Monthly Archive for February, 2008

Off Topic: How to Get Rid of Ants For Good, Part 2 of 3

A few weeks ago, I started a series on how to get rid of ants from your home for good. Part 1 explains why I am writing about this here, now. [link]

First, the disclaimer: I am no expert on insect behavior. I am first to admit that I have never read a scientific book about ants. I am a good problem solver; all I have to share here is what I learned from observation and dogged trial and error. The solution has held up for two decades, all observations since have been consistent. Other people in my life have used this solution to good effect. My apologies in advance for the inexact terminology. And as always, I cannot guarantee results, my intent is just to share what worked for me – and most importantly – why.

(In the course of writing this post, I came across what looks like a good reference on ants: The Ants, by E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler.)

About twenty years ago, I lived on the second floor of an old apartment building. Not long after I moved in, a thick stream of ants established a trail through my bathroom, from a crack in the window above the bathtub, down the tile wall, across the length of the old vinyl flooring, to the trash can by the door.

Wiping up the ants and moving the trash can a few feet did nothing. The ants followed their old trail inside, and quickly established a new trail to the new location of the trash can. The ants seemed undeterred by threat of death to some of their numbers – more kept coming in. Leaving some dead ants around seemed only to attract more ants to take them away.

Meticulous cleaning and keeping the trash empty didn’t work; the minute a damp tissue or a little used dental floss hit the can, ants swarmed it. Soon the ants branched out from the trash can, finding their way into the shampoo, my toothbrush, the sink, the toilet, everything. Yuck. This is when I discovered that ants do indeed bite.

I’m sure I tried a number of hack deterrents and folk remedies that failed to work, long forgotten. Poison in my apartment wasn’t a good solution for obvious reasons, but I think I tried it anyway out of desperation. So we’ll skip to the point where I get to my wits end.

At the time, I was reading one of the popular books by or about the late physicist Richard Feynman. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which one, though it was probably Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman or What Do You Care What Other People Think? I don’t think it was Tuva or Bust by Ralph Leighton, which may have been published later, but I mention it just in case.

Feyman was an interesting, funny guy with diverse interests. He conducted his own amateur science experiments; at one point, the book described his fascination with ants and their dependence on scent trails.

I tried unsuccessfully to duplicate what Feyman described in his book – if I remember correctly, getting the ants to leave a trail on a piece of paper, then turning the paper around. I had a vague idea of maybe redirecting the ants outside. The ants had such a strong attraction to that trail on my floor, they simply treated the paper as an obstacle and went around it, picking up their original trail on the other side.

So I decided to see what would happen if I obliterated their scent trails. This turned out to be harder than I expected.

I have probably forgotten many of the things I tried, but I do remember trying to wipe up the trails with straight bleach, Lysol disinfectant spray, Ivory dishwashing liquid, Windex, Comet, (probably) Bon Ami, Formula 409, isopropyl alcohol, Lysol household cleaner, lemon juice, vinegar, (probably) Pine-Sol… And of course I washed off each of these chemicals with what I now know is dishwashing detergent and rinsed well before trying another.

Nothing really worked. I could wipe up the existing ants and try to clean up the trail, but the ants seemed to be able to pick up the scent and re-establish the trail in short order. Scrubbing the room spotless sometimes gave me a short breather from the onslaught, but such spotlessness is impossible to maintain, so the ants quickly returned.

I have found this behavior consistent over time: when ants have invaded kitchens or other rooms for food, they will usually disappear for awhile after a cleaning, but reappear in strength the moment a crumb hits the floor, it seems.

Years after this, a friend – an expert on insects – explained to me just how dependent ants are on scent. He told me that in experiments where researchers painted some ants with the scent given off by dead ants, worker ants would remove the dead-ant-scented ants from the colony AS IF THEY WERE DEAD, even though they were clearly moving. When the marked ants tried to return, the other ants simply kept removing them until the marked ants eventually gave up. (This may very well be from E.O. Wilson’s work or book, though I am just guessing based on some web pages I saw recently.)

For some reason, the ants in my apartment were willing to face an ongoing threat of death, the inconvenience of ever-changing obstacles, and all manner of attempts on their scents trails, and still they kept coming in as if pushed by an inexorable force and following some kind of indelible trail.

I discovered the answer by pure luck. In my attempts to clean up the trail – silly as I felt after trying so many other cleaners – I sprayed down my foaming tub cleaner, Lysol Basin Tub and Tile Cleaner, and wiped up every surface with it. Then an odd thing happened. The ants emerged from their entry point at the window, and scattered where I had cleaned the tile. But this time, they did not regroup. The seemed unable to re-establish the trail, totally lost.

After awhile, I used the Basin Tub and Tile Cleaner to wipe the “confused” ones up. I did this a few times over a couple of days, in the same way I had used other cleaners to repeatedly wipe up the ants. Only this time, the ants behaved differently, never seemed to find a trail. They seemed slow, even tentative when they entered. They seemed to lose all sense of direction. After a couple of days, they disappeared completely. And they never came back.

It wasn’t a fluke. I have repeated this many times over the years, in different apartments and homes, in different locations, with different kinds of ants. Always, the same thing happens. This cleaner really does seem to completely obliterate the ant scent trail, and it seems as if the ants just cannot cope with that.

What makes this different than merely cleaning up their food source, is that it seems as if the ants leave some kind of warning scent to never return. At times when I have merely cleaned up, ants may disappear for awhile, but they keep sending in scouts, they keep returning eventually. This is why ant baits have never worked for me – nevermind that one cannot leave them out in households with small children – the ants may take the bait and kill that existing colony, but in my experience, they usually return IN THE SAME PLACE, as if there is a lasting scent directing them inside to try again for some once-successful food source.

In one home where I experimented with bait, the ants returned in strength after a year, only this time they wouldn’t take the bait! Initially I had not wanted to use the Lysol Basin Tub and Tile Cleaner on some of the surfaces, but when I did, again they disappeared forever and never returned, not even after years.

What’s interesting here is that it doesn’t appear to be the residue of the cleaner that does this – especially now with the eczema, I usually wash off the cleaner with soap after using it, because it is a detergent product – but it appears to work just as well. (And the soap itself is not enough to produce this effect.)

Even better, the ants just don’t come back, no matter how lax I become about leaving out sugary food or other surefire ant attractions.

One time, when I had a very major incursion in a laundry room, the widest trail of ants I had ever seen indoors (over an inch wide and fairly densely packed), I had to spray down the Lysol Basin Tub and Tile Cleaner and leave it down for a few hours. I never thought it would work, yet again the ants seemed just unable to cope with that. Again, they disappeared, and never came back.

Why do I think this is the result of a warning scent? Well, several reasons. I have observed equivalent behavior with a different kind of insurmountable ant obstacle – stay tuned for Part 3, which I will post soon, along with my “method” for cleaning up the ants forever.

Note: Unfortunately, Lysol Basin Tub and Tile Cleaner seems to be disappearing from store shelves. The customer service rep told me that they have repackaged it as Lysol Bathroom Cleaner, but the fragrance has been changed. Since I cannot tell what it is about this cleaner that makes it different – after all, regular Lysol spray disinfectant and the general Lysol household cleaner did not work for this – and it doesn’t appear to be just the active ingredient, I cannot tell if the fragrance change will make it less effective. I have a stock of the old stuff, but I tried to order more online and received the Bathroom Cleaner despite ordering the Basin Tub and Tile Cleaner. The bathroom cleaner might work, it might not. More about this soon.

Stay tuned for Part 3…

Please help keep Solveeczema going

Well, this is really frustrating. I spent weeks composing a letter to send out to people who had contacted me through the web site. To ask for support for the site, and to direct people to sign up for a Yahoogroup in order to send out occasional (like once a year) announcements about Solveeczema. Some of those people had even offered support in the past, but I didn’t take anyone up on it then.

Well, most of the things I sent out – via a Yahoogroups invite – bounced, most likely because of the word “eczema” and the bulk mailing. I really cannot figure out how to send email to a large number of people. I was trying the Yahoogroup in the first place because it was becoming impossible to send info (to people who had asked) from my account.

When I started Solveeczema, I just paid for the domain names and forwarding myself. I paid for printing and postage to mail the info to people who read about it in newsletters but did not have Internet access themselves. I have even bought soap products for a few moms who could not afford them. But the aforementioned problems with Blue Shield have been a strain on my family’s resources and time, and will probably do so long into the future.

I really do need the help to keep Solveeczema on the air, so to speak. It does not have to be much. I have enough donations to renew for a year, but as you can see, I’m really not much of an online fundraiser and can’t see doing this again next year!

If this has helped you – and by some miracle you get wind of this through the blog (because I don’t seem to be able to email the list of people who contacted me through the site to save my life) – please consider a small donation to keep it going for the next person. The “donate” button on this blog goes directly to Paypal, a secure site.

Please forgive me for grousing, I am feeling a little low and ineffectual at the moment …

If you sign up for the free email subscription…

If you sign up for the free email subscription, you will get an email every time I make a new post to Solveeczema’s blog.  I am so sorry, I just really cannot figure out how to make the subject line of the emails be the title of the new posts!  So every emails says “Solve Eczema’s Blog” in the subject line.  Please bear with me, I’ll get it worked out at some point…

Off Topic: How to Get Rid of Ants for Good, Part 1 of 3

In the next few days (or weeks, depending on when I can finish writing it), I will post another entry to this blog, with a solution to yet another universal problem: how to get rid of ants from your home for good without using poison.

My criteria for getting rid of ants means not having to worry about them ever again after the initial effort to get rid of them. I have seen lots of solutions, ranging from poison to various non-toxic deterrents, all of which require continued monitoring of the ants and possibly further measures. With virtually all of these measures, the ants return all too soon. For families with small children, poisons are often not an option.

I actually figured this solution out for myself about twenty years ago. In the time since, I have found the solution to work reliably in different homes, different geographic regions, and with different kinds of ants. This solution was based on a particular understanding of ant behavior; everything I have observed since has been consistent. Fortunately, the effort to get rid of ants from a home is considerably easier than getting rid of eczema per solveeczema.

I have cautiously shared this solution with a limited number of people over the years. My caution comes not from any down sides as there might be with a medical condition, but for fear that the product I found to implement the solution would become unavailable.

Years ago, I found a natural shower cleaner that worked really well – so much better than any other cleaner I had ever tried – and gushed about it to everyone I knew. Within weeks, the shower cleaner disappeared from the market. I called the manufacturer to find out what had happened, only to discover that the product line had just been sold to a company that made competing cleaning products and killed. That company, it turned out, had its international headquarters in my home town!

Who knows whether it was me or another enthusiastic user who gave the company wind of a potential rival for their objectively more toxic products. But ever since then, I have been a lot more cynical about sharing what I have learned in situations where I am unlikely to change much except my own access to the solution. I knew I would never be able to reach a large number of people by sharing publicly what I knew about getting rid of ants – as with eczema, I have no credentials in any relevant field – and I did not want the product I needed to implement the ant solution to be pulled from the market the way the shower cleaner had been.

Well, it appears the product may be disappearing now anyway. It remains available for sale in limited places, maybe only as long as stock remains, so I thought I would share what I know about getting rid of ant invasions with people who have benefited from the problem solving I did for eczema. I personally have bought enough of the above-mentioned product to last me the rest of my life, without having to experiment to find another product that works the same.

Stay tuned… [link to Part 2 of 3]