What is DE?
Diatomaceous Earth (or DE for short) is a non-metallic mineral comprised of the fossilized remains of single-celled aquatic life called diatoms. (Similar to algae.) These diatoms lived millions of years ago in pre-historic, freshwater lakes. Over time their skeletal remains would fall to the bottom of the lake bed and accumulate there. These accumulations have been preserved over time and are now refined and converted into many different products with a myriad of different uses.
Naturally occurring DE is comprised of amorphous silica (or non-crystalline silica). Natural DE may also contain trace amounts of crystalline silica which is typically in the form of quartz.
What does “food grade” DE mean?
One of the most misunderstood products is “food grade” diatomaceous earth. This is mainly due to the uniformed and uneducated propagators of DE on the internet. (Also, because they want to make a quick dollar or two and tell buyers what they want to hear to make a sale.)
One of the primary uses of DE is as a filter aide in the production of food items. For example, it is used in the filtration of many beverages, including beer, wine, and juice. In order for DE to be included as part of this process, it must meet the requirements set forth by the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC). The FCC is “a compendium of internationally recognized standards for the identity, purity, and quality of food ingredients.” By meeting this standard, “food grade” DE is allowed in food production as a contact product only.
“Food grade” therefore does not mean that DE has been approved for human consumption by any regulatory body, including the FDA and/or the USDA, or that it’s safer than other types of DE. (It only means it has been approved for food production.) When searching for the right type of DE to use for home, garden and pet use, it is more accurate to look for a “natural” grade DE which means it is comprised mainly of amorphous silica.
*As a side note, we caution everyone to be very careful when ingesting anything you purchase over the internet, especially if it has been re-packaged by human hands and not in a clean, sterile environment. If you’re planning on using DE as an insecticide, make sure it carries an EPA approved label to substantiate the insecticidal claims.
Is DE a respiratory hazard to humans and animals?
This question can be answered best by the IDPA’s Guide to the Safe Handling of Diatomaceous Earth Products – N. America Version.
“…natural grades of diatomaceous earth are composed primarily of amorphous silica. Processed DE, on the other hand, may have a more significant crystalline silica component which varies depending on ore source and processing method.”
“Amorphous silica is a mild irritant of the upper respiratory tract and eyes and can irritate the skin because of its drying properties. Chronic health effects have rarely been reported for amorphous silica.”
Because DE can be considered a mild irritant, if a user has a respiratory or skin sensitivity we recommend using a dust mask and gloves. (To be on the safe side.)
How does DE work as an insecticide?
DE is 80-95% comprised of silicon dioxide, and silica is typically found in quartz (see above), sand, and other living organisms. Silica is a desiccant which means it can be used as a drying agent. This drying action works very well when used as an organic insecticide. It physically abrades and absorbs the waxy outer coating of the insect which results in rapid death by dehydration.
Why is DE better than “toxic” or “poisonous” traditional insecticides?
Traditional insecticides contain poisons or toxins. Over time, these insects have been known to build an immunity to these types of products which means that MORE of the same insecticide is required to maintain equal rates of extermination. This is a viscous cycle that can be harmful when used around the home, family and/or pets. Chronic health issues have been attributed to the use of synthetic based insecticides.
Diatomaceous earth, on the other hand, is a mechanical process where it breaks down the insect from the outside and there is no way the insect can build an immunity to diatomaceous earth. If the insect touches or comes in contact with DE insecticide, it will eventually die.
How Long Does it Take to Kill an Insect with DE?
Depending on the size of the insect, it normally takes 12-24 hours for an insect to die once it is exposed to DE insecticide. (The larger the insect, the longer it will take to die.) When using DE as an insecticide, it is important to strategically place the powder where the insects reside to ensure that the insect brushes against the powder and is eventually eradicated.
The internet is telling me I should ONLY use “food grade” DE as an insecticide. Is this true?
First of all, please don’t believe everything you read on the internet. And, the answer to this question is an unequivocal “no”!
When DE (or almost any other product for that matter) is marketed and sold as an insecticide in the United States, the claims must be substantiated and oversight maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This process protects you as a consumer. It ensures that the product performs what it claims to do, and that there are no health concerns relating to the product. And if there are, how they can be mitigated. This is a lengthy and costly process for any vendor wanting to make insecticidal claims.
DE vendors (especially those on the internet) that propagate this type of information have not taken the time or invested the money in the registrations process. And so the reverse actually holds true (for insecticidal use). Only use DE that has been properly registered by the EPA for specific uses and applications.
What happens if DE gets wet? Will it still work?
es! When it comes to diatomaceous earth, water is a wonderful carrier that helps in the applying of the DE. Our DE insecticide DEsect is rated with a solution application (1 lb. DEsect: 1 gallon water). It is true that when the DE is wet, it will not work as an insecticide. However, the moment the DE is dry again and sprayed where you want it, it becomes “active” again and will kill and repel the insects just as it was originally intended.
The two issues with water and DE is one, if it rains the DE will become displaced and will need to be re-applied to the desired area, and two, it will not work when wet, but will work again when fully dried.