We’ve all known ants for their collective efforts and incredible work ethic to improve their colony.

But I think we’ve forgotten they are also one of the most relentless gatherers with insanely good odor receptors for picking on food scents from a distance.

It is why ants can easily track covered dishes or wrapped-up foods. And because they are SO little, they are penetrable to almost any barrier.

This makes them a real nuisance for homeowners.

But what if you cover your meal in plastic, can they still access it? Can ants smell food through plastic?

Yes, ants can smell foods covered in almost anything. But context is important here. If the meal is properly sealed in the plastic (in a way they can’t get a sniff), they won’t be able to smell through it.

It also depends on the plastic type, the Odor (how mild or strong), and how long it has been concealed.

So let’s look at all the possible scenarios before concluding.

Can ants smell food through plastic
Credits: ShutterStock/whitejellybeans

Can Ants Smell Food Through Plastic?

Ants are tiny but mighty when it comes to finding food.

Still, many people argue ants CAN’T smell food through a properly sealed plastic container —and for good reasons.

They are super sniffers with highly sensitive antennae sporting 5X more odor receptors than most insects. There is no doubt about that.

And with such sensitive dictators, no aroma gets past them —whether it is sugary crumbs or fatty bits, even at low concentrations.

But here is why they detect foods (scents) concealed in plastics.

Why Ants Can Or Can’t Smell Food Through Plastic

Yes, plastic acts as a barrier or an insulator to air or odor molecules. And smells barely break through their walls.

That might get you thinking it is impenetrable, but plastic isn’t completely solid at the molecular level. There are still chinks in the armor, with tiny spaces between the long, chain-like molecules that make it up.

While these spaces might be too small for larger food molecules to slip through, smaller odor molecules can potentially squeeze in and out of them.

Aside from that, not all odor molecules are created equal.  Strong-smelling substances often have smaller, more volatile molecules that wiggle and are more penetrating. These have a better chance of getting through those gaps in the plastic. 

Weaker smells, on the other hand, tend to have larger molecules that usually get blocked.

The type of plastic used in the container also plays a key role.  Some plastics are denser with fewer gaps, making them better at blocking odors, others are more porous and allow some odor molecules to squeeze through.

So if you are using a denser plastic container to store your food, no ants can pick a scent. It doesn’t matter if it is a leftover meal that has gone bad for days.

How To Get Rid Of An Ant Infestation (If You Have One)

Ant’s invasion and presence in your household can be disturbing.

Seemingly out of nowhere, you see them smuggling your food away, crawling around, and whatnot. Their constant presence can be unsettling.

And since they can establish hidden nests within walls and under floors, it will be challenging to identify the source of the problem, let alone eradicate an entire colony.

But there are a few things you could try. Although the long-term solution would be hiring a professional exterminator since they have access to stronger ant control products and can target the nest directly so it eliminates the entire colony and prevents future regrouping.

Or you can use a quick fix like Diatomaceous earth. This powder dehydrates ants and should be sprinkled around the entry points or ant trails.

Homemade bait traps are another option. Mix equal parts borax or baking soda with sugar or honey and place it in shallow containers near ant activity. Be aware, this can be harmful to pets and children, so use caution if going this route.

Also Read: Does Pine Sol Keep Ants Away?

Can Ants See?

There is a preconceived notion that ants don’t see. Instead, they use their sense of smell to navigate.

In what world is that true?

Of course, ants can see —only it has a mosaic vision that results in a blurry picture. The world of ants is like looking through a screen door.

They CAN’T see anything of fine details. But depending on the species of ants, some have slightly better vision compared to night foragers.

If  Ants Can’t See Properly How Do They Navigate?

Ants’ compound eyes are better suited for detecting movement and changes in light than seeing sharp images.

And if you wondering how they scout and communicate, well, they do so by laying down pheromones, a chemical trail only other ants can detect. 

If an ant stumbles upon a food source, it will leave a stronger pheromone signal to alert the colony.

That is why when one lucky scout finds a meal, it is only a matter of time before you see more recruits for the task of transporting it back to the nest.


Sadly, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer as to whether ants can smell foods through plastics.

But if your meal has been attacked severally or you suspect your home has an Ant infestation, you may want to act sooner.

Clean up any crumbs or spills. Don’t leave food or sugary drinks out – ants are attracted to these and will leave a pheromone trail to lead others to the food source.

Secondly, store your food properly. Please keep them in sealed containers to prevent attracting ants.

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