What is diatomaceous earth (DE)? It’s a silica-like material that comes from fossilized diatom. Diatom is a kind of tiny unicellular plankton or algae. It’s the silicified skeletons of these organisms, made into powder, that form diatomaceous earth.
There are two distinct kinds of diatomaceous earth: Food grade and pool grade.
Pool diatomaceous earth is treated with extreme heat. That process turns the silicon dioxide into crystalline silica, which is dangerous and potentially lethal to people, animals, and other living creatures. For this reason, pool grade diatomaceous earth is only used for filtration.
There’s a wide variety of other uses for diatomaceous earth. Food grade diatomaceous earth health benefits are numerous.
In this article, we explore those benefits, along with the uses and safety of food grade diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous Earth Fleas
Many pet owners who prefer natural pet care products often want to know: does diatomaceous earth kills fleas?
Yes. Using diatomaceous earth for fleas can be a simple and effective way to rid your dog or cat of the pests, especially if your pet spends all or most of its time indoors. Diatomaceous earth loses its effectiveness when exposed to moisture.1
The key to this method of flea control is silica. When fleas come in contact with powered diatomaceous earth, they ingest it. The miniscule slivers of silica then slice the fleas’ digestive systems. Unable to digest food, the insect dies.
How to use diatomaceous earth for fleas:
Using latex gloves, sprinkle a thin layer of the powder along your pet’s dry backbone. Gently work the powder through the fur so it reaches the skin.
Repeat along the animal’s sides, belly, and limbs. The goal is to get the powder past the upper layer of fur so that it sits on or near the skin. You don’t want to rub it into the skin.
Do not put diatomaceous earth on your pet’s head. It can damage eyes and ears.
Try to prevent your dog or cat from licking its fur for 30-60 minutes after application. Ingestion won’t hurt them, but it allows time for fleas to come in contact with the diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous Earth Bed Bugs
Bed bugs seek warm, moist areas in houses. Bedding, clothes, carpets, and furniture are favourite spots because we are their food source.
Treating these pests with diatomaceous earth is an inexpensive way to destroy bed bud infestations and minimize the risk of re-infestation. It’s safe to use near food, pets, and children.
How does diatomaceous earth kill bed bugs? After direct contact, the diatomaceous earth absorbs the oil of the bed bugs’ exoskeleton. This leads to dehydration, which leads to death.
How to apply diatomaceous earth for bed bugs:
- Steam clean all areas of your home, including furniture, where you know, or suspect, bed bugs are living. Also clean all linens and furniture.
Make sure to use a steam cleaner that can get the water temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Research shows that bed bugs can’t survive an hour-long exposure to temperatures higher than 48 degrees Celsius, which is approximately 120 degrees Fahrenheit.2
- Wash all linens, clothes, and other fabrics in very hot water. Some people believe very cold water also kills bed bugs, but research shows that temperatures need to be below freezing to be effective.2
Dry all items in high heat then put them directly into sealed plastic containers or garment bags.
- Vacuum your entire home. This includes furniture, mattresses, drapery, and hard and carpeted flooring. Using a carpet cleaner on broadloom is a good idea, if possible. Be sure to use the wand attachment to vacuum behind furniture seat cushions, the joints of bed frames, etc.
- Apply diatomaceous earth with a JT Eaton duster. That’s the tool professional pest control companies use. It looks like a canister with a long wand-like nozzle.
- If possible, keep all people and pets out of the house for 24 hours to deprive the bed bugs of new food.
- With the JT Eaton duster, reapply dematiaceous earth in vulnerable places for prevention of infestation.
Dust diatomaceous earth along baseboards, window sills, and door jambs. Apply it behind and under appliances and furniture, in drawers, and behind light switches and electrical outlets.
After 24 hours, vacuum the entire house again, including the diatomaceous earth, where most of the dead bed bugs will be.
Diatomaceous Earth Worms
There is no scientific evidence that diatomaceous earth is effective at killing worms. Because worms don’t have exoskeletons, diatomaceous earth is an unlikely solution to worm problems. Pests with an oily or waxy exoskeleton are more vulnerable to its dehydrating effect.
This is good news for farmers, gardeners, and others who want to use DE to get rid of insects, but need to keep the benefits of earthworms.
Diatomaceous Earth Ants
How does diatomaceous earth work on ants? The insect has a thin exoskeleton and, therefore, is vulnerable to the dehydrating effects of diatomaceous earth.
Using a DE-based commercial product or pure diatomaceous earth for ants is a safe and affordable option for eliminating or reducing indoor infestations. It’s less effective in outdoor applications because of greater exposure to moisture.
Diatomaceous Earth Roaches
DE can help control cockroach populations within a home, but it is less effective than stronger chemical methods because of the size of the cockroach exoskeleton.
The cockroach exoskeleton covers a high percentage of body surface, unlike other pests such as fleas and bed bugs. As a result, the cockroach is less vulnerable to the dehydrating effect of DE.
Still, it can be beneficial to dust DE in cracks, along baseboards, behind and under appliances, and in other indoor spots where roaches might live. It can help prevent large numbers of roaches from developing past early stages.
Because it’s not harmful to people or pets, you can safely leave the DE in place. Some people suggest vacuuming up then replacing the diatomaceous earth every 3-4 weeks for ongoing benefits.
Diatomaceous Earth Uses for Humans
Is diatomaceous earth safe?
Food grade diatomaceous earth is widely considered safe for human ingestion. However, there are no reliable clinical studies to offer guidance on diatomaceous earth dosage for humans.
According to self-reports, most people take no more than 1 teaspoon a day. The medical community has no documented position on how much diatomaceous earth for humans is appropriate.
It appears that one point everyone agrees on is the need to drink plenty of water. This is critical since DE is a dehydrating material.
According to many advocates of diatomaceous earth for humans, the material can offer a variety of benefits from improved digestion and elimination to healthier skin and joints.
Clinical evidence to support users’ claims is limited to showing how silica can remove heavy metals, such as aluminium and lead, from the digestive tract.3 Because diatomaceous earth contains a high proportion of silica, it could be argued that DE, too, can remove heavy metals in the digestive system.
As a dietary supplement, it does not get approval from the FDA before market sales. However, it’s worth noting that the FDA has approved diatomaceous earth as a food additive.4
Want to know how to use diatomaceous earth as a dietary supplement? Simply mix one teaspoon with 12 ounces of water, fruit juice, or a smoothie. Most users advise drinking the mixture on an empty stomach.
Diatomaceous Earth for Candida
Candida is the result of an overgrowth of C. albicans yeast that naturally occurs in the digestive tract.
People who suffer from Candida claim that taking diatomaceous earth supplements eases the candida symptoms.
One of the scientifically accepted properties of silica is that it can cut through organisms, so it’s possible that diatomaceous earth can help reduce excessive populations of C. albicans in the gut. That, in turn, reduces symptoms.
However, there is no clinical research to help guide dosage or identify risks.
Diatomaceous Earth Hair
Since diatomaceous earth contains high levels of silica, it can help keep hair strong and healthy.
Research shows that silica is important to the synthesis of collagen, a strengthening component of hair. The study found that hair strands with higher-than-normal silicon (oxidized silica) content fell out at a lower rate and had more luster.5
It comes as no surprise then that many high-quality hair care products contain silica, often in the form of diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous Earth Parasites
Should you take diatomaceous earth for parasites?
Many people in search of non-chemical or pharmaceutical solutions say yes.
There is no conclusive scientific evidence that DE can help eliminate parasites in humans and animals. Yet, it’s high levels of silica may lend credibility to users’ reported claims.
Although DE has no documented effect on large or outdoor worms, it may be a different story for parasites such as ringworm, heartworm, and tapeworms.
Within the digestive tract, parasites would ingest higher than normal amounts of silica. The cutting property of silica could create wounds that could weaken and/or dehydrate the organism, similarly to how it works on fleas.
However, anecdotal reports of complete removal of parasites are rare. Diatomaceous earth appears to help reduce reproduction, but to what extent is not known.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there is no evidence that diatomaceous earth is a viable solution to parasites in domestic and agriculture animals.6
Diatomaceous Earth Weight Loss
Anecdotal reports from individuals who have followed a diatomaceous earth cleanse for weight loss are mixed.
Some diatomaceous earth reviews reflect people having more energy, mental clarity, and improved sleep in addition to losing weight. Others found that taking DE supplements didn’t help them reach their target weights and left them irritable and fatigued.
There are no controlled clinical studies to support either kind of experience. Given that, individuals should discuss using DE with their healthcare provider before including it in a weight loss program.
Diatomaceous Earth for Dogs ,Cats and Chickens
Is diatomaceous earth safe for pets?
Using diatomaceous earth on dogs for flea and tick control or treatment is a safe, affordable approach. There are no studies to prove how effective it is, but anecdotal evidence is strong. The same is true when using diatomaceous earth for cats.
A growing number of organic farmers are using diatomaceous earth for chickens. Adding DE to boxes of sand that the chickens can lie and roll in controls fleas and mites.
The AVMA advises to not feed diatomaceous earth to any animal.
Diatomaceous Earth Benefits
Diatomaceous earth food grade benefits many aspects of health.
Here, we provide an overview of the most common diatomaceous earth health benefits:
- Stronger Nails
The silica in DE can help strengthen brittle nails. Most advocates say that it takes daily use of diatomaceous earth for 2-3 weeks before results are noticeable.
- Lustrous Hair
As noted earlier in this article, diatomaceous earth can help strengthen hair. A clinical study found that hair strands with higher-than-normal silicon (oxidized silica) content were more lustrous and fell out at a lower rate.5
- Younger Skin
Silicon is necessary for the body to synthesize collagen. It also triggers activation of enzymes that help to improve skin strength and elasticity.5
Many people believe that taking a DE dietary supplement can help rid the body of various toxins. Clinical research has shown that silica is effective at removing heavy metals such as arsenic, aluminium, lead, and mercury.3
How it aids digestion is among the most sought-after health benefits of diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth particles are hard and rough and can help break down food so it moves more easily through the intestines.
It also absorbs a lot of water so staying hydrated is important when taking DE supplements.
- Cushion Joints
Our joints use collagen to help keep cartilage healthy. Cartilage cushions our joints as they move.
As covered earlier, diatomaceous earth is effective at killing pests with thin or oily exoskeletons. Such insects include fleas, bed bugs, and cockroaches (to a certain extent).
- Fields, P., Korunic, Z. (2000). The effect of grain moisture content and temperature on the efficacy of diatomaceous earths from different geographical locations against stored-product beetles. Journal of Stored Products Research. 36(1). 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-474X(99)00021-1
- Benoit, J.B., Lopez-Martinez, G., Teets, N.M., Phillips, S.A., Denlinger, D.L. (2009). Responses of the bed bug, Cimex lectularius, to temperature extremes and dehydration: levels of tolerance, rapid cold hardening and expression of heat shock proteins. Medical and Veterinary Entomology. 23(4). 418-25. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2915.2009.00832.x
- Jugdaohsingh, R., Reffitt, D.M., Oldham, C., Day, J.P., Fifield, L.K., Thompson, R.P., Powell, J.J. (2000). Oligomeric but not monomeric silica prevents aluminum absorption in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 71(4):944-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10731501
- “Food Additive Status List”. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Retrieved November 28, 2017 https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm091048.htm
- De Araújo, L. A., Addor, F., & Campos, P. M. B. G. M. (2016). Use of silicon for skin and hair care: an approach of chemical forms available and efficacy . Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 91(3), 331–335. http://doi.org/10.1590/abd1806-4841.20163986
- Kahler, Susan C. “New pastures in production medicine.” AVMA. December 15, 2006. Retrieved November 28, 2017 https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/061215j.aspx
Diatomaceous Earth Side Effects
There are few side effects of diatomaceous earth. Remember, we are talking about diatomaceous earth food grade side effects.
The most common issue people have with DE is dehydration. The way it absorbs moisture is one of the things that makes it a good pesticide. If you handle it without gloves, you could dry out your skin in a short time.
The greatest of food grade diatomaceous earth dangers is breathing it in. Again, this relates to its dehydrating properties. Our lungs need to remain moist to function properly. Inhaling DE powder can lead to serious lung issues in people and pets.
People who are eating diatomaceous earth, especially to treat Candida, can experience flu-like symptoms. This is the effect of overgrown populations of bacteria dying off. It’s temporary, and be mitigated with rest and increased water intake.
There are no verifiable diatomaceous earth pregnancy issues, but check with your healthcare provider before using it as a dietary supplement.
Where to Buy Diatomaceous Earth
With numerous health benefits and uses, you now may be wondering where to buy food grade diatomaceous earth? It’s available at most health food stores, and you can also often find it in the health supplements department at regular grocery stores and pharmacies.
Many pest control products are made from diatomaceous earth. Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, and other big box and hardware stores carry a variety of brands.
You can also buy diatomaceous earth pest control products and dietary supplements online from Amazon and other retailers. Because they may also sell pool grade DE, which is toxic to people and animals, make sure products are labelled as “diatomaceous earth food grade human use”.