Diatomaceous Earth For Bed Bugs Control: Does it Work?

What is Diatomaceous Earth Exactly?

Diatomaceous earth (dahyuh-tuh­-MEH-shuhs) is a sedimentary rock that is composed of an aquatic substance called diatoms. It is found naturally along oceans and lakes in different parts of the world.

From its raw form, diatomaceous earth is crushed to form a finely milled white to off white powder that has a slightly coarse texture.

There are two forms of diatomaceous earth available in the market; filter grade and food grade. Filter grade diatomaceous earth is not meant to be ingested by humans because of the high percentage of crystalline silica present. This form of diatomaceous earth is generally used in commercial production of products such as insecticides.

On the other hand, food grade diatomaceous earth is recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in America. The low percentage of crystalline silica (about 0.5 to 2 percent) makes it safe to consume without harm. This is the version of diatomaceous earth that is commonly available in markets and used in industries such as agriculture.

Does Diatomaceous Earth Kill Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are a nuisance to have in your home and given their affinity to multiply quickly – they can be difficult to get rid of. While there are professional exterminators that can do the job for you, it’s always better to have solutions at hand that can be administered on your own without fuss.

Diatomaceous earth is a popular, natural alternative for commercially available pesticides. It is able to kill bed bugs due to its ability to dry out their exterior shell and dehydrate them to the point of death.

However, as with every treatment option, this too comes with its fair share of pros and cons.

The Good News

• It’s Cheaper than Exterminators

Hiring an exterminator to rid your house of pests can be very expensive. In comparison, a large sack of diatomaceous earth will cost you less than half of what professional services would and can be just as effective if done correctly.

• Bed Bugs Don’t Develop Resistance

Pesticide resistance is on the rise for bed bugs. This means that chemical pesticides are not enough to kill bed bugs because they’ve evolved to a point where they aren’t affected by them as strongly. Diatomaceous earth is not going to make them develop resistance which means no matter how many times you have an infestation at hand, you can count on this to help get rid of the problem.

• It’s a Natural Solution

Unlike chemical pesticides, food grade diatomaceous earth is 100% natural and non-toxic. You can safely use it around the house and around children and even pets without fear of harming them.

• It’s Not Invasive

Long winded extermination processes require you to move around the furniture, even vacate the place for a few days while the bed bugs are being cleaned out. When you use diatomaceous earth, you don’t need to relocate for the duration of the treatment. Taking necessary precautions such as not inhaling the substance is enough.

The Bad News

• It Might Not be Enough on its Own

While diatomaceous earth can be an effective treatment, it works best when it’s paired with other solutions like heat treatment. This is because the earth does not kill bed bug eggs, which means if you stop your diatomaceous earth treatment while the bed bug eggs still haven’t hatched, you will be left with a higher risk of another infestation.

• It Takes Time

If you’re looking for a quick fix solution, diatomaceous earth is not the best option. It takes about five days to start taking the effect you will need.

This is due to two factors. The first is that it will only work when bed bugs actually come into contact with it, and secondly because it takes a while for the bug to dehydrate to the point of death.

• It Requires a Lot of Precision

You can’t just dump the powder at random spots around the house and expect it to do its job. In order for diatomaceous earth to work properly, you will need to make sure that it is evenly distributed around the house in a light, thin coat.

close-up photo of a bed bug 2
Flickr/British Pest Control Association

How to Use Diatomaceous Earth to Kill Bed Bugs

Using diatomaceous earth to kill bed bugs can be a slow process that requires adequate preparation, patience, and precision. To get the most out of your diatomaceous earth, here is how you should go about it.

1. Begin with Washing Everything

By ‘everything’ we mean your clothes, bedding, quilt covers, throws – anything that is lying around near the infected area that you may think has been affected by bed bugs. Once the clothes are washed, spin them in the dryer at the highest setting to allow any remaining bed bugs to be killed by the heat.

2. Give Your Home a Good Steaming and Vacuuming

Due to bed bugs’ intolerance of heat, steaming and vacuuming your furniture, carpets, and mattresses will help kill the bed bugs that are already tumbled up in your sheets or hiding in the nooks and crannies you vacuum. This will give you a head start in killing the ones that are hiding out of your reach.

3. Carefully Apply Diatomaceous Earth

After you’ve done washing and cleaning things out, you can start to apply diatomaceous earth. It is best to use a specific applicator that can get into nooks and crannies of your walls and furniture because this is where bed bugs are most likely to hide.

When applying diatomaceous earth on carpets, rugs, or along floors, make sure that you don’t pour out too much powder at once. Instead, spoon small amounts and dust them around with a feather duster to make sure you have a fine, even coating of powder.

If you layer your diatomaceous earth in clumps, the bugs will be able to work their way around them. The main areas you want to get into are;

  • Along the edges of your walls
  • Around the legs of your furniture
  • In any cracks and crannies around the house
  • In-between your mattress and bed
  • On carpets and rugs
  • Along plug sockets

The idea is not only to kill bed bugs but also prevent others from entering your home. In this way, you’re creating a preventive barrier around your house and trapping bed bugs from being able to move around and feed without encountering life-threatening diatomaceous earth

4. Leave the Diatomaceous Earth Standing

If you’re wondering how long to leave diatomaceous earth standing on the carpet or around your house – the answer is as long as necessary! You want to be sure that you haven’t applied so much that you’re kicking dust and inhaling it constantly.

Otherwise, you can leave the powder for as long as it takes to get rid of the nasty critters.

5. Clean Away the Dead Bugs

Of course, it goes without saying that you will want to clean out the bed bugs as they begin dying. Regularly vacuuming and dusting out areas that have accumulated dead bed bugs means you also have a fair idea of how well your treatment is working.

If you aren’t seeing any dead bugs, there may be a chance you haven’t applied the powder correctly because no bugs are being affected. As for how long diatomaceous earth takes to kill bed bugs – it really depends. If you manage to trap the critters quickly, they’re likely to die out pretty fast.

However, it may take longer for the bugs still in eggs to hatch and die. The process can, therefore, take anywhere between five days to a few weeks.

Safety Precautions to Follow During Treatment

While food grade diatomaceous earth is not as harmful as filter grade can be, it is still smart to use dust masks while handling the powder. This is to make sure you avoid inhaling too much powder as it can be harmful to your lungs. If you want to avoid any powder getting into your eyes by accident while you are applying the treatment, you can also wear protective goggles.

Generally speaking though, diatomaceous earth is not a very risky substance to be exposed to so you should be fine as long as you’re not inhaling too much.