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How to Use Diatomaceous Earth To Kill Bed Bugs (and More)

If you’ve looked much into bed bug control, you’ve probably come across diatomaceous earth as one possible solution to killing bed bugs. Many people end up using diatomaceous earth because it’s much more safe and natural than chemical sprays or other alternatives.

As an added benefit, this miracle dust kills other insects like ticks, fleas, roaches, spiders, and more!

Let’s talk a little bit about what diatomaceous earth is and how to best make use of it for pest control.

Harris Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
Active Ingredient: Diatomaceous Earth

Harris Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is an all-natural Diatomaceous Earth that is effective at killing most crawling pests over time.

Why DoMyOwn?DoMyOwn.com offers professional-grade insecticides to DIYers while ensuring proper storage of chemicals. Couple that with their impressive customer service and knowledgeable staff, it’s the #1 choice.

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth is made from ancient, fossilized single-cell algae made largely of silica. These silica deposits are mined from areas like river banks and then dried. Diatomaceous earth has a wide variety of uses but to the average person the most common use is pest control.

What makes diatomaceous earth uniquely useful for killing insects are two key properties.

  1. It absorbs lipids. Many insects have a waxy outer coat to their exoskeleton which helps them maintain moisture in their body. When insects come into contact with diatomaceous earth, that waxy layer gets eroded and most bugs die of dehydration over the span of days to 2 weeks.
  2. It’s sharp and jagged. These fossilized remains are not smooth or rounded. At a microscopic level, they’re full of sharp, jagged edges that makes it easy to latch into insects that it comes in contact with. This helps diatomaceous earth damage the exoskeleton more as it sticks to the bug, sometimes transferring to other bugs that come in contact.

While diatomaceous earth may be fatal to insects, it’s actually safe for human consumption. You can find “food grade” diatomaceous earth which means that the product has been sterilized, so no harmful bacteria is in the product. Diatomaceous earth is often used as an additive when storing grain or in livestock feed.

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Diatomaceous Earth Precautions

Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring product and has no toxicity like chemicals do, but you still want to handle it with care. While it won’t cut you or hurt you, it can dry out your hands so you should use gloves when handling it.

The bigger concern though is breathing it in. You never want to inhale fine, foreign particles into your lungs. The common form of diatomaceous earth sold today is not known to be a carcinogen but you could still irritate your lungs, eyes, and nose membrane if you’re having a lot of the product go airborne. Most of the time this shouldn’t be a real concern, but you should still wear proper safety gear like goggles and a mask when handling.

Applying Diatomaceous Earth to Kill Insects

Using diatomaceous earth to kill insects like bed bugs isn’t difficult, but there are a few things you should know and be aware of to get the most out of it.

Methods of Application

Diatomaceous earth is a powdery substance. It’s not a liquid you can squirt out of a bottle like most chemical sprays, yet we need to lightly and evenly distribute it for it to be effective.

The most common and effective way to do this is by using a powder duster. A powder duster is basically a handheld device where you load powder into a chamber, and lightly squeeze the chamber to shoot powder out of the narrow spout.

This gives you a lot of control over how much powder to disperse. You can get close to your target to keep the powder more concentrated or pull the duster back more to let the powder spread to cover a wider target more lightly. Here’s a duster I recommend –

Bellow Hand Duster
Apply Dust Insecticide Effectively

A hand-pump duster is a must-have for effectively dusting with DE. This will allow you to efficiently spread out the powder to reach cracks and crevices.

Why DoMyOwn?DoMyOwn.com offers professional-grade insecticides to DIYers while ensuring proper storage of chemicals. Couple that with their impressive customer service and knowledgeable staff, it’s the #1 choice.

Another way of applying diatomaceous earth is with a dry, flat paint brush. You wouldn’t want to do this to cover a lot of area, but if you’re looking to get diatomaceous earth into cracks and crevices that may be hard to reach it’s a great option.

A paint brush may also be useful when you want to keep the amount of powder to a minimum. For example, if you’re fighting bed bugs, you may want to apply a controlled amount of diatomaceous earth to the creases of your mattress and a duster would likely be too much.

One key thing to remember is that you want the bugs to come into contact with the diatomaceous earth. This means you want to keep it spread thin so it doesn’t look like an obstacle it will move around.

Wet Application

While the dry application of DE described above is the most common and easiest way to go about it, it’s also possible to apply diatomaceous earth in a wet form. To accomplish this, mix diatomaceous earth and water in a 1:4 ratio (1 cup of diatomaceous earth, 4 cups of water). Then you can spray this mixture through a spraying applicator.

Chapin Premier 1 Gallon Sprayer
Excellent at applying liquids

The Chapin Premier Sprayer features a rugged brass wand nad an adjustable nozzle and anti-clog filter.

Why DoMyOwn?DoMyOwn.com offers professional-grade insecticides to DIYers while ensuring proper storage of chemicals. Couple that with their impressive customer service and knowledgeable staff, it’s the #1 choice.

I wouldn’t recommend bothering with a wet application of diatomaceous earth unless you have awkward areas you’re trying to get into or cover that a powder duster isn’t working.

One common use-case is applying DE to the underside of surfaces or vertical surfaces. A powder isn’t going to stick well in that situation, but the water will stick and leave the DE behind when it evaporates.

One other drawback of wet application – diatomaceous earth is not effective at killing insects while it’s wet. It needs to dry out before it will start to kill bugs.

Where to Apply the Diatomaceous Earth

The first thing to know is that bugs must come in contact with diatomaceous earth in order for it to kill them. You want the diatomaceous earth to be in areas the bugs are already using or in areas you suspect they may live, travel across, etc.

This also means that diatomaceous earth doesn’t work well with repellent insect products. If you apply a bug repellent in the same place as diatomaceous earth, the diatomaceous earth isn’t going to do much since most of the bugs won’t come into contact with it.

Spreading the diatomaceous earth around everywhere isn’t going to be very effective and a good use of your time. Try to apply it strategically. For bed bugs, this means the areas around your bed.

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Try to get the power under your baseboards, around the feet of your bed, under the edges of carpet (if possible), and even behind your electric outlets so powder can get into wall crevices (be sure to turn off power to the outlets while you work).

You may also want to work some diatomaceous earth into cracks of your headboard, dresser drawers, bed frame, box spring, and mattress.

One thing to note is that diatomaceous earth is only effective when it remains dry. As a result, it isn’t the most effective product to use outside of the house and if you did, you’d have to re-apply after rain or high humidity days.

How Long to Use Diatomaceous Earth?

The nice thing about diatomaceous earth is that it works on a physical and not chemical level. It doesn’t breakdown and lose effectiveness overtime as long as it remains dry, so one treatment should last you a very long time.

You can vacuum up any diatomaceous earth hanging around when you’re done with treatment though most of it will be in cracks and crevices that a vacuum won’t reach which is just fine. It won’t do any harm to let the diatomaceous earth sit there and act as a killing agent for other pests that may try to invade your home.

Harris Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
Active Ingredient: Diatomaceous Earth

Harris Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is an all-natural Diatomaceous Earth that is effective at killing most crawling pests over time.

Why DoMyOwn?DoMyOwn.com offers professional-grade insecticides to DIYers while ensuring proper storage of chemicals. Couple that with their impressive customer service and knowledgeable staff, it’s the #1 choice.

Diatomaceous Earth FAQ’s

Is diatomaceous earth safe for dogs/cats/humans?

Yes, diatomaceous earth is largely considered safe and non-toxic for all creatures in your home (except pests). “Food grade” is even more safe as it has been sterilized to remove possible bacteria mixed in. You wouldn’t want anyone to inhale fine powder though as it could irritate the lungs.

What insects does diatomaceous earth kill?

Diatomaceous earth kills basically all bugs including bed bugs, roaches, ants, ticks, spiders, fleas, slugs, silverfish, beetles, centipedes, etc.

What kind of diatomaceous earth is best for bed bugs?

Any diatomaceous earth you buy today is likely the same stuff just in different packaging. We recommend getting “food grade” but we are not aware of any issues that have come from a human or pet ingesting any kind of diatomaceous earth.

Is it safe to sleep in a room that had diatomaceous earth applied?

Yes. Diatomaceous earth should be applied wearing a mask since it’s a fine powder, but once it has settled there’s no harm from being in the same room as it. This goes for pets and children as well. DE should settle within seconds of being applied, so there’s no worries about using it in bedrooms.

Do I need to reapply diatomaceous earth? How long does it work?

Since diatomaceous earth works on a physical level, it doesn’t breakdown after week/months like chemical pest control agents. You shouldn’t need to re-apply diatomaceous earth until what you put down got washed away or vacuumed up.

Can I vacuum up diatomaceous earth?

Yes, you can vacuum diatomaceous earth but may want to only use a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a wet/dry vac. Since DE is a fine powder, it’s possible that it could get through cheaper vacuum filters and reduce the effectiveness of the vacuum motor over time. A high quality vacuum like Dyson vacuum cleaners should be able to handle vacuuming up diatomaceous earth without a problem.

Does diatomaceous earth still work when it’s wet, or if it gets wet?

Diatomaceous earth does not work when it’s wet, but it will work again when it dries assuming it wasn’t washed away like in the case of rain or a heavy pour of water.

Can diatomaceous earth be used outside?

Diatomaceous earth can be used outside, however it likely won’t be that effective over long periods of time. For one, it needs to be dry to kill bugs so in humid environments or during rainy periods it won’t do much. Also, rain can wash the DE away or bury it into soil.

15 Comments

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  1. I have a Flea infestation, and I have been at this for almost a year. We have had exterminators spray 4 times and we have bought several hundred over the counter products. Nothing has got rid of them. They don’t bother anyone but me. I am 75 years old and not able to vacuum and clean. I just need something I can use that will kill these fleas. Your product sounds like it would work.

    • What we usually do for fleas is put a dinner plate out with one drop of Dawn dish soap and fill it with water and then put a tea candle in the middle of the plate, preferably raised up a little so the fleas can see it. Make sure there are no other lights nearby. Do fleas jump into the soapy water and drown. Keep doing it until all the fleas are gone.

    • I have been using diatomaceous on my carpets for several years now. I realize you stated you cannot vacuum but it should still help control and kill the fleas if you apply it.

      Vacuuming frequently will help to control the eggs and re-infestation.

      I will sprinkle it on the carpet and leave for a day, sometimes two, then vacuum. Weekly washing of my cats bedding, and consistent vacuuming has maintained a flea free environment for me. I live in a humid climate so flea control can be a challenge.

  2. Im writing about diatomaceous earth. My largest problem are spiders in the garage and exterior of the home. I live in a wooded area. I have been trying Diatomaceous Earth with questionable results as I have not seen a decrease. I saw how you can mix it with water and spray it so Im going to try that as most spiders are on vertical surfaces. Was thinking to spray the webs. I was wondering if any other additives might make it adhere better almost like an adhesive. Like maybe vegetable oil or dish soap like Dawn? Or would they neutralize the effectiveness? What about water, soap and oil on the webs itself? I had great success with this mixture in killing box elder bugs, and I understand it kills them the same way.

  3. Sprinkling Borax around on all your carpets and floors will kill them. It is similar to DE, in that it destroys their exoskeleton. It is cheap and easy to come by. Just be careful if any pets get it on them and then lick it off, it would not be good

    • Borax and boric acid are two mined materials that contain the element boron. They both are excellent for pest control, but they can be toxic to people and pets. Borax is used in many commercial flea treatments and in insecticides. … For this reason, they should be used sparingly around pets and children.
      In the instance of pets and people, DE is better to use.

  4. I have been using diatomaceous earth for several years. First started using it during a flea infestation. Had exterminators x 2 no success, started using the diatomaceous earth and have continued to dust it around the perimeter of my basement (indoors) floor and under the stairs no more fleas! I find some other dead insects in my basement from using this method as well. I tried it in the garden to get rid of slugs but it was too hard to maintain with watering and rain. For spiders we also use, used teabags. We live in a wooded area of northern Ontario, there are many types of spiders some are very big and ugly. Since we started leaving used tea bags around our gazebo we do not see any of the large spiders, only a few small ones. We also us the diatomaceous earth dusted around the perimeter of the interior/floor of our gazebo to keep the earwig population down. My next thing is to try to get rid of the small black ants that have plagued us for many years now. I am going to start using the diatomaceous earth around the ant hills around the exterior of the house and on my counters. Hope it works, they are very bad this year. This is a good all around product and relatively safe for humans, pets and the environment.

  5. Please can you advise myself on how to get rid of silverfish from my linen cupboard. I have also seen the silverfish in other places within my/our home. Your thoughts and advice on how to disperse the Diatomaceous Earth so I can rid our house of unwanted critters!
    Thanks Linda

    • You should not apply to live animals as while it is safe to use on them it will dry out their skin and if they ingest a large amount it could make them ill so while safe to put on carpets and around the house do not use on living things only inanimate objects

    • Put some in the palms of your hands and lightly rub into your dogs fur. Make sure you go easy around the face so it doesn’t inhale alot of the powder. It is very fine stuff..

  6. I’ve recently had guest to come stay with me for awhile and now I’m seeing roaches. How should I use DE to get rid of the roaches?

  7. Does DE keep scorpions at bay? And the reason I originally started to look at DE is that I have BIG black ants outdoors… I live in the Southwest desert area, so no problem with humidity (we are in single digits)…
    We occasionally have strong winds that I’m guessing might blow it away, if it does get windy can I just reapply?
    Thanks so much!

  8. Hi: Reading info on Diatomaceous Earth, I have found that it will only be effective in killing bugs if it’s dry, I have a huge problem with spiders and other bugs in my backyard, we can’t even sit outside because they are hanging in the air and will give me the iches, they will eat up any vegetation I plant. I live in Southern California, where it gets dry and hot and the plants have to be watered regularly as well, so, will this negate the effect and render applying to my vegetable plants outide useless?
    Please respond back as I am planning to getting this today from a nursery.
    Thank you in advance!

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