The Best Way to Control Pests & Protect Your Food Storage: Diatomaceous Earth

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Many Americans are becoming more and more aware of the chemicals and other potentially dangerous ingredients in the food we eat, in our household cleaners, and in the products we use to maintain our gardens and control pests. So we’re trying to eliminate these products from our lives with more natural, less toxic products.

That’s where diatomaceous earth (DE) comes in.

image: diatomaceous earth spilling out of bag onto table

What is diatomaceous earth?

image of diatom by Derek Keats
image of diatom by Derek Keats

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is made from the fossilized remains of diatoms, ancient algae. It’s both non-toxic and all-natural. It’s harvested from the sediment of dried-up water bodies. Two grades are available: industrial and food-grade.

How does diatomaceous earth control pests?

For insect control, when bugs of all types wander through diatomaceous earth, it clings to their bodies and scratches their exoskeleton, which causes a dehydrating effect. As a result, the insect’s body dries up until it falls over dead. This usually takes around 48 hours.

Unfortunately, DE will also kill beneficial insects. It’s indiscriminate in that respect. That still doesn’t outweigh its benefits; it’s just something you need to be aware of.

Because food-grade DE is safe for both humans and animals, it has many great uses, both indoors and outdoors. So ALWAYS buy the food-grade DE, even if you aren’t planning on using it in stored food.

Three Uses of Diatomaceous Earth for Insect Control

This article covers three areas of use:

  • for pets
  • for general pest control, and of course,
  • to protect food storage.

How can DE help control fleas and parasites on pets?

This season our dog and cats have been beset with fleas. It seems that the squirrels in our backyard carry these obnoxious little creatures and deposit the eggs and larvae in our backyard, where our dog sunbathes just about every afternoon. She brings the fleas inside, where they eventually land on our cats.

It’s been a real problem.

We’ve used DE to combat the situation, though. First, we bathed the dog and cats and watched as fleas leaped to temporary safety within the bathtub. Then, once each pet was dry, we worked DE into their fur with our fingers and a brush.

To tackle the issue of fleas inside our home, we sprinkled the carpet in every room with DE, used a rake to work the powder down deep into the carpet, and then let the DE do its work for a few days. Then, finally, we vacuumed up the DE, dusted the furniture, and we were good to go.

If pets have parasites, mix a small amount of diatomaceous earth into their food for 3 or 4 days until the worms are eliminated.

Since DE is harmless, this process can be repeated whenever necessary.

How do I use DE for general home pest control?

For use inside your home, place shallow containers of DE in crawl spaces, in the attic, on windowsills, behind the refrigerator, or anywhere else you find insects. In just a matter of days, those insects will disappear.

If bugs are getting inside your house from outdoors, sprinkle DE around the outside of your home, especially where plants grow close to your foundation.

If ants are a problem, and this includes the infamous fire ant, sprinkle DE directly on the anthills where it will be tracked into the colony. Then, suddenly, ants will no longer be an issue without using toxic insecticides.

Keep in mind that DE will kill beneficial insects and the ones you want to be rid of. We want those friendly ladybugs and earthworms and such in our garden. They’re on our side! So be mindful of friendly fire.

How much diatomaceous earth for food storage?

Want to keep pests out of those bags and buckets of food?

Mix it in with your wheat, rice, oats, etc., using about a cup of food-grade diatomaceous earth for a five or 6-gallon bucket of food. Leave enough headroom at the top of the bucket or bag so you can shake the container, making sure the DE is thoroughly dispersed.

If you’re using a smaller container, adjust the amount of DE used accordingly.

At the same time, lightly sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the baseboards of your pantry room and at the base of any outdoor windows. Pests aren’t welcome anywhere near our food, right?

I’ve sprinkled it around the baseboards of my pantry and around buckets of wheat, rice, and beans. I’ve seen a few signs of bugs, a few small spider webs, but that’s after an entire year with my food storage in this location!

How do I store diatomaceous earth?

As long as properly stored, DE has an indefinite life span. It’s not a chemical, so its potency is unaffected by time. Keep it clean and dry, and you’re good to go whenever you need it.

How often should I reapply DE?

Although DE doesn’t lose potency, it can lose effectiveness when wet. Moisture prevents the scratching and dehydrating effect necessary. This is more of a factor outdoors than inside. If you have issues with dampness inside your home, you have more to worry about to adequately protect your food storage than just bugs.

Is DE safe for human consumption?

Some people ingest DE as a de-toxifer and claim it’s beneficial to bones, skin, nails, and hair because it contains silica. A teaspoon added to juice, water, or a smoothie makes it more palatable. Since DE isn’t regulated by the FDA, there aren’t any official claims of its health benefits to humans, but you can read plenty of positive testimonials online. For example, read here where DE is perfectly safe for us, but it’s like ground glass to parasites.

All in all, DE is worth having around the house as a non-toxic, multi-purpose product for controlling pests. I recommend it.

What is your experience using diatomaceous earth?

“This is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any disease. Consult your personal medical professional.”

WARNING: Do not use the DE intended for use in a swimming pool filter. Buy the food-grade DE, even if you aren’t planning on using it in stored food.

This article was originally published on May 6, 2019, and has been updated.

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I'm the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I've been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

31 thoughts on “The Best Way to Control Pests & Protect Your Food Storage: Diatomaceous Earth”

  1. I use DE all around the outside of my brick house. Every couple of feet there a holes where the brick layers didn’t get the mortar all the way between the bricks. These are places spiders and other insects like to hide or make their way into my house. I use one of those plastic condiment bottles, the ones you might put ketchup or mustard in, full of DE to squirt the powder up into the hole.

  2. Jennifer , Those holes might be air vents , You might like to put some steel wool in them after you use the DE . just a thought Mark

    1. We moved into a trailer a little over a year ago. We sprung roaches. We started with combat gel and roach traps then bombed. Reduced the population greatly. Maintained the combat approach but spent a week clearing out all cabinets and dusting with DE. This has made them non existent and a continuous bug control since DE lasts very long term. I sprayed all cabinets inside with hot shot then while damp blew DE into them to create a fine film all over. This is necessary since bugs will not crawl through mounds of it. It also guarantees they do. Did same in bathroom. I have pets so this method is completely safe since they don’t go in cabinets. A light dusting around baseboards everywhere they do go is safe. We’re enjoying our bug free home.

  3. PS. Steel Wool is good to put holes to keep ” Mice ” out , it will cut their mouths like knifes .
    ” Survival Mom ” ,,, Great website a lot of good INFO !

  4. Steel wool? Good idea! Remember, though, that steel wool rusts and corrodes. See if you can find some bronze wool; it is like steel wool, only made of bronze. If you do not find it locally, Amazon carries it.

    Oh, by the way, yes, diatomaceous earth is great! I have a house that is 109 years old. When I was refurbishing it, I pulled off the molding in each room, and then swept DE into the join between walls and floor before refastening the molding. No more bugs!

  5. A quick note on DE as a Silica source : DE is approx 80% SIO2 – as in Quarz-crystals/ sand –
    quite an in-efficiently absorbed form of silica – it is one of the reasons
    it works to scratch the skins and shells of tiny insects, instead of dissolving or absorbing in our gut (use for parasites) –
    for bones, cartilage, connective tissues use plant based silica – such as water-extracts from horsetail ( if you make your own tea, make sure to only use spring-time harvested plants (they contain water-soluble orthosilicic acid, such as we have in our body) and simmer it at least 1/2 hour to destroy the Thiaminase in it, which otherwise can inhibit Vit-B1 in ou body) – much better, though, to use ready made extracts if desired for the benefit of the minerals – and much better than isolated extracts –

  6. It is basically the same chemical as sand. You MAY want to avoid breathing it however as it can irritate your lungs.

  7. I’ve used DE in plotted plants. Not sure what type of small flying insect decided to make it’s home in the soil (and then re-populate their specie) but DE took care of problem. I sprinkled a nice coating on top of the soil (keeping away from the stem).

  8. DE does the same thing to Honey Bees that it does to other insects.Just be careful when using in your garden. Work Down in soil or just use when plants aren’t blooming. Bees take it back to hive after visiting blossoms and it kills other bees in the hive. Same is true with natural BT for worms. Bee larva are worms.

  9. Does anyone know if DE would make a good topical foliate spray?
    If so, what would be the ratio of water to DE in a Liter bottle…approx.

  10. Jennifer, those little open joints in the mortar are left there on purpose. They originally had a piece of rope or jute cord in them to keep out insects. The openings are meant to allow any water that gets through the brickwork to escape to the exterior of the wall to prevent wetting the wood components of the wall and causing rot. A perfect replacement is pieces of those little pot scrubbies made of copper or stainless steel. Just don’t pack the slots so tight that water will not travel through it. Those scrubbies are also good to tack at the corner of your overhead garage doors so that critters will not chew through the rubber door bottom to gain entry.

    EJ

  11. Stephanie Hilliard

    Perfect timing on this article, as I had just been talking about ordering some food grade diatomaceous earth. I went ahead and ordered it from Earth Easy. I mainly plan to use it as a natural flea repellent to keep my fuzzy “zoo” (and the carpets where my grandson plays) flea free without breaking the bank or covering everyone with dangerous chemicals.

  12. FYI-You can get DE at your local feed store. I own a feedstore in Katy, TX and we keep 50lbs bags in stock year round.

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  14. I have a friend that has went to Doctor after Doctor, to Emergeny Room to I know 4 different towns for this problem she has, not one Doctor would come near her after she told them what the problem is. She had a web-cam set up for one of her laptops and took pictures and a few videos to take with her to the ER or the Doctors Office and only one person came near her and didn’t ask her, “What Kind Of Drugs Are You On?” She does not do drugs she is an Over The Road Truck Driver. She noticed this problem about 4 years ago before she started loosing her hair, getting sores that start out looking like pimples, then they itch you don’t even know they pimple like spot is there until you scratch, then comes the sores. My friend has recorded videos of her head. She has asked her mother, twin sister, and younger brother to check her head and the mother said she wouldn’t know it i she even seen it, therefore she didn’t look, her brother said he didn’t see nothing, her twin sister played stupid. Her brother told everyone in town that she was strung out on drugs which is what the town feels to be true and won’t look. The one person that actually tried to help cure the problem was a nurse practioner, who prescribed permethrin 5% cream with one refill and Ivermectin antibotics with one refill. This was in 2014 when the nurse looked at the video’s she had. She was told then that it was some sort of mites. Didn’t say what kind of mites they were or how she got them but she has lost almost all her hair, and whatever it is in her hair its so thick that you can see them move and they burrow into the scalp lay eggs, while urinating & dropping fecies into the burrow which then becomes infected, soon after a couples days head feels like its on fire or someone is holding a hot match to her head. About ten days later the sores start to crack and eggs hatch, sores split on from the eggs hatching and hair falls out when burrowing into the scalp and when the eggs hatch. While the eggs are hatching the next group (I call Larvae) slides on up and eat their way into the scalp causing more sores and produces more eggs. She has 4 stages of these critters in her hair on her head, has them in her eyebrows & eye lashes, in her pubic hair (which she shaved off bald), hair on her face by her ears, in her hair on her arms, legs, chest, back and her butt. I (her friend) have seen all 4 stages of them on her head. The larvae I call it you can see in her hair because they bunch together and kind of look like worms of some sort or make the hair look really dirty and filthy like her hair has never been washed and it had maybe ot 30 minutes before they bunch together. The perscription medicine did not seem to affect this crap, the anti-biotic made her throw up even if she ate a big meal. The medicines did not seem to have any affect on what ever it is in this poor womans hair.

    I feel so sorry for this friend, for one having to deal with whatever it is in her hair as long as she has, no one taking the time to look to see what it is, or help her figure out what it is. How to get rid of it? What will kill it for sure? Will her hair grow back even with the bad scaring on her scalp like it is? Why she hasn’t lost her mind, I will never know.

    I know she has used vinegar, bleach, blonde hair coloring, raid for bed bugs & fleas, dog flea dip, dog flea shampoo, horse lice shampoo, cattle lice shampoo, pig lice shampoo, human lice shampoo, tea tree oil, coconut oil, pesticide, insecticides, seven dust, diesel fuel, used motor oil, borax laundry soap, medicated shampoo, weed killer, & I am sure a bunch of other stuff too.

    So would anyone have any idea if this would get rid of whatever it is in her hair on her head. I knew she has spent $84.00 each time on that cream 2-3 times and $55.00 each time for the ivermectin anti-biotic 2-3 times. I know she can’t afford to fork out anymore money let alone go to the doctor or the ER cause she has no health insurance. Would anyone know how to use it to try to get rid of it. I wished i could post a video or a picture then you would have an idea of what she is going through.
    My email is: [email protected]

    Thank you, I hope to hear something soon to be rid of those critters for her!
    Thank you,
    Marilyn

    1. yes have her try it I believe it will kill them!! and it wont hurt her … make sure it food grade.. I would also tell her to use it internally in a smoothie a few times a week it cannot hurt. Best of luck!!

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  17. If I were to put DE Into some peanut butter will mice die if they eat it. I hate these critters tried everything and filled every hole I can find. I’ve planted spearmint outside of my apt and cut and bring some in apt. Esp around my bed. Gives me the creeps. Anyone know any ideas spoke to manager gave me 2 bags of poison. Put behind stove and fridge I have a sm dog, or thered be poison everywhere. Can’t afford to move. So please help if possible. Thanks. Shari

  18. We use Food grade DE for lots of things- pest control, bug killer, parasite killer and toothpaste.
    Food Grade DE is great for so many things. It helps rebuild enamel while cleaning the teeth without harsh chemicals. It is really easy to use too.

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