Diatomaceous earth is a natural compound, first discovered in Germany, which is mined from deposits of fossilized diatoms. To humans, pets, and other mammals it feels like a fine, soft powder. For bedbugs and other insects with exoskeletons, diatomaceous earth’s millions of tiny, jagged edges mean trouble. Diatomaceous earth works by cutting up the protective waxy lipid layer on the insect’s exoskeleton, causing the insect to dry up and die.
Diatoms are small, single celled organisms and a form of algae, with hard outer shells that can be found in bodies of freshwater, saltwater and soils. As they die, the hard shells of the diatoms form layers on the beds of the waters they inhabit and over millions of years these become diatomaceous earth. Depending on its source Diatomaceous earth can have different grades, the most applicable being Fresh-Water Food Grade, which is edible. Diatomaceous earth is porous and abrasive and these properties lend themselves to a number of uses, but for the purpose of this article we will concentrate on its use as an insecticide.
All insects, from bedbugs to scorpions, have a layer of compounds covering their bodies known as Circulatory Lipids. These compounds protect and contain liquid within the insect and prevent dehydration, but are susceptible to attack. For example, heating can melt the layer of lipids on a bug. Once this layer is gone it cannot be recovered. An insect without its protective lipid layer will rapidly lose both liquid and bodyweight, in a process called desiccation.
When insects come into contact with diatomaceous earth, their protective lipid layer is removed by the abrasive dust, leading to dehydration and eventually killing the insects. An adult bedbug will desiccate and die 24-48 hours after contact with Diatomaceous earth.
Food Grade DE can be applied to the coat of animals to treat fleas, ticks or other hair born pests and can be fed to your pets in order to treat worms and other parasites. DE can even be used as a soil additive to treat against garden pests.
There are many other benefits that DE has over other traditional pesticides. It is all natural, and its effectiveness relies on physical means – not poisons – making it impossible for insects like bedbugs to develop a resistance to it. It cannot expire and it can be laid in the crevices and hard to reach places of your home for long term pest prevention.