Yes, soapy water kills ants but not instantly. Usually, ants can float on water due to surface tension. However, soap breaks the surface tension causing the ants to sink.
While ants can survive underwater for as long as a whole day, they can’t hold their breath under soapy water. This is because the soap breaks their protective cuticle allowing water to enter their bodies, causing suffocation.
How Do Ants Normally Survive In Water?
Ants are not easily killed by water. They have mechanisms that enable them to float on water and breath underwater for as long as it takes them to retreat into the safe havens of their colonies.
For one, ants are very light insects making it difficult to penetrate through the surface tension of water. For this reason, they float whenever they are in pools of water.
Some ants, such as fire ants, build rafts that enable them to float and relocate safely to drier places. They do this by attaching their limbs and mouths together, then putting the queen ant and the younger ants in the middle to protect them.
The Diving Ant is also known to navigate its way around water, making the same leg movements it uses on land to move in the water.
When submerged in water, ants close their spiracles, which they normally use for breathing. They then enter a torpor-like state where bodily functions are lowered to a minimum. In this state, an ant requires about 20 times less oxygen than it needs when sleeping.
Furthermore, the closed spiracles prevent water from flooding the general body cavity of the ant, preventing suffocation from drowning. That is how an ant survives many hours in water without dying.
How Does Soapy Water Help Kill Ants?
Soap has properties that break the surface tension of water. This means that ants cannot float in soapy water because of the lack of water resistance, so they sink. Here, soap acts as a surfactant.
Normally, ants have mechanisms that enable them to survive in water. For instance, they have layers on their body that render them waterproof. These layers form what is called the cuticle.
The cuticles contain waxy substances, and as we all know, wax and water do not mix. Therefore, the waxy substances lock some water inside the insect’s body and lock extra water outside.
When the water has soap, however, the cuticle gets damaged, and as a result, the wax is dissolved. This creates a freeway for extra water to enter the insect’s body, leading to its suffocation and death.
How Else Does Soapy Water Eliminate Ants?
Soapy water gets rid of pheromone trails that lead colonies of ants to your home. Pheromones are hormones that insects use to communicate with each other.
Different kinds of pheromones convey different messages. Some communicate that an insect is prepared to mate or that danger is approaching.
Ants usually use pheromones to establish their trails and enable them to get back to their colonies without a struggle. This trail also directs other ants to sources of food and water, which a lot of times is inside people’s homes. This leads to frustrating infestations.
Pheromones are made up of hydrophobic molecules which can be pulled up by soap. As we have learned, soap has a hydrophobic end that can penetrate substances that do not mix with water, such as pheromones. Therefore, spraying on an ant trail with soapy water is enough to get rid of the pheromones, preventing ants from finding that route.
Read Also: Does Baking Soda Kill Ants?
Does Powdered Soap Have The Same Effect On Ants As Soapy Water?
Powdered soap has a similar effect as soapy water, where the elimination of ant trails is concerned. It does not kill ants as effectively as soapy water does.
However, sprinkling some powdered soap around spots where ants have created trails kills pheromones, hence sabotaging communication between the insects. Still, soapy water does a better job because it will destroy the pheromones and kill ants almost instantly.
How Does Soap Break The Surface Tension Of Water?
Chemicals used to make soap give it a feature that enables it to break the chemical bonds of other compounds very easily. Soap has two ends: a hydrophobic or water-repellent end and a hydrophilic or water-loving end.
This dual property allows the soap to attract both water and oil, which is why detergent is used to do laundry. It is also the property that breaks the surface tension of water.
Each water molecule contains one large oxygen atom and two smaller hydrogen atoms. The extra positive charge from hydrogen atoms makes water molecules polar, and temporary hydrogen bonds are formed within the water.
Therefore, water molecules pull at each other from every direction, apart from the molecules at the surface. These get more pull from beneath than above because there are no water molecules above them.
As a result, the molecules at the surface pack closer together than the molecules inside the liquid, causing a dense thin layer. This layer is what is known as surface tension.
When soap is put in water, the hydrophobic end of the soap repels water molecules and pushes them up to the surface. This causes the weakening of the hydrogen bonds that hold water molecules together at the surface, hence breaking the surface tension.
What Are Other Methods To Eliminate Ants?
There are many substances apart from soapy water that one can use to eliminate ants. For one, water and vinegar in a 50/50 solution is a perfect natural method to kill ants. Boric acid, or borax as it is commonly referred to, can be used as bait to eliminate ants.
It is applied to sugary foods and other ant food sources, which are then carried back to the ant colonies, causing ant deaths. Other items such as dried peppermint, red chili pepper, and cinnamon are known to repel ants. They are, therefore, natural deterrents to ants.
Soapy can kill ants. It breaks the surface tension of water, causing ants to sink in it. The soap then destroys the wax in the cuticle of an ant. This wax helps to keep extra water outside the ant’s body.
As a result, water floods into the ant’s body, drowning the insect instantly. Soapy water also gets rid of pheromone- a hormone that ants used to communicate with each other.
Nonetheless, using soapy water to get rid of ants is not the most effective solution. Other methods such as using borax are easier and more efficient.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.