Can Lemon Peels Really Keep Ants Away?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

It doesn’t matter where you live: Ants will almost certainly find you. They tend to pop up in the spring and can linger through summer, foraging through your kitchen for food. These persistent pests can sneak in anywhere they might find food, which is, unfortunately, often your kitchen.

Here’s what you can do to kill ’em and keep new ones from coming in.

Your first and best defense for keeping ants out of the kitchen is to keep your countertops clean and your food sealed, so there is nothing for them to eat. “Sweets are their favorites most of the time,” says Dave Lofquist, an associate certified entomologist and technical training manager at Arrow Exterminators. “But they’ll switch to protein if they’re actively producing eggs.” (Gross!)

Even if you’re diligent about cleaning, a few crumbs will escape or spills won’t get wiped up all the way, so don’t feel bad if you wake up to a trail of ants across your countertop one morning!

And don’t freak out and blast them with chemicals either!

When practically every surface comes into contact with food (even the floor — shh!), most people don’t want to use commercial pesticides to get rid of pests in the kitchen. This is why you’ll see some truly creative natural solutions to getting rid of pests (like peppermint oil for mice and growing basil to deter flies and whiteflies).

A food-safe way? Use citrus, like lemons, oranges, or grapefruit and harnesses the power of d-limonene — the acidic oil found in the peels. This oil is toxic to ants (so it will kill them on contact) and it messes up their trail, so live ones won’t be able to find the food source. “Ants follow a pheromone trail when they find food, so if you can disrupt the trail, it will confuse them and break them up,” says Scot Svenheim, an associate certified entomologist in the training and e-learning department of Truly Nolen Pest Control.

You just need to make a simple spray. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Add citrus peels to a pot, then add enough vinegar to cover them.
  2. Heat the mixture until it’s steaming-hot, but not boiling, then turn the stove off and let the liquid sit for a few hours, overnight if you can.
  3. In the morning, strain the liquid into a spray bottle and spritz the mixture anywhere you’ve seen ants.

An Experiment in Real Life

I unfortunately got to test this method, as I coincidentally had a surprise ant infestation while I was researching this article! I had read online that you could put lemon peels on the counter to act as a repellant, but the ants just marched around them. The spray, however, has been working!

If you’ve had ant problems in the past, make this mixture as soon as it gets warm (now would be good!) and keep it in the fridge for the first time they crop up.

When you see the ants, by the way, take a moment to watch what they’re doing before you start smushing them (that’s a technical term, right?). If there’s a clear trail, follow it to the food source and back to the entry point, so you can target where to clean up and block the entrance (use caulk to fill cracks around window frames or gaps between the cabinet and walls). Then spray the ants with your mixture. It’ll kill the ants you see, and block the pheromone trail for others who are looking for food. Give it a little time, then wipe your surfaces.

It may take a couple days, but this should fix your problem. If not — time to call an exterminator!