Diatomaceous Earth: What Is It and How to Use It?

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White powdery substance in close-up on surface, resembling flour or powdered material - suggestive of Diatomaceous Earth presence.

Diatomaceous earth has been an incredibly useful substance for humankind for over 4000 years! Ever since birds and mammals were observed bathing in dust baths to rid themselves of mites and parasites in China, diatomaceous earth has proven to be a valuable pesticide. In fact, it is so valuable, that we still use diatomaceous earth to this day.

In today’s guide, we’ll reveal what diatomaceous earth is and why it is still used as a pesticide in the world of modern gardening. We’ll also reveal how to apply diatomaceous earth to your outdoor living space, including which products are more effective.

Please note that it is essential that you only use food-grade diatomaceous earth and follow handling guidelines on the product label.

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a sand-like powder made from the fossils of aquatic organisms known as diatoms (hard-shelled microalgae). When diatoms die, they’ll sink to the bottom of salt-filled oceans or freshwater lakes. Over time, the dead diatoms will culminate into layers of sedimentary rock. Then, after many centuries have passed, they’ll compress and fossilize into the soft, chalky rock that we know as diatomaceous earth.

However, it is not only the fossilization of diatoms that makes them incredibly beneficial as a pesticide. Diatoms have cell walls made of silica, which strengthens a plant’s resistance to fungal disease, as well as insect attacks, drought, and frost.

What’s more, although some forms of diatomaceous earth contain crystalline silica (especially saltwater forms), a large majority of the silica from diatoms found in diatomaceous earth is amorphous silica.

Amorphous silica is much more absorbent than crystalline silica, meaning it is much more efficient when getting rid of insects.

How does amorphous silica effectively kill pests? Firstly, the silica-based, hard-shelled remnants within diatomaceous earth pierce an insect’s exoskeleton. The amorphous silica then absorbs the oils and fats from the cuticle of an insect’s exoskeleton, whereby it eventually dries it out and kills it.

Which Insects Do Diatomaceous Earth Kill?

Now that you know why diatomaceous earth is an excellent pest-killer, it’s good to know which pests diatomaceous earth can actually kill.

Below, we’ve arranged a list of the insects from which diatomaceous earth will protect your plants and living space.

  1. Bed bugs.
  2. Cockroaches.
  3. Centipedes.
  4. Millipedes.
  5. Crickets.
  6. Fleas.
  7. Lice.
  8. Moths.
  9. Beetles.
  10. Mites.
  11. Thrips.
  12. Ants.
  13. Termites.
  14. Aphids.
  15. Ticks.
  16. Fruit Flies.
  17. Spiders.
  18. Earwigs.
  19. Silverfish.
  20. Sow bugs.

Clearly,  diatomaceous earth is fatal to any organism that sports an exoskeleton. However, it’s worth mentioning that diatomaceous earth can serve as an insect deterrent for other pests that it doesn’t kill. For instance, diatomaceous earth won’t kill snails and slugs, but it will slow down their movement, as both snails and slugs find diatomaceous earth uncomfortable to crawl through.

It is essential to note that the abrasive, dehydrating nature of diatomaceous earth can harm bees and butterflies, which is something to keep in mind if you want to attract bees and butterflies to your garden. Take care when applying that no beneficial insects are nearby and no wind blows the diatomaceous earth to unwanted areas.

A cluster of red-brown beetles congregating among twigs and foliage on the ground.

Does Diatomaceous Earth Kill Ants?

Does diatomaceous earth kill ants? As seen from our list, diatomaceous earth can, in fact, kill ants. The question is, ‘How do you use diatomaceous earth to kill ants?’.

Start by locating areas in your backyard where you have seen a group of ants congregate. Alternatively, look for signs of an ant’s trail or the entrance of an ant’s nest in your garden. Once you’ve located where the ants have come from, you must protect yourself by wearing a respiratory mask and a pair of gloves before you spread the powder.

Once you’ve taken the necessary measures to protect yourself, sprinkle a thin layer of diatomaceous earth directly into the nest. Ants secrete pheromones to mark their path and to attract other ants to chosen sites. Therefore, in addition to treating the nest, it is essential to apply diatomaceous earth to these ant trails to prevent another infestation.

If you’ve noticed that ants have entered your home, spread the DE along any potential entry points. After treatment, to prevent further invasion, it is recommended that you cover your baseboards, floors, window sills, wall cracks, and any other small areas where you have seen evidence of an ant trail.

 Generally, it’ll take between 24 and 48 hours to see results, although it may take a little longer if you’ve noticed a considerable ant population. For large ant infestations, it’s worth noting that DE may not be a suitable treatment. Instead, you should contact a pest control professional for help.

After you’ve disposed of every ant in your home and garden, clean up the excess diatomaceous earth and wash the areas to which you applied it. Washing the treated areas is essential to clean away any leftover pheromones that will attract more ants to the area.

Ultimately, you’ll find that using diatomaceous earth for ants is incredibly effective if they are in a relatively small colony. From carpenter ants to redwood ants, DE will help you keep your outdoor space ant-free!

Ant traverses rugged leafy landscape, Diatomaceous Earth in focus.

Does Diatomaceous Earth Kill Roaches?

DE has proven a suitable ant-killer, but does diatomaceous earth kill roaches? Yes, diatomaceous earth does kill roaches and is very effective. This is fortunate as roaches tend to invade homes more so than they invade gardens.

Using the following methods, you can use diatomaceous earth as a highly effective method to kill cockroaches.

Before using DE, remember to put on protective gloves and a facemask. To effectively rid the roaches, your living space must be clean before application. Sweep, mop, and vacuum any spaces where you’ve noticed roaches, including behind appliances and furniture. Also, ensure that any food is put away, as food left outside your refrigerator will attract more roaches to your home.

In addition, dry up any damp areas in your home as not only will damp, moist areas attract more cockroaches, but DE won’t effectively kill any invasive pest if it’s wet. It is recommended that you seal up any cracks under your sink, near your baseboards, in your bathroom, or near poorly sealed doors. Ultimately, any kind of roach-sized entrance to your home should be sealed.

From here, you can lightly distribute the DE around any areas where you’ve seen cockroaches dwell. It’s also important to lightly dust DE anywhere cockroaches can hide, enter your home, or where food is most commonly dropped in your home. It would also be wise to create a perimeter of diatomaceous earth around the foundations of your home to prevent more roaches from entering.

Once you’ve covered every potential entrance and hiding spot, you only need to wait. Leave the diatomaceous earth until you are free of all roaches. If it happens to rain, and the rain washes away your DE perimeter, simply reapply the DE when the soil has dried. You can finally clean up the DE powder when your home is roach-free.

Insect with long antennae captured on rocky surface, suggesting Diatomaceous Earth for effective pest management.

Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens: A Helpful Powder or a Fatal Substance?

By now, it’s clear that DE is great for eliminating unpleasant pests. It would be understandable if you thought diatomaceous earth’s advantages stem solely from pest control, but there are other uses.

Chicken farmers use diatomaceous earth for chickens to protect them from lice and mites. More specifically, chicken farmers will use food-grade diatomaceous earth. Food-grade DE is low in its concentration of crystalline silica, meaning that it won’t cause any harm to your chickens.

You can lightly dust your chickens’ litter with DE using a diatomaceous earth duster to prevent the growth of mold, fungi, and ammonia. You can also use DE to prevent the colonization of mites and other crawling insects. After cleaning your coop’s floor, we recommend that you spread the DE powder in cracks, crevices, nest box areas, perches, and on your coop’s floor. By doing so, you’ll ensure that you’ve safeguarded any areas where mites might hide.

The great thing about food-grade DE is that you can also safely apply it directly to your chickens. By applying DE under your chickens’ wings and around their necks and breasts, you can keep your poultry safe from irritating mite and lice infestations.

Two chickens and a few chicks pecking at scattered grains on a concrete surface amidst greenery.

How to Use Diatomaceous Earth: Application Methods and Products

We’ve touched on how to use diatomaceous earth for chickens, cockroaches, and ants, but there is more to diatomaceous earth than those three purposes. As a handy, non-toxic pesticide, you can apply diatomaceous earth in multiple ways.

We’ll explore these application methods and reveal the best, most affordable products (concerning both powders and applicators) so that you can prepare for any pest invasion!

Dry Application

When dealing with a pest invasion, we recommend using a dry application method of DE where possible. Due to diatomaceous earth’s absorbent properties, it tends to work best in dry conditions where humidity levels aren’t too high.

You can distribute dry DE powder around your baseboards, cabinets, window sills, garbage cans, beneath/behind kitchen appliances like your refrigerator, on pet beds, and in many more areas. Dry DE treatments are more suitably applied to areas within your home, as they won’t damage any wooden furniture.

You can purchase specialty applicators such as the Squeeze Duster Applicator or the Sifting Scoop DE Applicator to effectively distribute diatomaceous earth around your living space. Alternatively, if you want to use a more budget-friendly applicator, you can either purchase or use a basic flour sifter. A flour sifter is useful when you wish to apply a light treatment of DE.

Tip: Remember to purchase a pair of gloves and a respiratory mask.

White powder under scoop, with dusting and textured surface below - similar to Diatomaceous Earth.

Wet Application

When dealing with insect attacks, you may not always find dry DE treatment suitable. For instance, if you need to apply DE powder in an area that’s difficult to reach or in large areas exposed to direct sunlight, you should use wet DE treatments. Additionally, if you need to use diatomaceous earth in your garden on a windy day, wet DE treatments will stick to your plants more effectively than dry DE powder.

All you need is a regular spray bottle or bucket and DE powder. Mix the water with the DE powder. For every 1/2 cup of DE (or eight tablespoons),  add 2 cups of water to make a DE slurry.

Diatomaceous earth will settle at the bottom of your spray bottle or bucket, so it’s recommended that you frequently shake your solution as you apply it. Apply a thick coat to the tops and undersides of your plants to keep them safe from any passing pests!

Cleaning supplies on marble countertop: gloves, sponges, dispensers, jar of Diatomaceous Earth with wooden scoop.

Diatomaceous Earth as a Pesticide: Final Thoughts

Ultimately, diatomaceous earth works as an effective pesticide that will quickly rid your garden and home of any pest infestations, providing that the infestation hasn’t grown out of hand.

What’s more, DE is non-toxic and natural. As a safer alternative to poisonous pesticides, food-grade DE strikes the perfect balance between being safe for human consumption and being toxic to invasive pests.

Remember always to wear gloves and a respiratory mask when handling food-grade DE, and make sure to clean up only when you’re completely pest-free!

For more advice on pest control treatments like diatomaceous earth, feel free to check out our blogs!

Frequently Asked Questions

Our most frequently asked questions about diatomaceous earth.

1. Is diatomaceous earth safe for humans?

Although food-grade diatomaceous earth contains less than 2% crystalline silica, if you were to inhale DE for long periods of time, you could potentially inflame and scar your lungs. For this reason, you should always use a pair of gloves and a respiratory mask when applying diatomaceous earth.

2. Can I use diatomaceous earth on my mattress?

Yes, you can use diatomaceous earth on your mattress. You can also sprinkle DE powder on your bedding and into the box springs within your mattress. Once you no longer need diatomaceous earth on your mattress, thoroughly vacuum away any excess DE powder.

3. Can I sleep in a room where I’ve used diatomaceous earth?

As a general guide, yes, sleeping in a room where you’ve distributed diatomaceous earth is safe, but always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines on the product label.  Also, remember always to wear gloves and a respiratory mask while sprinkling DE powder.

4. How long does diatomaceous earth remain active?

Diatomaceous earth will remain active indefinitely for as long as it is still dry.

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