The first thing I would do would be to make a good inspection of the outside of your house and then use caulk or sealant to seal any cracks or small openings that might serve as entrance points. That and being meticulous about not leaving any food out (including dog and cat food) should go a long way to keeping your house ant-free.
Great points by @Douglas Hunt to which I can only add - look for and fix any water leaks
You need to practice what is called Integrated pest management. This is the methods they now teach pest control professionals as part of the pest removal process.
In the world of ants you need to know their likes and dislikes. Once you know you create an environment that they do not like. The result is less to no ants.
Moisture control is right on as your first defense against any bug.
Nesting is another thing that needs to be addressed. Piles of wood, places to hide can harbor large insect populations. Ants will travel several hundred feet for food foraging. So check trees that surround your yard and your neighbors should you live close together. Rotted limbs, or stumps are excellent living quarters for carpenter ants. Using bait in those areas is ideal if you cannot cut and remove the rotted tree parts.
Keeping bushes trimmed so you can walk between them and the house is important. Direct contact with the house can allow ants to bypass any treatments should you apply them to the foundation.
Remember, these critters and bugs have been around for hundreds of years. Your not going to remove them completely but creating an environment that they do not like will send them packing somewhere else.
Once you have successfully created a place that the bugs do not like, treatments are you next option. And if you did your job correctly you will minimize the amount of chemicals that you need to apply.
Sprinkle borax around cracks/door/window openings where they might be coming in. It kills them almost as soon at they crawl across it. Borax is also very effective against earwigs too. I mix hot water and borax, put it in a spray bottle and use this to wipe down my kitchen counters, microwave, stove etc. Ants (and earwigs) do not come in there anymore! If you add a few drops of liquid dish soap to the borax water, it makes the best no-streak window/glass/chrome cleaner you'll ever use. Far superior to anything store bought. ;)
I generously sprinkle 20 Mule Team Borax found in the laundry aisle for the outside of our camper and it works great. I have also used it around the house in the nooks and crannys however I have not had the best luck in the house with it for some reason so I bought a gallon (sprayer attached) of Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer. I spray this around the outside perimeter 2x a year and around all the interior baseboards, the counter/wall edges and on the inside of the cupboards in the very back.
I have had horrific ant problems since we bought our house even in winter.. the Ortho has been the best thing for the problem.. good luck!
I actually have more of a problem with ants in the winter and just discovered that peppermint oil worked well in the house as a natural deterrent, and ended up writing a blog post about some other natural remedies I came across when I was doing some research on it - http://www.themakeyourownzone.com/2013/02/5-natural-ways-to-get-rid-of-ants-in-the-house.html I've only tried the peppermint oil, but others have had some success with natural things like cinnamon or pepper.
I had a horrific ant problem inside my house last year. Little black ones who didn't seem to be going for any kind of food, but just swarming around my countertop and eventually in our big lvrm window. I fed them a bottle of Terro and they just kept coming and feasting. I used my "green" kitchen cleaner which has thyme in it and killed them upon contact. They just kept coming the rest of the season, but fewer and fewer and Ijust kept spraying. I never saw a single one all winter, unlike past years. I hope I finally killed them off! I used that Ortho spray around the outside where they were coming in and it didn't seem to kill them any better than the cleaner!
I usually spray around the house in Spring with Ortho or other good quality ant specific sprays. Then I use Terro and soak both ends of q-tips and place them in window ledges and along the back of the kitchen counter behind things so they don't show so much. Do the q-tips early enough and I don't see more than a dozen ants all summer, they may have come in on the cat or our clothes. One or 2 summers over the years I have had to replace the q-tips. But I think they really do their job.. Terro seems to last a long time.
I to use Bar Tender cleanser and found that it cleans almost anything.
There are many simple, natural and inexpensive methods that canbe employed to get rid of small ants in our home. Putting cinnamonsticks or garlic at the entrance of ants like window tracks, by doors and atthe corners of home. Sprayingvinegar and sprinkling of black pepperon ants. Mint destroys the smelling capabilities of ants and prevents them fromentering your home.
A pest control person said that the first ants you see are the "scouts". Get them and the others do not follow. We use any cleaning spray on them. We actually take all the stuff off the kitchen counters and spray them. It is not toxic to any humans or pets. Windex is great for this. And it can be sprayed on window seals, etc. We stop them when they start and do not have any more trouble.
Bay Leaves. Put in cabinets, on window sills, even on your counter top. A completely 'natural' no-pesticide solution.
Sorry about that mistake. Someone was talking about Bartenders friend cleanser and I just wanted to say that it is great.
Have ant nests in yard.Think I'll try the Borax this year and see if it works.Have one right in middle of plant of plant almost covers half of it.
Be careful putting borax in and around your plants Gerri, they do not like the borax either!
lots of great ideas to keep the ants away, but remember if you deter them from one area where you see them, they move to somewhere else where you may not. You need to find the next source and treat that and then create an area in which the ants will not want attract them.
Thanks Amy was wondering about that. Have tried pouring hot water on nests (not their though). Have found they do move little closer to house that I don't want them to do. Might be good to put borax around house first. Thanks all.
Borax kills the ants, so they will not return Woodbridge Environmental ;)
I haven't tried the boiling water trick Gerri, but it no doubt would kill the nest if you used enough hot water! Ant nests can go quite deep (10' or more), and unless you kill the queen, the nest will survive, so you'd need a lot of boiling water. Around plants I would suggest mixing borax and sugar, put it in a shallow container (that the ants can get into) and set that out near any plants the ants or bothering. The ants will come for the sugar and take the borax back to their nests. You'll have to replace the borax/sugar bait frequently however, as the sugar will absorb any moisture in the air and turn the whole mess into a solid lump! But it is a better alternative to killing your plants ;)
Best method is using bait. They bring it back to the nest where the queen has at it. Once she is dead, the nest fails quickly. Borax does kill the ants but it is not carried back to the nest, they die before they get that far.
However one should always deter the ants by making the environment less friendly for them by keeping plants cut back from home, lots of air movement, Ground covers that do not hold to much moisture such as stones. Keeping mulch away from foundation and using stone as the barrier between mulch and foundations. Keeping gutters clean and wood piles off of the ground and away from the house.
Yes, that's why you add the sugar Woodbridge ;)
I have used dried bay leaves an a good cleaning - they work for several "critters".
Borax, sugar and water. Mix in a Mason jar and add cotton balls. See ants? Pop one or two along their pathway. First you'll see an army of ants...don't worry. In a day they will have taken the bait back to their nest and killed all of them.