Many kinds of ants—from odorous house ants to pharaoh ants to carpenter ants—can be found in houses searching for food or nesting. Identification is generally too difficult a task for non-professionals; the one type you can identify is the carpenter ant, a large ant ranging in color from red to black that hollows out damp wood to make its home and can be spotted by the coarse sawdust debris deposited near nest openings.

While most ants do very little damage and don’t usually spread disease, you don’t want them traipsing over your food or ambling up your legs. Carpenter ants do, however, occasionally weaken a house by hollowing out structural elements. But even this damage is usually limited.

How to Stop Them

If you can locate their nest, a quick way to get rid of ants is to spray it with insecticide. If the nest is outside, you can find it by following the ants’ movements to and from food sources.

But if the nest is within walls, under flooring, or in other inaccessible places, you’ll need an alternative approach. Cut off the paths ants follow into and out of your house or kitchen by caulking cracks and crevices. Store sweets like sugar, syrup, and honey in closed containers. Thoroughly clean up grease and spills. Don’t store garbage indoors. Eliminate indoor nesting sites, including potted plants that appear to have nests.

You might control a small infestation by sponging or mopping with soapy water surfaces plagued by ants, which may remove the ants’ scent trail.

For a quick fix, try ant spray. Apply it along the lower part of window frames and around doors; outdoors on pipes, posts, and pillars leading from the ground to the house; and into cracks in baseboards, walls, and floors, and around sinks, bathtubs, toilets, and kitchen cupboards.

Still being bugged? Consider using baits—our favorite is Terro liquid. Place baits in many locations where ants can easily find them, but not accessible to children and pets. When you first apply baits, you might see an increase in ant activity; that’s because you’ve set out a buffet for bugs who pass the news onto other ants, which seek it out before the poison takes effect.

Ridding yourself of carpenter ants requires a different plan. Since they’re drawn to damp wood, you’ll need to prevent water from accumulating on your house. Clean gutters and downspouts, and cut tree limbs and shrubs that overhang the house.

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Hiring Help

You can control most household ants fairly easily without paying an exterminator. However, because their nests are often especially difficult to locate and treat, carpenter and pharaoh ants may require professional attention.