We had a spider overrun in our garage this summer, and diatomaceous earth (DE) saved the day!
Diatomaceous earth is natural and a great addition to any household. There are a multitude of uses for DE. (One of my favorite lists can be found at Tips Bulletin.)
Beth Haymond is an expert on this wondrous, versatile substance and agreed to answer my questions regarding the origin of DE, as well as its many uses. Beth is content writer and social media coordinator for DiatomaceousEarth.com where you can find high quality DE. (I have no financial affiliation with this company, just an interest in helping others avoid hazardous chemicals.)
What are the most common uses for DE?
Rather than trying to list the thousands of ways to use diatomaceous earth, let me just say this: if you’ve eaten gummy bears or bread in your life then you’ve already eaten diatomaceous earth. If you brush your teeth regularly, it’s likely you’ve brushed your teeth with DE. If you use soap then more than likely you have used DE.
You see, there are thousands of uses for diatomaceous earth. It keeps gummy bears from sticking together. It’s found in skin care products, toothpastes, foods, beverages, medicines, filters, and so much more.
Other ways to use DE are due to its amazing absorbency capabilities. You’ll find it in cat litter, floor dry, soil amendments among others. It absorbs odor as well, so toss a bit in a smelly garbage can or your gym shoes to keep the odor away.
It’s most well-known as a natural insecticide. When ants or any bug with an exoskeleton comes in contact with diatomaceous earth, it dries them up. They no longer can hydrate because the diatomaceous earth sticks to the waxy layer found on the exoskeleton and prevents them from hydrating from the moisture that is in the air.
Are there any downsides to the use of DE?
It’s never going to be as strong as a chemical pesticide. It’s as simple as that. You need to be patient with diatomaceous earth and smart with your application. Since it’s a dust, it has to come in contact with the insect to work.
Of course, its downside is its upside. It’s not a chemical! This is a huge advantage to me, and you can keep it in your home as long as you want, without risking your family’s health. It may not be as strong as a chemical pesticide, but I’ve found DE pretty effective and most people agree.
What is the top misconception regarding the use of DE?
This one takes some explaining so bear with me. First off, you need to know the chemical composition of DE (which varies between mines and companies). They all look something like this:
Amorphous silicon dioxide, from diatomaceous earth 85%
Other element oxides 10%
As you can see, the main component of DE is silicon dioxide, which can range from 80 to 90 percent of DE. Silicon dioxide, also known as silica, comes in two forms: crystalline and amorphous. Crystalline silica is formed when DE is superheated.
Here is the misconception: many people think there is a serious risk with inhaling DE. There have been studies that show there can be an increased risk of cancer and silicosis after people have breathed in crystalline silica. But these studies almost always look at people in construction or mining operations. Silicosis generally happens after about twenty years of working in a site like that.
The potential carcinogenicity of crystalline silica is still being explored. But again, the people being studied are constantly exposed because of their jobs. The gist of what we know now is that you’re at risk if you breathe in crystalline silica every day, all day, for about twenty years of your life.
Sometimes you’ll read an article that says something like this: “Warning! Use a dust mask when applying diatomaceous earth because it’s toxic when you breathe it in!” This is simply not the case. To be labelled food grade DE, it cannot contain more than one percent crystalline silica.
Amorphous silica is the natural stuff. This is what makes up your DE and hasn’t been altered. DE that has been superheated and contains a high amount crystalline silica is pool grade DE. This is used in pool filters. Even with this DE, you should be fine. You’re just adding it to your pool filter after all.
To date, no carcinogenicity has been linked to amorphous silica.
With all this being said, there should still be some caution because DE is still a dust. Some people with asthma, allergies, or sensitivities should take precautions, especially when a large application is involved. Keep the area ventilated and you should be just fine.
Can you give a little background/information on your company?
DiatomaceousEarth.com took off this year in April. We sold DE before on DiatomaceousEarth.net under the brand name Pure Earth D. When a new domain opened up, we took it as a chance to create an informative, user-friendly website. We have an interactive learning center full of how-to articles with step-by-step instructions. We have a blog that we regularly update with the latest information on how to use DE. People can email, use the chat feature, call in, and Facebook us with their questions. We have lots of knowledge to share.
Do you recommend taking DE internally?
This is one of the more controversial topics, but I think there could be something to eating DE. We know that silica plays an important role in the body. While the exact role isn’t clear cut, silica deficiency induces deformities in skull and peripheral bones, joints are poorly formed, the mineral balance in the femur and vertebrae is disrupted, and contents of cartilage and collagen are reduced.
People who have taken DE have found various benefits. The most common benefits I hear about are healthier hair, skin, and nails. If you want to ingest DE, 1 tsp a day should do the trick.
As far as we know it shouldn’t have any negative side effects. It’s listed by the FDA as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), and as we established earlier, you’ve likely already ingested trace amounts of DE.
The main problem with the benefits of eating DE is the lack of information. There aren’t many studies to back up some of the benefits people have found.
With this in mind, sometimes people will message me on our Facebook page and ask something like, “Will this cure my cancer, autoimmune disease, heart disease, lower my blood pressure, etc.?” My reply is always the same. Contact a competent medical professional, and seek proper medical attention. Do not discontinue any medicine your doctor has prescribed.
Do you have any tips regarding the application of DE?
Recognize that you will apply it differently depending on the pest you’re dealing with. When I’m protecting a plant from a slug, I apply a barrier of DE around the plant. On my dog, I push back her fur until the skin is exposed and then apply it everywhere to kill fleas.
Some steps that are always the same with most insects: clean your home like the Queen of England is coming to visit, fix or caulk any cracks, prune back foliage, and get rid of any leaks or moist areas. Unfortunately for some of our warmer states, it’s just a given that you’ll be fighting against insects most of the time. DE is in this scenario because you can always have it applied and it’s not toxic to your family. As long as you keep it dry, it will last forever.
One of my favorite things about DE is a barrier as well, which is not something many chemical pesticides are capable of. I have problems with ants every summer, but I know where they’re coming in—the crack under my front door. I put a line of DE in front of my door, and reapply when it gets washed away. I haven’t had a problem with ants since I’ve done this.
Not all applications are that easy. Bed bugs fall under this category. If you have them, buckle up because you have to do a lot to get rid of them. DE isn’t magic, but it does work. Same with chemical pesticides, you generally have to use a few methods to get rid of heavy or difficult infestations.
What is Food Grade DE?
For all your diatomaceous earth needs, it’s best to use DE that meets the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) standards. This kind is typically referred to as food grade diatomaceous earth. It’s basically the bee’s knees of DE because it’s natural and unaltered. This is the grade you want to use as your pesticide, feed additive, deodorizer, cleaner, etc. The best way to tell if the DE is food grade is by the label on the package.
The only grade to look out for is pool grade. When DE is superheated this process causes the diatoms to crystallize. This process makes the DE into a great filter, and as the name suggests, you’ll want to only use this grade as a filter in your pool. Don’t use pool grade DE for any of the suggestions listed here.
Thanks to Beth Haymond for taking the time to help us live more naturally and avoid the health hazards associated with petroleum-based chemicals.
Diatomaceous Earth.com recently featured momsAWARE on their site. You can read the full interview here.
Every summer I make a bug powder ready to apply if we get some uninvited visitors which invariably occurs in Arizona.
- All-Purpose Pesticide Powder
- 1/2 c. bay leaves
- 1/2 c. peppermint leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp. each citrus peel, garlic powder, diatomaceous earth, cayenne pepper, pyrethrum, salt
Grind the ingredients into a powder using a blender or mortar and pestle. Dust along affected areas.
For a free printable recipe list see the momsAWARE Pest Punching Printout!