Why do ants keep coming back after I clean?

It can be incredibly frustrating when ants continue to invade your home, no matter how much you clean. You spend hours wiping down counters, vacuuming floors, and eliminating any crumb or spill, only to spot those tiny black insects marching through your kitchen the very next day. Why do ants keep coming back, and what can you do to get rid of them for good?

Why Ants Are So Persistent

Ants are persistent little creatures for a few key reasons:

  • They are always searching for food. Ants need a steady supply of food to bring back to their colonies. Even if you clean up thoroughly, they will return to foraging spots.
  • They follow scent trails. Foraging ants leave behind pheromone trails that lead other ants to food. Even after you clean, residual scents can draw ants back.
  • They are resilient. Ant colonies contain hundreds to thousands of ants. No matter how many you eliminate, more will come to take their place.
  • They search far and wide. Some ant species have expansive foraging territories covering upwards of 100 yards from their nest.
  • New ants move in. If you have ants in your neighborhood, new colonies can move into your home after others are eliminated.

With ants’ small size, resourcefulness, and resilience, it’s no wonder they so easily find their way back inside, even after you’ve given your home a thorough cleaning.

Why Do Ants Come Into Homes in the First Place?

Understanding why ants enter homes gives clues on how to keep them out:

  • In search of food – Ants need carbohydrates and protein. They are attracted by sugary foods, greasy spills, crumbs, and other leftovers.
  • Looking for water – Ants require water to survive. During hot, dry weather they may enter homes searching for water sources.
  • Seeking shelter – Ant colonies need protected spaces to build their nests. Cracks in foundations or openings around pipes provide entry points.
  • Drawn by pheromones – Foraging scout ants leave behind pheromone trails for others to follow. Once inside, trails can persist.
  • Infestations in nearby nests – Outdoor ant nests close to your home act as a reservoir, allowing ants to rapidly move inside.

Targeting these reasons ants enter in the first place is key to preventing future infestations.

Steps for Keeping Ants Away After Cleaning

Stopping ants from returning after eliminating them requires diligence across multiple fronts:

  1. Remove food sources – Store all food in sealed containers. Clean up spills right away. Remove pet food when pets are finished.
  2. Eliminate water sources – Fix any leaks. Empty excess water from houseplants. Ensure drains have no standing water.
  3. Seal cracks and crevices – Caulk or seal openings around windows, doors, pipes, vents, wiring, and foundations.
  4. Clear debris and clutter – Keep counters and floors free of crumbs and dirt. Move debris away from foundation.
  5. Disinfect trails – Wash countertops, cabinets, and floors with soap and water to remove pheromone trails.
  6. Use natural repellents – Place mint, citrus peels, coffee grounds, vinegar, or cinnamon along ant pathways.
  7. Set out ant baits – Use slow-acting baits containing borax or insect growth regulator.
  8. Apply outdoor treatment – Use a pest control spray or granules around the home’s exterior perimeter.
  9. Call a pest professional – For severe infestations, work with an exterminator to locate and destroy nests.

It takes diligence to keep ants at bay. But sealing up entry points, removing attractants, deploying repellents, and using targeted treatments will discourage ants from marching back in after cleaning.

Common Household Ants and Their Behaviors

Knowing the most common ant species and their behaviors helps inform prevention and removal strategies:

Ant Species Appearance Behaviors
Argentine Ants Light brown; 1/8 inch long Seeks sugary foods; forms extensive colonies; invades structures
Odorous House Ants Brown or black; 1/8 inch long Look for proteins; rotten odor when crushed; nest outdoors and indoors
Pavement Ants Black or brown; 1/8 inch long Forage indoors for sugars; nest outdoors in soil near foundations
Pharaoh Ants Yellow or light brown; 1/16 inch long Seek sugars and proteins; nests indoors in warm locations
Carpenter Ants Black; 1/4 – 1/2 inch long Tunnel into wood to nest; forage in structures for sugary foods
Fire Ants Red and black; 1/8 – 1/4 inch long Aggressive stingers; nest in mounds outdoors; attracted to electrical equipment

Identifying the ant allows you to track them back to their nesting site, seal up entry points, and deploy targeted baits and treatments.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

In some cases, professional help may be needed to entirely rid your home of ants:

  • You are unable to locate or eliminate indoor nesting sites.
  • Ants continue returning despite thorough cleaning and prevention efforts.
  • You have an extensive infestation inside walls, under floors or in basements.
  • Carpenter ants are damaging the home’s wood structure.
  • You have severe ants such as fire ants.
  • Members of the household have allergies or are at risk of anaphylaxis from ant stings.
  • You simply want the issue taken care of without handling it yourself.

Exterminators have specialized training and equipment. They can prescribe commercial-grade insecticides, track ants to nesting locations, and implement solutions to permanently exclude ants and prevent future invasions.

DIY Tips for Controlling Household Ants

When tackling a minor ant problem yourself, these tips can help:

  • Mix equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar. Place it along ant trails or entry points.
  • Wipe counters and floors with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution.
  • Squeeze lemon juice, sprinkle chili powder, or spray vinegar where you see ants.
  • Place peeled cucumbers, citrus peels, bay leaves, coffee grounds, or cinnamon sticks where ants enter.
  • Dab a cotton swab in essential oils like peppermint, tea tree, or eucalyptus and place along ant walkways.
  • Set out ant gel baits or liquid ant baits near nests or entry points.

Focus DIY treatments along baseboards, under appliances, around pipes, and other areas where ants tend to travel. Natural remedies may provide temporary relief but commercial baits and insecticides offer longer-lasting control.

Preventive Steps to Keep Ants Away

Stop ants before they get in by taking these preventive measures:

  • Vacuum interior floors and surfaces frequently to remove crumbs and debris.
  • Clean up kitchen spills, grease, and leftover food immediately.
  • Store food, including pet food, in airtight containers.
  • Inspect under sinks for moisture and leaks and fix any dripping faucets.
  • Remove garbage frequently so it does not accumulate.
  • Seal entry points such as cracks and holes with caulk or weatherstripping.
  • Trim back vegetation and clear debris near the home’s foundation.
  • Apply a repellent insecticide outdoors around windows, doors, and foundation.

Good housekeeping and sealing off access is key to denying ants the food, water, and shelter they seek inside a home. Keeping your house clean is a foundational step in avoiding ant trails marching across your counters.

How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally

Prefer an organic approach? Here are some tips for natural ant control:

  • Borax – Mix powdered borax with sugar water to create homemade baits that worker ants will bring back to the colony, resulting in death days later.
  • Diatomaceous earth – This powder made from crushed fossils dehydrates ants on contact, providing natural pest control when dusted along ant trails.
  • Vinegar – White vinegar wipes out scent trails. Spray it directly on ants or along baseboards to repel them.
  • Lemon juice/peel – Lemons contain citric acid and the peel releases oils that deter ants.
  • Coffee grounds – Used grounds spread around foundations and walkways create a barrier against ants.
  • Crushed pepper/cayenne – Chili powder and crushed red pepper sprinkled around outdoor nests irritates ants and deters entry.

Rotate natural treatments to avoid ants adapting. Focus on blocking points of entry and removing food attractants so ants have no reason to come inside.

When Ant Infestations Warrant Professional Pest Control

In some scenarios, ant problems warrant professional intervention. Seek pest control help for:

  • Large infestations inside walls, under floors, in basements, or other hard-to-reach areas.
  • Ants damaging your home’s structure through nesting activity.
  • Multiple colonies returning despite thorough cleaning and self-treatment efforts.
  • Presence of more dangerous species such as fire ants or carpenter ants.
  • Ants in sensitive locations like hospitals, nursing homes, schools, childcare centers, or commercial kitchens.
  • Individuals highly allergic to ant stings at risk of anaphylaxis.

Licensed professionals have access to potent insecticides and comprehensive treatment options. They can:

  • Prescribe and apply long-lasting chemical treatments outdoors to control large ant populations.
  • Use advanced gel baits that worker ants take back to eliminate the colony at its source.
  • Inject insecticidal dusts into wall voids and cracks and crevices.
  • Track down and directly eliminate indoor nesting sites.
  • Identify hidden entry points and seal them up.
  • Follow up to ensure complete elimination of the infestation.

While not always a necessity, pest control pros provide a fast route to getting rid of ant invasions when DIY efforts fail. Their training, commercial-grade products, and ability to detect nesting sites can rid your home of ants for the long haul.


Ants are incredibly persistent, which is why they continue pouring back into homes even after diligent cleaning. Getting rid of ants requires removing food sources, sealing up structural cracks, following ants to nests, and deploying targeted treatments. Use natural home remedies for mild cases and contact pest professionals when dealing with severe, embedded ant infestations. With a multi-pronged strategy focused on understanding ant behavior, you can kick ants to the curb once and for all.

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