Discover 14 Smells That Ants Absolutely Hate

Written by Mike Edmisten
Updated: December 1, 2023
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Entomologists estimate there are 20 quadrillion ants on Earth. That equates to approximately 2.5 million ants for every person worldwide. These invertebrates are found everywhere on the planet except for the polar regions.

Given these insects’ ubiquity, it is no surprise that they find their way into our homes and many other places where they are unwelcome.

Three Common Ants

carpenter ant vs black ant

With 20 quadrillion ants on the planet, some are bound to enter your home.


While thousands of ant species exist in the United States, three types are most likely to invite themselves into your home.

1. Odorous House Ants

Close up picture of small black ants, called Odorous House Ants,

Ants are attracted to crumbs and food left in the sink. Be sure to clean thoroughly to avoid an ant problem.

©Dhe Tong/

These ants live up to their name. They release an unpleasant odor when crushed, which is often compared to the smell of rotting coconuts. These smelly insects build nests both indoors and outdoors. Inside your home, they are often found near hot water pipes and in open wall spaces. These ants are particularly attracted to meats and sweets.

2. Carpenter Ants

Carpenter Ant queen surrounded


These ants are more destructive than other common ants. They are larger, at over half an inch long, and they use their oversized mandibles to tunnel through wood. Wet or rotting wood is a carpenter ant paradise. But, while carpenter ants tunnel through wood, they don’t eat it. They feed on other insects and are drawn to grease, meat, and sweet foods.

3. Pavement Ants

Fresh nest of ants in the stone floor of wild tiles.

Piles of dirt such as this are telltale signs of pavement ants.


These ants are so-named because they often nest between cracks in pavement and under stones. If these tiny ants enter your home, they are likely to nest under the floor, as well as in walls and insulation. Pavement ants are especially attracted to dead insects, sweets, and grease.

How Do You Stop Ants?

Worker Carpenter ants (Camponotus sp.) taking care of the queen ant, eggs, larva and pupae in test tube.

Ants, ants, everywhere, ants… Except in your home, if you add some smells that ants hate!

©Poravute Siriphiroon/

While it would be borderline impossible to stop every ant from trespassing in your spaces, there are ways to reduce their numbers significantly. One very effective method is to introduce scents that repel ants.

Ants do not have noses. Rather, they detect scent through very sensitive chemoreceptors on their antennae. This is how ants can zero in on the food crumbs that you forgot to sweep up. But you can also use ants’ olfactory sensitivity to your advantage. There are certain scents that ants find off-putting or that signal danger to them.

Scents That Repel Ants

1. Vinegar

white vinegar on the wooden table top

©focal point/

The scent of vinegar is highly effective at repelling ants. They are not only deterred by the smell of vinegar, but it can also remove their scent trails. Ants use scent to find their way around. If you’ve ever seen ants moving in a straight line across your floor or kitchen counter, you have observed this behavior. The ants are all following the same scent trail. Vinegar washes away that trail, creating confusion and causing the ants to disperse.

Mix a solution of half vinegar and half water. Use this mixture to wipe down kitchen counters, clean the floor, etc. It’s not a permanent solution, so the process may need to be repeated after the scent of the vinegar fades. However, the advantages of this method are clear. It’s a highly effective, inexpensive, and easy way to repel ants.

2. Thyme


Thyme is not only a tasty herb but also an effective ant deterrent.


If ants are a problem in your garden, consider growing thyme. This herb, which features in many delicious recipes, is also an effective ant deterrent. But, while the scent of thyme puts off pesky ants, the plant attracts helpful pollinators such as bees. You can also bring this ant-deterring herb inside. It’s easy to grow thyme indoors, either by itself or as part of a window herb garden.

3. Chalk

Sidewalk Chalk

©Jeremy from Sydney, Australia / CC BY 2.0 – License

This one admittedly seems a bit odd, but it works. Get some sidewalk chalk and draw thick lines close to the known access points that ants are using to enter your house. Chalk contains calcium carbonate, which interferes with the scent trails of ants. Chalk also has a texture that ants don’t want to walk across, so it repels the insects both through scent and touch.

4. Citrus Peel

The benefits of citrus peel. clean stainless steel. remove coffee stains. deodorize


Citrus peel is another repellent that works on multiple pests. Along with ants, it can deter mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and more.

Simply leave a few peels around entryways and known access points to stop pests from entering. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy! (Sorry. That citrus reference was low-hanging fruit.)

5. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint essential oil and fresh twig on wooden background.Tag with text peppermint


While it is an effective ant repellent, peppermint oil actually turns away all sorts of other common pests. Even mice!

Peppermint oil contains terpene and menthol, two chemical compounds that are toxic to insects. They will steer clear, and you can enjoy the fragrant peppermint scent. Win, win.

6. Lavender

lavender plants in bamboo pots

Lavender is a lovely ornamental plant, as well as an ant repellent.

©Shan 16899/

Yes, lavender is a lovely addition to a garden or flowerbed, but its appeal is more than simply aesthetic. Lavender is a natural insect deterrent, including ants. Gardeners often plant lavender to protect other plants, such as vegetables, from insect invaders.

7. Lemongrass Essential Oil



This essential oil wreaks havoc on ants’ chemical receptors. It causes confusion and makes it difficult for them to find food. This is why they will keep their distance from the scent.

8. Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum blossoms

Gorgeous flowers and ant deterrents… chrysanthemums do it all!

©Volodymyr Yakovyna/

Chrysanthemums are not only lovely flowers, but they are also effective deterrents for multiple insects. These plants contain pyrethrins, which are six chemicals that are toxic to insects. The chrysanthemum truly is nature’s pesticide.

9. Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds

Ground Coffee Beans Spilled from a Coffee Scoop

© Lee Photography

Many people find the smell of coffee delightful, but ants definitely do not. These insects find the scent repellent.

After brewing your morning coffee, sprinkle the coffee grounds around the outside of your house or any other location you want to be ant-free. Bonus: coffee grounds are good for many flowerbed and garden plants.

10. Cayenne and Black Pepper

cayenne peppers in a bowl, with ground cayenne in spoon nearby

Cayenne pepper makes food spicy and ants scarce.

©Thanatip S./

When it comes to smells ants hate, pepper is near the top of the list. You can use either cayenne or black pepper. Both work equally well. These spices drive ants’ scent receptors crazy, and they will stay far away from them.

Sprinkle a line of pepper to create a barrier that ants will not cross. You can also create a pepper and water solution and spray it around the areas where ants are problematic.

11. Tea Tree Oil

Fresh tea tree branch and essential oil on white background. Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Never give your dog tea oil without a vet’s explicit instructions to do so.


Many essential oils are effective ant repellents. Tea tree oil works especially well.

Mix 5-10 drops of tea tree essential oil with 2 cups of water in a clean plastic spray bottle. Spray the mixture wherever you want to deter ants. You can also soak cotton balls in tea tree oil and place them in ant problem areas. The scent of the oil will turn ants away, along with a long of other insects.

12. Cinnamon

closeup cassia cinnamon

Ants hate cinnamon!


Ants cannot stand the smell of cinnamon. Ground cinnamon, cinnamon essential oil, and cinnamon sticks can all be effective repellents. Ground cinnamon can even suffocate ants by clogging the spiracles they use to breathe. Long story short, ants want nothing to do with cinnamon.

13. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

lemon eucalyptus


The oil that is extracted from the lemon eucalyptus tree is an effective natural insect repellent. The plant contains citronella, which you probably recognize as a popular mosquito repellent. It’s a good, all-around natural insect deterrent.

14. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Manna gum eucalyptus tree trunk with branches and leaves at top and blue sky

©Kathleen Exell/

No, this is not the same thing as lemon eucalyptus oil. It can be a little confusing, but lemon eucalyptus oil is extracted from the lemon eucalyptus tree. The oil of lemon eucalyptus comes from the gum eucalyptus tree. It is considered a bio-pesticide and repels, or even kills, ants.

Summary of 14 Smells That Ants Absolutely Hate

1VinegarServes as a repellent while eliminating scent trails
2ThymeServes as a repellent while also attracting pollinators such as bees
3ChalkContains calcium carbonate, which interferes with ant scent trails; ants also find the texture of chalk repulsive
4Citrus peelCapable of repelling ants, mosquitoes, flies, and ticks
5Peppermint OilContains terpene and menthol, both of which are toxic to insects
6LavenderHas natural insect-repellent abilities
7Lemongrass Essential OilHas a destabilizing effect on ants’ chemical receptors.
8ChrysanthemumsContain pyrethrins which are toxic to insects
9Coffee GroundsRepel ants with their scent
10Cayenne and Black PepperDestabilize ants’ scent receptors
11Tea Tree OilRepels ants with its potent fragrance
12CinnamonRepels ants with its potent fragrance and will clog their breathing spiracles when ground
13Lemon Eucalyptus OilContains citronella, a natural insect repellent
14Oil of Lemon EucalyptusConstitutes a bio-pesticide thath repels ants

The photo featured at the top of this post is © IamBijayaKumar/

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About the Author

Mike is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on geography, agriculture, and marine life. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University and a resident of Cincinnati, OH, Mike is deeply passionate about the natural world. In his free time, he, his wife, and their two sons love the outdoors, especially camping and exploring US National Parks.

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