Want to learn how to use diatomaceous earth? Diatomaceous earth has been getting a lot of attention lately because of it's many uses for the home and garden. There are many uses for this non-toxic, naturally occurring silica compound like eliminating fleas and other pests and it can even be taken internally to kill parasites. Learn how to use diatomaceous earth safely with the tips in this article.
Table of contents
- What is Diatomaceous Earth?
- How Does Diatomaceous Earth Work to Get Rid of Insects?
- What is Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth?
- Diatomaceous Earth Dangers
- Diatomaceous Earth Pest control
- Diatomaceous Earth for Cats and Dogs
- How to use diatomaceous earth in the garden
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous earth (say that five time fast!) is a natural product made up of the fossilized skeletal remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms.
Diatomaceous earth (also known as DE because the only thing more difficult than saying it five times fast is writing it) forms over a long period of time as millions of diatom organisms fossilize in lake beds. These lake beds then dry up, exposing the sedimentary deposit that we call diatomaceous earth.
Food grade diatomaceous earth is non-toxic to humans and animals. In the U.S., DE is classified under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act as a safe substance for household use.
How Does Diatomaceous Earth Work to Get Rid of Insects?
DE is a natural insecticide. It absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, which causes them to dehydrate and die of water deficiency. This is why it’s useful in food preservation, as a natural home deodorizer and cleanser, and for helping to treat livestock suffering from parasites.
Products containing diatomaceous earth can be bought in most home improvement stores, usually as a dust, but it can also be found in other mediums, such as wettable powders and sprays.
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What is Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous earth is sold in several different grades. These grades classify your DE and can let you know if it has undergone any treatment to alter its natural state.
The most common grades of DE:
- Food Chemical Codex Grade (Food Grade): This is 100% natural, unaltered DE that has simply been mined from the earth and packaged for use.
- Feed Grade DE: This is typically given to livestock to rid them of internal parasites.
- Pool Grade Diatomaceous Earth: Unlike food grade DE, pool grade diatomaceous earth is dangerous to eat or inhale. This is DE that has been treated at temperatures in excess of 1000°C or 1832°F to change its state to mostly crystalline silica. This increases its effectiveness as a pool filter, but makes it unsafe for any other use. Don’t use pool grade DE for pest control indoors or out or any other purpose than as a pool filter.
- Other DE Blends: There are other types of DE that are sold as food grade but aren't pure DE. Although generally considered safe, unless it says food grade on the packaging be wary of using it in your home or garden.
What is the Difference Between Food Grade and Feed Grade DE?
Although these two types are very similar there is one very important distinction between them.
Food grade DE must meet certain specifications regarding heavy metal content. To be considered “food grade”, the diatomaceous earth must not contain more than 10mg/kg of arsenic and no more than 10mg/kg of lead.
This means that just about anything is allowed into feed grade pet food. Feed grade pet foods could use 100% human grade ingredients or they could use 100% feed grade ingredients or they could use a combination of both.
Unless the feed grade DE says that it is also food grade, be on the safe side and don’t use it for any other purpose than what is specified on the packaging.
DE varies in color due to the fact that each deposit is composed of a unique makeup. White DE products and grey/brown DE products will function the same. What is most important is that the diatomaceous earth is Food Chemical Codex Grade (Food Grade) and therefore safe to use around humans and animals.
Diatomaceous Earth Dangers
Although the powder is non-toxic, it might be accidentally inhaled when laying it out for pests. This isn’t hazardous but could irritate the nasal passages.
If you inhale large amounts, it is likely to make you cough, and you may experience shortness of breath. On skin, it can cause irritation and dryness. Diatomaceous earth may also irritate the eyes, due to its abrasive nature. Any dust, including silica, can be irritating to the eyes.
To avoid irritation to your eyes, nasal passages, lungs and skin wear gloves, safety glasses and a mask when working with it.
Tips for Using Diatomaceous Earth
- DE can be difficult to clean out of carpets and be hard on your vacuum’s motor. Don’t use your fancy, expensive vacuum with DE. A Shop Vac or Vacuum with a bag is ideal.
- Keep DE away from moisture. Moisture will significantly reduce its effectiveness.
- Be careful of DE products with a concentration of less than 90%. In higher quantities, crystalline silica, which is often mixed with DE and used as a filler (can cause toxicity and this needs to be avoided if you are going to be using it for flea control. Ideally, try and purchase a product less than 1% of other ingredients (the purer the better) as this will ensure it’s completely safe.
- When using DE for killing fleas in your home, make sure fans are off and anything that creates a draft is blocked as it can blow the fine granules all over your home, making it very difficult to clean.
- Don’t use DE on small or very young pets (e.g. kittens, rabbits, hamsters, puppies, etc.) as the powder can sometimes cause minor respiratory issues. This is not due to toxicity but, because they have small noses respiratory systems that are more easily irritated.
Diatomaceous Earth Pest control
Using DE can help eliminate bed bugs, dust mites, cockroaches, ants and flea infestations in the home without the use for harsh chemicals. According to the website for Pest Control Technologies, silica gels and DE have been used by the pest control industry for more than a half century.
Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs
Diatomaceous Earth is a great tool to use in your fight against bed bugs. It's an all-natural, non-toxic barrier to bed bugs that can both kill them and prevent them from moving freely throughout your house.
While diatomaceous earth does not kill the bugs immediately (it can take 7 to 17 days) it does have long-lasting, effective results.
DE alone will not be enough to treat your bed bug infestation but it is a great tool to use in your home as you heat treat your items. It’s safe to heat DE itself it and can be placed on items that are awaiting heat treatment or that cannot be heat treated.
Experts recommend using Integrated Pest Management practices – combining a variety of tools that work together to help eliminate bed bugs with pesticides as a last resort when you are unable to bring your infestation under control.
Diatomaceous Earth for Fleas
Use the following instructions to treat your flea infested home with DE
- Give all your carpets a brush with a broom that has stiff bristles and a thorough vacuum. This will aggravate the fleas and get them moving about in preparation for your natural flea powder attack.
- After reviewing the cautions for using DE (above in this article), simply sprinkle the powder where fleas are usually found. This could be in the grass in your yard, your carpets in your home or even the areas where your pets sleep and play.
- Rub the powder into the carpets with a broom to make sure it reaches the fleas. You should use enough DE to finely cover the surface and if you are unsure, a little more is better. Just be careful you don’t get too much powder puffing into the air when you apply it to the targeted area.
- Once the fleas come into contact with the powder, they usually die about 4 hours later. It is recommended to leave it for 24 hours before vacuuming up all the powder (and any dead fleas) to ensure they die.
Diatomaceous Earth for Ants
The entire ant colony and its nest can be destroyed with DE. Locate the colony as well as all of its branched outlets. Generously sprinkle these with DE and note any ant trails leading away from the nest, especially those that lead back to the house.
Be sure to also spread DE along the trails. It may take a few days to two weeks; however, DE will kill the entire colony. Keep an eye on the nest and its outlets for signs of life. At the first sign that the ants are attempting to recolonize, thoroughly dust the areas again
Diatomaceous Earth for Cats and Dogs
Keep your dogs and cats healthy with diatomaceous earth. When lightly rubbed into their coats or dusted on their premises, it is very effective against fleas, ticks, lice, and other pests.
It can also be used as an organic wormer and will kill any worms or parasites the pets may have. When using as a de-wormer, mix the Diatomaceous Earth into their food as follows:
- Large Cats – 1 teaspoon
- Kittens – ¼ teaspoon
- Dogs 100 lbs + – 1-2 tablespoons
- Dogs 50 – 100lbs – 1 tablespoon
- Dogs Under 50 lbs – 1 teaspoon
- Mini dogs – ½ teaspoon
Apply to moist kennel areas to reduce odors, dry the area, and prevent pest breeding.
Deodorizing and absorption are natural functions of DE, so add some to kitty litter to absorb odors and keep the litter box drier.
How to use diatomaceous earth in the garden
DE is often used in organic gardening because it is not toxic and is safe to use around children and pets. Its safety for use on plants and the lack of harm it causes to roots as well as other parts of the plant is another reason organic gardeners prize the substance so much.
DE is a good way to manage any of the following pests: Ants, Bedbugs, box elder bugs, carpet beetles, centipedes, Crickets, Cockroaches, earwigs, Fleas, Grasshoppers, millipedes and Silverfish.
It won't, however kill wasps, yellow jackets or hornets.
What's your favorite way to use DE? Let me know in the comments!