improve soil quality.”

Apart from being a food source for woodpeckers, they can also help birds to stay clean.

“Some birds use ants to clean parasites from their feathers. It’s thought that enticing the ants to bite and spray their acid on their feathers helps to prevent lice and other parasites,” he adds.

5. Catch ants with a glass

Then move them outside

Unlike trying to keep flies out of your house, there’s no special knack for trapping ants before placing them back outside. If you only have a few to remove, Keywood tells us: “Catch the ants in a small plastic container or glass, then place a piece of card over the top – just like you’d catch a wasp.”


6. Scent them out

Play on their dislikes

A transparent bottle of peppermint essential oil with blooming peppermint twigsCredit: Shutterstock/Madeleine Steinbach

If you don’t want to eradicate ants, there are plenty of ways to repel them with natural scents. The plus side is that the smells ants detest make for excellent room fragrances in our homes – a win-win all round.

Natural scents to repel ants

“Insects will be deterred from entering your home by peppermint’s strong scent and they can also be effectively controlled with peppermint oils,” says Stoev. “You can plant peppermint around the perimeter of your house or use peppermint oil as a spray to clean the air.”

Ants find the smell of bay leaves pungent and will turn their backs on what we consider a worthy culinary addition. Stoev suggests using bay leaf oil in your home or leaving out bay leaves in your kitchen.

Vinegar’s strong smell is another ingredient to add to your anti-ant list. “You can spray vinegar mixed with water on surfaces to deter ants or wipe them down with a vinegar solution,” suggests Stoev. “That way you’ll say goodbye to ants and have a clean home too.”

Make up a cleaning solution using one-part white vinegar and one-part water.

While you may find zesty citrus fruits – such as oranges and lemons – refreshing, they don’t appeal to ants. “You can make yourself natural cleaning detergents with citrus essential oils or buy them from your local grocery store,” says Stoev.

Cinnamon is another scent that repels ants, so rather than banishing it to the back of the kitchen cupboards until Christmas, bring it out in the summer to act as a deterrent.

Stoav suggests spraying a cinnamon essential oil around any cracks and gaps where you spot ants entering your home. With a bit of luck, it will encourage them to take a U-turn.

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Burning love

Try burning citrus-fragranced essential oils in an oil burner in your kitchen to keep ants at bay. I particularly like the lemony fragrance of bergamot oil.

7. Create physical barriers

Stop them in their tracks

You can also discourage ants by creating physical barriers they cannot cross. “Place chalk, powdered charcoal, or diatomaceous earth (food-grade) near entry points or ant trails,” says Stoav.

Stoav warns that pouring these substances over ants will kill them but, when used as a barrier, they help to eradicate the trail of scent that the ants are trying to reach.

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8. Reduce moisture levels in your home

Check for any leaks

Ants are particularly attracted to moisture, just like slugs, who like damp conditions in our gardens, so it’s worth giving your house a quick once-over to reduce the likelihood of ants congregating in your home.

Stoav suggests checking your plumbing for leaks, especially under your kitchen sink and bathroom. It’s also worth checking for any damp or damaged wood that the ants will happily call home – a bathroom windowsill is a prime example.

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


Camilla Sharman is a Staff Writer at Saga Exceptional. Camilla has worked in publishing and marketing for over 30 years and has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  

As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader. 

It was when she started her family that her freelance career evolved. Having moved into a period house two days before her first son was born, she had the perfect opportunity to combine working from home with writing about her own house renovation projects. Apart from appearing on the cover of Your Home magazine, Camilla’s written for Ideal Homes, Real Homes, House Beautiful, and kitchen and bathroom business magazines.  

It was inevitable that her interest in all things homes would lead her to writing home interest features. As a young girl she had the earliest version of Pinterest – a scrap book full of home inspiration images cut from magazines.  

In her spare time, when she’s not in her kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, you’ll find her keeping fit at the gym. In the pool, stretching at a yoga class, or on a spin bike, exercise is her escape time. She also loves the great outdoors and if she’s not pottering about in her garden, she’ll be jumping on her bike for a gentle cycle ride.  

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