An ant infestation can be a slightly panic-inducing affair. Discovering them at home gives rise to immediate worry about whether they’ve invaded the food in our pantries, and when thinking about the speed with which infestations multiply, we find it just further compounds the sense of panic.

While ants are a necessary part of the ecosystem, no one wants these little intruders parading through their home and feasting on their hard-earned groceries. Exterminating ants successfully, inexpensively, and safely means regarding the deployment of pesticide as a last-resort measure in ant warfare. By following these steps to the letter (and in order), you’ll greatly reduce the need to buy those expensive and highly toxic concoctions in the first place!

1. Take note of entryways and paths

Before doing anything else, make a point of determining the source of the ant entry and the paths they travel. Ants create colonies and have an egg-laying queen that stays in the nest. Male ants impregnate the queen, and, along with sterile female ants, leave the colony to forage. When ants search for food, they leave behind a pheromone trail that alerts other ants about the all-you-can-eat buffet they discovered in the pantry. All the canned pesticide in the world will be useless if entryways and paths remain in place. Seal any cracks or holes being used as entryways by ants, and scrub the sealed openings and observed paths with detergent to wipe away the pheromones.

2. Mix a slurry of boric acid and sugar

Here's a chance to play junior chemist: Mix one part boric acid and one part sugar, then create a wet, thick slurry by adding a bit of water. Place a small dollop of this slurry at ant entryways, near areas where food debris often falls (e.g. toaster, garbage can, etc.), and in the middle of any paths you discovered. Boric acid can be found at Amazon and is often available for under $6. The dampness and sugary sweetness of the slurry is irresistible to ants, but the boric acid they ingest as they're snacking away will kill them within hours.

Important tip: The boric acid and sugar slurry is completely harmless to adults, but make sure toddlers and pets stay away by placing baby or pet gates in the doorways of treated rooms for a day or two.

3. Give it time!

It’s tempting to stomp on the ants as they enjoy their poisonous treat, but don't do it! By simply letting the ants eat the poison over a 48-hour period, you give them the opportunity to unwittingly and repeatedly bring the poison back to the nest. The result? The poison will spread to the entire colony, killing off all the other worker ants, as well as the hidden queen responsible for populating the colony. This is the easiest step, though it's also the most crucial and devastating, and requires only a little bit of patience.

4. Use insecticides on nests only, and as a last resort

If origin (the outside nest) of the infestation can be located, spraying a standard insecticide on the nest is a good way to achieve a final bit of insurance. Store-bought insecticides are supposedly designed to be used inside the home, but a quick glance at the ingredients in these products reveals their significant toxicity. Considering that the spray can linger for hours after application, after having settled on countertops, furniture, and exposed linens, it's best to regard insecticide as an outdoor application.

5. Keep home interior clean and free of food debris

Consider this final step the preventative follow-up. Food debris is what attracted ants in the first place. Even the tidiest, most fastidious homeowners can easily miss tiny food particles left behind from food preparation, eating, and disposal. Take a few seconds of extra care when cleaning up before and after a meal by removing food debris with a wet sponge or cleaning cloth, and thoroughly remove food debris from plates and cutlery as soon as possible, rather than letting them linger for extended periods of time in the dishwasher. Lastly, remove garbage bags as soon as they're full, and keep them as far from your home as possible.

This is a guest post by L.K. from Albany, NY
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How to Kill Ants Safely and Cheaply