DIY Guides How to Get Rid of Sugar Ants – And Prevent Them Coming Back

How to Get Rid of Sugar Ants – And Prevent Them Coming Back

If you’re suffering from sugar ants in your home, this is the guide for you! We look at how to get rid of them using both commercial or natural products, plus how to prevent them coming back.

In this guide, we’re going to show you how to get rid of sugar ants and how to prevent them from coming back. Because picture this…

You’re at home, and you’ve just made a pot of your favorite coffee to go with that Krispy Cream donut you picked up at the store.

You reach for the sugar dish, and you see a small black object in there, and it moves. Nope, it’s not the family double-dipping teaspoon villain’s fault this time. It’s an ant.

And you can bet your bottom dollar there are a lot more of them watching that donut of yours.

It happens to the best of us, but exactly how do you get rid of sugar ants?

Fear not, dear reader, here we have created the ultimate guide on dealing with a sugar ant infestation.

We will educate you on everything from how to identify if they are sugar ants, to where they come from, and why they’ve chosen your pad for a party.

And of course, we will show you how to get rid of them and keep them away for good.

This guide is short and sweet, but it has everything you need to know. So, let’s get going…

Are You Sure They are Sugar Ants?

Ants in a jar full of white sugar
You have to know your enemy!

To defeat an enemy, especially an enemy that steals your favorite sweet treats, you need to know what you are dealing with.

Your first step is to identify what type of ant you see because different ants require different actions. Only then can you take the appropriate steps to get rid of them.

What are Sugar Ants?

A ‘sugar ant’ is the generic term used for any ants that forage for sweet foods.

But of the thousands of ant species that you will come across in your lifetime, there are only one specified sugar ant species. And that is the banded sugar ant (Camponotus consobrinus).

However, the banded sugar ant is exclusive to Australia and does not live in the United States. For our article, we will be using the term to cover the most prevalent species found here in North America.

The most common ants that people deal with in the home are pharaoh ants, odorous house ants, and pavement ants. All of which are close relatives of the banded sugar ant, coming from the same ant family.

Coincidentally the Latin name, Camponotus consobrinus, translates to ‘carpenters’ cousin.’

Luckily, the sugar ant does not pose anywhere near the same risk as the carpenter.

So, for now, your home is safe from damaged wood and structural damage.

What do Sugar Ants Look Like?

Close up of a banded sugar ant on a white surface
There are a few species termed ‘sugar ants’. But ‘banded sugar ants’ – seen above – are the most common.

Sugar ants are all small and numerous. Attracted by sweet things, they will venture into the house from outside. This is down to their phenomenal scent receptors that allow them to smell food from far away.

Common sugar ants are small, ranging from 1.5 to 4mm in length. The females are usually bigger than males. They are dark brown but can look yellowish red in direct sunlight.

Despite their small size, they are prolific breeders. They are now the most common pest across North America and other far-flung places across the globe.

The sugar ant has six legs and long moving antennae. But ultimately, if they are small, dark in color, and on the hunt for sugar, chances are, they are one of the common ant species.

So, the rest of this advice applies to them all.

Where do Sugar Ants Live?

Sugar ants can usually be found in your yard first off.

Like most ants, they like to build nests underground in soft dirt. This allows them to make room for the complex network of tunnels and galleries they live and breed in.

If you see ants in the yard and take a closer look to see where they go by following their ant trails, you will likely see mini volcanoes erupting from cracks and gaps in the paving.

These volcanoes are the excavated dirt that forms the entrance to the nest. You will see ants coming and going via these volcanoes.

If they venture inside, you will find them behind skirting boards and inside walls where they have entered. They enter through crevices, damaged panels, power outlets, and other holes commonly found in the house.

Sugar ants and the common species they represent have spread across all states and continents across the world. Apart from sub-zero temperature climates like Siberia and Antarctica.

What Damage and Harm do Sugar Ants Cause?

When it comes to the risk they pose, the sugar ant scores low.

They do not destroy wood like a carpenter ant does, or sting and bite like the fearsome fire ant. But they do pose a risk in terms of the spread of bacteria and illness.

Ants are scavengers and will eat all kinds of questionable things that can carry bacteria. They forage in trash cans, contacting rotten food waste, feces, and even eating carrion (other dead animals). They then wander into your cupboards and sugar tin.

Sugar ants carry and deposit bacteria such as streptococcus, staphylococcus, and dysentery via their feet. So, it is essential to get rid of them sharpish.

As well as them being unhygienic, it is also possible for them to indirectly damage the rest of the house.

By creating nests in walls and pipes, they can inadvertently cause damage to wires and seals that will lead to electrics not working and so on.

You then have the cost of getting rid of the ants and putting right the damage done, which can become expensive if you need to go through walls to get to the problem.

Ant Killers – The Different Types and How they Work

Ants consuming a gel based ant bait
Ant baits are a permanent solution, killing the colony, not just the ants you see.

There are many ways to approach the task of ridding your home of ants. How you do it will depend on a few factors. Such as how big the problem is, whether it is outside or in, and whether you want to use chemical pesticides or natural products.

Once you have these answers, you can select the right products to assist you. And with chemical pesticides, the choice is massive. Just look at your local hardware store, and you will be overwhelmed with the choice.

To assist you, here are the most common types and what they do.

Gel Bait

Gel baits are sticky and sweet, designed to entice ants looking for sugar, like sugar ants!

Sweet-smelling ingredients are added to the toxic gel to mimic the smell of sweet food. It drives their smell receptors wild.

It will contain an active ingredient that is usually a slow-acting toxin. The slow-release nature allows the ants to gather the bait as food and return to the colony to share it with the queen and larvae.

The colony eat the poison and die. So gel baits solve the problem at the source and destroy the nest, not only the ants you can see.

The gel’s stickiness allows you to apply it anywhere you see ants – floors, cupboards, walls, and even in the cracks that they enter.

You can check out some of the top gel baits available today in our article on the best ant killers.

Granular Bait

Granular bait does the same thing as a gel or liquid bait. It will fool ants into eating it so it can slowly release the contained toxin designed to kill the whole colony.

Some ants will prefer collecting granules like chunks of food. And as such, these fussy fiends will choose a dry bait over a sticky gel or liquid.

You can sweep it up once finished compared to a gel that has to be wiped down and cleared away on the practical side.

Instant Kill Sprays

Ant killer sprays are readily available at most grocery and convenience stores. As such most people will reach for it if they have an ant problem. 

They kill on contact, and it will give instant relief if you have ants in your kitchen, and you want to stop them in their tracks.

They are usually sold in an aerosol or spray bottle in liquid form. They contain an active ingredient designed to kill instantly, such as cypermethrin.

You dowse the ants in the spray, and the knockdown effect will kill them within seconds.

Check out our guide for some of the most effective and best ant sprays on the market.

Bait Stations

Bait stations house a bait/poison in a handy pre-packaged food station. The ants enter to collect the poison dressed as food.

Designed to destroy ants and their nests, the ‘workers’ will collect the bait and take back for the queen.

The stations are also effective at keeping the bait away from pets and kids. They are enclosed in hard plastic and give off no strong odors or toxins.

You can learn all about bait stations in our guide to the best ant traps.

How to Get Rid of Sugar Ants

Close up of a sugar ant on white gravel

The proven recommended way to kill ants and get rid of them for good is to use bait and a spray together.

This combination will kill the colony and reduce the numbers of foraging ants while you wait for it to take effect.

Use a bait first, and give them time to collect up the food and take it back to the nest in numbers, before using a spray to wipe out any straddlers.

If you spray all the ants you see right away, you will prevent any from taking bait back to the nest, the colony will survive and they will just keep coming back.

You should also know that large nests can take several weeks to eradicate!

So our advice to get rid of sugar ants is:

  • Observe the ants to see where they are entering and leaving your home. Then follow this trail to find their nest.
  • Once you have found the nest, observe the ants to see what trails they follow. Ants always follow the same paths – pheromone trails when leaving and returning to the nest.
  • Place bait stations alongside and on these trails, so the ants collect and carry poison back to the nest.
  • DO NOT spray the nest, near the nest, along any of the trails, and do not use repellents. You want the ants to continually collect up the bait and take it into the nest, not deter this behavior or kill outside ants that will stop this.
  • Once you are confident you have found the nest and laid traps, you can now spray ants that have ventured out past where your traps are laid (if in your kitchen, for example) to get rid of the immediate problem. But do not spray close to the bait stations, or between the nest and the bait.
  • Observe the ants and your bait, to make sure they are taking it. And when it runs low, replace it.
  • Ant baits take 48 hours or more to kill ants, and to rid an entire nest may take a couple of weeks+. So keep at it until you see no activity from the nest.
  • Once you are sure the nest is killed, you can now use sprays and repellants to kill off any straddlers, break up their pheromone trails and finish the job. You should also now look to seal up where they entered, so others cannot find the same way in the future.

You should now be ant free.

Home Remedies / Natural Products for Sugar Ants

Ants consuming a home made ant bait soaked in cotton wool
Borax mixed with sugar and water, soaked into a cotton wool ball is an extremely effective home made remedy to get rid of sugar ants.

Home remedies are fast becoming a staple of the homeowner’s arsenal against ant invasions.

Whether it’s because people are becoming more environmentally friendly, thriftier, or more aware that the chemicals aren’t good for Fido or the rugrats, we don’t know.

But one thing we can be sure of is that many people are saying they’ve had good results with some simple homemade recipes and natural ways to get rid of sugar ants.

Home remedies may be good all-rounders for everyone – except for the ants – and a cheaper alternative to pest control services.

So, look at these commonly used homemade ant killers and give them a go yourself.

Boiling Water

Possibly the quickest way to deal with an ants nest is to dump boiling all over the top of the nest. It will both burn and drown the ants, as well as collapsing the entrance and tunnels underneath.

You may have to repeat it several times to kill the colony entirely. So, go carefully and be sure to wear trousers and shoes, not shorts and flip flops.

Boric Acid and Sugar Bait

This poisoned chalice approach takes sugar and mixes it with the housewives’ favorite, which is borax. A chemical compound used for many years as a cleaning agent, it is incredibly poisonous to ants and other insects.

A very easy to make formula, it is simply half a cup of powdered sugar with one and a half tablespoons of borax, and one and a half cups of warm water.

Apply the mix directly to areas that you have seen the ants. Or apply it to cotton balls and then place them near ant trails or by the anthill.

The sugar will entice the ants to eat the mixture, and the borax will kill them slowly. Along with the queen and colony residents once it is shared.

Vinegar

A vinegar mixture is a deterrent and repellent to ants. It will not kill them when sprayed. But it will overwhelm the ant receptors and have them running away from the acidic fumes it releases.

Once the ants have departed, it leaves the coast clear for complete annihilation. Either with another home remedy or an off the shelf ant killer.

The recipe is simple, combine equal amounts of vinegar, water, and baking soda and pour directly into the anthill openings.

Orange Oil

Orange oil has long been hailed as an ant killer. Many have resorted to using citrus hand soap to kill ants’ nests and repel them from the home.

Concentrated orange oil has d-limonene in it, which is proven to kill on contact. It is particularly effective against fire ants too.

To make your own, mix three ounces of dish soap, one and a half ounces of orange oil, and one gallon of water. Then mix well.

Spray at ants or drench ant nests, and they will soon be evacuating at speed due to the burning effect it creates in ants.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is ground-up fossilized phytoplankton, and these tiny particles have razor-sharp edges that cut and split the ant’s exoskeleton. This causes dehydration and death.

Diatomaceous earth is easy to apply. Dust the areas where you have seen the ants foraging, or around the anthill if you know where it is, and it will kill most ants within 48 to 72 hours.

How to Remove Sugar Ant Nests

Close up of a sugar ant on some tree bark

If you have small ant nests showing in the cracks of your yard, under flower pots, or on your lawn, getting rid of them is a simple process.

And by dealing with them effectively, you will be removing the risk of them moving to your house when the weather gets colder.

First off, you will need to find the nests if you haven’t already done so. This is easy to do by just observing the ants as they go about their business. They will eventually go back to the nest en masse showing you exactly where it is.

Then it’s a case of sweeping away most of the soil they have left in the mound. Then you can either sprinkle the top entrance with an ant killer or boiling water.

Once you are happy they are gone, you can think about preventative, repellant sprays for both inside and outside the home. These will create a barrier around your property that will keep ants out for months at a time.

How to Prevent Their Return?

A sugar ant trail in a home
Find the ants way into your home…and block it. Simple!

As well as the chemical sprays that will establish a scent barrier that the ants will not cross, there are other basic measures you can take that will stop them from returning.

First, sugar ants are attracted to discarded food. Secondly, they look for water sources. Remove these as easy options for them, and they will go looking elsewhere for it.

In your home, be sure to wipe away spilled food and sweet drinks.

Store sweet foods in airtight containers so that the scent does not entice the ants to go looking for them.

Clean the sink plughole with some vinegar to remove the smell of stagnant water. And this will also deter the ants from climbing the wastewater pipes into the home looking for water.

Sealing cracks and holes in windows, doors, and wiring will remove many of the entry and exits holes the ants have access to.

And finally, treat the foundation of the house with a pesticide.

This might sound like a few days of hard work, but prevention is much easier than turfing them out once they are in.

And doing this will also prevent the more damaging ants from coming in, such as their dreaded carpenter cousin.

Conclusion

Now you know, sugar ants can be easy to eradicate once you know where to start. Just be sure to keep your house clean and a few of the ant killing suggestions above to hand.

This way, you may have the odd ant, but you should never have an ant infestation.

Quick action is the key to any ant species that come to visit. If they go unchecked for too long, all ant species can cause problems and damage.

So, at the first sign of them, make sure you establish their colony location and throw out the bait until they have disappeared again.

Do you have a tried and tested go to plan when sugar ants come a-knocking? If so, we would love to hear it in the comments below.

Managing Editor & CEO Jack has been writing as a contractor and for businesses for over 10 years. He owns his own home, and has been doing his own pest control since he bought his first house.

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