How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants: Effective Strategies to Protect Your Home

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Carpenter ants are found all over North America and here in the Pacific Northwest region, they are one of the most significant structural pests. They nest in moisture-damaged wood and are capable of causing severe damage to the structural integrity of any building. Home and property owners in Southwest Washington and Portland metro area should always be on the lookout for these dangerous pests. As a local pest control company, we have tips and techniques for eliminating carpenter ant infestations and advice on when to seek professional help. 

What do carpenter ants look like? 

Carpenter ants are one of the largest ant species in the U.S. and the largest ants found in the Pacific Northwest. Here is how you can identify a carpenter ant:

  • Size:  ½” to ⅝” 
  • Color: Uniformly black or red with a black head and black abdomen; often confused with western thatching ants which are read with a black abdomen 
  • Body: Three distinct body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen) with six legs two antennae 

Many people wonder if carpenter ants have wings or if they can fly. The truth is, the alates (reproductive forms) of both males and females are almost always winged during nuptial events. They do in fact shed their wings after mating has occurred, at which time the inseminated females will become queens and the males will die. Fun fact about carpenter ants: females perform all of the duties of the nest while males serve only to reproduce. Most of the carpenter ant colony at any given time is female.

Signs of carpenter ants in your house

Here in Oregon and Washington, carpenter ants are most active in the springtime (April to early June) when they swarm, and they are most active at night. If you spot a carpenter ant in your home, it may or may not mean an infestation, but it’s important to be aware. Signs of a carpenter ant infestation include:

  • Flying ants around your home or building
  • Trails of ants traveling through your home or building
  • Ants foraging in and around your home, usually between sunset and midnight
  • Small piles of sawdust
  • Soft rattling or gentle scratching sounds in the walls at night as work ants are busy excavating new galleries in which to lay eggs and tend their brood

Carpenter ant colonies usually have two nests – the parent nest (outdoors) and the satellite nest (indoors). The parent nest is usually located in a tree or rotten log within 300 yards of the satellite nest. Satellite nests are often established in the wood where moisture problems exist (e.g., around leaking pipes, inadequately sealed window frames, and roof leaks).

Remember, unlike termites, carpenter ants do not possess the digestive enzymes required to digest wood cellulose. This means they don’t eat wood, and instead, they feed primarily on other small insects and honeydew produced by aphids. The gallery building that happens in wood is specifically for nesting. The primary reason why carpenter ants establish satellite nests is because the original colony grew to a size and maturity that could not be supported in the original nest so those satellite nests are there for the continued expansion of the colony. Knowing this information can help you identify a carpenter ant infestation. 


Carpenter ants vs termites

Pacific Northwest homeowners often mistake carpenter ants for termites because they’re both wood-destroying organisms (WDOs). However, carpenter ants and termites are very different for a few reasons:

  • Appearance: Carpenter ants are larger than termites plus they have differently shaped antennae, waist, and wings. Termites have no defined waist that separates the thorax from the abdomen. Their wings are all of equal length whereas carpenter ants have two different-sized wings on each side.
  • Behavior: Carpenter ants do not eat wood, they only dig and nest in it. They actually eat dead insects and sweets. Termites like to eat cellulose materials which are found in structural wood, paper, cotton, and books.
  • Visibility: Carpenter ants are sometimes visible in the home, whereas termites are usually only visible when swarming. (Learn more about Pacific Northwest termites in an earlier blog post.)

Just remember that no matter which pest, an infestation of carpenter ants or termites can damage your business, home, or other commercial properties. A trained pest control professional will know the difference between carpenter ants and termites and recommend a treatment plan for getting rid of pests!

How do you get rid of carpenter ants? 

Carpenter ants usually come into buildings through cracks around doors and windows. They also come through plumbing and electrical penetrations in the home or other structures. Overhead wires, shrubs, or tree limbs outdoors that touch the building above ground are like bridges helping them get inside. 

The best way to get rid of carpenter ants is to prevent them from infesting your home in the first place. Follow these carpenter ant prevention tips:

  1. Eliminate any sources of moisture or standing water in and around your home. 
  2. Cut back tree branches and plants from your house.
  3. Use a silicone-based caulk to seal all cracks and openings around the bottom of your doors or around your windows.
  4. Store firewood and building materials away from your home. 
  5. Make sure you have good ventilation in crawl spaces.

DIY solutions available for getting rid of carpenter ants include ant baiting, boric acid dust, desiccant dust, and insecticidal spray. If you do a quick internet search, you will find many results showing natural solutions for getting rid of carpenter ants. These include baking soda and sugar, essential oils, soap and water, and vinegar. Just remember that none of these are guaranteed to work if you have a carpenter ant infestation.   

How do exterminators get rid of carpenter ants?

DIY methods aren’t guaranteed to work for a carpenter ant infestation because they nest deep within the structure of your home. A professional pest control company has access to better equipment, products, and tools than most homeowners. An exterminator will also know how to access hidden nests while causing the least possible amount of structural damage to your Portland-area home.

Carpenter ants can build a parent nest and satellite nests in different places, but they don’t always do this. It generally takes up to 5 years for the colony to achieve a size where this expansion is necessary. When they do expand, this makes them extra hard to get rid of. A pest control company has the experience, expertise, and tools necessary to find and treat all nests within your home or property.

Professional Carpenter Ant Removal In Portland, Vancouver, Olympia, And Kelso

Remember, carpenter ants can cause damage to your home or property if they aren’t controlled quickly. Carpenter ants can’t sting but can inflict painful bites because of their strong jaws. As a Formicidae species, they also possess formic acid which can be sprayed into a wound causing it to sting. (But there’s good news – carpenter ant bites don’t pose a significant health threat.) Both of these reasons mean that you should get rid of carpenter ants in your home or commercial property. A local professional pest control company will help you with any carpenter ant infestation. 

Interstate Pest Management is the company to call for quality carpenter treatment and prevention techniques. Our headquarters are right here in Kelso, WA, and we provide eco-friendly, effective, and safe pest control services for homeowners and businesses in and around Kelso and Longview, Olympia, Portland, and Vancouver. Get in touch with us here or call us at (503)-832-4997.