A widespread problem throughout homes in the United States, carpenter ants are small, typically black, ants that prefer to make their nests in wood. These ants will hollow out sections of wood to create “galleries” they can move through, and because they prefer damp, dead woods, they can easily infest wooden infrastructure within the home.
Carpenter ants, like any other household pest, can drive a homeowner crazy. Finding a line of black ants trailing from your window can be bad enough, and you certainly don’t want nests of ants hiding out in your walls. Black carpenter ants, the most likely culprit if you have an ant infestation within your home, can be dealt with in a number of ways.
Be sure to take care of these pests as quickly as possible: not only will they invade your kitchen in search of food, but they will likely damage any wood they are nesting in.
Carpenter Ant Infestation
The first step to handling a carpenter ant is to make sure what you have is a carpenter ant infestation. Correctly identifying the pest you’re dealing with will help you eliminate them as swiftly as possible (the last thing you want is to spend money on baits or pesticides that won’t work). The easiest way to be sure you have a carpenter ant infestation is, of course, to hire a professional to do an inspection.
However, if you’d rather identify your pests on your own, there are a few key ways to recognize a carpenter ant infestation (and distinguish it from similar pests, such as termites) or other ants like sugar ants.
Carpenter Ant Damage
Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood; they simply hollow out sections of the wood to use as their nests. To do this, they chew out passageways, creating tiny grooves in the wood known as ‘galleries’. When left untreated carpenter ant infestations can become very severe, creating large nests within the inner workings of wooden structures. Carpenter ants will sometimes develop extra nests if left unchecked for too long, causing more widespread damage to the wood they are inhabiting.
Carpenter Ants in the House
If you suspect you have carpenter ants infesting your home, there are a few give-away signs you can check for.
- To begin with, carpenter ants don’t usually build their nests in dry wood. This means that you should check for indoor infestations where the wood is likely to be damp, old, decaying, or already damaged; the wood of inner walls and structure work in your home are prime targets.
- Because carpenter ants don’t eat wood, you can typically find small piles of wood shavings around locations infested by carpenter ants. These shavings will look like sawdust, and is also known as frass. Finding frass in your home is a good sign that there are carpenter ants nearby.
- You can also test for infestation by listening for ants in your walls. Tapping against walls you feel are likely to hold the ant nests can cause them to make a faint, rustling sound. Carpenter ants tend to favor door or window frames, or wood near water sources, such as interior walls that house plumbing like bathrooms or kitchens.
- Spotting worker ants is probably the easiest way to establish that your problem is carpenter ant-related. Finding these worker ants can also help you locate the ant nest, but even that isn’t conclusive. They might just be coming in to look for food or water.
- Carpenter ants go looking for food primarily when it’s dark – consider using a flashlight in the morning or evening to spot carpenter ants at work.
- Remember that ants will travel pretty far while foraging, so it may take a while to track an ant back to its nest. Even though you found an ant in your kitchen, the colony may very well be three floors up, in your attic.
How to Kill Carpenter Ants
Once you’ve confirmed that you do, in fact, have an infestation, the next question becomes: How do you get rid of carpenter ants?
There are plenty of options to choose from, and some options will handle the problem even if you’ve incorrectly identified the pest (several pesticides, for example, will kill both termites and carpenter ants, because it is easy to confuse one for the other). What kills carpenter ants best depends on your exact situation, and most carpenter ant killers are designed with certain types of infestation in mind.
Carpenter Ant Bait
The best carpenter ant baits are designed to target ants along their trails, making baits an excellent option for destroying outdoor carpenter ant colonies and preventing an indoor infestation. When carpenter ant workers are out foraging, they pick up the bait and carry it back to their nest, poisoning the entire ant colony. With carpenter ant baits, it’s important to find ones that are designed specifically to lure in ants (so other pests don’t take the bait instead) and are resistant to the elements, otherwise the ants might not get to them at all.
Many top-grade carpenter ant traps come in ‘kits’ with baits designed to cover all of a carpenter ant’s dietary needs, thus making them more likely to be picked up by foraging workers. However, do not place ant baits anywhere near repellents – the repellents will drive pests away from your baits, making them useless.
Carpenter Ant Insecticides
If baits aren’t quite doing the trick, you may consider looking into pesticides and insecticides to aid in carpenter ant removal around your home and property (we recommend Spectracide). A well-selected perimeter treatment will quickly and effectively stop any outside ants (and other insects) from venturing into your home or onto your property. This is good for keeping a carpenter ant infestation from spreading to your home from nearby outdoor trees, debris, or foliage.
Keep in mind that many over-the-counter bug sprays will have little to no effect on your infestation – you have to treat the infestation at its source (the nest and colony) to see noticeable results.
Carpenter Ant Treatment
When you have an indoor carpenter ant infestation, how to treat carpenter ants becomes a little more complicated. Your safest bet for these sorts of situations would be to call a professional exterminator. However, if you are willing to do some handiwork, it’s possibly to handle the extermination yourself.
- For starters, you’ll want to be certain of where the indoor nests (known as wall voids) are located. After that, you’ll want to drill into the wall where the carpenter ants are nesting.
- Make drill holes between 2 and 6 feet on either side of where the ants are entering the wall – this will make sure you’re treating the nest directly.
- Then you’ll want to use an insecticide dust, aerosol, or foam treatment around all of the holes and any other possible openings the ants could use.
- Do not use liquid insecticide on an indoor ant nest, and be sure that you keep children and pets away from wall void treatments.
While hiring a professional exterminator, using ant baits, spraying insecticides, or applying dust treatments are quick and time-proven remedies to annihilate carpenter ant infestations, you may be wondering how to get rid of carpenter ants naturally.
If you prefer to avoid store-bought pesticides or poisons, there are a few home remedies that you can try. These remedies use the same principles as brand-name carpenter ant treatments, but may prove to be more cost-efficient and (if you are concerned about the ingredients of some pesticides) safer alternatives.
- One home remedy is to create your own baited food for carpenter ants. Mix 1 part boric acid with 10 parts sugar water, add this mixture to the food you want to use as bait, and set it out along any carpenter ant trails or spots you think foraging workers frequent. The sugar water in the mixture will draw the workers in, and the boric acid will kill them – and their nest. Keep in mind that this process may take a while, and you may have to repeat the baiting process a few times to rid yourself of the infestation.
- You can also spray boric acid onto any ant nests – or anywhere near then, where the ants are likely to travel – to poison them. Be careful, and do not try to spray near any electrical wires or circuitry.
- Another helpful natural treatment is DE, or diatomite (short for Diatomaceous earth). Diatomite is a soft sedimentary rock that comes from fossilized algae-like plants. Food-grade DE, which is what you’ll want to buy to solve your carpenter ant problem, is completely safe for children or pets. Insects cannot digest the dust properly, however, as it will dry them out and shred their bodies.
- Dusting food-grade DE (NOT the pool-grade stuff) over carpenter ant nests or injecting it directly into their nests via medicine droppers or hand dusters can destroy a colony of carpenter ants. However, like other home remedies, it may take repeated applications of diatomite to completely rid yourself of carpenter ants.
Video: Controlling Carpenter Ants
Preventing Carpenter Ants
The best way to handle carpenter ants, and carpenter ant infestations, as well as other ant problems is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. There are plenty of things you can do to stop these pests from invading your home – or thinking of coming back, if you’re concerned about a re-infestation.
- Carpenter ant control begins with proper home maintenance. If you’ve had carpenter ant problems in the past, or if you’re afraid it might become a problem, the first thing you want to do is make sure your home is free of any excessive moisture, leaks, or plumbing problems. Remember, damp and moist environments will draw ants in.
- Properly insulate your home; this will prevent carpenter ants from finding their way in. Seal any cracks or openings in your house’s foundation – be especially sure to check around utility pipes, wires, windows, and wires.
- Keep your lawn well-maintained. If you have any trees or foliage near your home, keep it neatly-trimmed. If you have branches touching your house, carpenter ants may easily trek from the tree to your house in search for food. Additionally, be sure to remove any dead wood from your grounds. Tree trunks make ideal nests for carpenter ants, for example.
- If you bring in firewood, make sure to inspect it for carpenter ant infestation before bringing it inside. If you keep your wood stacked somewhere, keep it as far from your house as you can, and try to place it somewhere elevated. Carpenter ants will be drawn to piles of firewood, and you don’t want to accidentally carry them into your house.
- Lastly, you may want to consider investing in one of the perimeter-control insecticides mentioned above. Many are weather-proof, and spraying around your house’s foundation and outside openings can go a long way to preventing unwanted pests from venturing inside.
Carpenter ants can cause a lot of damage and frustration if they are left unchecked. However, controlling, treating, and preventing carpenter ant infestation can be done with the right tools and awareness. If you suspect you have an infestation of carpenter ants in your home, there’s plenty you can do to fight back. Remember, too, that if you’re not sure about your infestation – or you just can’t seem to get rid of your carpenter ant nests – consulting with a professional is also an option.