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  • Writer's pictureAndy Hemmer

What is Diatomaceous Earth: Understanding Its Origins and Household Uses

diatomaceous earth in a black bowl with a spoon

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring, soft, sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. It is composed of the fossilized remains of diatoms, which are a type of hard-shelled algae. The diatoms have skeletons made of a natural substance called silica, and over long periods of time, these skeletons accumulate in the sediment of rivers, lakes, and oceans. The collected diatom fossils are then mined and processed to produce diatomaceous earth. For a more comprehensive look at what diatomaceous earth is, be sure to click on our what is diatomaceous earth page.

Diatomaceous earth comes in different grades, and its uses vary based on these grades:

  1. Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth: This is the purest form of DE, and it is safe for human consumption. It is often used as an additive in food and supplements due to its purported benefits for detoxification and digestive health.

  2. Filter Grade Diatomaceous Earth: This grade is used in industrial filtration processes, such as in the production of beverages like beer and wine. It is also a key component in pool and water filtration systems.

  3. Industrial Grade Diatomaceous Earth: This grade is used in various industrial applications, including in insecticides, abrasives, absorbents, and as a stabilizing component in explosives.

The unique properties of diatomaceous earth make it valuable for several practical applications:

  • Absorbent Properties: DE is highly absorbent, making it useful for controlling spills, reducing odors, and managing moisture in various settings.

  • Abrasive Properties: The fine, abrasive particles of DE make it effective for cleaning and polishing surfaces without causing damage.

  • Pest Control: DE is known for its insecticidal properties, particularly against crawling insects. It works by absorbing the waxy outer layer of insects, leading to dehydration and ultimately their demise.

What Can I Do With Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a versatile substance with various household uses due to its unique properties. Here are some comprehensive explanations of common household applications for diatomaceous earth:

1. Pest Control:

  • Indoor Pest Control: DE is commonly used to control crawling insects like ants, cockroaches, and bed bugs. The fine particles of DE have sharp edges that scratch the insects' exoskeleton, leading to dehydration and death. Sprinkle DE in areas where pests are likely to travel, such as along baseboards, behind appliances, or in cracks and crevices.

  • Garden Pest Control: In outdoor settings, DE can be applied to plants and soil to control garden pests like slugs, snails, and beetles. It forms a barrier that insects find abrasive, deterring them from infesting plants.

2. Odor Control:

  • Refrigerator Odor Absorption: Placing a small container of diatomaceous earth in the refrigerator can help absorb and neutralize odors. DE's porous structure allows it to capture and trap unpleasant smells, keeping your fridge smelling fresh.

  • Trash Can Deodorizer: Sprinkle a layer of DE in the bottom of your trash can to absorb liquids and odors, helping to reduce the unpleasant smell associated with kitchen waste.

3. Cleaning Agent:

  • Abrasive Cleaner: DE can be used as a gentle abrasive cleaner for surfaces like countertops, sinks, and stovetops. Its fine particles help scrub away dirt and grime without causing scratches.

  • Carpet Deodorizer: Sprinkle DE on carpets before vacuuming to help eliminate odors. It can also absorb moisture, making it useful for controlling mold and mildew in humid environments.

4. Personal Care:

  • Natural Toothpaste and Polish: Some people use food-grade diatomaceous earth as an ingredient in homemade toothpaste or as a tooth polish. Its mild abrasive properties can help remove plaque and stains from teeth.

  • Exfoliating Skin Scrub: Mixed with water or other natural ingredients, DE can be used as a gentle exfoliating scrub for the skin, helping to remove dead skin cells and promote smoothness.

5. Home and Garden Improvement:

  • Litter Box Deodorizer: Incorporate DE into cat litter to help control odors and absorb moisture. Its natural properties make it an effective and environmentally friendly addition to traditional cat litter.

  • Water Filtration: DE is used in some water filtration systems as a component of the filter media. Its porous structure allows it to capture fine particles and impurities, improving water quality.

6. Health and Wellness:

  • Internal Detoxifier: Food-grade diatomaceous earth is sometimes used as a dietary supplement. It is believed by some to have detoxifying properties and may help support digestive health. Consult with a healthcare professional before using it internally.

  • Joint Health: In some cases, DE is included in supplements aimed at supporting joint health due to its silica content, which is a component of connective tissues.

When using diatomaceous earth, it's essential to choose the appropriate grade for the intended application (food grade for ingestion, pool grade for filtration, etc.) and follow safety guidelines. Additionally, consider the potential dust hazard and wear protective gear, such as a mask, when applying DE in dusty conditions.

New and Uncommon Uses For Diatomaceous Earth

diatomaceous earth in a tablespoon scoop

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a versatile substance that is primarily composed of the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It's known for its uses in agriculture, pest control, and filtration, but here are some super new and perhaps less common applications:

  1. Water Purification Jewelry: Incorporate diatomaceous earth into jewelry beads or pendants. The porous nature of DE can help filter impurities from water when worn as a necklace or bracelet, providing a stylish and portable water purification method.

  2. Odor-Absorbing Refrigerator Tiles: Create tiles or sachets containing diatomaceous earth to absorb odors in refrigerators. The high surface area of DE particles can effectively capture and neutralize unwanted smells, keeping your fridge smelling fresh.

  3. Foot Deodorant Inserts: Infuse diatomaceous earth into shoe insoles to create natural foot deodorant inserts. DE can absorb moisture and help control odors, providing a unique and eco-friendly solution for keeping shoes and feet fresh.

  4. DIY Facial Masks: Mix diatomaceous earth with other skin-friendly ingredients to create a rejuvenating facial mask. DE's fine particles can act as a gentle exfoliant, helping to remove dead skin cells and leaving the skin feeling smooth.

  5. Biodegradable Plant Pots: Form plant pots using a mixture of diatomaceous earth and other natural materials. These pots will break down over time, releasing valuable minerals into the soil and reducing waste associated with traditional plastic pots.

  6. Fire Extinguisher Additive: Combine diatomaceous earth with fire-retardant materials to create a non-toxic fire extinguisher additive. When applied to small fires, it can help smother flames by cutting off the oxygen supply.

  7. Pet Paw Deodorizer: Create a powder using diatomaceous earth and natural fragrances to sprinkle on pet paws. This can help absorb moisture, reduce odors, and keep pets' paws clean and fresh between baths.

  8. Innovative Paint Additive: Mix diatomaceous earth into paint to create a textured finish with natural properties. This could be used in spaces where cleanliness and air quality are essential, such as hospitals or kitchens.

  9. Anti-Static Computer Keyboard Coating: Develop a coating for computer keyboards using diatomaceous earth to reduce static electricity. This could potentially decrease the attraction of dust to the keyboard surface.

  10. Seed Coating for Drought Resistance: Coat seeds with a mixture of diatomaceous earth and hydrogel to improve water retention and create a protective barrier against pests. This application could be especially valuable in arid regions where water conservation is crucial.

Keep in mind that before implementing any new or rare use of diatomaceous earth, it's important to consider safety, potential allergies, and environmental impact. Always test in small quantities and assess the efficacy and safety of the application.

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