If you have an ant infestation at your house, you are probably not too happy about it. Ants are a household pest that can get into all kinds of stuff – especially food – and create a nuisance. The question is: What Can You Do About It?
There is of course the nuclear option of either calling an exterminator or using some heavy-duty insecticide. The problem with the former is of course time, money and inconvenience.
The problem with the latter is that in addition to unpleasant odors, insecticides contain toxic chemicals that are not good for you, your family and your pets to breathe in, forget about ingesting it by mistake.
Luckily for you, there is a DIY option available, one that will actually smell good (we guarantee!), be totally safe and also effectively control pests such as ants. We are talking, of course, about essential oils.
What are Essential Oils and How do They Work in Pest Prevention?
Essential oils are extracts from various parts of a plant. The extracts could be obtained from leaves, barks, stems, fruits or other parts of a living plant. Typically, these parts are put into a giant press and squeezed till the juices come out.
What comes out are complex aromatic substances that are mainly made up of terpenes, fatty acids, aldehydes, ketones, esters, phenols, alcohol, nitrogen and Sulphur compounds. It may take a substantial amount of raw material to extract a single bottle of essential oil.
Essential oils are used for aromatherapy. They are also posited to have certain therapeutic uses, though scientific evidence of such effects are lacking.
There is, however, a rapidly growing use that has been found for essential oils – their abilities to control or kill pests such as ants. In many cases, there are active ingredients that are harmful to the ants, as you will see below.
Regardless of those properties, every essential oil emits a strong aroma, which completely messes up the scents (pheromones) that ants use to discover routes to food – something that is then picked up by other ants, creating an infestation.
If you apply essential oils along such routes, the overpowering aroma will kill any possibility of other ants finding that same spot. This by itself is a major reward.
In addition to their effectiveness, these oils are pleasant smelling (to us, not the ants) and mostly non-toxic to humans. As a result, these remedies have gained popularity steadily.
If you’re enjoying this article and want to learn more about how to control pest infestiations in your home and garden, then we have an entire section of school of bugs dedicated to this.
Types of Essential Oils that Work Best for Killing Ants and Stopping Ant Infestations
Before applying essential oils, you must take some normal precautions. Try and discover the routes that ants are following, those are the spots where essential oils need to be sprayed.
Clean your dishes and other areas, such as moist soil from houseplants, where ants can form colonies or visit frequently. You also need to make sure that you keep pets away from areas sprayed with essential oils.
As you’ll see, some of these oils will make ants sick.
Some of the essential oils mentioned below (peppermint and lavender oil in particular) have smells that ants abhor, so they are often used as repellents and/or in mixes with other, more toxic substances.
Others, such as tea tree oil, clove oil and citrus oil, have active ingredients that will kill ants.
One thing to be careful of is keeping essential oil sprayed areas free of pets, if possible. Many pets, especially cats, can become very sick if exposed to these oils.
Peppermint oil is a natural insect repellent. It can be used by itself, or in combination with other oils such as Tea Tree Oil and Lemon Oil. Let’s look at a couple of methods.
a) Mix 10-20 drops of peppermint oil with 2 cups of water. Spray the mixture around baseboards, windowsills and any specific areas where you have found ants. Make sure it’s dry. Wait for the results.
b) Fill a clean spray bottle with ¼ cup water, mixing in 10-20 drops of peppermint oil, 10-15 drops of tea tree oil and half the amount of lemon or other citrus oil. Shake well and spray areas where ants are common.
The minty fresh scent of peppermint oil will totally throw the ants off, stopping the infestation.
For this reason, peppermint oil is often used in combination with other oils that may be more toxic to ants but have overpowering smells.
Tea Tree Oil
The strong scent of Tea Tree Oil will not only kill the scent trails and slow down ant infestations, the oil actually kills ants off. Here are some ways to use tea tree oil:
a) We already saw how Tea Tree Oil can be used in conjunction with peppermint oil. Mixing in tea tree oil will serve as a powerful scent suppressant and also kill ants. This is done sometimes to tone down the strong scent of tea tree oil.
b) Mix 5-10 drops of tea tree oil with 2 cups of water to create a spray, which can be applied to windowsills, backboards and other ant infested areas. You can also saturate cotton balls in tea tree oil, let them dry and place them at strategic positions.
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
Lemon eucalyptus oil contains citronella, which is a powerful bug repellant. This oil can be used to repel ants.
Put 10-15 drops of lemon eucalyptus oil in a water mixture and spray the specific areas. Cotton balls work well with this method as well, they should be dipped in undiluted oil and left to dray.
In addition to pets, this oil is poisonous to children as well. Make sure that they are kept away or warned if you use this method.
Eucalyptus Lemon Oil
Eucalyptus lemon oil, which is completely different than lemon eucalyptus oil, contains PMD, which both repels and kills ants. Eucalyptus lemon oil comes from the gum eucalyptus tree native to Australia.
PMD is considered safe to use by the EPA. Best way to use this is by dipping cotton balls in undiluted oil and spreading them around in strategic areas where ants have been spotted.
Cinnamon Leaf Oil
This oil contains a number of compounds that have been found to repel and kill ants, including trans-cinnamaldehyde. This particular compound is particularly effective against biting red ants.
Powdered cinnamon will also work. To use the oil, dip cotton balls in the undiluted oil, let them dry and position them at strategic locations around the house.
If using cinnamon powder, the best way is to sprinkle over windowsills and baseboards.
Lemon Oil and Other Citrus Oils
Lemon and other citrus oils contain d-limonene, which is toxic to ants and also erases the chemical traces left behind by them.
Sweet orange oil has the highest concentration of d-limonene among citrus oils (80-95%), followed by grapefruit, tangerine, lemon and mandarin oil. Citrus oils can be used in the following ways:
a) Use them in combination with peppermint and tea tree oils to make a powerful compound to repel and kill ants. Spray the windowsills, backboards and specific locations.
If using in food preparation areas, use just a mixture of 15 drops of peppermint oil and 7 drops of lemon oil. This will lower the potential of harm to humans.
b) Soak cotton balls in citrus oils, dry them and leave them in strategic locations
The active ingredient of cloves is eugenol, which acts as both a toxin and a repellent to ants. It can be overpowering, which is why a mix of 5-10 drops of clove oil and an equal amount of peppermint oil mixed in with two cups of water will make a potent bug spray.
Cotton balls, soaked in clove oil and then dried, are also an effective pest control.
The use of lavender oil is primarily as an ant repellent. Lavender is a scent that ants hate, so a spray made of lavender oil and water (same proportions as peppermint oil) should do the trick.
This oil is sometimes used as a substitute for super toxic substances like DEET in bug sprays.
Rosemary oil is a really potent repellent which also kills ants. The scent is really strong, so only 5-10 drops of rosemary oil should be used in a 16 oz bottle of water. Spraying around doors, windows and backboards may produce an overpowering scent, but will be effective.
Rosemary oil can also be used in patios and garden paths since its effect lasts for a while. Cotton balls soaked in undiluted oil and left out in bowls will also work.
A Mega-Dose Bottle
We discussed the properties of each of the oils separately in the previous sections, but here’s a DIY way to create a mega-dose of ant repellent and killer. Here are the ingredients:
- a) 4 oz water
- b) 4 ox witch hazel
- c) 2 tbsps. liquid castile soap
- d) 50 drops citrus oil (orange or lemon preferred)
- e) 20 drops clove oil
- f) 30 drops peppermint essential oil
- g) 8 oz spray bottle
Mix the liquids in the 8 oz bottle itself or mix elsewhere and divide into smaller batches. Spray along windowsills, doorframes, backboards and any ant trails that you know of.
Store in a dark place (fridge may be best) and away from children and pets.
The Bottom Line
Essential oils are an eco-friendly, (mostly) non-toxic way to rid yourself of household pests such as ants.
They could be used singly, but for major infestations, use the sort of mega dose described immediately above, combining strong repellent scents with extract oils that are toxic to ants.
They may not be as effective as boric acid or borax as a home remedy, but they are definitely safer to use around humans. And they smell well, which is an added bonus!
If you want to learn more about various insects, then checkout our site categories, we have a bunch of articles there that are totally worth reading:
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All the best
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