What is diatomaceous earth?
Diatomaceous earth, or DE, is the ancient remains of phytoplankton that lived in the Earth’s seas millions of years ago. They died and their exoskeletons became fossilized, giving us DE.
The exoskeletons of phytoplankton contain a lot of silica, which is a component of modern glass. Hence, diatomaceous earth is quite hard, and the particles themselves are very sharp.
How does diatomaceous earth kill fleas?
Diatomaceous earth comes in a fine powder, which looks a lot like talcum or baby powder. If you were to look at this fine powder under a microscope, you’d see something like the image to the left there.
The fact that the tiny particles in DE powder are so sharp is exactly the reason it’s so effective in killing fleas and other insects. A flea’s exoskeleton is not one piece, but an assortment of pieces which are joined together.
DE kills fleas by getting in the joints of the flea’s exoskeleton and scratching it. This leads to dehydration and eventual death. So, the key thing to keep in mind is that DE works by mechanical means, not chemical.
This means that although DE can be slightly hazardous, it’s only the mechanical effects of the dust particles themselves you have to worry about, not any toxicity.
But, and this is an important but, this is only true of food grade diatomaceous earth. DE is also sold as a swimming pool treatment, and you do not want to use this type. You always want to use only food grade diatomaceous earth. It’s easy to find, but be careful you’re buying food grade only.
Food grade DE is actually entirely safe to ingest, and chances are you’ve eaten it many times in the past. Food grade diatomaceous earth is used all the time in grain storage, both as an anti-caking agent, as well as to kill insects.
How to use diatomaceous earth to treat fleas in your home
One of the best ways to use DE in your home is on your carpets. Obviously, fleas love to hide amongst the fibers of your carpet, which is an ideal place for them to hide out and lay eggs. While I definitely recommend vacuuming as much as possible to kill fleas in your carpet, DE is a great compliment to your vacuuming program.
I like to sprinkle DE on my carpets at night, and then vacuum it up first thing in the morning. This gives the DE a chance to work, but it’s mostly sitting there at night, when you and your pets are less active.
To apply DE to carpets, you can simply sprinkle it around and then spread it with a broom. That works pretty well. Or, you can use an applicator that’s designed to spray powder. These work great for fine powders like DE.
You can also use DE on pet bedding, but bear in mind it’s pretty messy stuff, or at least it can be. Imagine spreading talcum powder around your home, and how messy that would be. You’d probably want to limit it’s use to areas where you could easily clean it back up when the time came, right? Same thing goes for DE.
Diatomaceous earth also makes a pretty effective treatment for fleas in your yard. You’ll need a lot of it, of course, but you won’t have to worry about spraying chemicals on your plants. There’s a negative effect on beneficial insects as well, so keep that in mind and don’t get too crazy with your application.
Can you use diatomaceous earth to treat your pets for fleas?
You can, yes, and many people do. However, bear in mind that you’re going to be applying a very fine powder to your pet’s fur, and that’s a pretty messy proposition. Also, bear in mind that your pet’s skin and fur is a different environment than your carpets.
Animal skin is quite oily, and DE needs to be in a powdery form to be effective. Your animals are also in motion a lot of the time, and may tend to shake off the DE that you’ve applied.
I personally like to use topical and oral flea treatments on my pets. But, if you want to avoid using chemical treatments and give DE a try, it’s worth a shot, particularly if your pet’s infestation is not too serious.
What’s the down side to using diatomaceous earth?
Well, DE is pretty abrasive, so it can be a potential irritant to pets and humans. But, some basic care will go a long way towards preventing any problems. Some people have reported their cats sneezing after being exposed to DE, which could mean they’ve inhaled some and are trying to expel it.
You’ll also need to keep your DE quite dry, as it tends to cake up if it gets wet. This is easy to do, of course, and DE will keep forever when kept dry.
All in all, diatomaceous earth is an excellent treatment for fleas. I use it all the time on my carpets and in my yard, and it works great. It’s quite cheap as well, so you can buy a big bag at the beginning of flea season and make it part of your regular carpet treatment at the same time your treating your pets.
Maybe one of the best things about DE is that you never have to worry about it not working over time because the fleas have developed a resistance to it. People report this happening with chemical treatments. But, unless fleas start growing armor plating over their exoskeletons, there’s literally no way they can develop a resistance to DE.
So, if you’ve got a flea problem, why not give DE a shot? It’s an excellent part of a flea control program, it’s cheap, and it’s about as safe as you can get and still be effective.
I hope this helps, and if you have any questions or comments, please share them in the comment section below.