How to Get Rid of Fire Ants

Closeup of a worker fire ant, which looks ferocious.

To get rid of fire ants, you need boiling water. And sometimes even that’s not enough to force these biting ants from your yard and home. Follow these simple methods to get rid of fire ants simply and effectively, indoors and out. 

What are fire ants?

Fire ants are nuisance pests that feed on almost any plant or animal material, can cause people to suffer painful reactions (including instances of anaphylactic shock), and can cost you thousands of dollars if they get into your electrical system. Fire ants attack in both rural and urban areas and may return to a site repeatedly. When you see them, you want to take action, and we’ll show you several ways to get rid of fire ants.

Let’s get started… 

Fire ant mound
Photo Credit: Insects Unlocked / Flickr / Public Domain

How to identify fire ants? If you see a mound of soil, particularly a few days after a heavy rain, and that mound has no opening in the center (unlike other ants, fire ants leave and enter the mound through underground tunnels), you should check it out. You might have a fire ant infestation.

The method for checking out a mound for fire ants is simple: Kick it. Be sure to wear heavy boots; fire ants can get inside tennis shoes. Once you kick it, if there are fire ants, they will come scurrying out. A lot of them. 

How to Get Rid of a Small Fire Ant Infestation

If you have only one or two anthills, you can go after them quickly and simply. Pouring boiling water over an individual fire ant mound can be effective. This natural treatment works best when ant activity is near the mound’s surface, so do it in the early morning. 

Warning: Hot water is effective on only 60% of the fire ant mounds treated, and the survivors will simply relocate and create new mounds. As few as six imported worker ants can start a new colony several hundred feet away from the original site overnight. 

How to Get Rid of a Large Fire Ant Infestation

Photo Credit: Marufish / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

If you have several fire ant mounds in your yard, use fire ant bait, specifically the “Two-Step Method,” to get rid of these biting pests. The “Two-Step Method” is the experts’ choice for taking action against medium or large areas with fire ant infestation. Turn to this once you have five or more fire ant mounds in each quarter-acre.

  • Step One: Using a spreader, distribute a fire ant bait that combines soybean oil, something tasty, with insecticide. The worker ants take the granules of fire ant bait back to the colony, where it is shared by the queen. The queen will die or become infertile. Fire ant baits are slow-acting, requiring weeks or months to work, but are 90% effective.
  • Step Two: For the big job’s smaller sections, such as those near the house or in high traffic areas, attack any fire ant mounds directly with insecticide dust, granular insecticide, or liquid mound drenches. For a small area, such as a single mound, pouring on boiling water can be effective.

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Around the Home

Fire ants constantly forage for food and moisture, and that foraging can bring them into your home and the area around it, especially a garden. 

These are the common conditions that attract fire ants: 

  • Keep your kitchen clean. Clean up food and drink spills, and store food in tightly sealed containers. Kitchen waste will attract foraging fire ants, so keep trash cans away from the house.
  • Seal entryways. Poorly sealed windows, cracks and crevices, gaps under walls, and holes for wiring and plumbing can be points of entry. Fill in these gaps to prevent fire ants from entering.
  • Repair any plumbing leaks. Fire ants need moisture. Make it a point to stop any leaks on the inside of your home, especially if they are found in the walls. Make sure exterior faucets do not drip. Make sure your roof drains properly.
  • Check plants you bring inside. Plants can bring in many types of unwanted critters. If you move plants into the house, be careful the pots that hold the plants haven’t become homes for fire ant colonies.
  • Inspect toys and other objects. Plastic objects, including those cute toys that kids like, will have cavities, and those cavities can become hiding places for fire ants. Look over any object before bringing it inside.
  • Take care with pet food. Ants love to feast on Fido’s and Fluffy’s food. What to do? Feed your pets away from the house if you can, clean up uneaten food, and store it in tightly sealed containers.
  • Keep mulch away from your home. Use a crushed stone barrier against the house instead. Mulch is attractive to fire ants because it is moist and goes undisturbed for long periods. The deeper the mulch, the more likely there is a colony. Some say cedar mulch repels fire ants, but that isn’t proven.

If your home no longer provides these favorable conditions, fire ants are likely to march into someone else’s home. 

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Inside Your Home

During the hot, dry, summer months, fire ant colonies may close in on homes and buildings to forage food and water. Entire fire ant colonies can nest in wall voids or behind large appliances. Fire ants are a threat to pets and sleeping or bed-ridden family members.

You can use an insecticide, but make sure it’s labeled for use indoors and is registered to control fire ants. 

Sometimes worker ants may lead you to the indoor colony. If so, treat the fire ant nest with contact insecticide sprays or dusts containing bendiocarb, chlorpyrifos, and pyrethroids.

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants in the Garden

Fire ants in the garden are one more pest that will sting your hand when pulling weeds. If that happens, you can take action:

  • Shovel fire ant mounds out of the garden.
  • Pour boiling water over individual mounds. Make sure no hot water comes in contact with your plants.
  • Apply a contact insecticide. Use a contact insecticide, but one registered for the garden; it may come in contact with vegetables you’ll soon have for your salad. These products come in different forms, including granules, dusts, powders and liquids. Natural pyrethrins or synthetic pyrethroid ingredients kill ants in minutes, acephate and carbaryl take a day or so, and granular fipronil may take 4-6 weeks.
  • Use fire ant baits. While you can’t apply fire ant bait inside the garden, you can use the granules, dusts, powders or liquids outside the perimeter of the garden. Foraging worker ants will collect the bait and take it back to their colony and the queen. Place the fire ant bait in areas that don’t attract children or pets.
  • Organic options to get rid of fire ants. You can use organic products that contain ingredients such as boric acid or diatomaceous earth. While these kill some ants, they do not eliminate a colony.

    Citrus oil contains a natural extract of citrus peels (d-limonene) that is toxic to fire ants and can be used to drench mounds. People prefer the smell to other options, but the Texas A&M Extension finds “little or no lasting effect.”

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Near Water

Fire ants need water to survive, so you may often find them near streams, rivers, ponds, or other bodies of water.

When treating these fire ant mounds, avoid contaminating the water with insecticides.

  • Never apply the insecticide directly into the water. Apply fire ant bait in areas on land where worker ants forage.
  • Avoid using the treatment on streamlines. Runoff may cause the pesticide to enter the water.
  • Don’t apply insecticides if rain is forecast. Again, runoff may carry the insecticides into the water.
  • Use products that aren’t as toxic to fish, such as acephate (Orthene), pyrethrins, and rotenone products are highly toxic to fish and should not be used near water.

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants in Your Neighborhood

If your neighborhood is also home to fire ant mounds, you may want to coordinate a treatment plan with your community. Reach out to your homeowners association or county government to put in place a collective treatment plan.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

It’s never too soon to call a pest control professional to treat fire ants, especially if the fire ants have made it inside your home. A professional exterminator can help execute control methods or put into practice preventative measures. Here are two reasons why it may be a good investment to let the pros take the lead:

  • Fire ants often infest electrical equipment, chewing on insulation and causing short circuits or other mechanical problems. Never treat your electrical equipment for fire ants; you may suffer from electrical shock or cause further damage. Only a trained electrician or pest control professional should handle fire ants near electrical equipment.
  • Some insecticides are for commercial use only, and the professionals have the training to use them safely.

How to Prevent Fire Ants

Fire ant prevention is cheaper, easier, and less time-consuming than most extermination methods. Here are three tips to prevent fire ants in your home or yard:

  • Establish a Protective Barrier: Some insecticides can be used around your home’s outdoor perimeter to create a protective barrier that keeps fire ants outside.
  • Caulk any Openings: Prevent fire ants from sneaking in through cracks and crevices by caulking any small openings.
  • Apply Insecticides Regularly: Ant populations can return with full force within one year of the last fire ant bait treatment, so applying fire ant bait-formulated insecticides once or twice per year to the entire yard goes a long way to prevent fire ant infestations.
Photo Credit: Pexels

Fire Ant Facts

Where Did Fire Ants Come From?

The red imported fire ant (RIFA) is an invasive ant species that is believed to have come to the U.S. from South America in the early part of the 20th century, probably in the ballast of cargo ships.

These invasive pests have made their way across the Southern U.S., all the way to California. Fire ants are so aggressive and such a nuisance that the USDA has designated quarantined areas to help with fire ant control.

What Do Fire Ants Look Like?

Who knew fire ants had teeth? Here are a few characteristics of these irritating insects: 

  • A hard exoskeleton
  • Reddish-brown in color
  • 1/16- to 1/5-inches long
  • Three pairs of two legs each
  • Round heads with mandibles
  • An armored thorax midsection
  • An abdomen, called a gaster, with a stinger
  • Large eyes
  • Three teeth on the front of their head except for the southern fire ant, which has two
  • Antennae with 10 segments, ending in a two-segmented club

Why Are They Called Fire Ants?

When they sting, they sting repeatedly, and with each sting inject a venom that causes a burning sensation. The stings can result in itching blisters that can become infected. In sensitive victims, the stings can cause severe and even life-threatening reactions.

FAQ about Fire Ants

Do Fire Ants Do Anything Worthwhile?

Although fire ants do prey on flea larvae, cockroach eggs, ticks, and other pests, the problems they cause outweigh any benefits, especially in urban areas. Entire colonies can nest in walls or rafters, moving into buildings during floods or drought.

Will Dish Soap Kill Fire Ants?

Soap solutions remove the protective coating from the fire ants and suffocate them. But the so-called “Dawn Method” isn’t as effective on fire ants as with pests like aphids.

The best method of fire ant control is to kill the queen. A soapy solution will not kill the whole colony, but may just drive the colony to another part of your yard.

Are Home Remedies Safe to Use on Fire Ants?

Home remedies are often perceived as being safe, but gasoline or diesel oil, chlorine bleach, ammonia, drain cleaners, salt, and acids are dangerous to pets, children, plants and livestock.

Runoff from these products also can contaminate water. It is illegal to use any of these substances, including bleach, to control pests.

What To Do if You Are Bitten by Fire Ants

Fire ant bites will often heal on their own. But if itching or swelling occurs, try the following remedies:

Apply a cold compress on the affected area (15 minutes on, 15 minutes off).

Raise the part of the body where the fire ant bit you to reduce swelling.

Use hydrocortisone cream or an antihistamine to relieve pain and itching.

See a doctor right away if fire ant bites trigger symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, slurred speech, hives, diarrhea, swelling in tongue or throat, or dizziness.

DIY or Hire a Pro to Get Rid of Fire Ants 

Fire ants are difficult to control and can spread quickly, so if you see them, take action right away. Find the nest and kill the colony, and be willing to call in a pest control professional. Fire ant control can be a never-ending battle, but by taking action, you can keep these pests from taking over.

Main Image Credit: Stockvault

Jane Purnell

Having lived in the rural countryside and bustling city, Jane Purnell is familiar with a wide variety of critters sneaking into the home, including mice, spiders, cockroaches, snakes, and stink bugs. She practices a proactive approach (Integrated Pest Management) to keep pests out of her home.