How to get rid of ants in the kitchen — once and for all

My log cabin in upstate New York has been the retreat from the city that my parents, friends, and family have flocked to since I was two years old. For the past 29 years (go ahead, do the math), we’ve spent countless holidays, long weekends, and what felt like endless stretches of hot summer days and cool firepit nights enjoying both the cabin and the dense forest surrounding it. But with the country, of course, come the critters, and while I’ve become used to them, it’s always a bit of a riot to see who will scream over a spider (we all always marvel at the deer). The one insect I can’t get used to indoors, however, are the ants that invariably manage to find their way into the kitchen.

Ants aren’t a rural phenomenon, as anyone (myself included) who has ever left a crumb behind on their counter will tell you. It always seems as if ants find a way to get in and then tell all their relatives about it, and before you know it, there’s a line of them stemming from god-knows-where to your countertops — and into your pantry.

Getting rid of these creepy-crawlies can quickly become an expensive, chemical-laden headache, but there are a few tried-and-tested home remedies that handle things humanely and without the need for an ant cemetery. Read on for our best tips to send the ants marching two by two back out the way they came.

1. Caulk, Steel Wool and Foam

If you know where ants are getting into your home from, it’s best to cut off their entryway as soon as possible. If there’s a gap in a window or under a door, a space in a wall or through Sheetrock, use caulk, steel wool, and foam wherever appropriate to block their path.

2. Essential Oils

They’re lovely in a bath or added to a diffuser, but essential oils are also powerful tools for combating your ant invasion. Peppermint and tea tree oils specifically leave a horrible taste in an ant’s mouth, and the fumes from the powerful oils are a strong deterrent as well. Use as many drops as it takes on your windowsills, by doorways, or near any other potential entry point and rub them into a straight line. This oil line will act as a barrier of sorts and will send ants scurrying in the other direction to prevent them from getting in. It also traps ants that are inside, so make sure to keep your kitchen is as crumb-free and clean as possible to cut off their food supply. For a larger area, mix a dropperful of peppermint oil with water in a spray bottle and spritz the area you suspect the ants are breaching to your heart’s content.

3. Cinnamon and Cayenne

These two spices, either on their own or mixed together, are powerful ant deterrents and eliminators. Sprinkle one or both along those same entryways and watch ants pull a quick about-face to get as far away from them as possible. The ones left behind will eventually go to them as a food source, but their systems can’t handle either.

4. Vinegar

We know that vinegar is a powerful, natural, and safe home cleaner, but did you know it’s great at getting rid of ants, too? Mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle and get trigger happy around those openings. The vinegar is strong enough to, er, end the ants where they stand, and it also erases the scent trails those initial ants (also known as scouts) leave behind to guide their friends into your kitchen.

Once the ants have been evicted, make sure your kitchen doesn’t become a welcome mat for future colonies. Sweep and wipe up any crumbs or food debris, make sure fruits or other edibles are behind a cloche or sealed up tightly, don’t let standing water become the norm (ants need to drink up, too), and routinely check on those sealed-off openings to ensure they have no way of getting back in. And let us know how it goes; the ant-icipation is killing us (sorry.)

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