Unaware of where to start with Diatomaceous Earth? Well, we’ve got it all covered for you!
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a great help in the fight against bed bugs. You will find everything you need to know about in this article. Read completely till the end to use DE in the most effective way and not put your life at risk.
Table of Contents
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is produced from the sediments of tiny, aquatic organisms called ‘diatoms’ or ‘algae’. They are a type of hard-shelled protist with rough and porous fossilized mineral deposits.
Diatoms have a cell wall abundant in a compound known as ‘silica’, namely opaline silica. Over the years, sediment deposits of diatoms are found across the soils and water bodies. From these places, silica deposits are mined and DE is generated.
Diatomaceous Earth is ecologically sourced. It is found all over the world, including notable extraction sites, such as Neuohe. Diatomites are mined primarily in the United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, China, France, Spain, and Denmark. In United States you can find it is mined in California, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington.
DE was already used by ancient Greeks as a pesticide or to make building materials, such as bricks and blocks. It is then discovered in Germany in 1836 by Peter Kasten. Originally, it was used to produce dynamite. Later on, it was used as water filters, medicine, paint, or for industrial purposes in the Middle East.
By and large, DE was recognised as a pesticide and insecticide in the 1960s. Today, DE has dozens of uses: toothpaste, metal polishes, water filters, et al. It is also used to remove household and garden pests, such as fleas, slugs, bed bugs, and others.
How does DE work against bed bugs?
Diatomaceous earth works as an effective pesticide. It has a permeable and abrasive nature, which makes it useful against bed bugs. When bed bugs crawl through DE, the sharp dust particles are lacerating the exoskeleton. Then the powdery silica-rich fossil flour absorbs the internal fluids of the pest. And thus, it loses all the water from its body, leading to death.
A common misconception is that bed bugs ingest the powder and die in the process. Nonetheless, bed bugs have to walk over the powder (so that it comes in contact with their body). The powder particles are sharp, which scratches away the waxy layer of the bugs. Thus, killing them of dehydration. To simplify it, DE kills bed bugs by drying them out of the water (or dehydrating them).
Does diatomaceous earth act like a barrier? Well, DE is like a natural, non-toxic barrier (with physico-sorptive properties). When bed bugs cross an area with DE, the fine powder adsorbs lipids from the bed bug’s exoskeleton. This in turn kills them and prevents any further infestation.
Can Diatomaceous Earth repel bed bugs?
Although DE kills bed bugs, they might have developed some coping mechanisms over time. However, there is no trusted information available to prove the cause. Diatomaceous earth is effective and that’s certain. The effectiveness depends on how to use it. Make sure you apply the DE powder through and thorough so that the bed bugs cannot avoid it. Keep in mind, the bed bugs need to crawl over it for it to work.
Lastly, are bed bugs attracted to DE? The answer is NO. DE doesn’t attract pests in any way. But some brands have come up with bed bug alarm pheromones to encourage movement. These chemicals make them scatter around. Thus, increasing the chances of them walking through the powder. Thus, enhancing its effects. So, while DE is not attractive in nature, it is effective.
NOTE: Diatomaceous Earth can kill bed bugs in up to 48 hours or more. In case there’s a massive infestation, it might take days for the bugs to die.
Why should you use DE?
No matter what season, bed bugs are always going to find their way into your house. Tried chemical methods and you still can’t get rid of them? Well, diatomaceous earth, a natural pesticide, definitely helps protect your house from chemical pesticides.
Here are a few reasons why you should use DE as a pesticide:
DE is completely natural
As mentioned earlier, diatomaceous earth is composed of silicon. Silicon when reacts with oxygen forms silicon dioxide (SiO2), better known as silica. Thus, SiO2 is created out of the two most abundant compounds present on the earth’s crust – silicon and oxygen. These are non-toxic compounds, which makes DE the absolute ‘go-to non-toxic’ product. Hence, DE is natural and causes no such health effects. Also, it’s said to have no harmful effects on pets, but if inhaled, it can cause severe lung damage.
DE is non-resistant
Diatomaceous earth is non-resistant in nature. This implies that bed bugs cannot develop immunity against DE. However, DE doesn’t kill pests straight away. While it offers long-lasting efficiency, it acts in a slow and precise manner.
DE is non-invasive
Diatomaceous earth is non-invasive by nature. This means that you don’t need to evacuate (empty) the place where you are using it. It does not spread in an undesirable or harmful manner. Besides, its powder-form structure makes it quite easy to apply as well. You can apply it wherever there’s an infestation of bed bugs. However, due to its composition, it might irritate your nose or eyes. Thus, it is recommended to take safety precautions for the same.
DE prevents return of bed bugs
DE prevents arrival or return of bed bugs: DE acts as a deterrent and physical barrier for bugs. Due to its natural compound composition, it acts in a pure physical manner. It prevents bed bugs from returning and infesting the place again. Thus, acting as a physical barrier. Sprinkle the DE powder and create a protective shield against bed bugs and other insects.
DE offers a long-lasting efficiency
DE is made from natural compounds found in the earth’s crust and so, it never loses its potency. Unlike other chemical pesticides, bed bugs can never create immunity against DE. So, it’s always going to work just like it did the very first time you applied it. You just need to apply it once and it works just fine for the rest of your life.
DE is not toxic like chemical pesticides
We tend to ignore all-natural remedies and prefer chemical and machine-made substances. It seems that it will be more effective. But they are not; chemical pesticides are toxic and can cause severe human allergies. However, there are no such possibilities when it comes to DE. DE is 100% natural. Once it is applied to the area, it clogs onto its target and absorbs all of its internal fluid. The best part, DE never loses its potency. Some chemical pesticides only chase the bugs away for some time. There’s a good chance they might return in the future.
DE is cheap
There are so many ways to kill a bedbug or keep it away from your place. Technology, machines, chemicals, and whatnot! But let’s face it, these chemicals and machines can be quite expensive. For instance, a bed bug exterminator can cost you approximately $450-$1500. Again, a heat streamer will cost you hundreds of dollars.
Safety concerns (For Humans & Pets)
Pool and Food Grade
Diatomaceous earth is commercially sold in two different grades. Crystalline Silicon (Pool Grade) & Food Grade. How Diatomaceous earth is treated determines whether it is food grade or pool grade.
Pool grade DE is harmful to health as it is calcined. This means it has been heat-treated and activated to use in industrial filters. Hence, not used for pest control.
On the contrary, food-grade silicone is 100% natural and unaltered. It is useful to homeowners and gardeners as it is cheap; can be used for pest control.
NOTE: DEs for pesticides have specific additives that attract pests. This might be harmful to human health. Also, DE (or any other substance) in large doses is always harmful.
Side effects on humans
Irritation in the nasal passage:
DE is a fine powder-like substance. Hence, there’s a good chance it can irritate your nose and lungs. If this might be a problem for you, we recommend you using dust masks while applying DE. Also, people with asthmatic conditions should stay away. Food-grade diatomaceous earth dangerous to inhale but it is safe to consume.
Irritation in the skin and eyes:
If the DE powder comes in contact with your skin, it can potentially cause irritation and dryness. Due to its abrasive, silica-rich nature, it may also irritate your eyes. Therefore, take necessary precautions.
Serious skin conditions:
Very close contact with the skin, DE can cause wounds or loss of parts of the skin. Multiple exposures can also cause skin cancer later down the line.
Lab test on mice
To prove whether diatomaceous earth is harmful for human health or not, a total of 8 experiments were conducted on mice. The results proved that DE did not have a negative effect on the rodent. But on over exposure, there were considerable rises in the incidence of adenocarcinomas and squamous-cell carcinomas in the lungs. This indicated cancer symptoms in mice.
It was later concluded that food-grade DE doesn’t cause any harm to human health. Pool grade DE, however, is harmful. Pool-grade contains high levels of crystalline silicon dioxide, which makes it extremely toxic. Food-grade DE contains less than 1% amorphous silicon dioxide, which makes it safer for residential uses. Food grade is not linked with any cancer issues in people. But again over exposure of DE, might cause cancer symptoms later down the line.
Another question that seems to kind of worry us – Is DE safe for pets? Well, the answer is NO. Diatomaceous earth can make your pets sick. Although it is labelled safe and non-toxic, if your pets ingest it, then it’s likely to cause a severe problem. In the worst case possible, if inhaled, your dog/cat might be at potential risk for lung damage. Thus, take precautions.
Now, can Diatomaceous earth be applied indoors? DE can be applied both indoors and outdoors, wet or dry. You can use it in any room of your house – kitchen, bedroom, living room. But make sure you keep your children, especially newborns and toddlers away from it. Children may be sensitive to pesticides as compared to adults. Although DE is safe for pregnant and nursing moms, it might be harmful to newborns or crawling babies.
Also, you should use protection while APPLYING diatomaceous earth. If you can, leave home for a few hours. DE is a fine powder and it might irritate your eyes, throat, and lungs. This can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, et al. To prevent these conditions, we suggest you wear an FFP breathing mask. However, once the powder is settled, you need not worry. You can even sleep in a room with diatomaceous earth, once it has settled down completely.
How fast can DE kill bed bugs?
A test was conducted where 3 different bed bug strains were exposed to a petri dish with DE. It turned out that DE started its effect within 24 hours. However, it took a few days for the apparent results to show. 90 per cent of the bed bugs were dead in 4-5 days. After 10 days, all the bed bugs died. In some cases, it might take up to 7-17 days for the bed bugs to die. DE does not kill the eggs. It only works against the adult bed bugs. Thus, you need to wait for a week or two until the eggs hatch. Once they mature, DE can work against them.
Will DE kill all bed bugs?
Diatomaceous earth gives remarkable results but it doesn’t kill 100%. For an effective treatment, you need to make sure the bedbugs are making contact with the powder. They need to walk over it or else it would be a waste.
The adult bed bugs will start to die within 2-4 days. But even after the adults are exterminated, eggs still lie around. As mentioned earlier, diatomaceous earth cannot kill the eggs. Thus, you need to leave it applied for a week or two. DE only affects adult bed bugs and once the eggs hatch, it will work. Also, all kinds of diatomaceous earth can kill bed bugs. But pool grade DE type is not recommended as it is harmful to both humans and animals. Food grade DE is the safest way to get rid of bed bug infestation.
Diatomaceous earth is best when used with other methods. Using a steamer or a mattress encasement can be helpful. Steam is an effective method for killing bed bugs in all stages of development. Especially when you have a heavy infestation, steamers work best. Using a steamer filled with DE powder can kill bed bugs up to 3-4″ into fabric surfaces. But that has a drawback to it. The steamer makes the powder wet. And the wet application reduces the effectiveness of DE. Thus, it needs to dry out before it can kill the bed bugs. Also, it can be effective up to 2-3/8″ into a gap. Continued exposure to high temperatures (110-120°F) can kill bed bugs in a matter of 15-20 minutes.
NOTE: Diatomaceous earth works best when dry. Using a steamer will make it wet. This wont give you effective results. DE needs to dry out completely before it can kill bed bugs.
Mattress encasement is also an efficient way to get rid of a heavy infestation of bed bugs. Once locked up inside, they do not have a way out. They cannot reach their supply host. And thus, they starve and die within 2 weeks of being trapped inside. Also, you can fill the mattress encasement with diatomaceous earth for faster results. Keep in mind bed bugs also hide in the bed frames, nightstands, headboards, etc. Thus, load these places with DE. You can also use a steamer on the couches, mattresses, and other places where the bugs can hide.
For a lighter bed bug infestation, clean the bedding, curtains, and other fabrics in hot water. You can also use a stiff brush to scrub mattresses and remove the eggs before vacuuming. And then vacuum the bed and the surrounding area. However, eggs do not die that easily. You can either place them in a plastic pouch and let them sit under the direct sunlight on a 95°F day. Or you can place them in a chest freezer (0°F) for up to 10 hours. Scorching and freezing temperatures are lethal for the bed bugs and their eggs.
How to choose the right DE?
There are two types of diatomaceous earth available in the market; food-grade DE and pool-grade DE.
Pool grade DE is harmful to human health as it is calcined under high pressure and temperature (1832°F). This results in converting silicon dioxide into crystalline silicon.
Food-grade DE is non-toxic and chemical-free. It can be used for daily household purposes and pest control. DE available in the market contains 80-90 per cent silica with 1-2% of iron oxide and other minerals. Food grade DE contains less than 1% uncalcined (amorphous) silicon and no more than 10mg/kg Lead or Arsenic. Thus, it is safe for domestic use.
Talking about the method of application, you can use it dry, wet, or by using a chemical spray. The most common and effective way is to use it in its natural powder form, i.e., DRY. You can use a powder duster – fill it up with DE, and then squeeze the chamber to shoot the powder out. This way you can efficiently spread the powder across.
Another way of applying DE is in its WET form. You can mix the powder in a 1:4 ratio (1 cup of DE and 4 cups of water), stir the mixture well, and then apply it with a paintbrush. You can also opt for chemical sprays. However, we wouldn’t recommend the wet application of DE. Because firstly, you have to wait to become completely dry. Secondly, it would create a lot of mess. Hence, the best method of application of DE is in the POWDER form. Also, there isn’t a specific quantity/amount that you would need. Make sure to get enough down to kill the bugs.
Where to buy?
Diatomaceous earth is quite inexpensive. You can find it in your local market or purchase it online from Amazon or other shopping websites.
DE is allowed in the United States, easily available in your local Target or Walmart.
How to apply Diatomaceous Earth?
Bed Bugs need warm places for living. Your beds, clothes, carpets, furniture, etc are their go-to sites. Thus, these places need to be pest-controlled in time to get rid of the bugs.
DE is a natural and effective way to chase the bed bugs away from your house. DE directly targets the adult bed bugs, so it takes a week or two to get it fixed.
Preparing for the treatment
- Declutter: Remove unnecessary items (clothes, utensils, small accessories, et al). Tidy up the mess first and then start with the application.
- Steam Cleaning: Steam clean your bed linen and wooden furniture. Bed bugs can’t resist high temperatures. Temperature above 70°C can kill bed bugs within a few hours. It would be a great chemical-free beginning.
- Wash the fabrics: Wash the bedding, pillows, and other fabrics in hot water. Keep it on the dryer’s highest setting.
Here’s a list of precautions you should take while applying diatomaceous earth:
- Use gloves while applying DE; it can dehydrate your skin.
- Wear a protective mask to avoid respiratory issues.
- Wear a full sleeves t-shirt and trousers along with a boot to avoid contact from DE.
- Wear glasses to keep your eyes safe.
- Wash your hands properly after the task is completed.
- Keep your pets and children away.
Where to apply
You need to apply DE in such a way that none of the cracks or gaps is left untreated. To ensure all the cracks and crevices are filled, use a bulb duster. The device scatters the powder evenly and helps remove the infestation of bed bugs. It does so without using any harsh chemicals.
Bulb dusters come with a metal-based design that offers long durability and performance. It also features an easy-to-push bellow. This allows you to apply the powder to the places that are hard to reach. Usually, the applicator tube of these dusters is 6.5-8 inches long that rarely clogs while using. Hence, it’s the most useful method to get rid of bed bugs. Besides, it’s safe for the environment.
Now, here are a few places where you should apply the DE powder to get effective results:
- Fill every crack and gap with DE.
- Form a border within each room with DE.
- Line the entire length of the wall with DE
- Spray all around the house (garden, rooftop, backyard).
- Spray over the electrical appliances (refrigerator, oven, gas).
- Spread it under the carpet, mattress, bed, couch, closet, cabinets, etc.
- Cover the furniture (couches, bed, chairs, lamps, tables) with a thin layer of DE.
- Sprinkle the powder in the drawers, gaps behind appliances, window sills, door frames.
NOTE: There’s a good chance bed bugs might infest the electrical switchboards. And so, you need to apply the powder in there as well. Start by removing the covers of the electrical faceplates and pour DE into each outlet.
Tips to improve the efficiency
Diatomaceous earth loses its efficacy under high humid conditions. With increasing relative humidity or moisture content, DE loses 70-75% of its efficiency. That is because, under high humidity levels, insects moderate water loss. Thus, their survival rate is increased even after being exposed to DE. Also, DE loses its effectiveness when moistened.
Under conditions like heavy rain or strong air blows, DE is ineffective. Rain causes it to just dissolve in the soil below. Whereas strong wind will have DE blowing around everywhere. This is neither safe nor effective. Therefore, to avoid external factors, close the doors and window sills. Do not switch on your fans or air conditioner. Keep in mind diatomaceous earth works best in dry weather.
You can use Diatomaceous earth in every room. But make sure you secure your sleeping space for obvious reasons. DE, if left undisturbed, can start to be effective in 24 hours. You will see apparent results within 2-5 days after applying. However, DE only affects adult bed bugs. It does not kill the eggs. Thus, you have to wait for a week or two for the eggs to hatch. Once the eggs hatch out, DE will work against them.
If you can’t wait that long, you can place the eggs in a plastic pouch and leave them under the sun. Or you can put them in a chest freezer under 0°F for 8-10 hours. This may give you faster results. Keep in mind, diatomaceous earth works best with heat treatment. You can use a steamer for faster and effective results.
Clean up after the treatment
Now, how long should you wait before vacuuming? We suggest you wait a good 2-3 weeks before vacuuming the powder. Diatomaceous earth can clog up regular vacuum cleaner and damage the motor. Instead, use a shop vac or a vacuum cleaner with a good-quality HEPA filter.
What to do if I still have bedbug after DE
If you have tried everything and you still can’t get rid of bed bugs, have patience. Bed bugs can be adamant and difficult to deal with. What you can do instead is check if other rooms are infested or not. If they are, now you know why it didn’t work. But that’s one possibility. Another possibility could be that the holes and gaps were not treated properly. You need to make sure every inch of the infested area is covered with DE. If it still didn’t work, try repeating the same procedure twice or maybe thrice.
There’s a one in ten possibilities that DE will fail. DE will continue to be effective as long as it remains dry. Therefore, keep a routine check of the external factors. No wind, no humidity, no moisture. All of this will render it ineffective.
How to store leftovers of DE?
You need to store diatomaceous earth in a dry condition. As you already know, humidity or moisture decreases its effectiveness. We suggest you store DE in an air-tight jar or pouch. Keep it in the basement, storeroom, garden shed, etc. The key tip is to cut the contact and keep it away from open-air.
Diatomaceous earth is made from the fossilised sediments of diatoms. It is already old and won’t expire. As long as it is kept clean and dry, it won’t go bad. Just keep it that way and it will last longer than we will!
Hooray – that’s it! Great that you made it to the end. We hope that our complete guide on diatomaceous earth to treat bed bugs was helpful. If you liked it, please leave a positive comment down below. We would love to hear from you! Also, share it with your friends, family, colleagues, and help them get rid of the nasty bed bugs, too.
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