Have you ever been laying around your living room with your feet buried in the carpet only to get rudely stung by a carpet ant? You may dismiss the first one as random before it happens again. As you take a closer look, you notice that you don’t just have one or two ants moving in your carpet, but you have dozens all foraging for food right under your feet. Where did they come from?
When you spot only a few ants, this means that there are usually a few hidden, waiting for the ones you do see to bring food back. There is usually a nest of carpet ants somewhere close, and these are scout ants out looking for ways to feed the colony and the queen. It’s usually only the worker carpet ants that leave the colony, so these are the ones you have to target and entice to bring poison back to the colony.
Carpet ants come in several colors, but their larger size makes them easy to tell apart from other ant species that could get into your home. Ant by Sancho McCann / CC BY 2.0
Reasons Why You Have Ants in Your Carpet
Generally speaking, most ants are after the food in your carpet. It’s the small crumbs you accidentally leave behind when you snack in your living room. Ants are very attracted to food and damp places, and this is the two biggest reasons why you’d have carpet ants invading your home.
You have to get crumbs and food scraps off your carpet and the ants won’t have much of a reason to stick around. For each snack you eat, a single crumb could feed an ant for days. The carpet is packed full of these crumbs, and some are very sweet. When the ants locate a reliable food source, they build a nest close by and come back over and over.
The carpet isn’t necessarily the best place for ants to be since it’s out in the open and it’s easier to see them, but the food is more than worth it. The worker ants from the colony will go all over your carpet looking for crumbs. You want to take a hard look at the flooring under your carpet. If it’s wet, damp, or moldy, you’re most likely going to find an ant nest somewhere close by.
However, before you go ripping up your carpet and installing hardwood floors instead, we’re going to give you several methods of getting rid of the carpet ants. Even if you do install hardwood, the ants can get in your house through the cracks if there is food.
Defining Scout Ants
One big sign that the ants are planning to invade is when they send in scout carpet ants. These are small worker ants that have the job of finding food for the colony. When they find it, they go back to the nest and inform them, and then the whole colony moves. If you spot one of these scout ants, it’s time to do something. There are several homemade and chemical-based remedies that you can use to repel the ants and stop them from entering your home. Some of them are non-toxic and safe because they’re made from household items you typically have on hand.
Defining Carpet Ants
Carpet ants got the name due to the fact that they routinely damage the wood that makes up your furniture and home. They won’t eat the wood the way termites do, but they chew it up and excrete it to make pathways for themselves and the colony to follow. If you start seeing smaller piles of particles that look a lot like wood shavings, this is a sign that you have a carpenter ant problem. These piles are called frass. Carpenter ants are usually around ½-inch to ⅝-inches long. They can be all brown, reddish-black, or all black in color.
How to Identify a Carpet Ant Infestation
If you see these ants, there is a decent chance you already have an infestation going or you’re about to have issues with one. Reddish Carpenter Ant – Camponotus castaneus, Mason Neck, Virginia by Judy Gallagher / CC BY 2.0
Once you’ve successfully identified the carpet ant, you should take steps to see if it’s a one-time invader or a whole colony living under your flooring. The early signs that you’re dealing with an ant infestation include:
- You start to see these ants frequently, over a period of a few weeks or days
- Springtime can bring a large number of winged ants into your home, and they leave the colony when it’s time to mate. A few winged carpet ants don’t necessarily indicate that you have an infestation in your walls, but a large number can indicate a problem.
- You can hear the ants inside of the walls, especially during the night. The sound could be a crackling noise, and large numbers of ants cause it by gnawing at the wood.
- You’ll see piles of frass around. Unlike termites, carpet ants won’t actually eat the wood they tunnel into. They have to get rid of these debris by piling it up outside of the tunnels or nest openings.
How Carpet Ants Get Inside a Home
Carpet ants love to be around moldy or wet wood, so if you have a moisture problem in any area of your home, they’ll naturally be attracted to those spots. However, these ants don’t usually get into your home by chewing wood. They can get into your home through any tiny opening or crack, even if it’s high above the ground. They can climb up pipes or wires or use a branch to get there.
Indoors, it’s common to see nests right around water sources. The areas near your dishwasher, air-conditioner, bathtubs, or sinks are all popular places for them to hang out.
Natural Methods to Get Rid of Carpet Ants
Trying natural remedies to get rid of ants is safe and effective. You may want to avoid using chemical-based insecticides that you spray on your carpet because they can hurt both people and pets. The natural products you can use include vinegar, borax, and diatomaceous earth. They come in powder or spray form, and it’ll take roughly a day for your carpet ants to die.
Once you use it, you’ll have a lot of dead ants to vacuum up. What is the best homemade ant killer depends on where the ants are gathering and where they’re coming from. Usually, they scour the carpet for food. A vinegar-based spray will kill any ants left on your carpet, as will the borax and baking soda combination. If you’re interested in natural ways to get rid of the ants, read on.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Apple cider vinegar will allow you to disrupt the ant’s trail to your carpet. Mix one part water and one part vinegar in a spray bottle before applying it.
- Cayenne Pepper and Garlic – Mix three cloves of garlic with two teaspoons of cayenne pepper in a cup of water and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray this mixture on the ant’s nest and wait for it to work.
- Cinnamon – Ants despise cinnamon. You should sprinkle some cinnamon along the edges of your carpet to help disrupt the trail. If the nest is under your carpeting, you should sprinkle it with cinnamon and wait. If the ants don’t leave, you’ll need something stronger. Also, cinnamon is a more preventative measure to stop them from coming in than remedying a situation after they’ve already come in.
- Cucumber – Ants don’t like cucumber either. You can put a few peels but an infested spot in your home to encourage them to leave. It won’t kill them, but they won’t stick around either. This is a good remedy for a small-scale infestation.
- Diatomaceous Earth – This is a dirt mixture that is safe to use around humans and pets, and it’s all-natural. It has tiny shards of glass that cut away at pests that go over it like carpet ants. You can put some on your carpet and let it work. If you’ve found the nest, sprinkle some on to kill both the queen and the worker ants.
- Dish Soap – Dish soap is very good for helping to prevent an infestation in your carpeting. Mix water with ¼ cup of dish soap and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray it generously to disrupt the carpet ant’s trail in your carpet.
- Honey and Borax – Ants will be attracted to this mixture. You add one tablespoon of hot water to a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of Borax. Put the mixture by the nest and wait 2-3 days. The ants will eat it and die.
- Lemon – Ants hate the scent of lemon, and it also breaks up the ant’s trail. Put lemon juice around the entrances of your home to stop them from entering and forming a nest under the carpeting.
- Peppermint Oil – In order to get rid of carpet ants in your home, you can make a peppermint-based spray. Mix one quart of water with three parts peppermint oil and spray it generously. Spray around all of the entrances in your home to act like a deterrent too.
- Powdered Sugar and Baking Soda – You can trick ants into eating this deadly mixture to help clear them out. Mix one part baking soda into one part powdered sugar. Put it in a place where the ants gather and the sugary smell will draw them in. The baking soda will kill them when they eat it.
You can try natural ant killer first, but more severe infestations will most likely require professional intervention with chemical-based products. Ant Bait by Vilseskogen / CC BY-NC 2.0
Professional-Grade Carpet Ant Control
If you’ve tried natural remedies and you still see more and more ant trails through your carpet, it may be time to go the professional-grade or chemical-based route. This is the best way to get rid of a severe infestation. A professional exterminator will find the source of your infestation and treat it. One reason why the natural methods may not work well for carpet ants is because you’re killing individual ants instead of the whole colony. When you kill scouts or worker ants, the colony will just send more.
Professional exterminators will find the cause of your carpet ant infestation and where the ants are getting in at. Then, they’ll work on treating the ant infestation using chemicals and bait. If they need chemicals, they may not be safe for humans or animals to be around. Make sure to ask how long the chemicals are toxic. In a severe situation, you may need to temporarily relocate until they’re gone.
While you wait for the exterminator to come, you can take a few steps to get your house ready for the pest control company. This will make it easier for them to find and get rid of the carpet ants. You’ll want to:
- Clean your dishes
- Put pet food away in containers
- Show and explain the ant activity to the person
- Store food in closed containers
- Sweep your floors
- Vacuum any rugs
- Wash your recyclables before you toss them in the bin
- Wipe down surfaces
After the Exterminator Comes In
After the exterminator has come and gone, there are a few common things you’ll want to do to ensure that the whole colony dies. These things include but are not limited to:
- Don’t disturb any ants you catch leaving the bait station. They’re bringing the poisoned food back to the colony.
- Don’t use any strong cleaners by your bain station as it can easily disrupt or destroy the pheromone trail from the bait station to the nest.
- Don’t kill any ants you see while you’re waiting for the bait. They need to take the poison to the queen to destroy the whole nest, so be patient.
Using Ant Bait
Creating a bait station inside of your home allows the ants to snag the bait and take it back to the nest so the queen eats it and dies. This will kill the rest of the colony. The colony won’t survive without the queen. Put your bait stations around the carpet to attract the ants. If you’ve found the nest, which can easily be hidden under your carpet, put the bait station right next to it to get rid of the colony. You can buy bait traps at your local home improvement store or online. The purpose of this trap is to get rid of the colony.
Using Ant Carpet Powder
The bait should kill the majority of the ants. However, there will be a few stragglers left. Using a powder insecticide will help get rid of these ants. Mix one part borax with one part baking soda and sprinkle it over your carpet. Leave it to sit for a few hours before vacuuming it up. You can repeat it if you still see ants.
How to Stop Carpet Ants from Coming in the House
Ants are a very common pest, and you don’t want them to get into your house. To start, make a practice of keeping the house clean. Ants will appear wherever you have food. So, if the counters or surfaces have crumbs galore, it increases your chances of having issues with an ant infestation.
Clean up any dirty dishes and don’t allow them to sit in the sink overnight. Vacuum and sweep a few times a week, and keep the house clean overall to make it look less pleasing for ants to move in. It’s also recommended that you place your food into a sealed container and seal any cracks you see around the entrances of your home, including doorways and windows. If you suspect ant activity, set up bait stations to catch them right away.
For the exterior of your home, you want to control any ant colonies that surround the space. Talk a short walk around your property and look for mounds in the grass or dirt. You should sprinkle insecticide powder on them to wipe them out, and put a bait station right next to each mound you find.
Large mounds are one sign that there is a lot of ant activity in a space. The ants carry the dirt out as they tunnel to create these large mounds. Ant Mound by Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0
Consider doing some home repairs too. Carpet ants are a decently avoidable problem if you do regular maintenance on your home and take notice of any signs of an ant infestation. Pay attention to areas like the bathroom walls where grout is missing or any spots where the plumbing leaks. These are ant magnets.
Carpet ants need a pheromone trail to travel and try and find food sources, so you want to destroy these trails. By cleaning surfaces where the ants have traveled on, you’ve gotten rid of this trail for any following ants. You can use a range of essential oils like lemon, tea tree, cedarwood, or orange on a cotton ball to wipe down surfaces. You can also make a solution using two parts dish soap and one part water. Pour it into a spray bottle and spritz your surfaces. It’s also possible to mix one part vinegar with one part water.
You should look for the nest. Once you locate it by following the carpet ants back to it or seeing frass, you need to get to it and destroy it. Professional pest control companies recommend that you drill ⅛-inch holes every six inches in the area where you think the nest is hidden. Then, get a bulb duster and use it to push boric acid into the holes to kill any ants around it. You may have to repeat this process several times to kill all of the ants in the colony.
You need to get rid of the colonies as soon as you can or they’ll find a way to slip into your home. It’s also highly recommended that you spray an ant barrier all around your home. Powdered insecticide will create a barrier around the property’s perimeter too. This will cause any scout ants from coming closer to your home, and they’ll move on.
Replace Any Decaying, Wet Wood
Carpet ants won’t attack solid wood that still has good structural integrity. So, one way of finding them and getting rid of them is to find and replace any damaged, decaying, or wet wood where the ants tunnel. If there is a colony inside the walls of your home, this will mean getting down to the framing and exposing it before doing the work necessary to replace it. If you have areas where pipes or plumbing run in your walls, you’ll want to take a close look here too. They commonly build up condensation moisture from the cold water, and this can cause damage to the wood.
Fixing it can involve getting a professional contractor involved, and it can be a huge undertaking if you have extensive water damage. It involves stripping away the interior wall surfaces or your siding to get to the framing. You’ll replace any damaged framing portions of the wall to get structurally sound wood that the carpet ants avoid.
Also, be aware that unless you fix the problem with the moisture that is causing the damage, the carpet ants will return as soon as new moisture damage sets in. If the damage is to load-bearing walls, this can be a huge and expensive problem to fix. If the colony is outside in a stump, tree, or a woodpile outside of the house but close to it, getting rid of the wood source will deter any stray ants from coming closer to the home.
You now know several natural and chemical-based ways to get rid of carpet ants. If you have an infestation, you can try the various methods we listed above to see which ones work for you. For a more severe issue, you may have to bring in the professionals to have them handle it for you. Either way, you’ll take your house back and have a pest-free zone to enjoy all year-round.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.