Afternoon Inquisition

Afternoon Inquisition 5.15.09

Last night, Masala Skeptic got a call on her Skeptic Phone that there was an unvaccinated girl in Miami who is about to go on a ghost hunt with her pink Ouija board and 9/11 Truther boyfriend. Masala Skeptic grabbed her jet-pack and flew there immediately. She is currently in negotiations with the girl, and right now, we’re hoping for a peaceful resolution by Monday. Good luck, Maria! We know you’ll get everyone out safely!

In the meantime, you’re stuck with me for today’s AI.

The last few weeks, I’ve been unintentionally busting ant myths. We’ve had a problem with these stupid little home invaders and I can’t get rid of them. It’s not quite an infestation. I don’t get thousands of ants at a time. I get maybe 30 or so at a time. And strangely, never in the kitchen! So I’ve been trying little clever homemaker DYI tricks, but nothing works. And, it turns out, the worst thing you can do is kill the ants – that only attracts more ants!

Although there’s plenty of quick and helpful tips on handling the problem, the best I’ve been able to do is try to keep it manageable. I vacuum three times a day or so. And every time I see an ant party converging, I move the party to my vacuum bag. Annoying, yes, but at least it’s helped curb dog hair tumbleweeds (and my floorboards are full of cinnamon and baby powder, so it smells pretty, too.)

Are there any home remedies/solutions that you’ve tried that you unintentionally busted? Do you have any favorite quick and dirty tips that work every time? Are there any silly tricks that someone’s told you to use that made you wonder what would make someone even try that in the first place?

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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84 Comments

  1. When I visited my grandma when I was little, she’d let me cook whatever in a pot over the stove.

    It was supervised of course, but somehow I decided that “whatever” was going to be ant killer. This way I could help gram by killing the ants in her garden.

    This antkiller was made up of whatever I could find in the fridge… ketchup, eggs, mustard, something else, something else, milk, probably some juice, and noodles.

    Once it was all hot, it was time to dump it on the ants.

    Now that I think on it, I can’t believe she let me do that… ahh well, she was a good grammy.

    Anyway, I don’t think I killed any ants , but I might have scalded some.

  2. I usually use Windex or some other semi-toxic cleaner for ant-killing. I don’t know if the cleaning solution repels the ants or if they just get bored and stop invading, but a couple of applications seems to do it.
    As for myths… I usually just assume that everything won’t work (because nothing ever does), so I don’t try. :-)

  3. I’m ashamed to say I’ve tried the ear candling thing. I have horrid allergies and build up horrific pressure behind my ears. We’ve tried antihistamines, nose sprays, nasal irrigation, the works. So I thought what the hell.

    Managed to not burn myself, that’s a plus. I can tell you the heat felt good. But a heating pad or warm washcloth is a lot easier to set up without the risk of self injury, and just as useful.

    Also, the ice cube on the fever blister thing? Also worthless.

  4. I had an ant problem at my old flat (and the landlord didn’t care, nothing new there). I tried the ant killer block of goo that they are supposed to carry back to their nest. They seemed to enjoy that.
    On thing I did do that did appear to help was when I had a line of ants (and I ended up with a few) was to spray the line with bug spray. It killed them… but then I didn’t clean it up. The presence of the dead ants or the spray or whatever deterred them from doing that again.

  5. After years of experimentation, I finally have a hiccup remedy that works for me every time.

    Get a glass of water – hold it in your hand (you might also want to stand near a sink, ’cause this can be messy).

    Exhale as much as you can. Even when you think you’re out of air, keep exhaling, squeezing your lungs as empty as possible.

    Resist inhaling for as long as you can. Keep the glass of water near your lips.

    Just when you can’t stand not inhaling any more, drink the water – as much and as fast as you can. (I always sort of end up gulping it, which is the messy part.)

    It works for me, every time.

  6. A packet of sugar takes away my hiccups.

    But my hiccups give me the giggles, which makes me hiccup more, which makes me giggle more, etc… It’s apparently one of the cutest things ever, so I usually forgo the sugar and just roll with it.

  7. We get ants in the kitchen, especially when the weather get hotter. A clean kitchen helps but does not eradicate them. I was surprised when I applied a thick coating of Mr. Clean or Ajax along the edges of the sink or on the floor by the window (no idea why they go there), it just stops them flat, the next morning, no ants. As soon as I see a few ants, I apply a thick coating of undiluted Mr. Clean (Ajax works in a pinch, but Mr. Clean works best) where they seem to be coming from, and presto, no ants for awhile.

  8. Cleaning hard surfaces with a water/vinegar mixture has worked wonders in the past but this was in the kitchen. But it smelled bad.
    Then I would spray the baseboards with this solution in the carpeted areas and it seemed to work.

  9. For ants I found that bleach and vinegar USED SEPARATELY in dilute solutions. Do not mix bleach and vinegar directly this will make a chlorine byproduct. However if you have diluted bleach water in a spray bottle and spray and scrub an area with bleach and then when it is dry come back and spray with diluted vinegar water it seems to kill the ants chemical trail they use to find food.

  10. I have a similar hiccup remedy but it is less complicated. Just fill your mouth with as much water as you can hold and lean over the sink. Works pretty good for me. For a bad case it can take several iterations.

    I think something about having your mouth full of water kills the reflex to hiccup. I discovered this by accident.

  11. @Matto the Hun:

    Why do I have a feeling you probably just invited more ants?

    I’m hesitant to use poisons because they’re coming in from the baseboards around my entire living room! With a toddler who puts everything in his mouth and two dogs who put everything in their mouths that the toddler misses, and my flex plan out of funds until next month, I’m trying to keep the ingested poisons to a minimum.

  12. @James Fox: I use powered Borax to kill roaches! I keep meaning to make little balls, and flatten them — with flour, borax, and sugar! — because it’s a lot less messier, and my cats aren’t as likely to get into ’em. mmm roaches.

  13. We had some ants in our house shortly after we moved in a few years back. They were making a trail that started near the front door and went along the wall past the hall closet. No idea where they were coming in. Through the door somehow, I guess. Anyway, we went to the local hardware store (not big-box), where the staff are very knowledgeable and helpful. We found someone in the gardening area, and told him about the problem. He asked if we had pets/kids, we answered yes to both. He suggested a specific product, a fast-drying spray, and told us exactly how to use it. I sprayed it when we got home, kept the cats and the 2-year old away for about 30 minutes, and we haven’t had an ant problem since.

    Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact product. But I think we still have the can, so I’ll check when I get home tonight.

  14. @Matto the Hun: I do believe there’s not a kernel of truth to your statement.

    Seriously, my family used to have ants coming from the cracks in our steps. My Dad and I used to take them out with boiling water poured straight into where we thought the nest was.

    Basically, we treated them like invaders sieging our castle.

    Did it work? Not really. It’s hard enough trying to wipe out what you can see of them on the surface, but near impossible to hit them where they live when they’re underground.

  15. Well I busted two myths unintentionally. Both have to do with WD-40, first that WD-40 will get rid of lime/scale/scum on shower curtains, it only covers that up, when the WD-40 is rinsed away after umpteen showers the crud show up exactly in the same place as before I applied the WD-40, myth Busted. The second is that applying WD-40 to the bathroom mirror will keep it form fogging it up, it won’t, all it will do is form a film that will take a week or more of multiple cleanings before it will be clean again. While WD-40 has many uses these are not two of them. As for your ant problem, the least toxic remedy is the powdered sugar/borax combination 2 parts sugar to one part borax, but if you have children or pets you have to place it in a where the children/pets cannot access the bait, it works quite well, you will not see ants in or near that area again. As for quick and simple tips vinegar and baking soda are your friends and have many household uses, vinegar and water is a good cleaning solution and if you can get vinegar that’s 10% acetic acid it may also act as a germ killer. Baking soda is good for places you would normally use an abrasive, it is a very mile abrasive there are no visible scratches when you use it. Now my brain is overheating so on to the new Montauk monster

  16. This is second-hand, anecdotal and half-remembered but… a friend reports that if you can find the point of entry into your house, you can distract the ants by placing something particularly delicious – moistened sugar candy for instance, in their path.

    They’ll spend their time taking that back to their nest and neglect your house.

    I’m not sure what to do if they’re entering directly through the foundation of the house.

    Release a bunch of radioactive ant-eating flies perhaps?

    -S

  17. I used to spray lemon cologne ( That is %70 alcohol with lemon essence in it ) on ants tracks back in Turkey. (Lemon cologne is a very common household item there.)

    I believe they hate the smell of lemon and alcohol combined. Also I heard that some peppermint oil-alcohol mixture keeps them off.

    Also, if you can trace their tracks and wipe them well with clorox it might work as well. I guess clorox makes the chemical signals that create the path go away.

    Good luck!

  18. I’ve tried paprika for ants. Supposedly they are not supposed to cross a line of paprika…but they did.

    I’ve also tried rubbing banana peels over a awful poison ivy rash. I was on steroids, but the itching was still horrendous and I was trying everything I could. The banana peels didn’t really help other than putting cool gooiness on my legs. It hurt once it started to dry and flake off in a strange way.

  19. I must confess to have started a Meme in my household. I fully intend to tell my nephew the truth when he gets older but I used the power of the Placebo effect to help him sleep.

    He couldn’t sleep one night and I told him my mother used to give me a drink that would help me sleep. I mixed PowerAid and fruit punch with a bit of water (the amount I gave him was less than half a shot, because I thought sugar would be counter-productive). I gave it to him and sure enough he fell asleep. Then next morning he told his mom that the special drink I gave him really made him tired and when he got off of school that afternoon he was saying how it made him smarter and run faster. He then asked me to make it for him almost every night for the next few weeks.

    My whole family knows the ruse, but we are still worried that he will tell a teacher about a “special drink” that we give him to put him to sleep.

  20. @JSug & @suneray:

    YES!

    And if the ants don’t go away it’s because they don’t want it enough or there’s a negative energy field preventing you from doing your job. Looks like they’re going to have to buy the expensive prayer candles and scrolls.

  21. Not actually a home remedy, but when my dorm room was attacked by ants a while back, none of us had any useful spray/poison/whatever. My roommate and I did, however, have some random perfume samples from… somewhere. Turns out, it’ll kill ants quite effectively. The downside was that the window next to my desk stank horribly for a few hours, but that gave us time to go get some raid and actually solve the problem.

  22. No, I’m trying to thing of something and I can’t think of any home remedies. I can’t think of anything. I was trying to think of something funny about hand lotion and masturbation but I’m coming up empty. Maybe more whisky will help.

  23. @SJBG: Yes! Same thing for me. If it gets cuteness points, roll with it.

    I left out a plate that still had some cake crumbs a while back and boy did I get ants. After thoroughly cleaning the kitchen, they left me alone for the most part. I’ve put out some of those little poison bait things, but I still see one or two a day. I’ll keep the vinegar trick in mind!

  24. Forgive me if this seems obvious, but I have learned never to take things for granted. Elyse, do you change the vacuum bag after vacuuming up the ant party? I don’t now much about ants, but fleas can survive the trip, then they just come back out again. If changing the bag isn’t feasible, you can put it in a plastic bag and freeze it.

  25. @Gabrielbrawley: You must have missed the blog entry where I was called a “vengeful harridan” for saying something apparently forbidden about Carrie Prejean, and I thought it was such a great name that I kept it. :-)

    But doesn’t using alcohol to cure a hangover sound just a bit like homeopathy to you? Except that, you know, there’s actual alcohol in my alcohol…

  26. Oh, I thought of a couple more home remedies. Garlic to ward of vampires, a rose on the lid of a coffin to keep the vampire trapped inside. Salt at all the windows and doors to keep demons out. Throwing a knife into the yard to split a storm. Cutting your toenails to gain control of people living in it.

  27. For ants, my dad always deluges them with soapy water. I think it works because the soap forms bubbles around their skin, and since they breathe through the spiracles in their skin, they cannot breathe and therefore die.

    And soapy water isn’t toxic when it’s very dilute [citation needed]. Plus, it tastes bad so toddlers won’t go back for another taste.

  28. My parents moved in my late-teen years to a community that had its own well. They never quite told us exactly, but my previously low-to-no acne skin was profoundly irritated by whatever was in the water (which was CONSTANTLY being tested by the county) caused major breakouts. It was so bad it looked like a parody for an acne ad.

    I remember being dubious the first time I tried it, but Milk of Magnesia (especially if you let it settle and pour off the watery part) makes a good 5-10 minute facial for irritated skin. My skin vastly improved (especially if I rinsed with bottled water).

    Just gotta make sure to rinse well with cool water or your face gets itchy.

    (I was so happy when they finally connected their community to city water. Even in my 30’s, an extended stay at my parents meant I broke out – it was ridiculous.)

  29. @Chasmosaur: hmmm, found out years later that the municipal water in the jerkwater town in Texas that my parents moved me to when I was 9 and I lived in until I was 18 was never safe to drink. They gave free bottled water to pregnant women to cut down on the rate of birth defects. I’m not making this up.

  30. @Elyse: Vodka, who mentioned vodka. That’s for children. I’m drinking whisky right now. and when I’m not drinking whisky I’m drinking gin, rum or wine and very occasionaly beer. But vodka. Only when I’m really desperate, sober and out of options.

  31. Umm Yup,

    Homeopathic cure number one (spell that psychopathic).

    My Ex-wife…Let’s repeat EX-wife…

    Thought that her lack of feminine hygiene might be cured by putting acid up there, because a book on home remedies prescribed it.

    Yeah, you heard me! (Mind you, if all else failed, like showering, I might try anything…just sayin’).

    I was supposed to participate. (She couldn’t possibly have been paying attention, up to that point).

    To be fair, girl did have a ton of yeast infections but I’d probably try being a little cleaner, down there, (and seeing a Doctor) before I’d jump to burning it with a sulfuric…

    Which might even actually work but REALLY, why chance it?

    Well,

    In over Five years, I’ve never, ever, ever, told my current GF about that particular area of my marital problems.

    Let’s just say, being lucky enough to know her like I do, that I know the tale would be too terrible for her ears and let’s leave it at that.

    Sorry if it’s too much information,

    but home remedies are dangerous IMO,

    rod

    BTW: I like the big buildings, with the smart people, running around in white coats. No, hospitals, not See’s candy…(But they DO have their place).

  32. @Gabrielbrawley:

    The funny thing was, when we moved in, I drank a glass of water and told my parents I refused to drink any more because it tasted wrong. They took it as 17 y/0 drama (even though I wasn’t overly dramatic) and ignored me. Mom did concede the water didn’t taste as good as the water at our old house, but thought it wasn’t a big deal. She dismissed my sprouting acne to the incredible softness of the water (which never left you feeling completely rinsed after a shower – bleck).

    About 10 years later, the county finally told our neighborhood that if you had hypertension or heart disease or diabetes, you should drink bottled water and probably try to cook with it, too, when feasible. Eventually, they got hooked up to county water lines.

    Never did get that apology from my parents ;)

  33. @Glow-Orb: That’s what I get for drunk commenting.
    My ex-wife family was very superstious. They belived that if you through a knife into the ground of the front yard before a storm rolled through then the storm would split and go around the house. They also believed that if someone was allowed to cut their toenails in your house that person could gain control over everyone who lived in that house. Weird stuff.

  34. For ants the only home remedy I’ve tried with success is cinnamon. It repels them effectively. A good friend of mine who is sort of a greenie and runs his own pest control business told me this. I tried it and it worked very well and it smelled good. When I asked my friend why it works, he smiled and said, “Magic!”. He is keenly aware of my skeptical nature and likes pissing me off.

  35. @vombatus:

    Currently my entire living room has cinnamon floor boards. I’ve heard it kills ants on contact. I’ve heard that ants refuse to walk on it. Both are false. They seem to dislike it, but they WILL walk on it.

    That said, in a house with a toddler and dogs and a sweaty man, it does make the place smell less like a doggy locker room.

  36. Speaking as an ecofreak here –

    There are, AFAIK, 3 kinds of ants:
    1) Ants that sting/bite (e.g. “fire ants”)
    2) Ants that eat wood (e.g., your house, furniture). These are usually quite large and easy to recognize.
    3) Ants that neither sting/bite nor eat wood. (95%+ of all ants)

    If the ants aren’t actually doing anything to you I think that there is a case to be made for just leaving them alone. I’ve always done this and I’ve never had any problems with it. Maybe you could try thinking of them as small wingless butterflies. :-)

    Possible “cures”:
    1) Diatomaceous earth. (Microscopic shells of spiky sea critters, which is cool.) Ask in garden supply stores. Supposed to be safe for people and pets.
    2) Boric acid powder. Used against roaches. Don’t know about ants. Supposed to be safe for children and pets.
    3) Dried cucumber skins. Saw this in some ecofreak source years ago. Supposed to repel ants. Haven’t tried it.

    – I’ve had good results from chiropratic, but IMHO from that aspect of chiropractic that overlaps with conventional medicine.

    I’d sprained my back and was in pretty severe pain (e.g. difficulty walking) . Nothing helped much. The chiropractor had me use a “stretching machine” (like “the rack” lite) for 1/2 hour a few times a week. This gave instant relief. I think I did this for 3 weeks, after which injury basically had healed.

  37. I’ve found that a chopping knife works pretty well on rats — you live in the part of Boston which was built by landfilling a swamp, you discover things — but ants, I’ve never had to deal with. If I did, I’d probably go the Feynman route: have them walk over microscope slides, then rearrange their trail so that they go in a circle.

  38. @Elyse: @tiger kitty: Yep, they are nuts. Whenever I would try to explain to them why things like that weren’t real they would fall back to “It works for us, and science doesn’t have machines sensitive enough to detect everything.” Usually they would also stick there fingers in their ears and say LA, LA, LA I can’t hear you.

  39. My home remedy for ants is simple. Kill ’em. Kill ’em all. I worked in the gulf of mexico many years ago, and lived in a trailer in Louisiana. It was completely porous to insect life. I didn’t have a bed, and slept on the floor. I awoke one night to something tickling my ribs, and after brushing it off sleepily a few times, turned on the light. A 3 inch cockroach with huge antennae was checking me out. I chased it into the next room, with a boot in one hand and a big fucking knife in the other. My housemates said it looked like a crazy man chasing a mouse. After this event, I slept on the floor in the center of a pentagram of boric acid powder for protection. There were also fire ants. If you think regular ants are bad, try fire ants. I once reached for the honey in a dark cupboard and the burning sensation in my hand caused me to realize that the fire ants had found it and weren’t giving it up. I used to walk around the yard, dousing the anthills (they can sprout overnight) in gasoline and lighting them off. Unfortunately, I was drinking beer, and as the afternoon wore on, I would douse more than one anthill at a time, before lighting them off. Eventually I doused 4 anthills in an area, and by the time I tossed a match, the heavier than air fumes had spread around me and WHOOMPF!!! No leg hair. Scared drunk man. You can try diazinon powder, sprinkled around the outside of your house and window sills. The label has directions on dusting your pets for fleas and ticks, and while I haven’t done this, it would at least suggest that it is not toxic for pets. I am really careful with anything around my pets or chickens.

  40. Ummm. Ok, the stuff I use around the foundation is Sevin-5 powder, and the active ingredient is
    1-napthyl N-methylcarbamate. NOT diazinon. Diazinon is not safe to use around pets or children. Luckily, this is a skeptical website, and no one here would follow some nameless asshole’s advice without independent research. Right? ……Hello?….Nobody would do that, right?…….Oh, shit.

  41. Sevin dust (carbaryl) is not safe for pets, even though the label says it is. It is a an organophosphate, which is short, causes neurotoxicity. This information comes from Mike Murphy, DVM, veterinary toxicologist, and author of A Field Guide to Common Animal Poisons.

  42. No debunking story here, but this ants remind me of a time when I was a kid.

    My friends and I used to make ant mazes out of Legos. We had tons of fun doing it. On a rare occasion, an ant would actually crawl out of the exit!

    Most of them, however, just died in the maze. It probably didn’t help that we would just close the mazes off when we couldn’t attend to them, thus preventing them from escaping at all. We did that simply because we didn’t want to miss any of the victorious exits.

    We made some damn elaborate mazes too. They were multi-story, and 3d.

  43. borax + kitties = sickness.

    I use the quadfecta of white vinegar, baking soda (is there anything it can’t do?), Dr. Bronner’s castille soap and water for pretty much every home cleaning sitch.

    Ants…I don’t know. they are more of a nuisance than threat, but yeah, a demolishment of their pheromone line with some squashing and leaving the dead seems to work pretty well. Also, they don’t like salt.

  44. “…curb dog hair tumbleweeds …”

    My wife and I call them furbelweeds. ;)

    Past that… umm.. nope. I tend to research my attack on a problem before doing it and I run what I find through my engineering/science “how would this even work?” filter before I try something.

  45. Apparently, the purpose of many of these comments is to make my head explode.

    Commercial Ant Baits do a good job, and are safe around kids. They just take a little bit to get working.

    Unless you also wipe up the ant trails, they will keep coming back after vacuuming.

  46. To add to Bug’s recommendation of commercial ant baits — you have to resist the temptation to kill them on the way to and from the bait, since the whole point is to lure them to it and get them to take it back to the colony.

    I’ve never had ants for more than a week after setting the bait.

  47. There is a huge problem with ants where I live. I had them infesting my pick-up truck. That was horribly traumatic, and now I WILL NOT TOLERATE ANTS IN MY APARTMENT/ VEHICLE! I had no luck with ant bait from the store and I don’t like spraying insecticide around my house (which only works very temporarily anyway). I have had great results with a sugar syrup laced with boric acid (I found some recipes online). I soak a cottonball in the stuff and stick it in some inconspicuous place (so my cat doesn’t decide to play with it) near where the ants are roaming. For a day or two: many ants, then: no ants. Whew. Works like a charm. Try hiding the cottonball under or behind furniture to prevent little ones from getting into it.

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