If you’ve ever tried researching DIY solutions for bed bugs, you’ve probably come across mentions of diatomaceous earth. It’s often touted as an effective and chemical-free way to quickly kill any bed bugs infesting your home.
But is it really effective as they say?
In this article, we’ll talk about how effective diatomaceous earth is against bed bugs, when it’s appropriate to use, and how to use it properly.
What Is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is an off-white, powdery substance made from the ground-up fossilized remains of single-celled marine algae called diatoms. These particles are extremely small, giving DE the appearance of a very fine powder similar to corn flour.
Under a microscope, however, DE is really composed of tiny, hollow cylinders with jagged, sharp edges in the places where they’re broken apart. This gives DE an abrasive and rough texture.
Diatomaceous earth kills bed bugs by acting as a desiccant.
These sharp, microscopic edges make diatomaceous earth highly abrasive when it comes into contact with bed bugs and other insects, scraping and chafing away the waxy outer coating of their shells.
The waxy coating that it abrades normally helps bed bugs keep moisture and nutrients inside their bodies. When the coating is perforated or damaged by DE powder, moisture escapes and causes the bed bugs to eventually dehydrate and die.
Important Safety Information
Diatomaceous earth should be handled with great caution due to its ability to cause skin irritation and respiratory issues if inhaled.
Before you try to use DE against your bed bug invaders, one extremely important thing to understand is the different types, or grades, of diatomaceous earth out there.
- Pool Grade / Garden Grade diatomaceous earth should only be used for filtration purposes. The DE is calcined, or heat-treated, to further harden the diatom exoskeletons and has a high concentration of crystalline silica, which is dangerous to human and animal health.
- Food Grade diatomaceous earth is uncalcined and contains less than 1% crystalline silica. This makes it safer for use in animal feed and insect control (e.g. bed bugs).
You should only ever use “Food Grade” diatomaceous earth for bed bug and other insect control. Never use “Pool Grade” or “Garden Grade” DE products in your home.
Is Diatomaceous Earth Effective?
Diatomaceous earth is far from being a silver bullet when it comes to solving your bed bug troubles. But when used properly alongside other bed bug treatments, it can serve as an effective supplement for comprehensive bed bug control.
In a field study from the University of Kentucky, diatomaceous earth was tested as a standalone treatment in 6 real-world apartments infested by bed bugs. The DE was applied by professionals, albeit without the other usual bed bug control conventions (such as spraying, installing mattress encasements, laundering bedding, or disposing of infested furnishings).
The researchers found that only one apartment had a satisfactory outcome due to the DE treatment; the other 5 apartments saw little to no change in the number of bed bugs and eventually had to be treated using conventional bed bug extermination methods.
This doesn’t mean that DE isn’t effective at killing bed bugs, though—it just means that you shouldn’t rely on DE as a standalone solution. It should be used in conjunction with other methods of bed bug control to help increase your chances of getting rid of these pests.
The main drawback of diatomaceous earth is that it requires bed bugs to come into direct contact with it. And not just for a moment—prolonged contact is required in order for DE to be lethal. When DE isn’t applied in the right places, or in the right way, bed bugs simply walk right out of it.
How to Use Diatomaceous Earth to Kill Bed Bugs
Step 0 (Preparation): Wash your sheets and bedding in hot water and place any clothing and bedding you are not using in sealed plastic bags. Move all furniture away from the walls and make sure no part of your bed or bedsheets is touching the wall or floor. If you’re using any liquid bed bug sprays, wait until all liquids have completely dried before applying diatomaceous earth.
Step 1: Identify areas where bed bugs are hiding, as well as any paths they can take to reach your bed. These are all potential areas where you may want to apply diatomaceous earth:
- Underneath and on the sides of your mattress
- Box springs
- On the legs of your bed
- The floor around your bed
- Around nearby furniture
- Around the edges of carpets
- Inside any gaps in the walls and baseboards
- Windowsills and doorframes
- Around the perimeter of each room
Step 2: While wearing gloves and a face mask, sprinkle Food Grade diatomaceous earth powder across your box spring, on the legs of your bed, and around nearby furniture. Use enough to cover the entire surface with a thin layer.
Step 3: Gently use a brush or duster to spread the diatomaceous earth out evenly across each surface. Avoid puffing it through squeeze-type bottle dispensers except when applying the powder into cracks and crevices that you can’t brush.
Step 4: Repeat the steps above for spaces between the walls and baseboards, along window sills, and around the perimeter of each room where bed bugs are suspected.
Step 5: Pile up some diatomaceous earth to form a thick ring around your bed so that any bed bugs harboring outside must climb through it when they try to feed.
Step 6: Any diatomaceous earth applied to flooring should be cleaned up with a vacuum every seven days and then reapplied. It may take a total of four weeks or more to get rid of the majority of bed bugs.
Tips When Using Diatomaceous Earth
- You need to be sleeping in your bed in order for diatomaceous earth to be effective. Unfortunately this does mean using yourself as “bait,” but otherwise the bed bugs will not bother climbing through the powder.
- Wear gloves while applying the diatomaceous earth powder.
- Wear a face mask to keep the powder from entering your lungs.
- Use a vacuum to clean up any excess powder to avoid dusting it into the air.
How Long Does It Take to Work?
Diatomaceous earth is a passive way to kill bed bugs. It often requires some time for results to show (usually between 2 to 4 weeks, and sometimes longer).
That’s because bed bugs must come into direct contact with the powder for it to work. Individual bed bugs only need to go out and feed every 5 to 10 days, so you’ll have to wait for them to come out of hiding first.
Even then, they don’t always die right away.
Depending on how long they’re in contact with the DE and how much of their waxy coating is perforated, the desiccation process can take a few days or more. In that time, bed bug nymphs can molt and form a brand new water-resistant outer layer to protect against the water loss.
Furthermore, any bed bug eggs in your home won’t be affected by the application of DE until they’ve hatched and are starting to feed—a process that usually takes around 6 to 10 days.
Because of how long it takes to work, using diatomaceous earth yourself to kill bed bugs isn’t an ideal solution. If you’re looking for a faster and more reliable way to get rid of bed bugs in your home, using professional bed bug extermination services is your best option.
MMPC is an eco-friendly pest control company, named one of “The Best Exterminators in New York” by New York Magazine. We have over 25 years of professional pest control experience, specializing in canine bed bug inspections and eco-friendly bed bug treatment.