Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs: How NOT to Apply it

Diatomaceous earth has become increasingly popular as a natural remedy for getting rid of bed bugs. They derive the powder-like substance from diatoms’ skeletal remains, microscopic algae with hard silica shells. But most of our clients are not using it correctly!

Did you know that even though diatomaceous earth is labeled as non-toxic there is a wrong way to apply it?

When combined with its abrasive nature and ability to absorb moisture, diatomaceous earth is an effective solution for controlling and eliminating bed bug infestations.

But how does it work? When bed bugs come into contact with diatomaceous earth, the abrasive silica particles damage their exoskeletons, ultimately leading to dehydration and death. The same way the DE damages the bugs it can also damage our lungs.

This mode of action is beneficial because it presents less risk to humans and animals when used correctly while remaining powerful against bed bugs. However, applying diatomaceous earth correctly and responsibly ensures its effectiveness and safety as a bed bug treatment.

Key Takeaways on the Use of Diatomaceous Earth

  • Food Grade Diatomaceous earth is a natural, abrasive substance effective against bed bugs.
  • Damaging bed bugs’ exoskeletons and causing dehydration, diatomaceous earth is a low-risk solution for humans and pets.
  • Proper application and safety measures are crucial for successful bed bug elimination using diatomaceous earth.
  • DE is not safe if inhaled. Plus, DE poses a significant inhalation hazard.
  • If you use DE, you may not be a candidate for a K9 inspection. You can call us to discuss the details.
  • Some DE contains crystalline silica, which is a significant health hazard. Check out this DOH NJ hazardous substance fact sheet.

Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs How NOT to Apply it

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth, often abbreviated as DE, is a natural substance made from fossilized remains of diatoms, which are tiny, aquatic microorganisms.

These single-celled organisms have a skeleton made of silica and accumulate in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans over millions of years. DE (silicon dioxide) is extracted from these deposits and processed into a fine, chalky powder.

You’ll find that DE has a variety of uses in agriculture, as a filter in various industries, and even as a natural insecticide for pests like bed bugs. The abrasive properties of DE make it a practical option for eliminating bed bug infestations.

When applied to areas where bed bugs are present, the powder damages their exoskeletons and causes them to dehydrate and die.

It’s important to note that there are two types of diatomaceous earth: food-grade and non-food-grade. For bed bug control, you should always use food-grade DE, which is safe (as long as you don’t ever breathe it in) for humans and pets.

Always follow the instructions on the product label, when using diatomaceaus earth for bed bugs. This ensures the safest and most effective application.

It would help if you never sprinkled DE  around floors, beds, couches, or other areas where it can become airborne.

In summary, diatomaceous earth is a natural, non-toxic option for helping you eliminate bed bugs in your home. Its unique properties make it an eco-friendly alternative to traditional chemical pesticides.

Understanding Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals. They are reddish-brown and oval-shaped, ranging from 1 to 6.5 millimeters in size. They are most active at night when you’re asleep, which is when they come out to feed.

These tiny creatures rapidly reproduce once you have a handful of them, plus the females can lay over a hundred eggs. The bed bug eggs are 1mm long and can be challenging to see with the naked eye.

Bed bugs pass through five developmental stages called nymph stages before they reach maturity. To grow, they molt and need a blood meal at every stage. The bed bug shell provides a protective layer, which is what the earth powder begins to break down.

One of the reasons why bed bugs are so difficult to deal with is their resilience. They can survive without food for several months and are expert hiders. Additionally, they can find shelter in the smallest spaces, such as in the center of a box spring, in the folds of curtains, or inside electrical outlets.

Detecting bed bugs can initially be difficult as their bites can be mistaken for other insects’ bites or rashes. 

Common signs of bed bugs can include:

  • Black ink-like stains from their feces
  • Rust-colored stains on your sheets from crushed bugs
  • Itchy, red bites on your skin (if you are the type that reacts to them)

It’s essential to tackle bed bug infestations quickly to prevent them from spreading. One method folks use to treat bed bug infestations is Diatomaceous Earth, a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that quickly crumbles into a fine white powder.

How Diatomaceous Earth Works Against Bed Bugs

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a natural, chemical-free powder that effectively eliminates bed bugs from your home. When you apply DE, it works by damaging the exoskeleton of the bed bugs, causing them to dehydrate and eventually die. Here’s a little more information on how it works.

The main component of Diatomaceous Earth is silica, which comes from the fossilized remains of diatoms – microscopic algae with strong cell walls. These tiny, sharp particles can penetrate the small joints and crevices in the bed bug’s exoskeleton. As the bugs move around, the DE continues its abrasive action, causing further damage to its protective coating.

As a result of this damage, bed bugs begin to lose moisture through their exoskeletons. These insects rely on their outer shell to retain vital fluids to survive. But once DE compromises its outer layer, with its sharp edges, it finds it difficult to maintain the necessary internal moisture levels. Over time, this dehydration leads to their eventual death.

To make the most of Diatomaceous Earth’s effectiveness against bed bugs, you should follow a few helpful tips:

  • Puff a thin layer of DE to the hiding places where it will not become airborne. The photo below shows how NOT to apply DE.

Diatomaceous earth should not be put in places where it becomes airborne

  • You can puff it inside a box spring but immediately seal it in an encasement.
  • Remove outlets to puff it in the walls, but immediately put the outlet cover back on.

  • Keep the DE in place for at least a few months to allow it to work on all bed bug life stages, including eggs, nymphs, and adults.

  • Use food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, as other forms may contain additives or chemicals that could harm you, your family, or your pets.
  • Always follow the safety instructions on the DE product packaging, such as wearing a mask and gloves during application.

Applying Diatomaceous Earth correctly and giving it time to work gives you a powerful, natural weapon against bed bugs in your home. 

Diatomaceous earth is a health hazard for your lungs when applied incorrectly

Remember to be patient and persistent in your efforts; soon, you’ll see a significant reduction in the bed bug population around you. DE is best when combined with other powerful methods, like heat and professional help.

Application of Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs

Preparation for Application

Preparing the infested area is essential before applying diatomaceous earth (DE). Start by cleaning and decluttering the space to make it easier for the DE to reach the bed bugs.

  • Remove all bedding, garments, and textiles and put them in a hot dryer.
  • Vacuum the entire area thoroughly, including the bed frame, baseboards, and carpets.
  • Look for any cracks or crevices in walls or flooring, as bed bugs may hide there.
  • Come up with a plan – make a list of places where you can puff the DE that are not out in the open.

Applying in Infested Areas

When the area is ready, you can effectively apply DE to target bed bugs.

  1. Wear a mask to protect your respiratory system from the fine powder.
  2. Using a duster or applicator, lightly dust DE in the infested areas where it will not become airborne. Be sure to use a puffer, as bed bugs may avoid large piles of DE.
  3. Puff DE along baseboards that you seal with silicone right after. You can puff it under carpet edges. Never put it on your bed frame or mattress like this photo below.

Diatomaceous earth is a health hazard for your lungs

Precautions During Application

The best way to apply it is to take precautions while using DE for bed bugs. A powder duster is essential for your safety and the success of the treatment.

  • Avoid over-application: Using excessive amounts of DE can cause it to become airborne, irritating your lungs. Stick to thin layers and avoid creating large piles.

Only puff it into places you do not actively hang out, like wall voids or sealed containers.

Diatomaceous earth is a health hazard for your lungs when applied incorrectly

  • Use food-grade DE: This DE is safer for people and pets. Do not use pool-grade DE, as it can be harmful if inhaled or ingested.

  • Allow time for effectiveness: DE damages bed bugs’ exoskeleton, causing them to dehydrate and die. This process may take a few weeks, so be patient and continue applying DE as needed.

  • Monitor progress: Monitor the infestation and adjust your treatment plan if necessary. If bed bugs persist or the infestation worsens, consult a pest control professional.

Only Use Diatomaceous Earth in Cracks and Crevices That You Seal

Only use diatomaceous earth (DE) when dealing with bed bugs in the cracks and crevices you seal. Sealing will keep the DE contained, ensuring it remains effective in your insect control regime.

Firstly, before applying DE, thoroughly inspect your living space to identify the cracks and crevices where bed bugs may be hiding. Typical areas to look for include:

  • Baseboards (that you can seal)
  • Furniture seams (that you can seal)
  • Behind electrical outlets

Once you’ve identified the potential hiding spots, clean and vacuum the area to remove any traces of bed bugs and their eggs, then you can start applying the DE. Remember to use a mask and gloves during this process to avoid inhaling the DE dust.

To apply DE effectively:

  1. Use a small brush or applicator to apply a thin, even layer of DE to the cracks and crevices.
  2. You must seal these cracks and crevices immediately after application.
  3. Ensure that all sealable surfaces are coated, but avoid creating piles of DE, as this may discourage bed bugs from coming into contact with it.

After you apply the DE, it’s crucial to seal the treated areas to prevent bed bugs from escaping and finding new hiding spots. You can use a combination of caulk, silicone, or other sealants to close gaps or openings effectively.

Finally, keep monitoring the treated areas for signs of bed bug activity. The DE may take a few weeks to work its magic, but if bed bugs persist, consult a professional exterminator for further assistance.

Diatomaceous Earth Powder Can Cause Lung Problems

Using diatomaceous earth (DE) as a natural and non-toxic method to help control bed bug infestations is a great way to control bed bugs. However, you should be aware of specific health hazards associated with DE, particularly its potential to cause lung problems.

Taking precautions is essential When applying DE powder for bed bug control. The fine particles can become airborne, and if you breathe them in, they may irritate your respiratory system. You can experience symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort if inhaling a significant amount of DE.

Although DE is primarily composed of silica, a relatively harmless substance, inhaling the powder can harm your lungs. This is especially true if you have respiratory issues like asthma or bronchitis. Prolonged exposure to DE powder may even lead to more severe lung conditions. One is silicosis, a condition where tiny particles of silica accumulate and cause lung inflammation and scarring.

To minimize the risk of developing lung problems due to DE exposure, following safety guidelines and using proper equipment when applying the powder is crucial. Here are some recommendations:

  • Wear a dust mask or respirator when handling DE to protect your lungs from the fine particles.

  • Apply DE using a specialized applicator that distributes the powder evenly and minimizes airborne dust.

  • Keep your space well-ventilated while applying DE, as it helps disperse the airborne particles.
  • Clean up any excess or spilled DE carefully, avoiding the creation of dust clouds that you can quickly inhale.

By taking these safety measures, you can effectively use diatomaceous earth for bed bug control without risking your lung health.

Never Apply Diatomaceous Earth Powder to Areas Where It Will Become Airborne

We constantly perform bed bug inspections where our clients have incorrectly applied DE. Many of our clients spread it all over their floors, mattresses, and couches, which is a significant health hazard.

When using diatomaceous earth (DE) for bed bugs, it’s essential to avoid applying the powder to areas where it will become airborne. This is for your safety and to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment.

DE damages the insects’ exoskeleton, causing them to dehydrate and die. Therefore, it needs to come into direct contact with the bed bugs to be effective. Applying the powder to surfaces where it might get blown away would reduce its effectiveness and pose a health risk.

Inhaling fine powder, including DE, can irritate the respiratory system. Although the DOH considers food-grade DE  safe for humans and pets to touch or eat, inhaling is still unsafe. 

This means:

  • Avoid applying DE to window sills or near air vents where drafts can make the powder airborne.
  • Do not sprinkle DE on your mattress or bedding, as movement will cause it to disperse in the air.

Instead, focus on applying the DE powder to cracks, crevices, and other hiding spots where bed bugs might be lurking. These areas include:

  • Baseboards and wall trim (that you seal)
  • Furniture joints (that you plug)

  • Carpet edges and under area rugs
  • You can apply it inside mattress encasements that you do not plan on opening

To apply DE effectively, use a small brush or duster to apply the powder to the target areas gently. It should be visible but not clumped or layered too heavily – a thin layer is all you need to work.

By keeping these precautions in mind, you can use diatomaceous earth to address bed bug infestations while minimizing any risks to your health.

Photos of How NOT to Apply DE

Many folks use diatomaceous earth as one of their main preventive measures against bed bugs. However, with the additional information we gave you regarding the health hazards, it may not be worth it. Look at some examples below of how our clients misused diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth is a health hazard for your lungs when applied incorrectly

This person was battling bed bugs for a year, but never told anyone. The landlord sent us there for an inspection, and we found this DE powder all over the apartment.

Diatomaceous earth is a health hazard for your lungs

You can see the DE powder all over the bed frame and mattress encasement. This is not the correct way to use diatomaceous earth powder.

Safety Measures When Using Diatomaceous Earth

When using diatomaceous earth (DE) to combat bed bugs, the important thing is to take some safety measures to protect yourself and your surroundings. While it is an effective bed bug killer, inhaling is not safe. 

Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): To avoid inhaling DE or exposing your skin, always wear a mask, goggles, and gloves when handling the product. PPE protects your eyes, skin, and lungs from any irritation caused by DE particles.

Apply the right amount of DE: It’s crucial to apply a thin layer of DE to the affected areas, as a heavy application can cause it to clump and become less effective. Plus, a thick layer of DE creates a higher risk of inhalation. Use a duster or applicator designed explicitly for spreading DE to achieve a thin, even layer.

Avoid using DE in damp areas: Dampness can reduce the effectiveness of DE by causing the particles to clump together. Ensure the places you’re applying DE to are dry and well-ventilated.

Keep children and pets away: While DE is less toxic than chemical insecticides, keeping children and pets away from the treated areas until you seal off any areas where the DE is settled is still essential. You will also have to use a vacuum cleaner to remove excess dust. Clean up any spills promptly and store the DE container safely out of reach.

Wash hands and clothing after use: Remember to wash your hands thoroughly to remove any residual dust from your skin after applying DE. Changing and washing your clothes is also advisable to prevent the accidental spread of DE around your home.

While using diatomaceous earth may seem an effective way to eliminate bed bugs, it’s unsafe for you or your pets to inhale it. 

Alternatives to Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bug Control

While diatomaceous earth is a popular choice for bed bug control, better options are available if you’re looking for alternatives.

Heat treatment is a highly effective method to eradicate bed bugs. You can use a bed bug steam cleaner or a professional heat treatment service to reach high temperatures so that bed bugs cannot survive. This method is both eco-friendly and chemical-free. 

Insecticide sprays can also help in controlling bed bug infestations. However, make sure to enlist the help of a licensed pest professional, as some store-bought insecticides may not be effective and may make the problem worse. Here are some examples of residual sprays for bed bugs.

Fungal Control like Aprehend can help eradicate bed bugs resistant to traditional chemicals. 

Encasements for your mattress and box spring can be beneficial in preventing bed bugs from entering or escaping. Bed bug covers can help monitor the infestation and prevent new bugs from making their home in your bed. Look for encasements designed explicitly for bed bug control, as they will have features such as tight zippers and durable materials to keep the pests out.

Traps and monitors detect bed bug activity and help control their population. Place bed bug interceptors under the legs of your bed and furniture to catch them as they move toward you.

You can also use glue traps to monitor activity in common hiding spots, such as behind baseboards and furniture.

Remember, when dealing with a bed bug infestation, combining multiple approaches for an effective control strategy is a good idea.

early signs of bed bugs - tips from a pro
Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Bed Bugs
If you still have bed bugs after 3 treatments