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Ant Control Problems

Household Ants    Pest Control    Pests    Site Map    Ant Baits    Pest Control Supplies, Pesticides

It is not uncommon to hear customers say that a certain pesticide spray did not kill ants that were sprayed.  We interpret this statement to mean that their pest management program for ants is just not working.  You would be hard pressed to find a commercial strength insecticide ant spray that failed to kill ants that have come into contact with the material used.  Even over the counter aerosols and bug sprays found in home improvement stores and grocery stores are capable of killing ants - but they usually are not designed to give long term control needed to eliminate problems and are not always labeled for and are not capable of treating all necessary areas needed for sufficient control.  As will be discussed later in this article, treating for ant problems often involves indoor and outdoor applications and can include plants, shrubs, lawns, landscaping as well as the exterior surfaces of buildings.
In cases where ant sprays do not seem to do the job, it is a matter of the wrong control method being used or the important areas to be treated have not been addressed.  Ant control problems usually begin because the ants involved in the infestation have not been properly identified.
Preventing ants from becoming a problem is often a totally different pest management program than a control program that targets an existing infestation.  Regularly treating suspect areas with either contact insecticides or with professional ant baits usually keeps homes, lawns or gardens free from invading ants.  This article deals with choosing or altering ant control products and methods for using pest control products.

An ant is not exactly a robust insect that easily resists or breaks down properly mixed and applied insecticides.  An ant colony, however, is a totally different problem.  You should think of a colony of ants as a single living organism when trying to eliminate an infestation of the insect pest.  The "vital organs" of this organism include a queen (or queens), her workers and her nursery.  In order to eliminate an infestation you need to attack these vital parts of the colony if you are to be successful.

Killing only foraging worker ants may sometimes give you satisfactory results but can also lead to control failure or (in the case of species such as Pharaoh ants) aggravate the problem and increase the difficulty of ridding a structure of ants.
When customers tell us that they have been spraying certain areas of their home but do not seem to be killing ants, this tells us that a different approach is needed - not necessarily that the insecticide is incapable of killing ants.

There are two basic ways to correct an ant control problem that is failing.  The first method would be to stop using sprays while switching to a baiting program.  A second possibility would be to expand the areas to be treated with a contact insecticide.  Use baits or use contact insecticides - but do not combine the two types of products in the same area.  Contact insecticides are sprays, dusts, granules or aerosols designed to kill insects as the targeted pest crawls over or touches treated surfaces.  Baits are designed so that foraging ants are enticed to take the bait back to their colony where it is shared with immature ants and other workers.

When you confront ant control problems you should make some determinations that will help you select which types of products are to be used and also the best areas to use the products.  There are two basic questions that need to be answered: (1) What kind of ants (which ant species) are being a pest?  (2) Are the ants living in the house (in walls or voids, underneath the house) or are they living outdoors and are merely foraging indoors?

Identifying the ants in your home is a major step in deciding whether you should use an ant bait or a contact insecticide.  Knowing that the ant colony is inside the home or outside the home is more important than most people realize.  Ants that have decided to live in the walls of your home or even the soil beneath and attack above should be handled with care.

Ant Spray or Ant Bait?

Spraying for Ants    Baiting for Ants    Insecticide Sprays for Ant Control 

Once you have identified your ant and decided where they might be living, you can begin choosing the proper control products and making a final home inspectionMost people prefer to use a professional liquid spray for ants.  A good spray product will not only kill ants but will also protect your property from many other household pests: roaches, spiders, silverfish and other unwanted bugs.  
you will be spraying indoors and on the exterior surface and grounds around the building it is best to choose a product that will work in both areas.  An odorless or low-odor product is recommended for treating indoors for ants, roaches and other bugs.
To reduce the amount of pesticides used and to reduce the number of times the home needs to be sprayed, choose a professional product in an advanced formulation.  Microencapsulated concentrates and wettable powder concentrates are your best choices for long residual action.  (The longer your application lasts, the less often you have to spray!)  Synthetic pyrethrin formulations (also known as synthetic pyrethroids) are safer than older Organophosphates (Dursban, Diazinon) and are usually very low in odor or odorless.
For long residual (2 to 6 months), low odor and safer class of insecticides you can choose from the following concentrates: Suspend SC, Demand CS, Tempo SC, Demon WP, Cynoff WP or Tempo WPSuspend SC, Tempo SC and Demand CS are low odor, liquid, microencapsulated concentrates or suspension concentrates that will last 2 months or longer in most areas where you will be spraying.  These liquids dry clear and are not visible on most surfaces.  Demon WP, Tempo WP and Cynoff WP are all odorless wettable powder concentrates.  When mixed with water and sprayed, these wettable powders last much longer than other products.  On average, wettable powders last about 3 or 4 months.  Many people report that they only have to spray the inside of their homes a couple of times each year; outdoors (exterior surfaces of the homes) usually need to be treated 3 or 4 times each year at most.  The majority of pest control operators use wettable powders.  This enables them to treat quarterly or annual pest control accounts with very few callbacks.  The only disadvantage of wettable powders (over microencapsulated concentrates) is that they sometimes leave a visible residue on baseboards or other woodwork that are dark in color.  This residue is not always are problem but if you see that certain surfaces look unsightly after the spray has been allowed to dry, simply wipe off the residue with a damp cloth.
Simply put: wettable powders last for a very long time but leave a visible residue on dark surfaces; liquids listed last twice as long as old fashioned concentrates (but not as long as wettable powders) and usually dry to a clear finish.
When large numbers of ants are noted in or on vegetation such as shrubs, trees or other ornamental plants a properly labeled product must be used to protect the plants from being damaged by the spray.  Suspend SC is an excellent choice for spraying ornamental plants as well as treating most surfaces inside of a home.  If there is no need for indoor spraying or only spot treatment indoors is called for, Talstar One is preferred for indoor pest control and treatment of ornamentals.  Talstar One is also another odorless product that can be applied to exterior surfaces of buildings and will not leave a visible residue on dark surfaces.

Insecticide Sprays for Ant Control

Choosing the correct product for the job at hand is not as difficult as it may seem.  The following list breaks down the most important characteristics of the different products mentioned in this article.  All of the products listed will kill ants that have become a problem in your home or business.
Concentrates are listed alphabetically: 

  • Cynoff WP - Wettable powder concentrate that is odorless.  Will leave a visible residue on some dark surfaces.  Can last for three to six months per application.  Used primarily for spraying indoors, on exterior surfaces of buildings and ant mounds.  Active Ingredient: 40.0% Cypermethrin.
  • Demand CS - Liquid concentrate that is odorless.  Does not leave a visible residue.  Can last for two to three months or longer per application.  Used primarily for treating indoors and on exterior surfaces of buildings.  Active Ingredient: 9.7% Lambda-cyhalothrin.
  • Demon WP - Wettable powder concentrate that is odorless.  Will leave a visible residue on dark surfaces.  Can last three to six months per application.  Active Ingredient: 40.0% Cypermethrin.
  • Suspend SC - Odorless liquid concentrate.  Leaves no visible residue on surfaces.  Can last two to three months per application.  Used to spray all water-safe surfaces inside homes, exterior surfaces of buildings and labeled for spraying most shrubs, trees and ornamentals.
    Active Ingredient: 4.75% Deltamethrin.
  • Talstar One - Odorless liquid concentrate.  No visible residue on surfaces.  Usually lasts two to four months per application; has been reported to last three months or longer for killing ants in lawns when applied with hose-end sprayer.  Used to spot-treat areas indoors, treating exterior surfaces of buildings and can be sprayed on trees, shrubs and ornamentals.  Very little concentrate is needed; can be mixed at rates as low as 1/4 ounce per gallon of water.  Active Ingredient: 7.9% Bifenthrin.
  • Tempo SC - Odorless liquid concentrate that leaves little or no residue on dark surfaces.  Usually lasts two to three months per application.  Used for treating indoors, exterior surfaces of buildings and many ornamental plants.
    Active Ingredient: 11.8% Cyfluthrin.  
  • Tempo WP - Odorless wettable powder concentrate which can leave a visible residue on dark surfaces.  Can last three to six months per application.  Used to treat indoors, exterior surfaces of buildings and many ornamental plants.
    Active Ingredient: 10.0% Cyfluthrin.
  • There are two additional products that are good for ant control:
    Demon EC and Cynoff EC.  These two products were omitted from the preferred list because of their type of formulation: emulsifiable concentrate.  The residual of emulsifiable concentrates lasts about 28 to 31 days - not the long lasting type of products that most people prefer.  Most people will only choose Demon EC or Cynoff EC in cases where large volumes of spray are needed at a lower cost per gallon rate.  These two products do not leave a visible residue on dark surfaces but, due to their short residual, must be applied more often. 

Before spraying your home it is best to make an inspection of the area.  An inspection often reveals food sources that can be removed.  Your inspection will also give you a chance to pick up toys, pet dishes and other items that you do not want to spray.  Picking up dirty and clean laundry and putting them in their proper place will help control ants and prevent them from being sprayed.  Ants are often found in clothes baskets; the ants will invade clothes that are clean or dirty.

If you feel as if your insecticide is not killing ants, pay close attention to all of the areas where the majority of the foraging ants can come into contact with the insecticide.  For severe infestations, more than one type of contact insecticide might be needed.  The proper use of a good insecticide dust is a great method of enhancing your liquid spray.  Insecticide dusts for ants will be discussed later in this article.
Spraying visible ant trails is only the beginning of the job if you intend to eliminate the problem and keep the pests from re-infesting the structure.  Begin indoors, treating all possible foraging areas, hiding places and entry points.  Once you have finished your indoor ant treatment you can then finish the job by spraying outdoors.  Follow label instructions and remember to avoid spraying areas where children and pets constantly come into contact with treated areas.  Do not allow spray to contact toys (those that belong to children or pets), pet food and water dishes and other sensitive items.  Reading and following label instructions as well as using a little common sense both go a long way to safely treating your home for ants or other pests.
Ants often follow water lines in a home.  Not only does the condensation on pipes provide a source of moisture but the pipes provide a convenient ant highway throughout the structure.  Where possible, treat areas where plumbing lines go through walls under sinks, bathtubs and showers and also in laundry rooms.
Other indoor areas that might need to be treated can include corners, wood trim around windows and doors, beneath heavy appliances.  If you need to spray baseboards in a home or business, try to do so without over-spraying or saturating the area.  Adjusting your spray tip from a large stream to a fine mist will do a great job for most baseboards.  The fine mist will give you even coverage without wasting product, creating unsafe puddles of insecticide or generally making a mess.
Spraying outdoors or on the exterior surfaces of ant infested buildings is often more important than indoor spraying but is usually the most overlooked aspect of ant control.  Most ant infestations originate from outdoor colonies.  A good exterior treatment will put a stop to the majority of invading ant trails.  Ants trailing into your home leave behind powerful pheromones that tell their colony members where to find shelter and food.  This pheromone trail is a series of road signs, inviting all foraging ants to crawl into your home and (in the case of several ant species) even start up satellite ant nests inside your walls, attic and crawl spaces.

Insecticide Dusts for Ants

When invading pests decide to live in areas where sprays cannot be used a good professional insecticide dust can often be used to treat areas where liquids and aerosols are not acceptable.  Sprays and aerosols cannot cover attics, crawl spaces and wall voids in the same manner as dusts.  When applied with the proper equipment, dusts travel through areas farther than liquids.  Properly applied dusts also tend to stick to surfaces.  This means that you can cover all possible areas where ants or other household pests crawl.  Dusts also give a very long residual in areas where household pests are more likely to be found but where people and pets cannot come into contact with the material.  Depending on the areas to be treated you may use either a hand bellows duster or an electric power duster to cover ant hiding places effectively.  There are several good dusts to choose from but the best to use for treating cracks, crevices and voids are Drione Dust and Delta DustDrione Dust provides a faster knock-down power than most dusting materials with a long lasting residual.  Delta Dust is preferred when a dust is needed in areas where moisture might be present.  Both Delta and Drione are excellent dusts; choose the one that you feel best suits the needs of your home.  For more information about this type of insecticide, read the insecticide dust information article.

 Baiting for Ants

If the ant infestation in question can be eliminated with the use of baits, by all means use baits!  Let the bugs do the work for you.  When successful, ant baits are noted for killing entire colonies instead of only the tiny percentage of visible foraging workers.  The ant bait information article describes the different types and forms of baiting materials available and also provides tips for when baits can be used and when they are not a good idea.
Make sure that the ant species in question is one that will accept baits.  If you cannot make a positive identification after using the information found in our ant identification index, you can try to get the pests in your home to accept one or two different types of ant baits.  These baits are not expensive and the experiment will take very little time.  Colonies of ants have certain food requirements to maintain the health of its population and reproduction.  At any given moment the signal can be sent throughout the colony that sugars or proteins are needed.  The workers will then locate the suitable food source and signal the location of their find.  This means that you might need to try both types of baits - sugar and protein - to see if your particular ant species will even accept baits.  It is also important to remember that most ants are more likely to accept an ant bait, or fireant bait, during cooler seasons and will often ignore baits placed outdoors in the heat of the summer.  Winter ant problems should be taken care of with a good ant bait.  Once you see that the bugs prefer your bait, keep feeding them until they are no longer a problem.  Do not assume that just because all of the bait is eaten that all of the ants in the affected area have been exterminated.  You might be dealing with more than one colony or a very large colony.
Ant and insect baits are desirable for several reasons:

  • Baits tend to be less invasive in sensitive areas than sprays, dusts, granules or aerosols.
  • Contact by each individual ant is not necessary when using a good bait.  Ants must touch contact insecticides in some manner or they will not be affected by the material.  Properly chosen and placed ant baits will, in most cases) affect the entire ant colony.  The bait is picked up a small portion of the colony but shared with the majority of the colony. 
  • Ant baits contain minute amounts of insecticide or killing agent.  This poses far less possible hazards to children, pets and the environment than contact insecticides.  Many people are tentative about placing insect baits in or around their home.  It should be noted that when baits are used according to directions, they are safe to use in homes and sensitive areas designated by the label instructions.  Ant baits contain such small amounts of insecticides that they do not immediately kill the foraging ants that gather the bait material!

If the ants that have invaded your home or business can be controlled with a bait, it is very important to do so.  When used properly, ant baits put the work load on the foraging worker ants instead of on you!  Professional ant baits are designed to be attractive to the foraging workers.  These workers carry the material back to the colony where it is first fed to larvae in the colony nursery.  If the bait is acceptable to the workers and does not alarm the colony by killing larvae too quickly, the bait is passed along to other workers throughout the colony.  In this manner the colony is slowly exterminated from the inside out.
We have seen ant baits fail in cases where there are just too many ants in the vicinity around the infested home.  Argentine Ants are an example of ant species that can pose this type of problem.  The ants readily accept the bait - but there is just not enough bait to kill all of the ants that continuously invade the property from other areas.  If you bait constantly for long periods yet you cannot get the control you desire, there is a good chance that you will need to at least spray the lawn around the home and the exterior surfaces of the building to solve the ant control problem.

Pest Control    Pests    Pesticides    Ant Baits    Ant Index    Ant Control Problems