How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants

By Alex Hawkins Updated February 5, 2024

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In This Article: Identifying Carpenter Ants | Elimination Tips | Our Recommendation | FAQ | Methodology

You may have seen a line of ants on your kitchen windowsill and shrugged it off as a minor annoyance. Or maybe you’ve used pesticide on a large colony of fire ants overtaking your backyard. Though undesirable, neither of those types of ants can significantly damage your home. Carpenter ants, on the other hand, pose a serious threat.

Carpenter ants tunnel through rotten and decaying wood, building elaborate colonies. They threaten the structural integrity of the wood in your house, so you must act quickly when you notice them, whether by using at-home treatments or hiring a top pest control company. Whichever route you choose, use our guide to help resolve the issue swiftly.

What Are Carpenter Ants?

Carpenter ants are a species of ant that can significantly damage your home. According to the Entomology Department at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, carpenter ants are one of the most challenging pests to control. They require unique and thorough extermination strategies that go beyond simply spraying pesticides.

Carpenter ants tunnel into moist or decayed wood. They don’t feed on it, but nest, often constructing two colonies: a parent colony and a satellite colony. Mature parent colonies have an egg-laying queen that produces more than 2,000 worker ants through the life cycle of egg, larvae, pupa, and worker. 

Once the worker ants are fully grown, they can build secondary colonies called satellite colonies. These colonies don’t have a queen, eggs, or larvae and are instead used to store collected food from a nearby source.

If left unchecked, a carpenter ant infestation can mean multiple nests with thousands of worker ants traveling throughout your home. The more nests, the bigger the risk of structural damage, as the ants will continue to create tunnels in the wood.

How to Identify Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants are recognizable by their dark color and large size, measuring around half an inch. Female carpenter ants have wings, while worker carpenter ants have a more typical shape.

If you think you’ve seen a carpenter ant or two crawling around your home, look for other signs of an infestation, such as small piles of frasswood shavings that look like sawdust—next to walls, doors, window frames, or cabinets. You can also listen for a faint clicking noise in your walls. This is the sound that carpenter ants make while tunneling.

Carpenter Ants vs. Termites

Carpenter ants are occasionally mistaken for termites, though they look and act quite differently. Termites feed on the wood in your home and are even more damaging to your home’s structure than carpenter ants. Carpenter ants gnaw on your home’s wood, but they don’t eat it. Instead, they burrow and nest in it.

Termites and carpenter ants also have starkly different bodies. Whereas termites have a head and thorax, carpenter ants have a head, thorax, and abdomen with a thin waist. Female carpenter ants have considerably shorter wings than termites, and termites have straight antennae, whereas carpenter ants’ are bent.

The damaged wood in your home can also indicate whether you’re facing a termite or carpenter ant infestation. Termites leave rough tunnels in the wood, while carpenter ants leave smooth ones.

Signs of Carpenter Ant Nests

Once you’ve determined you have a carpenter ant infestation, you’ll want to track down the nesting locations. Don’t be too quick to start spraying insecticides — carpenter ant removal requires a systematic approach. Patiently follow these steps to find the nests:

  1. Place a few drops of honey or a sweet jelly on the back of a piece of masking tape on the floor somewhere in your home.
  2. Monitor the tape at night when the carpenter ants are most active.
  3. When worker ants appear to forage for the nutrients from the food source, follow them to their entry point in the wall, window frame, baseboard, or doorframe.
  4. Take note of the exact spot. Look for sawdust on the floor and small, smooth holes from where the ants gnawed the wood.

After you’ve located the nests, you’re ready to exterminate the entire colony.

5 Tips for Getting Rid of Carpenter Ants

Try these strategies to control your carpenter ant infestation before it gets worse:

Repair or Replace Damaged Wood

The first step to eliminating carpenter ants and preventing them from returning is to inspect your home for wet, moist, or decayed wood. Repair leaks if they’re causing the wetness, and replace wood damaged by carpenter ant nests.

You should also inspect areas around your home and remove rotting logs or tree stumps. The carpenter ants could have a parent colony in one of those pieces of wood.

Finally, trim bush limbs or tree branches hanging near your exterior walls. Carpenter ants may be using them to get inside.

Place Ant Bait Stations

Use boric acid in a dry powder to set up bait stations in areas where you’ve seen carpenter ant activity or where ants are likely traveling, such as around sinks, in cabinets near your dishwasher, in bathrooms, or along walls. You can dust the areas with the powder or just leave a small pile.

When worker ants walk through the boric acid powder, it coats their legs and bodies. The ants ingest the powder while grooming themselves, and it poisons them. Additionally, the coated ant can carry the powder back to its nest and spread it to other ants.

If you know the colony’s location, you can drill a few small holes about an eighth of an inch wide and puff some boric acid directly into the wood, covering some of the tunnels where the ants travel.

Apply Aerosol Foam

In addition to using boric acid for bait, you can spray aerosol foams in the cracks and crevices of your home’s walls, baseboards, cabinets, window frames, and doorframes. When the carpenter ants come into contact with the foamy substance, they become contaminated and spread the poison to others in the colony.

Spray around Your Home

Carpenter ants typically have a parent colony in wood near your property and enter your home when foraging for a new food and water source. Once inside, they may set up satellite nests in damp wood within your house. To cut off their access, spray around your property with a repellent insecticide solution containing chemicals such as carbaryl, diazinon, or chlorpyrifos. You can also use the pesticide to treat nests in stumps or logs near the house.

Hire a Professional Exterminator

Carpenter ants are tricky to control, and pesticides and ant baits can be toxic and dangerous. If you’re unsure about how to treat your home or have safety concerns, consider hiring an experienced exterminator who knows the proper procedures.

Nationwide companies such as Terminix and Orkin have decades of experience handling carpenter ant control. A representative will explain the available plans for carpenter ant treatments and give you a pest control cost estimate. Then, they’ll schedule a technician to visit your property as soon as possible to inspect your house, locate the nests, develop a pest control plan, and apply an initial treatment. 

Our Recommendation

There’s no time to waste with carpenter ants. If you choose a do-it-yourself (DIY) remedy, you’ll want to repair any existing damage and thoroughly treat your home with aerosol, spray, and bait stations.

If you have a more severe infestation or want the peace of mind that comes with a professional service, consider a highly rated option such as Terminix, Orkin, or Hawx. These companies provide expert products and treatments to eliminate carpenter ant infestations and prevent further harm to your home.

Carpenter Ant FAQ

Why do I have a carpenter ant problem?

The primary cause for carpenter ant infestations is moisture damage. If you have a roof leak, leaky pipe, drainage problem, or other plumbing issues, the water can seep into the wood and cause it to dampen and decay. The wet, rotting wood is an attractive place for carpenter ants to nest and establish colonies.

Do carpenter ants ever go away?

Unfortunately, established carpenter ants colonies are unlikely to go away, even after cleaning. You’ll need to use DIY or professional pest control to wipe out the colony and any remaining ants and then repair the damage to keep them away permanently.

Do carpenter ants bite?

Yes, carpenter ants can bite as a defense if they feel their nest is threatened. While it’s rare for them to bite humans, their bites can be painful and break the skin. However, they aren’t harmful to your overall health, and the red bump on your skin left by the bite typically heals after a few days.

How long before carpenter ants cause damage?

An untreated carpenter infestation can warp or weaken your home’s wooden beams. However, it can take years for carpenter ant damage to significantly impact your home’s structure. This is because the ants don’t feed on the wood, as termites do.

Can you hear carpenter ants?

Yes, you can often hear a faint clicking and rustling sound in your home from carpenter ants chewing and tunneling through the wood.

How We Chose the Top Pest Control Companies

Our pest control research process starts with analyzing customer reviews on third-party websites such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Trustpilot, and Google Reviews. We then do a deep dive into each company’s website, service plans, and available cost information. We also secret shop the companies we review, reach out to representatives, and request quotes.

From there, we compile the information we’ve gathered and compare each company using our in-depth pest control methodology and review criteria. This process uses a series of factors that are important to our readers, and we score each company depending on how well they perform in each factor. For instance, companies that offer more guarantees for their service earned more points than others, and pest control plans with a larger range of covered pests earned more points than ones with fewer.

After analyzing dozens of residential and commercial pest control businesses through this process, we were able to determine the best pest control companies on the market.