Does Diatomaceous Earth Work for Pest Control?
December 25, 2023
Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring powder that has gained popularity in recent years, particularly in pest control. This fine, powdery substance consists of the fossilized remains of diatoms (microscopic, single-celled aquatic plants). The unique characteristics of diatomaceous earth make it an effective and natural alternative to chemical-based pest control methods in various settings, including homes and gardens.
However, with the rise in popularity of diatomaceous earth comes the question: does it really work? In order to address this question, it is essential to understand how diatomaceous earth functions and what makes it effective against pests.
Diatomaceous earth's effectiveness is derived from its unique composition, which aids in natural pest control.
Safety and environmental impact are important factors to consider when evaluating the use of diatomaceous earth in various settings.
Understanding common uses and applications can provide insight into the true effectiveness of diatomaceous earth.
What Is Diatomaceous Earth?
Composition and Source
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is the powder form of a naturally occurring sedimentary rock, composed primarily of the fossilized remains of diatoms. Diatoms are microscopic, single-celled algae, which possess hard outer shells made of silica. Over millions of years, these organisms die and accumulate, forming large deposits that are mined to create diatomaceous earth.
The silica content in DE ranges from 80 to 90%, while the remaining portions consist of other minerals and trace elements. DE is a lightweight, porous, and abrasive material, making it useful for various applications. It’s also a desiccant, meaning it can be used to deplete insects’ exoskeletons of moisture (this dehydration combined with DE’s abrasive quality creates a “death by a thousand cuts”).
Varieties and Forms
There are two main types of diatomaceous earth: food-grade and industrial-grade.
Food-grade DE is the safest form for human consumption and use in the home. It has undergone strict processing to ensure low levels of contaminants, such as heavy metals, and it consists mainly of amorphous silica. This form is commonly used as a natural pesticide, as an animal feed supplement, and for various household purposes.
Industrial-grade DE, on the other hand, is mainly used for commercial and industrial applications. This variety may contain higher amounts of contaminants and sometimes includes crystalline silica, which could pose health risks when inhaled.
It's essential to choose the correct form of DE according to its intended application, and always follow the manufacturer's guidelines and safety precautions when using diatomaceous earth.
How Diatomaceous Earth Works
Mechanical Insecticide Properties
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a natural powder made from the fossilized remains of diatoms, microscopic sea creatures with hard silica shells. When used as an insecticide, DE works by mechanically damaging the exoskeleton of various pests, such as ants, fleas, and bed bugs.
The sharp edges of the DE particles pierce the protective outer layer of the pests, causing them to lose essential body fluids. As a result, the insects ultimately dehydrate and die. Unlike chemical insecticides, DE is non-toxic and does not pose any harm to humans or pets when used correctly.
Surface Dusting: Using a powder duster tool, sprinkle DE powder evenly on the surfaces where pests are present, such as carpets, pet bedding, and entry points (i.e. cracks and crevices in your walls and baseboards). Allow the dust to settle for a few hours or even days, depending on the severity of the infestation. Afterward, vacuum or wash the treated areas thoroughly to remove the dead pests and residual DE.
Spot Treatment: Create a DE barrier by applying a thin layer of the powder around specific locations that attract pests, such as pet food bowls, garbage cans, or doorways. This method helps to prevent the entry of new pests into the area.
Perimeter Defense: Using a dust applicator, spread DE along the foundation of your home and entry points, like windows, doors, and vents. This barrier deters insects from entering the premises and is especially effective for crawling pests like ants and ticks.
It is essential to use food-grade Diatomaceous Earth for any insect control application, as other commercial grades may contain harmful additives. While DE can be effective against various pests, it works best when used as part of an integrated pest management strategy, combining prevention and control methods.
Safety and Environmental Impact
Human Exposure Risks
Diatomaceous earth, when used properly, poses minimal health risks to humans. However, inhalation of the fine particles in large amounts can potentially cause silicosis, a lung disease resulting from long-term exposure to crystalline silica. Symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. To minimize these risks, it is important to use food grade diatomaceous earth and always wear a dust mask when handling the product.
Children, in particular, should be supervised when using diatomaceous earth due to their developing lungs and the risk of mild irritation if exposed.
Pet and Wildlife Considerations
Diatomaceous earth is generally safe for pets when used appropriately. Pets may experience mild irritation if the sediment comes in contact with their eyes, nose, or mouth. To avoid these risks, always follow these guidelines when using diatomaceous earth around your pets:
Use food grade diatomaceous earth
Apply the product in a targeted area, away from food or bedding
Avoid applying the product on windy days to prevent it from becoming airborne
As for wildlife, diatomaceous earth has a low environmental impact when used as directed. It is non-toxic and biodegradable, making it an eco-friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. However, it has the potential to harm beneficial insects, so it is essential to apply the product carefully and precisely to minimize any negative effects on the environment.
Common Uses of Diatomaceous Earth
In the Home and Garden
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a versatile substance with a wide range of applications in the home and garden. One of its primary uses is as a natural pest control agent. DE, when applied in the form of a fine powder, can be highly effective in controlling pest problems, including ants, fleas, roaches, and slugs, among other home and garden pests. By sticking to the exoskeletons of these insects, DE causes them to dehydrate and eventually die.
In addition to pest control, DE is often used as a soil amendment in gardens. It helps to improve the soil's structure, drainage, and water retention by adding essential trace minerals. Some key benefits of using DE in the garden include:
Enhanced root growth
Improved nutrient uptake
Support for beneficial soil microorganisms
Outside of the garden, diatomaceous earth can be found in various household and personal care products, such as:
Food-grade DE – Used as an anti-caking agent in foods like flour and sugar
Toothpaste – DE serves as a gentle abrasive, helping to clean and polish teeth
Paint – DE is sometimes included as a filler or flattening agent, providing a smoother appearance to the finished product
Agricultural and Industrial Applications
Aside from its applications in the home and garden, diatomaceous earth is also widely used in agricultural and industrial settings. In agriculture, food-grade DE is often used as an animal feed additive to control internal parasites and improve the overall health of livestock. Some farmers even use DE as a natural pesticide for crop protection, although its effectiveness may vary depending on the type of pest and growing conditions.
In industrial applications, DE is a popular choice as a filtration material for various types of filters. Thanks to its high porosity, it can effectively remove particles and impurities from liquids, including water and oil. Some common industrial uses of diatomaceous earth as a filtration material include:
Clarifying edible oils and syrups
Swimming pool filters
Overall, diatomaceous earth's versatility and eco-friendly nature continue to fuel its popularity across various applications, from home pest control to industrial filtration.
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth products have been heralded as an effective, natural solution for pest control. In order to assess its true efficacy, a review of research findings is necessary. This section focuses on studies investigating the impacts of DE on common pests such as ants, bed bugs, mites, and cockroaches.
Ants: A study conducted by Rust et al. (2015) demonstrated DE's potential against Argentine ants. The researchers observed a significant reduction in ant activity upon application of DE. This indicates that DE can disrupt the insects' mobility and could be a viable option when targeting ant infestations.
Bed Bugs: Studies show that contact with DE leads to a significant increase in mortality rates among bed bugs. Additionally, researchers have found that DE's abrasive properties damage the bugs' exoskeletons, making them vulnerable to dehydration.
Mites: When applied to (small, soft-bodied) mites and beetles, DE has been observed to be even more deadly than when used against larger, harder-shelled insects. Another study found that treating mice’s cages with DE helped to quell their asthma symptoms associated with house dust mites.
Cockroaches: Research on DE's effectiveness against cockroaches has produced promising results. One study exposed German cockroaches to a DE formulation and reported high levels of mortality (even when using a solution of 50% DE, 50% water). The investigators observed that DE disrupted the cockroaches' digestive processes, ultimately causing death.
While these studies present a strong case for DE's efficacy against various pests, it is worth noting that not all DE formulations are created equal. The effectiveness of DE can vary depending on factors such as particle size, structure, and purity. Therefore, users should be cautious when selecting a specific DE product for their particular pest issue.
In conclusion, research offers strong support for the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth in controlling various pests, such as ants, bed bugs, mites, and cockroaches. However, it is essential to choose an appropriate DE formulation and apply it correctly to achieve optimal results.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it generally take for diatomaceous earth to eliminate pests?
It typically takes diatomaceous earth between 24 hours and two weeks to eliminate pests (it’s recommended you leave it out for at least 8-10 days). The exact time frame depends on factors such as the type of pest, the degree of the infestation, and how thoroughly the diatomaceous earth has been applied.
Are there any safety concerns for humans when using diatomaceous earth?
Diatomaceous earth is considered safe for humans when using the food-grade variety. However, it is essential to minimize inhalation of the dust, as it can cause irritation to the respiratory system. It is advisable to wear a mask when applying diatomaceous earth, particularly in enclosed spaces.
What is the efficacy of diatomaceous earth against fleas specifically?
Diatomaceous earth is an effective flea control method as it works by damaging the exoskeleton of fleas, ultimately causing them to dehydrate and die. Regular and consistent application of diatomaceous earth can help eliminate flea infestations, but it is essential to vacuum and clean the area before reapplication to ensure optimal effectiveness.
Can diatomaceous earth still be effective if it becomes damp or wet?
Diatomaceous earth's effectiveness decreases when damp or wet, as it loses its abrasive properties. To maintain its efficacy, it should be applied in dry conditions and reapplied if the area gets wet.
What are the primary benefits of using food-grade diatomaceous earth?
Food-grade diatomaceous earth offers various benefits, such as being non-toxic to humans and pets, making it an eco-friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. It is also a cost-effective solution, as it can be purchased in bulk, and has a long shelf life.
Why might professional exterminators refrain from using diatomaceous earth?
While diatomaceous earth can be effective against certain pests,professional exterminators may opt for other methods due to various reasons. These reasons may include the need for faster results, the specific environment (e.g., damp or wet areas), difficulty in applying adequate coverage, or regulatory limitations on its use in certain environments.