Home remedies can be tempting if your only focus is quick, cheap pest control. But when fire ants threaten to bite and sting your family and pets, you need fire ant control that actually works. That's a problem if you put your hope in DIY fire ant remedies.
Despite the claims, home remedies aimed at fire ants don't eliminate fire ant colonies. The only way to destroy a fire ant colony is to kill the queen — something only the best fire ant killers do. Fortunately, researchers have exposed the myths around do-it-yourself fire ant treatments. Here's why these common fire ant home remedies don't work:
- Club Soda
- Coffee Grounds
- Instant Grits
- Diatomaceous Earth
- Dish Soap Solutions
- Ground Cinnamon
- Orange Peels
- Mound Mixing
- Gasoline Drenches
- Boiling Water
You may have heard that pouring club soda on fire ant mounds does the trick. The carbon dioxide in club soda supposedly suffocates entire fire ant colonies. But research shows club soda offers zero control for fire ants, mounds or queens1 — even though the bubbles impress. Incidentally, home remedy field tests with molasses, aspartame, baking soda and plaster of Paris yielded the same results.
Gardeners have been keying in on used coffee grounds for everything from garden mulch to compost fuel for several years, so it's not surprising that some people claim the grounds kill fire ants, too. But researchers say otherwise: Sprinkled on the ground like a fire ant mound treatment and tracked for 30 days, coffee grounds did not affect fire ants or fire ant activity.2
The idea behind this alleged remedy is that foraging ants eat grits, which cause their stomachs to swell and rupture. A similar myth mentions Malt-O-Meal. But these stories contradict what we know about how fire ants feed. Foraging fire ants don't eat solid food — neither do their queens. The food they carry back gets processed into nonsolid forms, so there are no exploding ants from grits or Malt-O-Meal.3
Abrasive diatomaceous earth works by damaging an ant's exoskeleton and protective oils, which causes ants to dry out and die. Some fire ant home remedies claim salt does the same. While diatomaceous earth may kill a few ants that fully contact it, the effects won't transfer to the queen.4 Salt doesn't kill fire ant colonies either, but it can harm soil and plants.
Home recipes for soap-based fire ant sprays abound. But homemade soap solutions won't eliminate fire ant mounds. Soap-based insecticides work by disrupting the protective coating on pests they contact. But commercial, EPA-registered insecticidal soap products don't include fire ants on their labels.3 And once soap dries, the product's reach stops. Similarly, homespun vinegar solutions won't kill fire ant colonies, but they will kill grass and plants.
Sprinkling fire ant mounds with ground cinnamon may sound promising. After all, some pest controls contain essential oils from herbs and spices. But with cinnamon and fire ants, that's another story. Applied in the same manner as a fire ant dust and monitored for 30 days, the cinnamon yielded unexpected results: Researchers found more fire ant activity in cinnamon-treated fire ant mounds than untreated mounds.2
Citrus fruits indeed contain substances that can repel certain insects, including fire ants. Some commercial pesticides include citrus-based ingredients that help control more common pests. But citrus peels won't kill fire ant mounds or control or kill fire ant queens. Scattering large quantities of orange or grapefruit peels around fire ant mounds may cause mounds to relocate, but don't expect your fire ants to move far. 4
Some DIY fire ant treatments call for moving or mixing soil from one fire ant mound to another. The goal is for moved fire ants to attack and kill opposing queens. But some fire ant colonies have multiple queens and workers move from mound to mound regularly. Mixing mounds may kill a few ants but not kill the colonies.3 However, there's a good chance disturbed fire ants will leave you with bites and stings.
Using gasoline to kill fire ants is the worst "remedy" in circulation. Never pour gasoline, kerosene or similar flammable substances on fire ant mounds. These dangerous liquids can damage landscapes, kill grasses and plants, harm or kill animals (including pets), contaminate soil and groundwater, and create fire risks. Using gasoline or other hazardous liquids on fire ants also violates environmental protection laws. The same holds true for household liquids such as bleach and ammonia.5
Boiling water is one fire ant home remedy that researchers say can work at times. Pouring 3 gallons of extremely hot water on a fire ant mound kills about 60% of the treated mound.3 Add soap and the success rate can be up to 70%. But researchers advise using caution if choosing this route. Soapy or not, mishandled boiling water can cause severe burns. It also will kill surrounding grass and plants.
When fire ants affect your family, ineffective fire ant home remedies only prolong the problem and waste time, money and hope. Instead, tackle fire ant problems with effective fire ant killers. You can kill fire ants, put an end to colonies and queens, and protect your pets and family against fire ant stings.
1. AgriLife Today, "Club Soda? Maybe Just the Club … Entomologists Bugged By Bad Advice on Fire Ant Control," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
2. Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project, "Entomologist Testing Puts Bite on Many 'Home' Fire Ant Treatments," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
3. W. Brown, "Natural, Organic, and Alternative Methods for Imported Fire Ant Management," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
4. D. Gill, "You Can Control Fire Ants," Louisiana State University Ag Center.
5. Ant Pests, "Are There Any Home Remedies That Will Kill Fire Ants?" Extension Foundation.