Odorous House Ants: Identification,
Treatment, and Prevention

Last Updated: September 3, 2021

Odorous House Ants: Identification,
Treatment, and Prevention

Last Updated: August 31, 2021

Odorous House Ants, known by their common nickname “Sugar Ants,” are a frequent and annoying pest here in the Pacific Northwest. While generally harmless, they are a challenge to eradicate. They move quickly, have large colonies, and feed on a wide variety of foods. These are some of the most common invaders here in Western Washington, so it is important that we get to know them!

Table of Contents

Identification, Behaviors, and Habits

Odorous House Ants are tiny, rice-sized insects that are normally black or brown. Unlike other common Ants in this region, such as Carpenter Ants, this species is monomorphic. This means they are all the same size. Some describe the sickly sweet smell they produce as “rotten coconut.” When you crush one of these Ants, glands on their body release this scent, which gives them their name.

Winged reproductives appear May through June. Colonies can develop to be very large, often in the thousands, and can have multiple queens. Despite this, colonies can move quickly when they feel threatened. Odorous House Ants nest in pre-existing hidey-spots or protected areas. You will find them infesting areas where there is water, including kitchens and bathrooms.

Despite their common nickname, Odorous House Ants will feed on a wide variety of foods. This includes meats, vegetables, dairy products, and pet food. They favor sugary substances such as honey or candy. In the wild, they satiate this craving by farming the honeydew from aphids.

Odorous House Ants spook easily, and will run around with their abdomens raised when scared. It’s important to note that they will split their colony if they feel chemically threatened. They can detect and avoid most common pesticides, so be aware that using an over-the-counter chemical can actually make an Odorous House Ant infestation worse. This species can be difficult to establish control unless you find the colonies or sub-colonies and treat them directly or indirectly with a strategic application of pesticides by a licensed professional.

Signs and Causes of Infestation

The number one symptom of an Odorous House Ant infestation is seeing trailing in or around your home. Unlike other similar insects, like Carpenter Ants or Moisture Ants, Odorous House Ants don’t cause any structural damage. They’re what’s called a “nuisance pest.” They won’t do much harm to you or your home aside from being an annoyance.

Seeing a few outside your house is normal. You may even see a colony of Pavement Ants, which look almost identical, around your home. The important thing to look out for is trailing. Are the Ants walking a line? Where are they headed? You should seek professional advice or help if you see a trail of Ants walking towards, in, or underneath your home.

While Odorous House Ants are content (and common) in the wild, newly discovered food sources can cause an interior infestation. You might see Ants appear if one of the following has happened:

These things can attract Odorous House Ants— especially food. It’s common to forget a teacup with honey by the sink, or neglect the lid of the sugar jar, only to discover an entire colony has moved in the next morning! These Ants are opportunistic, and it doesn’t take much to encourage an invasion.

Things to Avoid

Earlier, we mentioned in an above section that these Ants are sensitive to chemicals. This point is important to remember: do not treat the Ants yourself. Using substances like those listed below may cause the Ants to react instinctively by splitting their colony up and moving to new locations. 

By spraying your counters or using store-bought gel bait, you may see a decrease in activity. However, be aware that just because you don’t see Ants in that spot doesn’t mean they’re gone for good. More often than not, you’ll see them leave the kitchen and pop up a week later in the bathrooms, crawlspace, and living room!

Products and Materials to Avoid:

  • Ant Spray, such as Raid
  • Store bought gel-baits*
  • Bleach
  • Peppermint Oil and other essential oils
  • Salt, Sugar, Cinnamon, or other spices
  • Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Diatomaceous Earth

Some of these products or chemicals will almost certainly alarm the colony, others are just plain ineffective. For example, many brand name gel baits you may find from the store are a coin-toss when it comes to effectiveness. Companies design solutions that are easy for consumers to use, and that is what is available to you. The focus is more on ease than anything else.

We recommend cleaning up the Ants with just water and a paper towel, as to avoid alarming them. Contact a Pest Control Company about solutions, and consider scheduling a treatment by a Licensed Pest Control Technician. We have access to safe and effective materials that are both highly effective and will not alarm the Ants.


Stopping an infestation before it starts is tricky, but we know better than anyone what methods to use. We offer a maintenance service to help with all kinds of pests, including Odorous House Ants. All Pest Protection is a quarterly maintenance service aimed to prevent infestations of general pests such as Ants, Rodents, Wasps, Spiders, and other insects. We come out on a 3-month rotation to provide an exterior perimeter spray where the home and foundation meet, spot treat around doors and windows for activity, sweep reachable webs and Spider egg sacs, and maintain Rodent Bait Stations (secured, locked, black plastic boxes) on the exterior of the home to mitigate outside Rodent populations.

All Pest Protection (APP) also can include various warranties for general pests, which are established after the Initial Inspection and Treatment. Once you get started, each quarterly service is only $109 before tax. Should your house be overrun by Fleas, Bees, or Spiders, or any of the pests eligible under your warranty, all you would have to do is give us a call. We’ll dispatch a Technician to complete a pest-specific treatment at no cost to you under your APP Warranty.


“Odorous House Ant.” Penn State Extension, 17 Aug. 2021, extension.psu.edu/odorous-house-ant.

Vail, Karen, and Jennifer Chandler. “Odorous House Ants: The Most Common House-Invading Ant in Tennessee.” extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W473.pdf.

About the Authors

This article was created and edited in collaboration with multiple licensed pest control technicians, experts, researchers, and authors.

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