The 14 Most Effective Ways to Get Rid of Ants in Your Trash Cans

Written by Kathryn Dueck
Updated: October 9, 2023
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Ants love trash, there’s no doubt about it. These crawling insects are attracted to many types of food, but sweet foods draw them in more powerfully than any other. Once an ant has discovered a food source, it lays down a trail of pheromones to alert other ants to its discovery. This means you won’t have just one or two ants, you’ll likely have dozens or hundreds. Starting with the most natural solutions, we’ll run down a list of the most effective ways to get rid of ants in your trash cans.

1. Keep Your Trash Cans Clean

Man pushing a trash can

Make sure to keep your trash cans clean. Food spills can easily attract ants.

©Ljupco Smokovski/

This is one of the most effective ways to prevent an infestation, but it’s also useful for discouraging ants that have already discovered your trash. Wipe the inside and outside of your trash cans regularly to clean up any spills or residue. If you’re using a garbage bag, make sure it has no rips. Once it gets full, change the bag to prevent ants from swarming to the odor.

2. Empty Your Trash Cans Regularly

taking out the trash

Take out the trash regularly to prevent an ant infestation.


A surefire way to attract ants to your garbage is by neglecting to change it regularly. Once the bag is full, take it out and replace it with a new one. Even if the bag isn’t full, consider changing it if it contains a lot of smelly food waste. Ants are attracted to various kinds of food including sweet, greasy, and fatty foods. Consider a composter if you find your trash is attracting a lot of ants.

3. Use a Trash Can with a Tight Lid

Trash and Recycling Bins in Arizona Desert in Saguaro National Park

Use a tight lid or secure your trash in other ways to prevent ants from getting at it.

©Kelly vanDellen/

One of the best ways to get rid of ants in your trash is by using a tight lid. A tight lid on your trash can will help stop ants from getting inside. They may still smell the food, but if they can’t get at it, they will likely give up and seek out a different food source.

4. Use Sealed Garbage Bags

Diapers waste, dirty diapers in garbage pail Disposing of used baby nappies. Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers. Pollution of the environment, soil and water

Use sealed garbage bags to prevent ants from getting into your garbage.


Once you take out the trash, you’ll want to keep ants from getting at it. Use sealed garbage bags to keep the garbage safely contained and reduce food odors. Also, make sure food isn’t protruding from or falling out of the bag.

5. Essential Oils

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

Essential oils like peppermint naturally repel ants.


Many people use essential oils to make their homes smell better, but certain scents are also useful for repelling ants. Essential oils like peppermint, citrus (lemon or orange), and tea tree naturally repel most ant species. Try mixing a few drops of oil in water and spraying it on and around your trash cans. This is a harmless, chemical-free way of discouraging ants that will also leave your home smelling great.

6. Vinegar

white vinegar on the wooden table top

The sharp smell and acidity of vinegar naturally repel ants.

©focal point/

The sharp smell and acidity of vinegar are great ways to get rid of ants. Try mixing equal parts vinegar and water and spraying the mixture around your trash cans. The downside to this method is that your kitchen could end up smelling strongly of vinegar. Also, if you use too much or don’t dilute it enough, it could attract other pests like fruit flies and aphids.

7. Lemon Juice

Glass of fresh lemon juice on white background

Much like vinegar, lemon juice is a great way to repel ants.

©Africa Studio/

You can use lemon juice to repel ants much the same way you would use vinegar. The strong smell and acidity are highly unpleasant to ants. Mix equal parts lemon juice and water and apply the spray to your garbage cans. Unlike vinegar, the smell of lemon is much more palatable to humans. However, be sure not to use too much – like vinegar, it can attract other pests.

8. Powdered Spices

closeup cassia cinnamon

Powdered spices like cinnamon are a natural way to repel ants.


One of the best natural ways to get rid of ants is by using powdered spices. Certain odorous spices like cinnamon, ground cloves, and cayenne may form effective barriers. Try laying down a line of one of these powdery spices to prevent ants from getting at your trash cans.

9. Chalk, Baby Powder, or Talcum Powder

Chalk, Oktibbeha County, Mississippi

Use chalk, baby powder, and talcum powder as barriers to keep ants away from your trash cans.

©Breck P. Kent/

Chalk, baby powder, and talcum powder can all be used to form effective barriers around your trash cans. Lay down a continuous line of chalk or powder around your garbage to prevent ants from crossing it.

10. Dish Soap or Laundry Detergent

Detergents on white background.

Dish soap and laundry detergent both kill ants and repel them.

©Andrew Angelov/

Yes, it’s true – dish soap and laundry detergent not only kill ants, but they can also prevent them from coming back. Create a soapy mixture and spray any ants you see, then spray the area. You can use this solution both indoors and outdoors. Although it’s generally not as effective as other solutions, it may do the job if the infestation is not extreme. Your kitchen will probably smell better, too.

11. Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth( Kieselgur) powder in jar for non-toxic organic insect repellent. Using diatomite in garden concept.

Use diatomaceous earth, a non-toxic powder, to kill and repel ants.


Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic powder made from fossilized algae. It is very useful as both a repellant and a barrier. Simply sprinkle it in or around your trash cans to prevent or repel an infestation of ants. Food-grade diatomaceous earth is generally safe for both humans and pets, but it’s wise to wear gloves and a mask while handling it to prevent respiratory irritation.

12. Borax or Boric Acid

Does Boric Acid Kill Cockroaches - Boric Acid

Both borax and boric acid are effective ways to kill ants.


Borax (also called sodium tetraborate) is a white powdery mineral used in cleaning. It also comes in the form of boric acid. It’s also one of the most effective ways to get rid of ants. It forms an effective barrier to keep ants away from trash cans. To kill invading ants, mix equal parts borax and sugar and sprinkle the mixture around your trash cans. The ants will ingest it because of the sugar, upon which the borax will kill them. However, be careful when using borax as an ant repellant. It has been known to burn skin and cause serious issues if ingested. Always wear gloves when handling this powder and make sure children and pets can’t reach it.

13. Ant Baits or Traps

Ant trap

Ant bait and ant traps are effective ways to get rid of ants.

© White

If the above methods aren’t working for you, you may want to consider setting out ant bait or ant traps. This method relies on ants carrying back slow-acting poison to their nests, which eventually kills the entire colony. The downside is that it can take several weeks to achieve its intended result. It also potentially exposes humans and pets to poison. If you choose to go this route, be sure to only place bait and traps where they won’t cause harm to people and animals in the home.

14. Insecticides

Pest Control Worker Spraying Insecticide In Domestic Kitchen

Insecticides are quick and effective, but they may contain harsh chemicals.


Insecticides are generally the quickest and most effective way to get rid of ants. However, use them with caution. They typically contain harsh chemicals that harm people, animals, and the environment. The ones in spray form are easily inhaled, which can result in respiratory irritation. The chemical residue also lingers for a long time. Be sure to keep insecticides or other harsh chemicals out of reach of children and pets.

Summary Table of the Most Effective Ways to Get Rid of Ants

1Keep trash cans clean
2Empty trash cans regularly
3Use a trash can with a tight lid
4Use sealed garbage bags
5Essential oils
7Lemon juice
8Spice powders
9Chalk, baby powder, or talcum powder
10Dish soap
11Diatomaceous earth
13Ant baits or traps
Summary of the most effective ways to get rid of ants.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Bradley Rentz, CC BY-SA 4.0 – License / Original

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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

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