How to Get Rid of Fire Ants: What Works and What to Skip

Pick an ant, any ant! Spin the antwheel of misfortune! Roll the ant dice! What do we have? You there, the lucky-looking [insert appropriate pronoun] sitting by the computer, what did you score?

Fire ants!

That’s right folks, today we’re lifting fire ants out of the great multicultural ant stew and giving them a thorough once over with our discerning eye and a selection of methods for delivering a one-way ticket to F*%^ Offville.

But first, a little background on the fire ant...

Fire Ants 101: A Fire Ant’s Life

The first thing to note about ‘fire ants’ is that the term doesn’t actually refer to one specific and singular type of ant (and this is something that’s really quite common when it comes to ant types); but serves as an umbrella term for almost 300 different subgroups of ant with similar behaviors and appearances.

Why do we call them ‘fire’ ants? Because they’re pyromaniacs. The Towering Inferno? Fire ants. No, no, okay. It’s pathetically boring – the fire moniker stems from their bright reddish color and the absolutely unrelenting pain of their sting, which is most readily compared to that of a fire burn. Tada. Fire ants.

how to get rid of fire ants

They’re not particularly fussy eaters, either. The typical fire ant is an omnivore, meaning it’ll take a shot at most things that cross its path, whether that’s the throwaway greasy foods we like, some lovely organic plant life or even other insects in their neighborhood. At least you’re not alone in your pain…

Joking aside for a moment: I know what your next question is going to be and the answer is yes, they can be dangerous. When a fire ant bites you, it latches on with its front pincers and then injects you with its venom.

how to get rid of fire ants
how to get rid of fire ants

For most of us, this venom will cause a great deal of irritation and likely result in large red welts around the bite location – plus that aforementioned burning sensation. Sometimes these welts can get so bad that they might actually leave scarring behind.

But that’s not the big deal: If you’re allergic to the fire ant bite, then it could be fatal. If you experience nausea, lots of sweating, absolutely incessant itching or any other concerning symptoms after receiving a bite, then contact emergency services immediately.

Safety Tip: If you have been bitten (especially if you suspect you’re allergic) make sure to leave the immediate area as soon as possible. Unlike many other painful and potentially dangerous stinging/biting insects, the fire ant can repeatedly sting you.

Like many types of ants, the fire ants like to live in the ground and usually construct very noticeable mounds around their nests. These nests, by the way, can contain hundreds of thousands of the things. So always be careful when navigating around a hill and especially if you decide to get down to the nasty business of extermination. Speaking of which...

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants

Alright, let’s get to the meat of the matter...here's how to destroy fire ants in or near your home for good!

Clean it up and store it away

Does it work? YES!

how to get rid of ants
how to get rid of ants

Here’s the thing of it: fire ants aren’t an unhappy coincidence. They haven’t moved into your yard or home by accident or for any reason other than the fact that it offers a much nicer alternative to the rest of the wide world.

Why is this the case? Because you’ve made your home attractive.

Remember their diet? The best initial move you can make is to make sure you’re disposing of your food scraps and waste appropriately and effectively: leave nothing to chance. Empty your trash as frequently as possible and try to keep it as far from the actual house as possible, too. Distance is your ally when it comes to something as sketchy as the fire ant.

Keep your house clean and clear. Don’t let crumbs fall into the cracks or let your kitchen area get messy. It really, really doesn’t take much to attract ants into a home and once they’re in, it’s a monumental feat to chase them back out again.

So clean, clean and clean some more – especially your floor areas, where food drops all the time without you realizing.

Make it difficult for them to get in

Does it work? YES!

Although it might seem like they’re reverse Houdinis, ants of all shapes and sizes do still need an opening in order to get into your home. The problem is that these openings can be almost microscopic in scale, so it’s imperative that you comb your home regularly for any gaps or holes that might make for a fire ant motorway.

Check under doors, window sills, skirting boards, on the exterior of your home walls, basement areas, attic walls and roofing – your whole home, top to bottom. Any spaces, no matter how insignificant they might look, need to be plugged up pronto. For the most part, simple sealants should do the job, but for a quick-fix… *drum roll*… Vaseline!

For whatever reason, ants can’t seem to navigate past the stuff. Obviously, it’s not a long lasting solution, but to cram up a small hole as you come across it.

Boiling water

Does it work? Kinda, but it can be dangerous. Skip it.

how to get rid of ghost ants

If you’ve managed to locate the ant mound itself, you can take the fight to them (but be very cautious… until you’ve actually been bitten, there’s no way to know if you’re allergic and who wants to take that test willingly?).

A handy, cheap and eternally favorite ant-killing technique is to simply load up on boiling water and flood the opening of the ant hill until your water bill is through the roof. Now, although the boiling water will kill any ants it comes in contact with and will also destroy the walls and tunnels of the hive itself, this tip always comes with a caveat.

Ant hills are made up of a complex network of tunnels, the number and scale of which boggles the mind. Add to that that they’re a very communicative species and you’ve got the ingredients for an ant mass-emigration on your hands. Just for an extra little dose of unfairness…Remember that fire ant nests can be filled with hundreds of thousands of them at any one time.

What I’m trying to say is: boiling water on its own is unlikely to cure the problem once and for all, and might actually lead to you scattering the ants even further and wider through your garden which could be a real threat if you have pets or small children playing in the area.

Poisons!

Does it work? YES! 

The obvious first step here is to opt for some high-strength external-use pesticides and insecticides. Liquid based is preferable, as you’ll be able to cover a wider area and saturate it, plus if you pour liquid pesticides straight into the hill, you’ll have the bonus of destroying the structure while killing them off.

Plus, a general spritz of pesticides round the perimeter and walls of your home – external, remember – will act as a powerful repellent… You’ll have to repeat the process quite often, though.

For a lighter touch, there is one name that always come top of the class for DIY ant extermination: diatomaceous earth, which works by dehydrating the ant from the outside in. As effective as DE is, though, it only works once it comes in contact with ants.

If you’ve already located a fire ant colony in or around the house, then it can be a very useful, natural ant killer. For example, if you scatter DE in and around all entryways to your home, leaving the ants no room for maneuver, then they’ll quickly get caught up in the ingredients and die off.

Out in the wild, though, you’re unlikely to have much success. The ants can easily avoid or navigate around the powders, and even though you’re likely to snag a few by pouring the toxins directly into or onto the hill itself, it won’t permeate through and take care of the problem en masse.

Not on its own, anyway…

Baits and traps

Does it work? YES! 

Now, if you were to somehow make the actual killing element attractive in and of itself, then you’d be dealing with a whole different matter.

Ant baits and traps are widely available and most of them do a thoroughly good job killing off the antennae’d sods lurking in your home.

Most of these are very simple in their functionality; a simple trap will simply be a platform or container with sticky edges or floors. The surfaces will be coated in sugary, starchy or greasy bait (mmmm… getting peckish, huh?) and lure the ants in, where they fuse with the surface and wait for you to come along and dispose of them.

Other types of ant killer are baits that use toxic ingredients like boric acid or full strength pesticides, but combine them with sugary or greasy foodstuffs directly. This way the ants are eating, ingesting, rolling around in and spreading the poison when they get in amongst it.

You can even make your own DIY ant baits using boric acid and/or baking soda, which are internal poisons for ants. Simply mix them up with foods that are appealing to fire ants and set them out as ant baits.

Ant baits may take a bit longer to work but the beauty is that they’ll then drag the toxins back into the ant hill with them and spread the love.

Digging…fast

Does it work? It could but it's not worth the effort. Skip it. 

This one requires a lot of thick, possibly rubberized, safety clothing. You do not want to be exposed when trying this…

A low-cost DIY trick is to simply dig the fire ants right out of your garden, but you need to do it quick and relentlessly. You’ll quickly realize what I meant about the intricacies of the ant networks.

Get some deep and wide buckets ready and dig out huge clumps of the hill and ground underneath as fast as you can – dump the dirt into the buckets (line the insides with a deterrent or insecticide to keep them from escaping) and repeat until the whole nest has been dug up.
Then get those buckets the hell away from you and your family!

Make your own DIY sprays

Does it work? YES!

homemade ant killer

You can save the pennies by simply cooking up your own water based concoctions. Some fantastic ant repelling and killing ingredients are vinegars of all types mixed with equal parts water and then sprayed onto the fire ants themselves.

Lemon water will act as a nice deterrent, but won’t kill them, if you want to keep them away from your doors and sills.

Clove, tea tree and peppermint oils are universal constants in the world of ant killing and repelling. Some homeowners even go as far as putting the plants themselves in their gardens to discourage unwanted houseguests.

Buy aerosol sprays

Does it work? YES!

Or, if you’re lazy like me and want to have a weapon handy for the odd straggler you spot: invest in some aerosol bug sprays. Most of the common market titles will do the trick, just make sure you’re using them in a well ventilated area and be aware that they’re not particularly handy for large groups.

Hire a professional

If your fire ant problem is truly an epidemic, then I would always recommend actually hiring a professional exterminator. For the most part, regular ants are just an annoyance, but fire ants can be dangerous and literally painful to live with, especially if you live in a home with kids or animals.

It might cost a little more, but hiring a professional to take care of things will give you the satisfaction and security of a job well done, plus some first-hand, bespoke advice for keeping a lid on the problem going forward.

That’s it! Get out there and extinguish those fire-ants!

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