What to Know About Diatomaceous Earth For Pest Control

by Elizabeth Michael
Avon, USA - June 17, 2022: Closeup of food grade diatomaceous earth powder by Harris brand for natural siliceous sedimentary rock

From ants to aphids and everything in between, nobody appreciates a pest infestation. Whether you've got ants marching toward your cookie jar or gnats swarming around your houseplant, it's important to find safe and effective solutions to eliminate these critters before they take over.

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Enter diatomaceous earth pest control, a natural insecticide option made from fossilized phytoplankton that pesky insects can't stand. 

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What Is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth is a powder-like substance that comes from the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of phytoplankton. When crushed into powdery dust, diatomaceous earth develops sharp, scratchy edges. When small pests like ants and cockroaches come in contact with DE, the edges break through their outer shells and the dust dehydrates the pests from the inside out. 

Where Can You Buy Diatomaceous Earth and What Forms Does It Come In?

Most home and garden stores sell diatomaceous earth, and you can also find it at pet supply stores and big box retailers. The two forms of DE are food grade and filter grade. Food-grade DE contains approximately 0.5% to 2% crystalline silica, making it safe for humans and pets.

Filter-grade DE, often used in swimming pool filters, is harmful to mammals, as it contains as much as 60% crystalline silica. Food-grade formulas are also approved for use by the Food and Drug Association (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

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How Can You Use Diatomaceous Earth for Pest Control With Indoor Plants?

You can use food-grade diatomaceous earth for plants inside the home by sprinkling a small amount of powder around the plant bases. This should create a barrier between the plant soil and common invaders like ants and aphids.

If any of the diatomaceous earth falls on the plant leaves, make sure to wash it off promptly. Since DE eradicates pests by dehydrating them, the same thing can happen to leaves and foliage. Leaving a light trail of powder around the base should be enough to make the little troublemakers move in the opposite direction. 

How Can You Use It for Your Lawn or Outdoor Plants and Flowers?

To keep pests at bay in your lawn and garden, simply sprinkle diatomaceous earth directly on grass and plants. However, it's a good idea to avoid using this product on flowering plants, as it may harm beneficial critters like bees and ladybugs.

You can also mix the powder with water and apply it directly to the affected areas with a spray bottle. Aim for around 4 tablespoons of powder per gallon of water, or refer to the application instructions on the packaging. Diatomaceous earth will temporarily lose its effectiveness when wet, but the water will help it stick to the plants and flowers. Once dry, the DE should once again work its magic and help keep the pests away. 

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Can You Use It for Pest Control in Your Home?

When using food-grade diatomaceous earth as directed, it's generally considered safe for controlling pests such as ants, bedbugs and other types of insects in the home. DE isn't strong enough to eliminate rodents, but it may prevent them from returning. When applying DE to high traffic pest areas, it's important to wear a mask and safety eye goggles to prevent accidental dust ingestion that can irritate your lungs and eyes. 

Depending on the type of pests that have invaded your home and the extent of the infestation, you may see results after a single application or might have to repeat the process a few times. To control pests, experts recommend applying diatomaceous earth in the following ways: 

  • Spot treating: Applying diatomaceous earth in a thin barrier layer around common gathering areas can help stop existing critters in their tracks and prevent new pests from entering. If applying the powder around pet food dishes, the thinner the layer, the better. This will help reduce the risk of accidental dust inhalation. 
  • Surface dusting: Surface dusting involves using a powder dusting tool to apply an even layer of diatomaceous earth on carpeting, insect entry points and pet bedding. Leave the powder intact for an extended period of time (a few hours for minor infestations and a few days for major ones). When the pests walk across their favorite infestation spots, the diatomaceous earth should stop them for good. After your desired wait time is up, simply run your vacuum to suck up the dust and dead insects. 
  • Perimeter application: If you suspect pests are entering your home via windows or doors or through your ventilation system, treating the perimeters may be your best course of action. Using a powder dusting tool, apply a thin layer of DE to every suspected point of entry to help prevent future ingress of pests. 

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