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Ants at a picnic are bad enough, but when they’re disrupting meals at the dining room table, you know things have gotten out of control. How to deal with the pests? Here are four home remedies plus tips from a pro.

First, remember that all ants forage for food, says Toronto exterminator John C. Wing. If you’re seeing ants at home, they’re probably coming from outside. You will usually see ants in the spring and summer but Wing warns that if you’re still seeing a lot of ants in the colder months, you may have a nest somewhere inside your home.

Your first line of defence against ants?

Ants prefer fatty or sweet substances and, Wing says they enter your home through cracks and gaps in search of food. “Good housekeeping and sanitation/removal of any food debris always helps,” he says. Also, being aware of cracks or holes around the exterior of your home is a good idea. Seal windows, sliding doors and any cracks with caulking.

Ant 101

The two main types of ants Wing sees are pavement ants and carpenter ants. Pavement ants are less of a worry as they are less likely to cause damage to your home. “Carpenter ants tend to be the more serious ant due to the damage they can cause to the wood or wood structure of the home,” he says. “The home owner should make note of any possible water damage Inside the home. Carpenter ants don’t always need water damaged wood but it does make it easier to create their galleries/nest site.”

When to take action

“Action should be taken right away, especially with carpenter ants. Colonies can become very large in a short period of time and possibly produce satellite nests causing serious structural damage. There is also the possibility of ants contaminating food and removing the protective insulation around wires,” Wing says.

If you suspect that you have carpenter ants, collect one and put it in a baggy or container and call an exterminator. Field ants can be easy to deal with on your own but you don’t mess around with carpenter ants!

Home remedies

First, it’s important to locate where the ants are entering. That way you can try blocking the hole from the outside. It will also let you plant any bait as close to their entry point as possible, meaning you have fewer ants wandering through the house.

Try sprinkling ant deterrents around entry points. Herbs and spices like black pepper, cinnamon, red chilli powder and peppermint are effective and safe for pets and babies alike.

If you’re only seeing a few ants here and there, a simple home remedy may be your answer. Start by getting rid of the ants you see. After squishing — or disposing of the ants however you see fit — use a simple solution of soapy water to wash the area where you found them. Ants leave a chemical trail so that other ants can follow that trail to the food source.

If soap and water isn’t doing the job, try using cornmeal (or grinding unpopped popcorn into a fine powder) and sprinkling it near where you see the ants, preferably wherever they’re entering. But if you haven’t been able to follow the trail, anywhere out of the way of foot traffic will do. Just keep in mind that this isn’t an instant solution. It only slowly causes the ants to starve because they will eat the cornmeal, but can’t digest it.

Another popular home remedy is borax. Mix boric acid powder or borax with water and sugar (one cup water, two cups sugar, two tablespoons boric acid) and store in a jar that’s open or has holes on top large enough for ants to crawl in and out of. Put a little sugar on the outside of the jar to lure the ants. The insects will take bits of this mixture back to their nest where it will kill the ants and keep them from coming back.

Professional options

If your ant problem is bigger than a home remedy can handle (or if you have carpenter ants), call an exterminator.

“Some professional options of getting rid of ants would be the use of commercial insecticides in the form of sprays, powders, dusts or baits (food that is poisonous to the colony). All of these chemicals are fairly safe to use so long as the proper application is done and the label is followed,” Wing says. “If purchasing sprays at the hardware store, look for ‘residual’ on the can/bottle. This product should last longer after treatment than one that says ‘contact,’ he says. Wing adds that following the instructions on the label is very important. According to him “the label is the law.”

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