Small Red Ants in Your Kitchen – Exactly What to Do

Why are there red ants in my kitchen? This is a question that afflicts most home owners at one time or another. Often times, their level of discomfort compounds with the degree of the infestation, as well as the specific species of ants that are parading over their kitchen floor and surfaces.

Most homeowners equate small red ants in the kitchen with an infestation of “fire ants”. That in turn refer to ants that are red, very small (less than inch in length) and could be very unwelcome guests whose stings hurt a great deal.

Should I be Worried?!

The answer to this question will range from “Of Course” to “It all Depends”. If you wake up one morning and find a row of a hundred ants going in a steady stream back and forth across your kitchen floor, you should definitely worry. Ants can pose a host of problems, the least of which is the painful bite of certain species. They can carry diseases with their feet, depositing harmful and rotting substances based on where they have been. Certain species can tunnel into walls and cavities, undermining the foundation.

What Species are Red Ants?

Ants that appear red can vary across a number of common species found in US households:

1. Fire Ants: These are the classic “small” ants, between 1/8 inches and inch, that people are concerned about. They have a nasty sting and are known to be aggressive if they find a source of food. Fire ants build nests without leaving an opening in the soil, they burrow underground to expand their habitat. It is more normal for fire ants to be coming in from outside the house, but there will occasionally be fire ant infestations in the kitchen. If so, watch out and try to remedy as soon as possible. Fire ants are common in tropical climates such as Florida, Texas, California and Hawaii.

2. Argentine Ants: Argentine Ants are as red as fire ants body wise, but they tend to be smaller (1/8 inches) and have black abdomens. They can build nests under leaves, stones or woods, so it’s not uncommon to find them indoors. They like sugary substances and protein, so will be attracted to your kitchen.

3. Crazy Ants: The crazy ants likely to show up in your kitchen are the Caribbean Crazy Ants, which tend to be more towards golden than bright red, but they are certainly easily spotted even at 1/8 inches long. They eat a variety of food and are common in Southern States such as Texas and Florida.

4. Pharaoh Ants: These ants are really tiny, less than a tenth of an inch long – therefore much smaller than fire ants. They are reddish brown with a black abdomen. They are known for being omnivores feasting on sugars, dead insects, fats and rotting matter.

5. Pavement Ants: Pavement ants are not really red but tend to be dark brown. They tend to infest the kitchen at times, especially if they find a source of proteins and fats.

6. Pyramid Ants: These ants have a varied diet that includes fats and oils. They have a red head and thorax, but a black abdomen, and are about 1/8 of an inch in size. They typically build nests outdoors in the sunshine, unobstructed by debris. It’s unusual to find them indoors, unless there is an easy entry and exit route from the kitchen.

7. Odorous Ants: These ants, which also tend to favor sugars and dead insects, are smaller and darker than fire ants. The easiest way to tell them apart, of course, is when you crush them – they stink of rotten coconuts.

Which Types of Red Ants are Likely to be in My Kitchen?

As mentioned above, it is less likely to find fire ants in the kitchen. If you do have them, you will know it since they will sting, and it will hurt. You are more likely to find Argentine, Pharaoh, Pavement or Odorous Ants in the house and therefore the kitchen, along with other (not red) ants such as Carpenter Ants.

What in my Kitchen Attracts Small Red Ants?

There are three main reasons that ants are attracted to kitchens – food, shelter and moisture (aka water). Let’s take these one at a time.

1. Food: Ants are not picky eaters. All of the species mentioned above love certain basic food groups, including but not limited to sugars, fats, proteins and dead or decaying organic matter. A human kitchen, especially if it has food stuff left out willy nilly, is an ideal habitat for finding such titbits.

2. Moisture: Ants not only like fresh water, they require very little of it given the size of their bodies. A wet paper towel left out can seem like a freshwater lake to an ant colony, and kitchens tend to have pools of moisture available. Leaky pipes and backs of appliances or sinks are other spots where such moisture could be available.

3. Shelter: Ants are always looking to nest away from the scrutiny of adversaries. While many of the species mentioned above are outdoor dwellers (e.g. fire ants and pyramid ants), they will not hesitate to come indoors during harsh winters or monsoons. In this regard, it would be bad to have cracks in the walls or other niches where such pests could nest away from plain view.

What can I do to Keep Small Red Ants out of my Kitchen?

There are a number of things that can be done to keep small red ants of the kitchen. The first steps have to do with prevention. Keep all common areas clean of food – which includes fresh and rotten foods, especially sugars, lard, starch and protein. Clean out garbage bins and pet food dishes. Clean behind appliances, on stovetops and pantry shelves.

Make sure that there are no open cracks in walls or any way into the refrigerator. Make sure that there are no direct ways for ants to come in from outdoors, or through windows or frame doors. If any routes are visible, tackle them immediately as mentioned in the next section.

There are a number of DIY remedies that can be adopted to rid your house of ants, but before that, one of the things that should be done is to regularly wipe of surfaces, counters, stove tops and other areas with either water and vinegar or plain soap water. They both work on ants in varying degrees, based on the circumstances – but they will at least repel the pests.

Are there DIY Hacks I can do to Keep Small Red Ants Out?

There are a large number of DIY remedies that are available to rid your kitchen of small red ants, before you take more extreme measures. The ones we advocate would be least invasive in terms of harmful side effects on your family and pets – though many of them should not be left out to be ingested by cats. The last one mentioned is in fact toxic to humans and pets, so due care should be exercised. Here are some common household remedies:

1. Soap Water: Soap Water will kill ants if poured directly on them, since it impedes their ability to breathe through their skin. However, it won’t have an impact on stopping an infestation since nothing happens to the nest.

2. Hot Water Poured into the Nest: This works if you can locate the nest and can flood it with boiling water. This will likely get rid of the whole lot, but this only works if you can locate the nest and its possible to pour water into it (for example, this will be hard to do if ants are nesting in your walls).

3. Coffee Grinds: Putting a wall of coffee grinds in and around ant nests and around ant routes will stop ants cold in their tracks.

4. Regular Wipe Downs with Vinegar Water: The smell and acidity of vinegar will both repel ants and kill them even when it dries up – the acid content eats up their insides.

5. Essential Oils: A number of essential oils, including but not limited to clove oil, eucalyptus oil, lemon or other citrus oils and cinnamon oil contain deadly toxins, for ants, such as d-limonene, linalool and geraniol. Another very strong toxin is tea tree oil. These can be mixed with peppermint oil or lavender oil to wipe down backboards, window sills and doorjambs to slow down ant infestations. Ants will carry the poisons back with them to the nest, solving the problem permanently.

6. Boric Acid with Sugar: A number of ants that thrive on sugar can be attracted into traps by mixing boric acid – an extremely powerful, though slow acting, toxin – with a sugary bait. While it may take a few days or weeks, the ants carry the boric acid back to their nests, where other ants also ingest it and eventually perish.

In Conclusion – Should I Call a Professional?

If you cannot slow down the infestation by any other means, consider calling in a professional. They may employ some of the same DIY remedies that were mentioned above, especially the ones involving boric acid with a food bait, but they may also employ some strong chemical insecticides. Be that as it may, having an ant infestation in your kitchen can range from annoying to severely harmful – so you need to do whatever it takes, within reason, to remedy the situation.

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