Have the ants come marching in your PA home? Here’s why – and how to get rid of them

Spring is kicking into high gear with pleasant temperatures, blooming gardens and plenty of rain. But as the season gets warmer, insect activity can quickly become a nuisance in and around your home.

Even though they present less of a threat than some other insects and critters, ants are one of the most common pests you might stumble across. After all, a single, thriving ant colony can hold anywhere from 3,000 to 500,000 ants depending on the species, according to Moyer Indoor Outdoor, a southeastern Pennsylvania-based contractor that offers pest control services. Ant-related problems can quickly snowball if you start finding them indoors.

While more serious infestations may require help from professionals, here’s what you need to know if you hope to protect your Pennsylvania home from ants this spring and summer.

Why are ants coming into my house?

You might find ants entering your home for several reasons, but two causes are the most common.

Up first is food and water, plain and simple. Poor sanitation — often as a result of food residue and left-behind crumbs — can attract ants in search of a meal. Ants are often especially attracted to sugary and oily foods.

Orkin, a pest control company, says hungry ants can quickly become a major problem if they find food in your home.

“Leaving dirty dishes in the sink, food residue on countertops, crumbs on the floor and trash not frequently emptied provides food sources for meal-seeking ants,” the company writes. “What starts with a few foragers entering a home can become a major problem if ants establish colonies in walls, lawns or under home foundations,” the company wrote on its website.

Water leaks and spills may also attract thirsty ants, according to Penn State Extension, a university outreach program that provides science-based information throughout Pennsylvania.

Ants may also make a break for your home if their nest is flooded or if the soil outside is heavily saturated with water — a problem that might persist in Pennsylvania as above-average rain continues this spring. In this scenario, ants may be more persistent in their push to move indoors, according to Pittsburgh-based Witt Pest Management.

Activity varies by species, but most ants are especially active between March and October. Warmer weather and more available food sources in the spring and summer can help ants to thrive.

Are ant invasions serious?

Broadly speaking, ants do not present a serious threat to human health. However, they can lead to some complications around the house.

Because ants often carry bacteria on their bodies, they may spread bacteria to food and food surfaces as they crawl in pantries and across countertops, Orkin writes.

“Only a few species are known to transmit diseases, but finding any type of ant in pantry goods or inside the home is an unpleasant experience that creates nuisances,” the pest control company wrote online.

Some species offer unique characteristics that may pose additional threats to human health and household property. Carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus), which are common pests in the northeastern U.S., can dig tunnels in wet wood and weaken structures around your home. Pennsylvanians shouldn’t need to fear the infamous bites of fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), which are native to some parts of the southern U.S. and much of Central America and South America.

How can I get rid of ants in my Pennsylvania home?

Controlling invading ants can be challenging, but homeowners can take several steps before calling professionals.

First, make sure to eliminate food and water sources that might be attracting ants into your home. Consider following their trail to see how they’re getting inside and where they’re heading, Penn State Extension advises.

Ants can enter homes through very small cracks as they seek food and water. Try to seal up any openings you find and look for possible nests nearby. According to Orkin, most ant species can build nests and colonies in many places around the house, including in lawns, walls, stumps and even the foundation.

If you find where ants are entering your home, use soapy water or a solution of vinegar and water to wipe up their trail. Ants are known to use a sort of invisible chemical trail containing pheromones to guide other ants to follow them to a food or water source. Disrupting their trail can throw the colony off course.

Cleaning up ants can be a challenge, but don’t be afraid to break out the appliances. Penn State Extension recommends using a vacuum to directly suck up ants you find inside the home.

Outdoors, try to keep vegetation and mulch — common grounds for ant nests — at least 6 inches away from your home’s foundation. Make sure to keep your gutters clear of decaying leaves (another popular ant habitat) and trim tree branches and shrubbery to prevent them from touching your house. Ants can use long limbs as “runways” en route to indoor environments, Penn State Extension writes.

Be careful when using pest control products outside. Some sprays and granules can unintentionally kill other small creatures, including birds.

Building your own ant traps

Once you know what can attract ants, you might find it easier to eliminate them through do-it-yourself contraptions.

Perhaps the most popular tool for managing ant populations without a professional is boric acid. Many pest management products use this substance as a slow-acting poison that can eventually kill ants. Boric acid is often combined with sugar and warm water to form an effective mixture — as long as it’s used correctly.

Online, Orkin warns homeowners that boric acid can harm adults, children and even pets if it is consumed. At-home traps using boric acid can often take weeks or months to eliminate ant activity if used properly, and results are not foolproof.

When using boric acid solutions to address ant activity, make sure to use bait that entices the ants in your home. The food mixed with boric acid must attract the ants you hope to eliminate.

If you choose to employ a pesticide like boric acid, make sure to read all warning labels before use and follow directions exactly. Keep pesticide products locked away in high-up cabinets away from children and pets, and be sure to properly dispose of pesticides instead of simply throwing them into the garbage. Additionally, remember that using the wrong product for your pest can produce health risks in your home without any benefit toward management, Penn State Extension says.

If all else fails, you might need to call in some pest control experts. In addition to national companies like Orkin, some local options in the Centre County area include Jabco Pest Control Services, Parks Pest Control and Ehrlich Pest Control.