How to Get Rid of Sugar Ants

There are a variety of natural and chemical ways to deal with sugar ants, both inside and outside the home—keep reading for a full breakdown.
Written by Andrew Biro
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Sugar ants—or any other ants attracted to sweets—can enter your home through the smallest of entryways and feast on any sugary, fatty, and protein-rich foods they can find. Fortunately, there are several natural and chemical ways to prevent them from doing so.
If you’ve ever seen a very small, reddish-brown or black ant crawling around your countertop, chances are it was a sugar ant—or at least, that’s the colloquial name for them. In reality, the banded sugar ant is native only to Australia, but the United States and Canada have their fair share of sweet-eating ants, all of which can wreak havoc on pantries and kitchens.
Finding a nest or colony of these sweet-toothed (sweet-mandible?) ants is never ideal, but it’s a reality every homeowner should be prepared for. That’s why
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What is a sugar ant?

From an entomological standpoint, the name “sugar ant” refers exclusively to the banded sugar ant or Camponotus consobrinus, a species of ant native to—and only found in—Australia. As their name suggests, sugar ants are primarily attracted to sweet foods, making them a common household pest in the Land Down Under.
In the United States and Canada, however, the term “sugar ant” is colloquially used to refer to any ant that comes indoors to feed on sweet, fatty foods, including such species as: 
  • Pavement ants: Usually no more than 3 mm in length and are dark brown or black
  • Acrobat ants: Roughly 3.2 mm long and display light brown to black coloration; if looked at from above, their abdomen is shaped like a heart
  • False honey ants: Range from 2.5 to 3.5 mm in length and have a shiny, dark brown, or black body
  • Pharaoh ants: Only about 2 mm long and have light yellow or red bodies with red or black abdomens 
  • Rover ants: Usually less than 2 mm in length and may be black, pale yellow, or dark brown
  • Little black ants: Range from 1.5 to 2 mm and can be dark brown, black, or jet-black
And while these species differ in coloring, behavior, and nesting habits, they all share a proclivity to seek out sweet, fatty, and protein-rich foods—and they’ll all come into your home to get them.

Identifying a sugar ant colony

Depending on the species of sugar ant you’re dealing with, identifying a colony can be difficult. In general, you’ll need to look for worker ants moving along scent trails, usually at dusk or in the evening. These will generally show up around places where food is most plentiful, such as in kitchens, cupboards, and pantries, or on tables and counters where crumbs and food residue may accumulate.
If you start to find dead ants around your baseboards, small gaps in the molding, or other narrow spaces around your home, you’re probably dealing with an infestation
If you suspect there may be sugar ants outside your home, look for their nests marked by large dirt hills surrounding the entrance.

How to get rid of sugar ants

If you start noticing little lines of sugar ants marching into and out of your kitchen, it’s time to start thinking about how to get rid of them. Fortunately, there is a slew of both natural and chemical methods to kill, deter, and prevent these pesky sweet-eaters from returning.

Natural methods

If you don’t want to resort to harsh chemicals or pesticides, try one of these natural methods to remove sugar ants from your kitchen and cabinets.
  • Honey and corn syrup: If you mix honey and corn syrup and leave it out as bait, the honey will attract ants, and the corn syrup will effectively trap them in place, killing them
  • Food-grade diatomaceous earth: Made from the crushed remains of phytoplankton, food-grade diatomaceous earth is a fine powder toxic only to insects—sprinkle it along known ant trails and entryways to kill them from the inside out
  • Vinegar and water: Vinegar contains acetic acid, a compound that both kills ants and removes their scent trails—mix one part water and one part vinegar in a spray bottle and spray the solution along known ant trails, baseboards, and other potential entryways

Chemical methods

If the natural methods aren’t cutting it, you may have to resort to something with a little extra staying power—here are a few common chemical treatments for sugar ants.
  • Sugar and boric acid/Borax: While this isn’t a super strong or incredibly toxic chemical solution, mixing sugar and boric acid and leaving it as bait for the ants to take back to their colony is a tried-and-true method of killing sugar ant colonies at the source.
  • Use a commercial product: companies like Ortho specialize in chemical sprays and solutions for getting rid of insects—try Ortho® Home Defense Ant, Roach, and Spider Killer2 or Ortho® Home Defense Insect Killer for Lawn & Landscape.

Dealing with nests

If you notice any sugar ant nests outside of your home, try these methods to quickly and effectively prevent them from making their way inside:
  • Sprinkle baking soda around the nest and pour some down the opening
  • Pour boiling water over the nest
  • Pour a cup of bleach into the nest hole to wipe out the colony

How to prevent sugar ants from returning

Now that you’ve successfully rid your home of sugar ants and any colonies or nests they may have built, it’s a good idea to implement a few preventative measures to stop them from returning in the future.
  • Vacuum and wipe down kitchen counters often: By regularly wiping down counters, cleaning up spills, and vacuuming, you lessen the chances of leaving crumbs or other food particles that might attract the ants inside.
  • Hang garlic in your pantry and cupboards: Due to its strong smell, garlic effectively deters sugar ants by interfering with their scent trails, making it difficult to alert other ants to the food source.
  • Sprinkle used coffee grounds around your home: If you regularly drink coffee, put the grounds to good use and sprinkle them around areas—both inside and outside—you want to deter ants from; the acidity in coffee burns ants and they don’t like the smell.
  • Lavender/peppermint oil and water: Mix a few drops of lavender or peppermint oil in water and spray the solution in cabinets, on the kitchen table, and on counters to prevent ants from returning to those areas.

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True sugar ants—those found in Australia—are either all black (males) or have a black head, rusty abdomen, and orange-brown band around their gaster (females). “Sugar ants” in the United States and Canada are comprised of a variety of species, which are many different colors, including light yellow with red or black abdomens (Pharaoh ants), dark brown or black (Pavement ants), or light brown to black (Acrobat ants). All are usually less than 3.5 mm in length.
There are a variety of ways to get rid of sugar ants, including vinegar and water sprayed along scent trails and at entryways, food-grade diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the house, sugar mixed with boric acid/Borax and left out as bait, or with commercial products—of which some are natural and some are chemical.
Generally speaking, all ants have the capacity and ability to bite—after all, they do have mandibles—but most species that fall under the name sugar ants are not easily aggravated and only rarely bite humans. If they do bite you, it likely will not hurt or produce any worrisome symptoms, unless you happen to be highly allergic.
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