No more ants. No more poison.

Cat food with water tray
Credit: Sue Visser

How Ants React to White Pepper

Tiny ants in the home are a big problem

We often find tiny ants crawling all over the sugar the pet’s food or any dead insect on the floor. What should we do to get rid of them?

Should we apply pesticides?

Spraying insecticides around is an obvious choice. It will kill the ants that are present. But will it stop them from returning? This was not my idea of having an eco-friendly home. I aim to have a floor that is clean enough and non-toxic enough to eat from. I found a very simple solution, right inside my grocery cupboard. A few other nifty ant deterrents I tried were effective in some ways but nothing worked as well as white pepper!

Share this fascinating journey into the mind and body of an ant and appreciate these wonderful creatures for what they are. Ants look for food and were in fact created to clean up rotting plant debris and dead insects to take home to the communal pantry. This is a valuable service but as we know, it should not include the honey pot, the sugar bowl and food we leave in a bowl to feed Fido. How do we tell ants to look elsewhere? Here is my journey and I hope you find a solution that works for you that is ant friendly.

Fight the ant with its own poison

Ants kill each other with a chemical they generate to make their bite toxic to opposing ants. It is known as formic acid. We feel the sting if one of the ant soldiers gives us a nip. We all know what it feels like to have “ants in our pants”. Yet we humans use this same poison to sweeten our food in the effort to lower the calorie content. Any guesses? Aspartame, a non-nutritive sweetener found in diet drinks and other popular foods is toxic to our little friends.

At home, you can sprinkle a sachet of any popular diet sweetener that has aspartame around something that is attracting the ants. Soon they will be dead. Either at the scene of the crime or on the way home to the nest. Some of them take food containing aspartame back to their loved ones and kill them too. But the next day there will be more ants, eager to snap up any morsels they can find. After all, this is what they do and they will keep on doing it.

Another household poison is no so sweet

Borax is a common ingredient used to kill cockroaches. Bowls of a mixture of sugar and borax are left in nooks and crannies, especially under the kitchen sink to kill cockroaches. To extend this activity, one can mix a little water with sugar and borax and you can kill two bugs out of the same bowl. Borax is not a good thing to leave around the house because to may find its way down the throats of pets and small children. And yes, the ants will keep coming back!

Cinnamon – a spicy, non-toxic ant diverter

A sprinkling of cinnamon creates a good deterrent to ants seeking scraps of food. If you sprinkle cinnamon on a plate underneath the pet food, chances are that they will not climb over it and invade the food. My cat didn’t seem to mind the cinnamon and his feeding area had the aroma of pumpkin fritters. But oh my, any crumb that escaped from this spicy fortress was once again fully surrounded by ants. You could see the path of tiny ants, leading all the way down from the first floor of our house, back to the garden.

The feeding frenzy continues!

I tried placing a shallow bath of water underneath the cat’s bowl. I shooed away the stream of determined ants with lashings of cinnamon and told them to go to the garden, for some fresh organic food instead. I wiped them along with a piece of paper towel. They had no right to come and invade my special Siamese dry food. Not at that price, anyway. Then somebody suggested clove powder. They move away from clove powder and make a lengthy detour around your specially prepared floors, cupboard edgings, door jambs and other nooks and crannies along their route. But they get back to the food!

The telling moment

The reason I tried white pepper was because of the mess the cinnamon and cloves had made of the walls and edges of the floor. Ginger was a lighter colour, but it didn’t help, other than add to the aroma of gingerbread and cookies. So white pepper it was. Eek! The ants backed off and began a detour. I continued sprinkling white pepper all over the floor. I swept up the ants and pepper all in one grand slam. I then rubbed the floor with paper towel and sprinkles of pepper - especially into the tile grouting and around the rugs.

The great white pepper barrier

I had made an invisible pepper barrier. No ants crossed the no-go zone of about one metre wide. I then rubbed more white pepper in a broad sweep around the cat’s bowl of canned food downstairs. The next morning there were no ants. There were no trails of eager ants and no more tell-tale ant scouts, coming to investigate. Somehow the white pepper prevented the ants from smelling. But that night I was sneezing! But I did worry about the cat. He did not seem to react to the pepper in terms of any irritation, but there was a strange side effect.

Does white pepper contain pheromones?

The cat could not stop nudging and rubbing his head against my legs in an over affectionate way. He was purring, tail up like an exclamation mark and a blissful look on his face. I could not hug and stroke him enough. He sidled away at last and lay down on a cushion. He had stopped scratching himself and the fleas were not bothering him. Could it be that fleas don’t like white pepper either?

Caution: Please don’t try this at home until you find out more about how a white pepper barrier affects puppies, kittens, and very sensitive people. But this is how I solved my problem without having to use any poison. Any brand of white pepper will do. I guess the more expensive the pepper, the more concentrated it will be. In this case, thin it out with a little corn flour to make it go further.

Ants will however keep returning; despite the white pepper barrier if a strong-smelling source of food remains accessible. I learnt this the hard way, when the ants found the box of cat food above the now protected food bowl resting inside the dish of water. I am going to buy a special ant proof pet food bowl now.

The next morning they were back. I removed the box and slowly chased them out with the pepper. They all went home of their own accord and have not returned. In the kitchen we are now free of ants, even when we put the honey and sugar back on the shelves. The ant spies had gone and the troops had marched on to other sources of food.

First come the scout ants

Ants looking for food

Ants coming to investigate
Credit: Sue Visser

A few minutes later the gang arrives

Ants around food
Credit: Sue Visser