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Here's the secret to getting rid of ants in your home

Play the long game, and leave these critters outside

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As far as forces of nature go, ants rank amongst the highest. Even our language around the little buggers makes them sound relentless: They march one by one to form a colony for their insect empire and queen.

Nutrients, moisture, and a better climate are all invitations to the ant. Concentrations of protein, fats, and carbohydrates attract ants, which basically means all foods. Fun fact: Since artificial sweeteners do not contain any calories, ants don’t bother with it. However, the idea of using aspartame as a pest-control agent is an urban myth, according to research done at the University of Finland.

While ants get most of their water from the food they eat, they will seek water if they live in a dry climate. Also, experiments have shown that ants that live more than 60 miles from the ocean will seek salt.

Finally, since ants are cold-blooded, they will seek warmth in the winter. Ants may enter a home that doesn’t have a single crumb on the floor. This is especially true of Argentine ants, which invade homes in winter and summer.

So, how do you stop an army of ants from getting into your home (or get rid of the ants that do make it inside)? Well, first, as Chinese general Sun Tzu would say, “Know your enemy and know yourself.”

Here's how to get rid of ants in your home

Keeping sugar and other foods stored in airtight containers will help thwart ants.

If you want to get rid of ants, knowing yourself and your home are key. You should sweep up any area where you consume food regularly. Even if you don’t see any crumbs, bits of sugar or salt will attract ants. Store meat and ripe fruits in airtight containers. Again, this is about keeping ants from sniffing out any grub. Keep in mind that many types of fruits will become rotten faster so buy fresh and consume soon.

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Aside from the food you consume, you should keep an eye on other sources of nutrients. Pet bowls should be kept devoid of food and water as much as possible. You should also periodically check your house plants. The moisture in the soil makes for an inviting place for ants to nest.

Finally, you need to rinse out your garbage cans every once in a while and check them for cracks and holes. Ants move from one source of food to the next, and the nearest goldmine of food next to your trash is your home.

Here's a quickie science lesson: Ants use chemosensing, a highly advanced sense of smell, to find food. In fact, ants are slaves to smell. They will react defensively if they smell ants from another colony, tend to the young when they smell they are near, and move toward aromas of food sources. When an ant leaves the colony, she (99% of the ants you see are female) will leave a scent trail. When food is found, the ant turns around and walks home, doubling down on the scent. The doubling of the scent causes nearby ants to do the same, thus creating an ever more powerful scent trail. Pretty soon, hundreds, if not thousands, of ants follow suit, creating a chain.

Use cinnamon essential oil

This oil has been shown to work well to get rid of ants. A 2014 study showed that ants who attempted the cinnamon challenge found it fatal. However, the concentration needs to be quite high for it to work—high enough to make your own nose wrinkle.

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Use mild acids

Lemon juice and vinegar will not kill ants. However, both these acidic substances will degrade scent trails, stemming the tide of ants. Use this to wipe up after you find a scouting ant wandering through your kitchen.

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Use bait traps and barriers

Diatomaceous earth is razor sharp on a microscopic level, like barbed wire for ants.

Bait traps contain sugar coated in poison, such as Borax. Ants bring the bait back to their queen, who upon death, spells the end of the colony. These types of traps are effective against most species of ants, save for Argentine ants, which have multiple queens and can often outbreed a bait trap.

Barriers, like diatomaceous earth, are your next best option to get rid of ants. Diatomaceous earth is doubly fatal for ants: Its abrasive texture is sharp enough to work its way into their exoskeletons, and it's a powerful desiccant, so it dries them out as they try to cross it. That means ants aren't getting inside and leaving chemical trails to your kitchen for other ants to follow.

The downside of applying a chemical barrier is finding where to do so. If you miss a crack in the wall or leave a window open, ants may pour into your home. Chemical barriers are good for when you know where ants are coming in, otherwise, you may need to call in a professional to figure out the source of the invasion.

There are also aerosols and sprays that kill ants they come in contact with. We think this is a poor method since you’re not getting at the source. They’re fine if you find a mess of ants in your kitchen, but not good for a long-term plan.

Ultimately, the best way to get rid of ants is to prevent them from entering your home in the first place. This is where knowing your home is important. Using caulk, you should seal up holes and cracks, anywhere ants may enter. Also, around your home, avoid placing mulch and firewood. Instead, place firewood at least 20 feet away from your home and use crushed stones in place of mulch.

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