How To Use Vinegar To Repel Ants (And Why It Works)

Close up red ant on green leaf in nature

Finding a trail of tiny ants inside your home is enough to make you cringe. These tiny insects pop up out of nowhere and congregate in the most inconvenient places. In good news, did you know you can use vinegar to repel ants?

Ants have a powerful sense of smell which they use to find food and follow other ants. Vinegar works to block scents that ants are attracted to and overwhelm their senses. You can use vinegar in a spray mixed with water or soak it in cotton balls and place in areas where you need to repel ants.

Read on to discover all the ways to use vinegar to repel ants, and why this magical household item can be a good deterrent for these troublesome ant invaders!

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Is Vinegar A Good Ant Repellent?

Vinegar has been shown to repel ants and eliminate the chemical trails left behind by other ants. The reason vinegar is so good at repelling ants is the strong, acidic smell of vinegar. It overwhelms their sense of smell, which confuses the ant and causes it to leave the area.

Ants depend on their sense of smell to survive. They use it to find food, and if they can’t find food, they can’t survive. Vinegar appeals to an ant’s sense of survival, making it think twice before crawling over or around areas that have been treated with vinegar.

So, we’ve been talking about these chemical trails. What exactly are these? 

When scout ants enter your home looking for food, they wander around randomly until they run into something tasty. Once they do, they grab the food and head back to the colony, which is normally located outside.

On their way back home, scout ants will leave a chemical trail behind them that helps other worker ants find the food source.

From there, ants can ruin your lawn, let alone make their way back into your house!

According to Penn State University, vinegar can be used to eliminate these chemical trails. This makes it hard for ants to find that food source, and they eventually return to the colony until another chemical trail can be followed.

Note: vinegar alone will not eliminate your ant problem. It must be paired with other management strategies like sanitation practices and finding/sealing entry points.

How To Use Vinegar To Repel Ants

Macro red ant on green leaves

Vinegar is a great product to use to repel ants because almost everyone has a bottle of vinegar in their house. It’s readily available and relatively cheap, too!

There are a few different ways that you can use vinegar to repel ants. You’ll want to focus your attention on areas where you’ve seen ants. The best situation is to catch the ants in action and see their ant trail leading outside.

Use A DIY Vinegar Spray To Repel Ants

Just to clarify, when we say vinegar we are talking about white vinegar, not apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar will work to clear chemical trails, but it’s not as effective or harsh-smelling as white vinegar.

In other news, apple cider vinegar may actually attract ants due to its slightly sweet nature.

White vinegar such as Lucy’s Family Owned Natural Distilled White Vinegar works great. This particular product comes in a 1-gallon size, which is more than enough to repel ants!

To use white vinegar in a spray, mix equal parts of water and vinegar in a spray bottle. If you want to cover a large area, try mixing 16 fl oz of water to 16 fl oz of vinegar! You can use plastic, but a glass spray bottle works best as it will not trap any residue from the vinegar if you need to reuse the bottle.

Check for these areas that are most likely to attract ants:

  • Kitchen counters
  • Baseboards
  • Areas beneath kitchen and bathroom sink
  • Any place that leads outdoors (windows, doorways, places where electrical lines run indoors)

If you find an ant trail, spray and wipe along the trail to disrupt the ability of the ants to follow the chemical trail. White vinegar spray will also eliminate the ants directly.

If you’ve seen ants around but can’t seem to locate them at the moment, spray areas where you saw them last. You can spray your countertops and wipe them down to repel ants from your kitchen countertops.

Damp areas can attract certain kinds of ants, so check for areas beneath your bathroom or kitchen sink and spray these areas as well.

Some ants will congregate around your house plants, especially if those plants have aphids or other scale insects on them that produce honeydew. Because you cut the vinegar with water, it is typically safe to spray directly on your plants. 

However, be sure to research first to make sure your plant can withstand the acidity of the vinegar. Do not use this spray on edible parts of your plant, simply spray the stems or leaves.

You can read our full list of houseplants that repel ants here to potentially add some new plant friends to your newfound vinegar repellent!

Vinegar sprays can be used outdoors in the garden as well. While it’s impossible to keep ants off of every single plant, you can focus your attention on plants that are especially vulnerable to ants or plants that you notice a large number of ants on.

You’ll need to reapply your vinegar spray at least once a week to keep the scent strong enough to repel ants.

Use Vinegar-Soaked Cotton Balls To Repel Ants

Another way to use vinegar to repel ants is to soak cotton balls in your vinegar-water solution. This choice is best for repelling ants when you know the entry point where they are getting inside.

Once you’ve located the place where ants are getting inside, stuff vinegar-soaked cotton balls into the opening.

Not only will the cotton balls act as a physical barrier, but the smell of vinegar will repel the ants from the area until you can fix the hole with caulking or sealant. 

You can also use vinegar-soaked cotton balls around plants that you want to repel ants from. This may be a better choice for plants that are particularly sensitive to acidic sprays. 

Cotton balls work great for indoor plants but can be difficult in the garden because the cotton balls will blow away with the wind. For outdoor plants, using your water-vinegar spray will be a better option than using vinegar-soaked cotton balls.

You can also use cotton balls to repel ants that come inside for reasons other than looking for food.

Some ants are coming inside to escape flood conditions or extremely dry, hot weather. They’ll come inside and hang out in cool, damp areas.

Place your cotton balls beneath your kitchen and bathroom sinks, in the corners of your garage, and in other damp places to repel ants from these areas.

Be sure to replace your cotton balls at least once a week to keep the scent of vinegar fresh.

Use Essential Oil To Repel Ants

Dripping natural tea tree essential oil into bottle on blurred background, closeup.

A vinegar essential oil? Well, not quite…there are no essential oils based on vinegar, which isn’t too surprising since vinegar is quite acidic and not so great for the skin.

However, Ylang-Ylang essential oil, also known as Cananga odorata, contains the main ingredient of vinegar – acetic acid.

A conference paper located in the book ‘Charting the Sustainable Future of ASEAN in Science and Technology’ broke down the components of Cananga odorata and found that it is mostly linalool and acetic acid, both of which are great insect repellents!

Acetic acid is the main component in vinegar that gives it its signature acidic smell and is also what repels ants and eliminates their chemical trails.

You can use this essential oil in a spray or by soaking cotton balls in a diluted solution to repel ants. Add 10-15 drops of Ylang-Ylang essential oil for every 1 cup of water. 

Please note this is not the mixture mentioned in the article, and always dilute your essential oil before using it!

Aromatika’s Ylang-Ylang Essential Oil comes in a 1.0 oz bottle, which may not seem like much but it will get you through plenty of cotton balls and spray bottles so you can repel ants from your home.

Like other scent-based deterrents, essential oils will need to be reapplied often for them to work. Replace your cotton balls and re-spray problem areas at least once a week to keep the acetic acid smell strong enough to repel ants.

You can read our full list of scents that ants hate here, peppermint is one of our favorites!

Will Vinegar Repel Ants Long-Term?

Vinegar may be a readily accessible and easy-to-use solution for your ant problem, but will it work long term?

Vinegar is considered a scent-based deterrent and is not meant to repel ants long-term. It works great as an in-the-moment solution when you find an ant trail or a way to keep ants away from problem areas until you fix the root of the problem.

You can use vinegar for as long as you want. Ants will not suddenly become resistant to the smell and will continue to avoid vinegar-smelling areas. However, continual reapplications can become tedious.

If your home continues to provide ants with food, water, and shelter, they will keep coming back, no matter how much vinegar or other methods you use to keep them away.

Other Animals And Insects That Vinegar May Repel

Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) searching for food in the forest of Noord Brabant in the Netherlands.

It’s always great when you can use one thing for multiple purposes. Vinegar can repel more than just ants.

The acidity of vinegar can help deter the following animals in addition to ants:

Feel free to click one of the links in the list above to go to the vinegar repelling guide for that animal!

If you happen to have a problem with deer munching on your garden vegetables, try using vinegar to repel them. One taste of this sour, acidic solution and deer are sure to prance in the opposite direction.

What Are Ants Attracted To?

Now that we’ve discussed how vinegar can repel ants, let’s talk about what attracts ants in the first place. This is where the real solutions to your pest problem will start.

Ants are attracted to a few things inside your home:

  • Food: Food is the number one reason why ants are coming inside your home. According to the University of California, ants are particularly attracted to sweets, fats, and meat.

You may not even realize the source of food. It could be a spilled drink that didn’t get cleaned up quickly enough, some crumbs left on the counter, or dirty dishes in the sink. If a single ant finds food, even if you clean the food up, more ants will follow the chemical trail.

You’ll also want to avoid the specific smells that attract ants, which include a variation of what we just mentioned.

It’s not until all of the ants following the chemical trail have inspected the area and realized there’s no food that the colony will disperse back home.

  • Water: Ants need water to survive just like any other living creature. Water can attract ants to certain locations like your kitchen or bathroom.
  • Shelter: Ants will make their way indoors when conditions are unfavorable outdoors. This is especially true after a hard rain or during extremely hot, dry weather.

You can read more about why ants are in your room (even if there’s no food) in our popular article!

Repelling Ants Long Term

ant formica rufa on green grass

Vinegar is an excellent way to repel ants from certain areas and eliminate their chemical trails, but it’s not going to eliminate your ant problem. 

To keep ants out, you’ll need to put on your investigating hat and pay close attention to the way these pests act inside your home. Where are they coming from? Where are they going? Why are they in your home?

Answering these questions is a good first step in repelling ants from your home long-term. Let’s check out a few solutions to keep these pesky insects out of your house for good.

Seal All Entry Points

Ants that are invading your kitchen or bathroom are rarely living inside your house. Instead, they are coming from their colony which is located outside.

To truly be rid of your ant problem, you’ll need to locate the crack or hole where ants are coming indoors. 

This task is easy if you find an ant trail. Simply follow the long line of these pesky insects to the entry point. Use caulking to seal the hole or crack and use a vinegar-based spray to eliminate the rest of the ants that are still indoors.

It’s not always as easy as following an ant trail. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where ants are getting inside. Look for these hotspot areas and seal any cracks or holes you can see:

  • Cracks near the foundation
  • Areas where electrical/cable lines enter the home from outside
  • Crooked/damaged windows and doors
  • Damaged fascia
  • Damaged siding

To learn more about repelling ants in your lawn, take a look at our guide on the reasons why you have anthills in your yard with removal tips!

Keep Your Trees And Bushes Trimmed

Ants are not always entering your home from the ground. Sometimes they will use trees and bushes as a highway system to reach damaged windows or roofing tiles and sneak their way in that way.

If you have tree branches that reach near your home, keep them trimmed so they are not touching your house. Do the same for bushes and any other landscaping plants.

Ants will use these as runway systems to enter your home. Ants are excellent climbers and can crawl up vertical surfaces with ease.

Eliminate Attractants

Ants with Bluish Background in macro

Earlier in this article, we talked about what attracts ants indoors. It’s pretty simple – food, water, and shelter. If we eliminate these attractants, ants will be less likely to barge into our homes uninvited.

Eliminating food means proper sanitation in the kitchen and around your home:

  • Clean up all spills immediately
  • Put leftover food away promptly
  • Change out garbage frequently
  • Clean dirty dishes promptly
  • Do not leave sugary drinks sitting around with the lid open
  • Keep pet food bowls lifted off the ground and clean up spilled food (more on keeping ants out of pet food here)
  • Change pet water dishes frequently (once a day) 
  • Fix leaky sinks and faucets, including your sprinklers

If there’s nothing in your home to attract ants, there’s no reason for them to come inside. 

Eliminating shelter for ants is not always possible. According to the University of Kentucky, some ants choose to nest indoors and will use the spaces behind walls, cabinets, and appliances as well as beneath floors and concrete slabs.

These areas are difficult if not impossible to eliminate. In these situations, it can be helpful to use baited traps.

Use Bait Traps

Bait traps for ants work differently than traps for other critters. The traps have a slow-acting substance that will eventually eliminate the ant, but not until it has shared the bait with the colony and shown other ants how to reach the bait.

Bait traps should only be used outdoors. Using bait traps indoors can attract ants indoors that wouldn’t normally come inside.

Terro’s Liquid Ant Bait comes with 12 bait stations that can be placed around the hotspot areas we mentioned above. It will take time to eliminate the ant colony, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see improvements for the first few days.

If you’d like to learn more about ants inside your home, take a look at our guide on the 7 things to do if you find ants in your home!

Does Vinegar Repel Ants? Our Conclusion!

Ants can be a real nuisance inside the home. They don’t do any lasting damage, but they can be unsightly and their numbers can grow exponentially during a single season.

The good news is that you can use vinegar to effectively repel ants both inside and outside your home.

Vinegar can be used as a spray by making a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water. You can also soak cotton balls in the same mixture and place them in problem areas to repel ants. Just be aware that vinegar is not a long-term solution to your ant problem.

To keep ants away for good, you’ll want to implement good sanitation practices to eliminate food, water, and shelter sources. It’s also a good idea to keep trees and bushes near your home trimmed to eliminate ant runways into your home.

If you can’t seem to get rid of those pesky ants, you can always contact a professional for help! Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a local professional near you.

References

Boser, C. L., Hanna, C., Faulkner, K. R., Cory, C., Randall, J. M., & Morrison, S. A. (2014). Argentine Ant Management In Conservation Areas: Results Of A Pilot Study. Monographs of the Western North American Naturalist7, 518-530. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24870256

Greenberg, L., Rust, M. K., Klotz, J. H., Haver, D., Kabashima, J. N., Bondarenko, S., & Gan, J. (2010, August 16). Impact of ant control technologies on insecticide runoff and efficacy. Pest Management Science66(9), 980-987. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ps.1970

Klotz, J. H., Rust, M. K., Greensberg, L., Field, H. C., & Kupfer, K. (2007). An Evaluation of Several Urban Pest Management Strategies to Control Argentine Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology50(1). https://urban.ucr.edu/sites/g/files/rcwecm2056/files/2020-05/2007_klotz_et_al._an_evaluation_of_several_urban_pest_manage.pdf

Rahmat, B., Pangesti, D., Natawijaya, D., & Sufyadi, D. (2014). Generation of Wood-waste Vinegar and Its Effectiveness as a Plant Growth Regulator and Pest Insect Repellent. BioResources9(4), 6350-6360. https://ojs.cnr.ncsu.edu/index.php/BioRes/article/view/5632

Syed Ismail, S.N.A., Syed Soffian, S.S., Aziz, R.A., Tahiruddin, N.S.M. (2020). Antibacterial and Insect-Repellent Activities of Cananga odorata Essential Oil. In: Alias, N., Yusof, R. (eds) Charting the Sustainable Future of ASEAN in Science and Technology. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-3434-8_26

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