The problem of ants and electronics is a longstanding one. Ants tend to set up homes in warm, compact spaces, which is why they love laptop and desktop computers so much.
With an estimated 10 billion billion ants on the planet, the problem is far more common than you might think.
Prevention is the Best Strategy
Ants will scout your house looking for two things: food and water. Since your computer hopefully isn’t a source of moisture, food is likely to be the main driver of an ant problem.
Laptops and keyboards in particular can trap crumbs between the keys. Spilling a sugary or alcoholic drink near or on a keyboard can also be an issue since you’re unlikely to remove all of the liquid without a full disassembly (you could try putting the keyboard in a dishwasher too).
One simple step you can take is to avoid eating food over or near your laptop or keyboard. For peace of mind, don’t even keep food in the same room as your computer hardware. Ants that are roaming for food or water won’t hang around long in an environment that has nothing of interest to them.
Deal With Infestations in the Home First
If you’ve noticed ants hanging around your laptop ports, computer tower, or games console, this may be indicative of a much larger problem. Dealing with any ant problems that already exist in your house or apartment is an important first step.
You can buy ant repellents and other products for small incursions, but be aware that you may need to call in professionals for well-established colonies.
Ants leave scent trails for other ants to follow, a phenomenon you can observe by watching them move across a surface like a wall or desk. Removing these scent trails with a 1:3 mixture of white vinegar to water (or a cleaning spray) can make it harder for them to find their way back to your desk or computer.
Failing to deal with the main source of ants in your environment is setting yourself up to fail. Any effort you expend in dealing with problems in your electronics is likely in vain since the ants will continue to come back.
Getting Ants Out Of Your Laptop
If your ant problem is relatively small, there are a few things you can try to move them along before things get out of hand. This is worth a shot if you’ve noticed a few ants going in and out of ports, or hanging around your laptop.
You can try picking up your laptop and giving it a good shake from all angles, which should disturb any ants inside. The idea here is that the ants will want to get out of the environment as fast as possible, and they’ll be able to find their way out as a result of the scent trails they left when they arrived. You might want to try this one a few times and observe the results.
Another good option is to use the heat inside your laptop to make the ants uncomfortable enough that they will want to leave. This is a matter of putting your computer under heavy load, to generate heat.
On Mac and Linux, this can be done with the UNIX
yes command. Simply launch a Terminal window, run
yes, and wait. You can launch a few instances to really warm things up, which should get the fans spinning assuming your MacBook has fans (newer MacBook Airs do not). Kill the Terminal window to end the process.
Some users recommend going even further and blocking vents and ports on well-ventilated laptops. We’d urge you to think twice before intentionally overheating your machine in this manner. It could void your warranty and damage the internal hardware.
While it’s true that ants like warm spaces, they cannot regulate their internal body heat which means they do not thrive under very hot conditions. This should help persuade them that a hot laptop is not a good place to set up home.
Dealing With Larger Infestations
If you have a much larger infestation, you’ll likely notice many more ants coming and going via vents and ports. The ants that come and go are usually scouts, looking for food and water to bring back to the colony. If you see ants carrying things into your laptop, there could be a queen or eggs inside.
At this stage, you’re going to need to clean the infestation out of your laptop manually. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get. The only option is to open up your computer and take a look at the damage for yourself. You should use guides like those found on iFixit if you have a laptop, and take precautions like using an anti-static wristband while cleaning.
It’s probably best to do this outside on a nice dry day so that any fleeing ants stay outside, rather than in your house. Some guides recommend vacuuming the computer to get rid of ants, but we’d caution against this since dust particles entering the vacuum can cause a build-up (and discharge) of static electricity.
Instead, carefully disconnect or remove the battery (or remove the cable to your power supply on a desktop) and use a soft plastic tool to remove any eggs you find. The ants should immediately start to flee when you open the chassis, but you can also use a few blasts of computer duster (from a safe distance) to help them along.
Compressed air can be dangerous when used close to sensitive objects (like fan blades and blowers) so be careful. Once you’ve disturbed the colony the ants may decide to leave anyway. If they’re protecting a queen, they may need a little more persuasion.
Keeping Your Computer Bug-Free
A moth is widely attributed for helping coin the term “computer bug” after it was discovered in a computer at Harvard University in 1947. With modern computers being a lot smaller, ants pose more of a risk to your hardware around the house and office.
But ants aren’t the only reason you might want to open your computer up for a clean. Getting rid of dust in a laptop and cleaning your gross keyboard may even help you get more life out of your hardware.