Does Cornmeal Kill Ants?

Bill Swank
First Published: | Updated: February 27, 2024

If you’ve ever delved into home remedies for ant control, you’ve probably stumbled upon the notion that cornmeal can kill ants. This simple, readily available pantry item has been the subject of discussion and debate among homeowners for generations. Does tossing cornmeal onto an ant trail really interrupt their invasive activities? Or is this just another pest control myth circulating online?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll unravel the truth about cornmeal’s effects on ants – from how ants interact with it, what happens when they do, to how you can possible use it to your advantage. Grab your ant-sized magnifying glass, and let’s investigate.

  • Cornmeal itself doesn’t kill ants: Contrary to popular belief, ants won’t explode or die from consuming cornmeal. They are attracted to cornmeal as a potential food source, but they don’t ingest it in a matter that would cause harm.
  • Ants consume liquid, not solid food: This misunderstanding could be what led people to assume that ants would eat solid cornmeal and then expand or explode. In reality, ants ingest only liquid substances. They bring solid food, like cornmeal, back to the colony, where the larvae digest and convert it into a liquid for the queen and the other ants to consume.
  • Cornmeal can be effectively used with a slow-acting poison: While cornmeal on its own won’t kill ants, it can be used as a bait to carry a slow-acting pesticide into the colony. Worker ants take the poisoned cornmeal back to the nest, which then leads to the whole colony, including the queen, being poisoned.
  • Safety is a priority when using cornmeal baits: Cornmeal baits laced with slow-acting pesticides like borax or boric acid are generally safe for homes with pets and children. However, they should be placed out of reach of pets and children, and storage and handling precautions should be adhered to avoid accidental ingestion or skin contact.
  • Cornmeal as a pest control solution requires patience: The effects of using cornmeal baits aren’t immediate. Worker ants must first carry the bait back to the nest, then it is processed by the larvae and fed to the queen and other ants. This process can take one to two weeks, and it’s crucial to bear in mind that further monitoring and treatments may be needed for ongoing control.

Table of Contents

What is the Common Belief About Cornmeal and Ants?

What is cornmeal and how is it commonly used?

Cornmeal is dried and ground corn, most commonly used in cooking and baking. It’s well-known for its role as a staple in dishes such as cornbread or polenta. Apart from its culinary function, cornmeal is also known for its supposed ability to control common pests, like ants.

How does cornmeal affect ants?

The popular belief is that when ants eat cornmeal, they can’t digest it properly, which leads to their demise. But does that truly happen? Let’s dig deeper into the ants’ feeding habits to clarify whether cornmeal really affects them in this way.

How do ants consume food?

Ants, contrary to popular belief, cannot eat solid food. They ingest liquid substances, usually made from the food they collect, which is processed by their larvae in the colony. Worker ants bring solid food back to their nest where the larvae convert it into a liquid, which is then consumable for the rest of the colony including the queen.

Can ants digest cornmeal?

Ants cannot digest solid cornmeal directly. The cornmeal needs to be processed by their larvae, which then convert it into a form that is safe and digestible for the ants. So, the theory that cornmeal causes ants to explode because they can’t digest it is unfounded.

Does cornmeal actually kill ants?

This may be surprising, but no, cornmeal on its own does not kill ants. The idea that ants are killed by consuming cornmeal is a common myth that has been circulating for years. While ants are attracted to cornmeal and will certainly carry it back to their colony, this does not result in their death. In fact, providing them with cornmeal without any added insecticide just means you’re offering them a feast.

However, cornmeal can be an effective tool for ant traps when mixed with a slow-acting pesticide. The trap works when worker ants carry the pesticide-treated cornmeal back to the nest. When the poison-laced cornmeal is consumed by the queen and other ants in the colony, it results in extermination. Thus, while cornmeal itself is not lethal to ants, it can play a significant role in ant control when used appropriately.

What are the Origins of the Cornmeal-Ant Myth?

Understanding this persistent belief requires us to delve into its historical background and evolution.

Where did the myth that cornmeal kills ants originate?

The exact origin of the cornmeal myth is unclear, but it appears to have perpetuated due to misunderstandings about the way ants feed and misconceptions about the impact of cornmeal on their digestive system. Many people have likely observed ants carrying away pieces of cornmeal, leading them to believe it’s a food source that could potentially harm the ants.

How has this myth been perpetuated?

Word-of-mouth, combined with the power of the internet, has kept this myth alive. Misinterpretation of observational data can often lead to the spread of such misinformation. Seeing ants carry cornmeal back to their nests led people to the incorrect conclusion that ingestion of cornmeal leads to their death, hence the continued spread of this myth.

Are there any factual bases that could have led to this misconception?

The misunderstanding that cornmeal is deadly to ants can be traced back to a lack of knowledge about the feeding behavior and digestion process of ants. When you see ants carrying pieces of cornmeal, it’s easy to assume they’re eating it. However, as we’ve explained earlier, ants can’t eat solid foods – their larvae convert it into a liquid form fit for consumption. The mistaken belief that ants eat cornmeal in its solid state and then ‘explode’ because they can’t digest it likely gave birth to this myth.

How Do Ants Interact with Cornmeal?

Ants and cornmeal have an interesting relationship. Let’s take a look at what happens when ants come into contact with cornmeal.

What happens when ants come into contact with cornmeal?

Upon encountering cornmeal, ants perceive it as a potential food source. Worker ants then collect and transport it back to their nest. But instead of ‘eating’ the cornmeal, ants make use of their larvae to process it.

What role do larvae play in the digestion of cornmeal?

Larvae act as the ‘stomach’ for the ant colony. They receive the collected solid food, ingest it, break it down, and turn it into a form of liquid food. This nourishing liquid is then fed to the rest of the colony.

What is the end result of feeding cornmeal to ants?

Feeding cornmeal to ants ultimately provides them with a source of nourishment. Contrary to popular belief, it won’t exterminate the ants or their colony. However, this scenario changes if the cornmeal is laced with a slow-acting poison. In such cases, the ants unknowingly transport the toxic bait to their colony, leading to widespread poisoning and eventual colony annihilation.

Can Cornmeal Be Used Effectively to Control Ant Infestations?

Contrary to what the myth says, using cornmeal on its own isn’t going to rid you of an ant infestation. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t play a significant role in ant control. Let’s explore how this common pantry item can turn into a powerful tool against ant infestations.

How can you use cornmeal to kill ants?

When it comes to ant control, cornmeal can serve a significant role only when combined with a slow-acting poison. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get the most out of cornmeal to fend off those pesky ants:

Step 1: Choose Your Poison 

Consider slow-release toxins such as boric acid or borax to mix with the cornmeal. Remember, the mere ingestion of cornmeal won’t harm the ants. Hence, combining it with a poison is crucial to ensure its effectiveness.

Step 2: Perfecting the Proportions 

A typical recipe involves 9 parts cornmeal to 1 part poison. To articulate, if you are using a cup of cornmeal, couple it with 2 tablespoons of borax.

Step 3: Offering the Bait 

Place your cornmeal bait where you’ve noticed ant activity. Worker ants are the colony’s gatherers, and upon discovering this ‘meal,’ they’ll carry it back to their nest. The trick here is to keep the poison’s strength in check — it shouldn’t kill the worker ants instantly, as they are responsible for transporting the toxic payload back to the nest.

Step 4: Waiting Game 

After the bait has been taken, be patient. The poison works slowly, giving the worker ants enough time to share it throughout the colony. It could take up to a week before you start seeing noticeable results.

By following this method, you use cornmeal not as a killer, but as a deceptive carrier for the actual lethal substance. The effectiveness of this approach relies heavily on the ants’ social structure and feeding habits, providing a grimly ironic twist to ‘sharing is caring’.

What types of pesticides can be mixed with cornmeal to make it effective?

One of the commonly used pesticides mixed with cornmeal is borax. Borax is a mineral compound that is toxic to ants but has a minimal impact on humans and pets. Another option is boric acid, which, while slightly more toxic to humans and pets compared to borax, is highly effective in controlling ants when mixed with cornmeal.

How Long Does It Take for Cornmeal Bait to Affect Ants?

The time it takes for cornmeal bait to completely eliminate an ant colony can vary, depending on a number of factors.

What is the timeframe for cornmeal-based ant traps to work?

Cornmeal-based ant traps usually begin to show noticeable results within a few days to a week, once the worker ants have taken the poisoned bait back to the colony and the larvae have processed it.

How does the poisoning process unfold in the ant colony?

Worker ants carry the poisoned cornmeal to the colony and make it available – in processed form – for all members, including larvae and the queen. The slow-releasing poison starts to take effect from the moment of ingestion, gradually killing the ants within a period of a few days to a week. The queen, the heart of ant productivity and colony growth, is also fed the toxic blend and eventually dies, effectively halting the colony’s growth.

What are the Alternatives to Cornmeal for Ant Control?

Even though cornmeal can be an effective bait in ant control, exploring other options can present new possibilities for natural ant control methods. Let’s dive into some alternatives to cornmeal.

Does cornstarch kill ants?

Much like cornmeal, cornstarch alone cannot kill ants, but it can be mixed with other household substances. Cornstarch is effective in killing ants when mixed with a bait like sugar along with water, making a paste. To make it even more effective, you can add borax powder into the mixture. When ants ingest it and bring it back to their colony, it forms a thick, indigestible layer in their stomachs, leading to their demise.

Moreover, it can also be used as a physical trap. Wet cornstarch can act like quicksand, entrapping ants. While this can kill some ants, it’s less effective as a large-scale solution and is unlikely to reach the heart of the problem – the queen ant and the nest.

How do ants interact with cornstarch?

Ants behave towards cornstarch much the same way they do with cornmeal. They’re attracted to it as a food source, collecting it and bringing it back to their nest. However, when mixed with a bait, like sugar, and a sufficient amount of water to create a paste, ingesting this mixture causes a lethal reaction inside ants – primarily due to the thick indigestible layer the paste forms in their stomach.

One can also create a physical trap using a concoction of cornstarch and water, which acts like quicksand trapping the ants. Yet, this approach is less practical for dealing with infestations as it’s unlikely to harm the whole colony. The bottom line is that, while cornstarch doesn’t inherently kill ants, it can be used as a component in homemade ant control recipes.

Can sugar be added to cornmeal for increased effectiveness?

Adding sugar to cornmeal can heighten its attractiveness to ants, making it a more effective bait. However, the killing principle remains the same: it will not be effective unless combined with a slow-acting pesticide that the ants can bring back to the colony.

Does a mixture of cornmeal and baking soda work better than cornmeal alone?

Yes, a mixture of cornmeal and baking soda works better than cornmeal alone to kill ants. Cornmeal is a good source of food for ants, but they cannot digest the baking soda. When the ants eat the cornmeal, the baking soda reacts with the acid in their stomachs and produces carbon dioxide gas. This gas causes the ants to bloat and eventually die.

To make a cornmeal and baking soda ant killer, mix equal parts cornmeal and baking soda. Add powdered sugar to make the bait more attractive. Sprinkle the mixture in areas where you see ants, such as along trails, near food sources, and in their nests. You can also place the mixture in bait traps.

Are there other natural substances that can be used to control ants?

Yes, several natural substances can be effective in ant control. Vinegar, for instance, can disrupt the scent trails that ants use to navigate, making it harder for them to find their way to food sources in your home. Diatomaceous earth, a powder made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic creatures called diatoms, can be lethal to ants, killing them through desiccation. Essential oils like peppermint and tea tree oil can also repel ants.

Is There a Difference in Efficacy for Different Types of Ants?

Species-versus-treatment considerations are a vital aspect of pest control, and the situation with ants is no exception.

Does cornmeal kill fire ants?

Cornmeal alone does not kill any ant species, including fire ants. As with the common ant variety, fire ants may be attracted to cornmeal but will not be eliminated by it. Using cornmeal laced with a slow-acting pesticide might be effective if dealing with small fire ant colonies, but considering their aggressive nature and rapid population growth, it might not be effective for larger colonies.

How effective is cornmeal-based bait on all types of ants?

Cornmeal-based bait can be quite versatile and effective against a wide range of ant types, as long as it’s paired with a pesticide. This effectiveness stems not from the cornmeal itself, but from the pesticide that the cornmeal carries into the colony. The key here is that different species may require different types or amounts of pesticide to be effective. Consulting with a professional is often the best course of action to ensure the most effective treatment.

What is the Verdict on the Cornmeal-Ant Debate According to Trusted Sources?

It’s always a good idea to check the credibility of information, especially when it’s related to pest control. Let’s see what trusted sources have to say about the cornmeal-ant debate.

What do credible sources like Snopes say about cornmeal and ants?

Snopes, a respected fact-checking website, has debunked the myth that cornmeal kills ants. Snopes confirms that ants cannot eat solid food, including cornmeal. Therefore, the claim that cornmeal expands in the ants’ digestive system and kills them isn’t accurate.

What are the implications of these findings for people dealing with ant infestations?

The main takeaway is that simple solutions like spreading cornmeal to deal with an ant infestation are more hopeful thinking than reality. While cornmeal can be used fruitfully as a bait when combined with a slow-acting pesticide, cornmeal alone will not stop an infestation. For large infestations, a professional pest control service might be more helpful and effective to completely eradicate the ant colony.

Is Cornmeal a Safe Solution for Ant Control?

While cornmeal alone might not kill ants, using it as part of a baited poison approach can be an effective and safe solution.

How safe is cornmeal as a method to kill ants for humans and pets?

Using cornmeal with a slow-acting pesticide such as borax can be a safe option for homes with pets and children, as borax is less toxic than other commercial pesticides. However, it is important to note that it can be harmful or fatal if ingested in large amounts by pets or humans, so it is crucial to keep the bait out of reach of pets and children.

Where to properly place cornmeal baits?

Cornmeal baits should be placed in areas where ant activity has been observed but out of reach of children and pets. This might include along ant trails, near nest entrances, or other areas where ants collect food.

What are the potential drawbacks of using cornmeal for ants?

The major drawback to using cornmeal is that it’s a slower method of control. It relies on foraging ants to take the bait back to the nest, feed it to other ants, and eventually to the larvae and queen. This process could take one to two weeks to see results. Also, it would only work if the ants are attracted to the bait, which might not always be the case.

What are the safety measures to consider when using cornmeal as a bait to kill ants?

It’s essential to keep the bait out of reach from children and pets, even though the items used might not be high in toxicity. Furthermore, if you have a severe ant infestation, it’s always recommended to seek help from professionals instead of attempting to control the situation entirely by yourself.

Remember to store any remaining borax, boric acid, or other pesticides in a secure location out of reach of children and pets. And if borax or boric acid is ingested or comes in contact with the skin or eyes, seek medical attention immediately.

How Effective Is Cornmeal Against Ants?

Whether using cornmeal to control ants works or not depends largely on how it’s used.

How effective is cornmeal for killing ants?

Cornmeal on its own won’t kill ants, which has been established. But when combined with a slow-acting poison, it can be an effective bait that helps to kill not only the ants you see but also the ones you don’t see—particularly the queen, which is necessary to completely end an ant colony’s cycle of life.

How does cornmeal compare to other commercial ant killers?

Compared to other commercial ant killers, a homemade cornmeal bait is a slower but safer method. Plus, it’s much more inexpensive than most commercial ant killers. Mixed with a slow-acting poison, cornmeal can very effectively control ant colonies, although it may take longer to see results compared to some fast-acting commercial products.

Does cornmeal kill ants instantly?

No, cornmeal does not kill ants instantly. Even when combined with a slow-acting poison, the process can take several days to a week to see results, as the ants must take the bait back to the colony, and it must be fed to the queen and the rest of the colony.

Can cornmeal completely eradicate an ant infestation?

If used correctly, a cornmeal bait can effectively control an ant colony, including the queen. However, if there are multiple colonies or if the bait isn’t enticing to the ants, it may not completely eliminate the problem.

Is cornmeal a long-term solution for ant infestation?

Cornmeal bait can provide long-term control for an ant infestation, as it targets the entire colony, including the queen. However, new ant colonies may move in from elsewhere over time, hence the need for ongoing monitoring and treatment as necessary.

How can I use cornmeal to kill ants effectively?

The key to using cornmeal effectively is to mix it with a slow-acting poison. The bait should be placed near areas of ant activity but out of reach of people and pets. The ants will take the bait back to their colony, leading to widespread poisoning and eventually killing the entire ant colony, including the queen.


While there is a grain of truth in the old adage that cornmeal can help control ants, it’s important to understand the whole story. Cornmeal alone won’t eradicate an ant colony, although it may seem like a tasty treat to our tiny invaders. Instead, when mixed with a slow-acting poison, it serves as an alluring bait that can be fatal to an entire colony. Patience is the name of the game with this method, as it’s not an instant solution but rather a slower, steadier, and safer approach in the war against ants. Always remember to keep these baits out of reach of pets and young children. For severe infestations, it’s best to consult with a pest control professional to ensure an effective and thorough solution.

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