How To Control Sugar Ants In The Home And Garden
Ants are the most frequent and persistent pests encountered around and inside homes and buildings. Besides being a nuisance outdoors ants can contaminate food when they come indoors. And who wants thousands of ants crawling around their kitchen cabinets?

This article is about controlling one of the most common ants: the Sugar Ant. These tiny dark brown (they look black) insects are also referred to as grease ants, house ants, kitchen ants, piss ants (that's what I call them), sweet ants, odorous ants, or odiferous ants. These are the ants that seem to appear out of nowhere in your kitchen when you leave sweets foods or drinks on the counter. But these ants will sometimes switch off sweets when they need some protein. If the weather outside is dry and they're thirsty, they'll visit sinks and other water sources throughout the home.

Dealing with sugar ants can be very frustrating, however, there are several simple methods of control you can try without the help of a professional. Though this article pertains to sugar ants the recommendations for control pertain to most all structure-invading ants, except carpenter ants, which are known for damaging wood.

Ant Management and Prevention

When attempting to control any type of ant, the mistake most folks make is spraying only the ones they see with an insecticide. This method rarely if ever works because the foraging ants you see represent just a fraction of the entire colony. The rest of the colony, which is usually thousand of ants, are at home in the nest, including the egg-laying queens which are deep inside the nest. To eliminate ants altogether you will need to use a method that gets to these other colony members.

Of course, the best method for control of insects is prevention, however this doesn't always work in the case of sugar ants. If they're after water there's not much you can do to close off all these sources inside your home. You can however find a way to contain opened boxes of food in your cabinets using containers that will prevent ants from entering. Too, sanitary measures, such as keeping counters and floors clear of food, crumbs, and liquids/drinks will help.

Outdoor Ant Control

*Scroll down for Indoor Ant Control

The Sugar Ants you might see inside your home may actually be nesting outdoors in the yard. In the wild, sugar ants typically dwell in woodlands, forests and heaths. Sugar ant colonies can be found in soil, between rocks, in holes in wood and around the twigs of trees or shrubs. When they build their nests in soil, they can be recognized by large dirt hills surrounding the colonies’ entrances. They can be found foraging all over the yard and around the home during the warmer months. 

Try if you can to trace an ant trail back to the nest. One way to entice ants to reveal the location of their hidden nest(s) outdoors or indoors is to place small dabs of honey or jelly on an index card next to where ants are observed. After the ants have fed, they will head back to the nest. While it often takes some patience to find an ant colony outdoors, control results will be more rapid and permanent directly treating the mound rather than only spraying where ants are seen trailing.

Methods for Outdoor Control 

Liquid drench. When a nest is discovered, the colony often can be eliminated by drenching the it with a liquid insecticide such as Liquid Sevin (carbaryl) or an insecticide containing pyrethrin. The larger the colony the more liquid solution will be required. You can use a 5-gallon bucket or another type of large container for the drenching.

Dusts/Powders. This is the method I usually use. Powders/dusts, such as Acephate, can be used as a contact killer and are usually effective to kill an entire mound overnight. I use Hi-Yield Fire Ant Control or Surrender. When ants are most active, spread the dust on top and around the mound. In effect, you're creating a "ring of fire" that any ants entering or exiting the colony will come into contact with. The dust sticks to their bodies and is then taken into the mound where it is transferred to all other ants in the colony, including the queen(s). If you cannot find the colony, acephate dust can be applied along the ant trail or around the foundation of your home to block ants from entering the home.

Diatomaceous Earth is an all-natural dust-like product you can use to eliminate sugar ants. It is a mechanical killer that consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae, which slice through the exoskeletons of insects causing them to die of dehydration within 48 hours.

Baits. Another effective and convenient way to control some species of outdoor and indoor-nesting ants is with a granular bait product. Sprinkle the bait in small amounts beside outdoor ant mounds, along pavement cracks, and other areas where ants are nesting or trailing.

Indoor Ant Control

As mentioned earlier, prevention is a good way to start when controlling ants indoors. Outside the home, steps can be taken to prevent them from entering the home by caulking around door thresholds, windows, and openings where utility pipes and wires enter buildings. Sugar ants are small critters so make sure to seal even the smallest of cracks. 

Ant entry can also be reduced by spreading acephate dust, such as Hi-Yield Fire Ant Killer or Surrender around the perimeter of the home or building. This dust comes in a can with a foil lid you can poke holes in allowing for easy spreading. It doesn't take much. Just make a continual thin trail of the dust close to the wall around the perimeter of your home.

Note: I don't recommend applying whole-yard granular insecticides as these methods seldom if ever work. If they've worked for you, fine...they just haven't worked that well for me. Too, whole-yard treatments will also eliminate beneficial ants and other beneficial insects that help to fend off damaging insects from your yard.

Methods for Indoor Ant Control

Baits Traps/Stations. The advantage in using baits is that foraging ants take the insecticide back to the nest and feed it to the queen(s) and other colony members. So, the ants you don't see will die as well. As a result, the entire colony is often destroyed. Most baits sold to homeowners come pre-packaged with the insecticide and food attractant confined within a plastic, child-resistant container. Your local grocery or hardware store should have these baits in stock. You'll want to place the bait traps beside the ant trails if possible. Remember to keep the traps out of reach of children and pets.

I don't recommend spraying other insecticides in conjunction with bait traps as this will deter the ants from the bait traps. Using bait traps, you should see ant activity subside in a matter of days as the number of ants in the colony declines. Continue to place additional baits wherever ants are seen.

Note: Ants may lose the taste for one type of bait. If one product is no longer effective try switching to another brand that contains a different attractant.

Organic Control with Boric Acid. Sugar Ants look for sweet foods that they can take back to the rest of the ants in the colony. With their sweet tooth in mind, you can make a simple but effective bait using just two ingredients. The necessary ingredient is Boric Acid, which can be purchased in almost any grocery or hardware store. The other ingredient you'll use along with the Boric Acid can be any number of sweet treats. Mint jelly or peanut butter seem to be favorites. All you have to do is mix about eight ounces of mint jelly with two tablespoons of boric acid. If you have a squeeze bottle for condiments, such as a ketchup, this can be filled with the mixture for easy application. Or you can store it in a jar.

To bait for ants, place a piece of masking tape next to an active ant trail. Then Apply a 1-2 inch ribbon of bait on the masking tape. The ants will start feeding on the jelly then taking it back to the colony. Reapply the bait as needed to a fresh piece of masking tape.

Important Note: Keep bait away from where it can be reached by children or pets!

Organic Control with Diatomaceous Earth is an all-natural dust-like product you can use to eliminate sugar ants inside or outside the home. It is a mechanical killer that consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae, which slice through the exoskeletons of insects causing them to die of dehydration within 48 hours. It is totally safe for use around children and pets.