Every homeowner needs to know how to get rid of carpenter ants. Ever phoned a laborer round to do some work on your furnishings, only to be met with a TEN FOOT TALL CREATURE, antennae popping out from under its cap, a tool bag held in one of its EIGHT LEGS?
Then you, my friend, have fallen victim to a carpenter ant.
Disclaimer: carpenter ants do not grow to be ten foot tall, nor does their name correspond to any form of qualification or job occupation.
You’ll have to fix your own shelves.
They are some of the biggest, most troublesome ants around, though – which is why you’re here, right?
Carpenter ants: a biography
First of all, let’s return to that above point… carpenter ants are huge by standard ant sizes; they can grow to up to an inch (2.5 cm) in length, which makes them almost an entirely different beast from the usually borderline-microscopic ants you find roaming around your kitchen or garden of a hot, sticky summer’s day.
Commonly, the carpenter ant is a black color but some different strains have reddish or yellow hues. Worker carpenter ants can also be identified by their large front mandibles, but don’t tell them that… Their ego will swell.
Unfortunately for us all, carpenter ants aren’t strictly an outdoor pest, despite their obvious outdoor size. They’re just as likely to set up home inside your home as they are in decaying, rotting wood and garden detritus of your back yard.
Because that’s what they favor: wood, hence the name.
Sort of like much more badass termites, carpenter ants will cut tunnels and grooves into wood grain to create space for their nests and offspring to run amok.
This penchant for woodwork is the way you’re most likely to identify a carpenter ant problem in your area (aside from spotting the swarming/flying ants when they’re looking for a new place to start a colony); wood shavings and dead ant parts on the floor – a big sign. Yuck.
The wood fixation sort of begins and ends there, though. They don’t eat wood, nor do they sculpt anything note-worthy for the art world to take an interest in. They just cut it and live in it.
Their diet is actually not unlike our own, just in smaller portion sizes and less picky about their meat. Insects of various creeds, species and sizes are often their first choice of meal.
Alive or dead, it doesn’t really matter. In fact, when they come across a fitting, deceased meal they’ll group together and suck the liquids out of the corpse for sustenance and carry it back to their nest.
So, I guess, don’t mess with a street gang of carpenter ants on a dark night.
This being said, they’ll still favor the honeydew generated by aphids and failing that, they’re not above taking a bite out of the sweet, protein rich, greasy stuff we tend to eat with aplomb. So don’t be fooled into thinking your home’s safe because you don’t keep bees.
How to get rid of carpenter ants
So you know what you’re dealing with and you know what you’re looking for. Now how do you turf them out?
Make a mess of the place
The first and most important tip is to ruin the place for them, which means cleaning up. Ants of all types love a good filthy, grimy mess. They can use this for food, nutrients, camouflage and foraging for their nests. The dirtier your home is, the more appealing it becomes to ants.
Naturally, the place you’re most likely to spot ant activity is going to be your kitchen, seeing as is this where the vast majority of your food is cooked and stored. Therefore, a clean kitchen may equal an antless home.
And by clean, I truly do mean a deep clean. Wiping surfaces from top to bottom, ensuring there are no crumbs or pieces of food trapped behind things like cookers and refrigerators and, above all else, sweeping your floor to the nth degree. No amount of cleaning is enough – ants need very, very little to spark their greed.
Regularity is the key here. The better your upkeep, the less work and effort it’ll be in the long run. Plus your mother will stop berating you for keeping a messy house. Worth it for that alone, I think.
Seeing as offcuts, scraps and crumbs are a huge allure for all manner of pests, especially ants, it’s worth taking a look at how you handle your trash.
Something as simple as overfilling your bin before emptying it, or letting things fall out of the bag can be a huge magnet for ants (and all manner of other horrible things with too many legs) lurking in the area.
Always make sure to dispose of your trash appropriately and without creating more mess; don’t let it stagnate in your home for too long. The sooner you can take it out to the curb, the better.
As an aside: try to keep some distance between you and the garbage – the closer you are to the bin sheds or even your own dustbin filled with garbage, the bigger a target you make yourself.
If you can stomach the hit, it even be worth parting with a few extra pennies and investing in a trash can with a lid that seals pretty tight so your trash contents aren’t exposed for every pest to crawl through.
And fork over the few cents for garbage bags that are thicker than your usual. If you’ve ever had a bag tear in half while you’re trying to quietly sneak out to the curb in your dressing gown, you’ll know my pain.
And I don’t care what the police say, I was wearing underwear.
You might recognize this tip from most other pest repelling and killing articles, but it’s a tried and tested method and one of the fundamental defenses against home invaders of the leggy variety: seal up the gaps.
Set aside a weekend day, take the day off work, take the month off work – whatever it takes to properly scan your house from top to bottom and source any gaps, holes or unwanted spaces that might provide a handy front door for carpenter ants and their friends.
Now, although carpenter ants are generally bigger than other species, you still want to hedge your bets and plug up any hole you spot, no matter how small or benign it might seem. Your weapon of choice is just that: your choice. Most bathroom or kitchen sealants will do the job, or you can opt for caulking and in some instances even expanding foam, if you have to cover a large space easily.
Some urban myths advocate using simple chalk to coat an entry way or line the floor, but this is argued intensely amongst ant-killing circles (yes, they exist. Sometimes we form a triangle instead so that we look cooler).
What does seem to work, though, is simple Vaseline. Not as a longstanding, permanent method of repellent of course, but it’s handy as a quick, easy and yes, messy method of pushing them back until you can get the big guns out.
Booby Ant trap the place
If you’re dealing with interior carpenter ants, then there’s a chance for you to set out the law and let them know they’ve stepped into the wrong home.
After you’ve sourced their entry points and cleaned up the home to limit the attraction of more arriving, then you can start your own adult vs ant version of Home Alone and set up traps.
Ant traps come in all shapes and sizes, not to mention price ranges. They stretch from elaborate boxes or ‘motels’ for catching ants as they pass through, to much more humble flat platforms coated in a toxin of some description.
The basic principle is usually something akin to a cardboard strip coated in a sticky substance that fuses the ant in place, or a poison that will kill the creature off after coming into contact. Place these in suspect areas, where ant activity has been noted, and then all you have to do is adopt the role of undertaker in the morning.
Of course, you can always knock up your own DIY ant traps with relative ease; a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth, boric acid or even baking soda can act as very effective killing agents.
Sprinkle in with something sticky or attractive, such as syrup, sugary water or even grease and spread over a cardboard strip. Cheap, cheerful and deadly.
Lure them to their death with baits
Now, there is a difference between ant traps and ant baits, believe it or not. Baits tend to scrap the frilly stuff on the side and simply offer the poison up to the ants as a nice little treat by lacing it with something delicious (usually ant baits will be in a liquid container to stop the granulated toxins from drying out).
The idea with these baits is more that the ants will drag the material back into their nest or colony and infect its pals whilst it stumbles around in its death throes. A little gruesome, admittedly but hey… Whose house is this? Theirs or yours?
Blast away with insecticides and pesticides
Naturally, the next step up from this lower key, subtler form of poisoning is to opt for high-strength pesticides and insecticides to blow your local carpenter ants into the next dimension.
Usually, this method will be for ant hills that are set up in your garden for example, but some aerosol sprays are safe for interior use in small, targeted situations (you’d need a lot of aerosol cans to cover a whole home in a protective film).
Now these high-grade poisons can work in two ways: a killing method and a preventative measure. For prevention, simply spray the contents as far and wide as you can around your home’s perimeter, taking appropriate safety precautions of course. This should keep any smart carpenter ants away from your door but bear in mind it’ll wash off with the weather.
As for killing them off – pesticides are most effective when applied directly to the ants themselves. Depending on what type of pesticide you’ve opted for (liquid or granulated) you want to try and get the toxin into the nest. Some liquid forms can be mixed with boiling water for a truly devastating impact when poured down the main artery of the anthill. Sprays will have the same effect over the ants themselves, but are unlikely to damage the structure of the nest.
As for granulated pesticides, the most optimistic tactic is to simply powder the opening of the ant hill and any other routes you spot and hope they’ll track it back in with them, but this can be a hit or miss.
You could always fetch the shovel…
While we’re out and about in the garden: if you want to get truly old fashioned with your ant killing, you can always dig the nest right out of the ground yourself.
This isn’t quite as hard as it sounds, but it’ll take some serious elbow grease and you want to have somewhere to deposit the dirt with each shovelful – recommendation: deep buckets filled with poison to kill them/off prevent an escape back into your garden.
Dig until you’ve reached the absolute bottom of that horrible, horrible hall of nightmares.
Express yourself with DIY solutions
Or, if you really want to add a personal touch: create some DIY liquid solutions to save some money. Some of the most effective natural ingredients and essential oils for carpenter ants are peppermint oil, tea tree oil, citrus oils (bonus points for orange oil), basically any kind of vinegar you can put your hands on and, surprisingly vodka.
Not big drinkers, those carpenters. Simply add to water and mix into a solution and spray to your heart’s content.
Note: Most of these natural measures will only work if they come in contact with the ant directly; otherwise they’re useful as a very strong repellent.
Kick the carpenters out! (The ants, not the singing duo.)