7 Uses for Diatomaceous Earth

Quarry under a cloudless blue sky
credit: Diatomaceous earth mine by Alisha Vargas/Flickr

When hard-shelled algae called diatoms fossilize, they create a sedimentary rock that is easy to crumble called diatomaceous earth. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, diatomaceous earth makes up 26 percent of the earth's crust by weight. What do we like about it? It ticks off all our boxes: it's natural, it's easy to use, has multiple uses, it doesn't cause cancer (unless you stick your nose in it and breathe in for one hour every day - but that's the case for any powdery substance that you breathe in for long periods of time) and, as far as we can tell, it isn't being over-exploited. In some places, it can be hard to buy diatomaceous earth in small packages, so we've lined up 7 ideas for using it at home.

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Pest Control

credit: Diatomaceous earth as pesticide on potato plant, photo by Renee/Flickr

Looking for a solution to aphids, caterpillars and beetles? Try sprinkling a bit of diatomaceous earth on the soil around your plants. The diatomaceous earth dehydrates insects by sucking up the lipids from their exoskeletons - kind of gross - and kills them. You can also use it for dealing with insects inside the home, like cockroaches, silverfish and fleas by placing powder near doorways and under furniture. Be sure to add another coat after mopping, or after a rain if you put any outside. The most effective diatomaceaous earth for pest control is uncalcinated earth, which means it wasn't heated before packaging.

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credit: Diatomaceous earth is great for kitty litter. Photo by Jennifer/Flickr

Because diatomaceous earth can soak up 1.1 times its body weight in water, it's great for cleaning up spills - especially toxic chemical spills (which are rare in the home environment). It also soaks up oil, so if you spilled olive oil or any other type of cooking oil, putting some diatomaceous earth on it will make it much easier to clean. If you have a cat, putting diatomaceous earth in the litter box is an effective way of absorbing smells and moisture. Using our recipe for home made kitty litter, you can replace the baking soda with diatomaceous earth, which will make for a coarser kitty litter.

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Facial Mask

credit: SprocketRocket

Diatomaceous earth's absorbant qualities also work well in facial masks, especially since it gets rid of excess oils. It also works as an exfoliant. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of diatomaceous earth with some water and add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil until you get a nice thick paste and there you have it! Alternatively, you could mix the earth with honey, rose water or milk. There are some great recipes out there, including some suggestions from Carolina Finds. But be careful not to use it too often - you don't want to dry your face out too much! You should also avoid scrubbing too hard with it - it can be abrasive.

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Shoe deodoriser

credit: Jesse! S?

Stinky shoes? No problem! Throw some diatomaceous earth in and let the smells be soaked away.

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Scouring powder

credit: Meeralee

Diatomaceous earth works great as a scouring powder for those tough spots on your pots and pans

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In the garden

credit: AuntieDanceFan/Flickr

Since diatomaceous earth is so good at killing bugs, it can be used for preserving food. You can put it on unearthed potatoes that you're saving for winter and it kill any insects that may be thinking to feast. The good news is that ingesting diatomaceous earth is not harmful to humans, so on its own, this is a pesticide we can stand behind. Be careful, though. The safe kind is called food grade diatomaceous earth, but you want to avoid the kind that has been used in pool filters (industrial grade). There could be chemicals added to it.

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credit: Look at those pearly whites! Photo by Anthony Stone/Flickr

Though more studies on the health benefits of diatomaceous earth need to be done, diatomaceous earth has been associated with lower blood cholesterol and healthier hair and nails. It contains minerals such as silica, calcium, magnesium sodium and iron, which all have benefits for the body. Some people suggest taking a tablespoon or two of diatomaceous earth a day, which can be mixed in with food or water. Studies have shown that ingesting it does not have negative health effects on humans, but as with anything, if you're going to try it, do it in moderation (and look for the food grade stuff, not the industrial grade!). Diatomaceous earth could also be used for homemade toothpaste (though some toothpaste brands already use it as an ingredient). If you have sensitive gums, we would advise that you be careful - diatomaceous earth can be abrasive.