You may have heard of Diatomaceous earth as a homeowner’s remedy for bed bugs. Though, while some claim Diatomaceous earth gives people an eco-friendly, do-it-yourself option for treating these persistent pests with reduced risk, how effective is it really?

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth is a mineral that is mined from the beds of long dried bodies of water. This off-white, powdery substance is composed of fossilized diatoms, microscopic single-celled algae with hardened walls containing silica.  Due to it’s porous and hardened texture and abrasive quality, Diatomaceous earth is used in many industrial applications, including as a filtering agent, as well as a component in many cleaners, polishes, and pesticides.

Diatomaceous Earth as an Insecticide

Diatomaceous earth’s abrasive texture acts like a fine sandpaper. As pests and insects come into contact with the powdery mineral it scratches and abrades the outer coating of the insect cuticle.  This waxy outer layer acts as a barrier, protecting the bug against moisture loss.  Continued contact with the particles can result in the pest drying out and dying.

Diatomaceous Earth in the Lab

In lab studies performed by the University of Kentucky, researchers found that Diatomaceous earth does, in fact, kill bed bugs. Several strands of the bugs were exposed continuously to the mineral in Petri dishes, which resulted in an over 90% mortality rate in the first 4 days, and a 100% mortality rate after 10 days.

Diatomaceous Earth in the Home

The University of Kentucky conducted a field study to observe the effectiveness of Diatomaceous earth outside of the laboratory. Six infested apartments were used in the study, for which bed bug treatment was done using Diatomaceous Earth alone.

In order to mimic the do-it-yourself conditions under which the mineral is touted to work, the powder was applied using simple household tools like feather dusters, paint brushes, and cosmetic brushes.

The number of bed bugs in each unit was recorded at the beginning and the end of the study. On average, the studied apartments saw a 1% increase in their bed bug population over the treatment period.  While the pests were not eradicated from the units, it could be expected that left untreated, the populations would have grown over this period, so it could be believed that the use of Diatomaceous earth slowed this increase.

In 5 of the 6 units treated, because of dissatisfaction of the tenants due to inadequate treatment, the post-treatment assessment was curtailed.  As they saw no improvement over the study period, these study sites had to be treated conventionally in order to manage the bed bug infestation.

Not effective as a stand-alone treatment!

While it may prove effective in the lab, when studied in real world applications, Diatomaceous earth fell short as an effective bed bug pesticide.

Additional laboratory studies suggest that the insecticidal effects of the mineral were decreased when bed bugs were confined to areas dusted with lesser amounts of the substance or if exposure is abbreviated.

Without the ability for substantial and continuous contact between the pests and the mineral inside the home, Diatomaceous earth is not an effective method for treating a bed bug infestation.

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