Tag Archive for Vinegar

Ants, and A Mild Case of Insanity


If I can get rid of ants, anyone can.

As those of you who read this blog know, we live in the jungle. I’ve often said our kitchen is one inch from nature; one inch is the thickness of our single-wall constructed house and our native hardwood flooring.

The One Inch precept has made me a fastidious housekeeper. Leave one blob of mayonnaise on the counter, and bugs will arrive to scarf it up. Leave the dishes unwashed overnight in the sink, in the morning they will be crawling with little crawly creepy things like cockroaches, or worse, ants.

I hate ants. I’ve examined my aversion to them, because I don’t hate nature in general; in fact, I am the one who will capture a bug in a glass jar and remove it to the out-of-doors rather than kill it. I have no animosity toward spiders, scorpions, or even wasps. But show me an ant, and I start obsessing about how to exterminate it. I think it is their unremitting self-determination I find so daunting. Frightening, really. That, and their violent relationship with other ants, which reminds me of us. Humans.

I recently heard about a scientist researching cancer, how he based his treatment to target it. Because cancer cells divide rapidly, and tend to hide within the normally dividing human cells, he focused on organisms that use swarm intelligence, and specifically  ones that never give up. Ant colonies. Place anything in their path and they will find an alternate route. They are the squirrels of the insect word.

Last year we had an ant outbreak that just about drove me insane. I scrubbed the counters within an inch of their lives, sprayed them with ammonia or Clean Green. All of which had the effectiveness of water. Ants scattered out over the my counter tops casually bumping noses and sending messages, no doubt about some delectable food find.  Every morning, when all I wanted was a peaceful cup of coffee, I did battle them for fifteen minutes or more. I eliminated bacon from our diet—not a bad thing, I suppose—because the grease attracted them in throngs. Bacon has also become outrageously expensive in Costa Rica, but that is for another post. Or, read my friend’s blog on the subject of increasing taxes on food and other items.

I moved the small compost container (with snap-on, air-tight lid) from the counter to the kitchen table. I quit using the countertop by the stove to prepare any food. And still ants ran roughshod over those work surfaces. I’d find them coming up the side of the counter. I sprayed. I applied poisons— I know, I know—between the counter and the wall. A few days would pass and there they were again like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I’m baaack! Heeeer’s Johnny! [Note: this has been edited due to mass cultural confusion, mixing up Poltergeist’s, They’re Baaack!–my original post– with Nicholson’s cry from The Shining. Just trying to be accurate here] Anyway…a thick stream of them coming up the side of the stove, panning out like river deltas, covering my counter. When I began thinking of things like flame throwers to kill them, I knew I needed a permanent fix.

I went to my trusty Macbook and googled ants + eradicate + traps. Countless sites (herehere, and if you prefer video, here) referred to a mixture of boric acid and sugar. It was purported to work, but I was despondent because I’d tried that a couple of years before and it didn’t work for me. However, I realized, I had made a liquid mixture, as recommended. Hmmmm, maybe if the mixture is dry the ants will track the boric acid to their nest and infect the whole mess of them.

What the hell, I thought, I’ll try it. So I mixed the boric acid and powdered sugar in a 50/50 dry mix and made cocaine-like lines along the back splash of my countertop. It took a day, but I noticed the ants began to focus on the bait. In fact, within two days they attacked it like addicts, snorting up my little lines of white powder. They ate so ravenously I had to replace the thin lines almost every day. I said to my husband, “Well, if this is a far as we get, I’m happy to have them away from my space.” I was able to prepare food on the same countertop; the ants stayed with the bait at the back of the counter, eating and tromping around in the mix. They trailed back up the back splash, through a crack, and disappeared behind the counter.

I left them alone.

The method is not fast, but it has been impressively effective. Within two months I had little to no ants. And because the mixture was up on the countertop, I did not have to worry about the dogs getting into it. This is something to remember: boric acid is poisonous to children and pets, so if you use it, keep it away from them. You can do that by putting the mix in a jar and punching holes in the lid, but my outbreak (and mental wellbeing) required the ants find the bait post-haste. It would have taken too long for them to find it inside a jar.

How does it work? According to Debbie Hadley in her About.com article, How to Make and Use Homemade Ant Baits,

 “Boric acid works primarily as a stomach toxin on ants. The worker ants will carry the bait food, loaded with boric acid, back to the nest. There, the ants in the colony will ingest it and die. The boric acid seems to interfere with their metabolism, although scientists aren’t exactly sure how it does so. Sodium borate salts affect an insect’s exoskeleton, causing the insect to desiccate.”

I don’t know about that, but I know it works. Hadley and others recommend the liquid mixture, but, as I said,  it did not work for me. The dry mix is easy to control, and, once the ants focused on it, I increased the amount of boric acid in the mix. Eventually it was a 3:1 mix, more or less (this is not rocket science), and the ants never stopped going for it. They loved it. I removed the bait when they appeared to be gone. When I saw another small outbreak–probably a new hatch– I replaced the bait. Four months later, none. Zero. Zip.


We haven’t had an ant problem now for about a year, but I can never get lax in my housekeeping. The other day I left some chicken scraps on the counter after making a chicken sandwich with mayonnaise (always a magnet). When I came back after lunch there were about ten ants orbiting the countertop. I squished them with my thumb and then sprayed the counter and the back splash with vinegar, which also works; I’ve written about its excellent properties before.

No more ants…. for now. But I am always aware that they lurk a mere inch from my kitchen.


More resources:

13 natural remedies for the ant invasion  by Kimi Harris

How to Stop an Ant Invasion WikiHow

Getting Rid of Ants  The Frugal Life


Mold and Mildew: Part of the Unholy Trinity of the Tropics

mold-spore1Several years ago I complained to a neighbor about the mold and mildew blight of the tropics. He announced –confidently– that he didn’t have mold at his house. Mind you his house is just down the road from ours. Not to be sexist, but I immediately had two thoughts: Wow, you must not be a very thorough housekeeper, and, Whoa, your house is even darker than mine, because obviously you cannot see it. Regardless of my neighbor’s verdict, we have battled the Unholy Trinity of mold, mildew and rot while living here these past 25 years.

Our house, which we built with our bare hands, is constructed from two types of wood, Laurel and Kashá, both of which resist rot… and termites— Oh, I forgot, there’s another pestilence, but I’ll leave that for another post.

The mold/ mildew matter was a huge issue for me, and if I had it to do over, I would not have built a wooden house. It’s gorgeous, mind you, but, like a wooden sailboat, the upkeep is constant, washing, sanding, and revarnishing to keep that beautiful wooden look. Like a lot of boat people I was inclined to let the wood go gray in the elements, but my husband is a putterer and likes to keep things shipshape.

I’ve tried all manner of things on the black mold that tends to congregate where the sun shines on the house. And, I’ve also noted that most of it grows on the floor and bottom four or five feet of the walls; anywhere where moisture levels are higher.

Then there is this about mold from the Mold Remediation Information website:

 Mold (sometimes spelled ‘mould’) is a type of fungi of which there are well over 100,000 species. The original thought that molds feed on decaying leaves and wood is only the beginning. Mold will consume anything organic if you add water or moisture: all plant products such as wood and paper which includes paper, drywall, furniture, clothes, flowers (dead or dried); all dead animal products such as house dust, leather, old meat, dog (and cat) feces. Mold tends not to grow on concrete, plastics and resins, glass, ceramic tile unless there is an abundance of dust covering it and good moisture conditions. It is molds digestive result (excrement) that emits a gas that emits that ‘moldy’ smell. Some molds release gas that has been proven toxic.

Molds are a microscopic multi-cellular organism that for years were thought to be plants, even though they consume other organic matter. Then it was discover that molds lack that important plant ingredient, chlorophyll. This discovery has solidly placed mold outside both the plant and animal kingdom. The exact classification of mold has proven to be very elusive to scientists. Considering strange facts such as: mold does not have a stomach, can live dormant for hundreds of years and has been proven in tests to actually have a rudimentary intelligence. It is clear we are dealing with a very curious link in the Earths biota.

We do not have access to the sorts of remediation they recommend as we live at the end of the road in a very rural area. I’m not even sure there are these sorts of services in Costa Rica. I have forged ahead on my own trying to beat the fungi at its own game. It would seem that the artist, Cecilia Caride, either lives in the tropics or has first-hand knowledge of the plague of that paradise. I found the piece quite humorous.Black mold

For a while I used a Clorox and water mix as that seemed to be the accepted method among the expats. No difference. Then I found Parson’s ammonia in a store in San José and we used a diluted mix for several years. It cut the mold alright, but unless the washer rinsed it off (with the rinse water and sponges I always supplied), the mold began to grow off the soap scum. I’ve had any number of locals hired for the cleaning process and no one seemed to need that rinse water changed, no matter how many times I reminded them.

Then, last year I visited my daughter in Australia. She and her husband, like many of the younger generation, are adamant about protecting the environment. For instance, I soon discovered there were no shampoos in the shower. When I asked what she washed her hair with, she said, Vinegar. In fact, that is what they use for, not only their hair, but all their household cleaning. In passing she also said, If you ever have a mold stain in your clothes, soak it in white vinegar.

Well, this was news to me. On returning home to Punta Uva, I put it to use. Not only does the vinegar strip the mold, it retards the growth by changing the PH. Even my newest house cleaner is impressed. When I first suggested it to him, he was skeptical. But after several months of wiping things down with a white vinegar soaked rag, he sees the difference. Yesterday I actually saw him go into the kitchen and get the vinegar to apply it to his rag.  And  the beauty here,  it does not need a rinsing.

I am also using apple cider vinegar to rinse my hair and wash my face. It has cut back on the tropical crud that tends to live on my scalp and gather on my eyelids and behind my ears.

I’m buying the stuff by the gallon.

Post note: Because this post has received so many hits I’ve added a few resource links for those interested.

Spotless: Room-By-Room Solutions to Domestic Disasters by Sharon Lush


DIY Baking Soda Shampoo & Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner – 100% Green & Effective! March 10, 2012 by Sara @ My Merry Messy Life