How to Effectively Kill Bed Bugs Using Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

How to Effectively Kill Bed Bugs Using Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
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Food grade diatomaceous earth is a natural non-toxic method to kill bed bugs and prevent them from invading your home. Diatomaceous earth (DE) powder is a naturally forming substance that helps to get rid of bugs quickly and effectively. One of the benefits of using this white powder for killing bed bugs is that it won’t harm humans or pets. Bed bugs can be difficult to eradicate from your home and you can use diatomaceous earth together with other bed bug extermination methods to get rid of the critters for good.

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The abrasive action of diatomaceous earth powder destroys the bed bug’s exoskeletal system. The abrasion on the outer layer of these tiny pests causes them to dehydrate and very soon your bed bug problem will be gone for good. So, if you notice tiny black specks around your headboard, bedding, and in the corners of your mattress, you should think about using DE to kill off the infestation of bugs around your bed.

This article looks at how to use food grade diatomaceous earth as a natural pest control for bed bugs. You will also learn about bed bug infestation signs and when you should use DE or other bug control methods to eradicate the problem.

First of all, let’s look at what diatomaceous earth is and why diatomaceous earth is effective for killing off groups of bed bugs and preventing them from infesting your home.

What is Diatomaceous Earth (DE)?

Diatomaceous earth is a natural substance from the fossilized remains of diatoms – a type of algae. This is ground into a powder or dust to be used as a non-poisonous way to kill mites and insects.

The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) says that food grade diatomaceous earth isn’t toxic when ingested. DE eliminates bugs and fleas by drying out their exoskeleton which causes them to dry out and die. However, for diatomaceous earth to remain an effective bug control method, it needs to be kept dry.1

What Kind of Diatomaceous Earth to Use for Bed Bugs?

Diatomaceous earth dust that you use to kill bed bugs should be classed as food grade (here is one example). The NPIC says that food grade DE has been purified and will not cause problems to humans and pets if ingested.

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However, diatomaceous earth can cause some irritation to your lungs and respiratory system, so you should still wear a dust mask and clothing to protect your skin – especially if you have a large bed bug infestation and regularly use DE. The NPIC says that breathing in DE may cause irritation in the nose and eyes and may give you a cough and shortness of breath.1

How Diatomaceous Earth Effectively Kills Bed Bugs

Diatomaceous earth has been used as a non-toxic pesticide since the 1960s. The destructive action of DE on bed bugs causes them to die after a few days of exposure.

According to Prof. Stuart Hill from the Department of Entomology and Ecological Agricultural Projects, food grade diatomaceous earth is an ideal pesticide for removing bed bugs from the home. Comparing toxic chemicals with DE, Prof. Hill said that the repellent nature of chemicals is short-lived, whereas DE is effective on bugs for as long as the dust is on the critters.2

The journal Insects in 2016 published a study into the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth dust for bed bug control. It was reported that diatomaceous earth could kill off 100% of bed bugs in a 9 to 15-day period. DE was also effective in eradicating bed bugs that had become resistant to chemical pesticides.3

Therefore, because diatomaceous earth uses “mechanical” action to destroy bed bugs and other insect pests, it can safely be used around the home to control a bug infestation. Diatomaceous earth can also be used as a natural ant repellent and help rid your home of cockroaches. In fact, food grade diatomaceous earth is safe enough to ingest and get rid of intestinal parasites.

Signs of Bed Bug Infestation

To use diatomaceous earth to kill off all bed bugs in your home, it’s important to know about the life cycle of the tiny bugs and spot signs of a bedbug infestation.

Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD says that bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed and scurry over floors, walls, and ceilings. Bed bugs love to hide in dark places and are commonly found in mattresses, headboards, box springs, and in the nooks and crannies of bed frames. They come out at night to feed on blood and that is why, if you have a bed bug problem, you may notice tiny blood stains that look like black specks on your bed linen or pillow.4

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The symptoms of being bitten by bed bugs are red itchy spots on your body. Dr. DerSarkissian says that the tiny bugs generally bite around the ankles, but will pierce any part of the skin to gorge on blood. The bites can turn into red bumps on your skin that cause mild to severe itching on the affected part of the body.

Researchers from Purdue University say that other signs of a bed bug infestation are dark spots that are fecal matter around bed frames, on mattresses, and sheets. You may also notice shed skins or tiny eggs around areas where they like to hide. There may be a distinctive odor also.5

How to Use Diatomaceous Earth for Killing Bed Bugs

Let’s look at the steps to use diatomaceous earth powder as a bed bug killer. This next section examines how to apply diatomaceous earth for bed bugs and what precautions you should take when using bed bug powders.

Step 1 – Find the Infestation

The first step to completely eradicate bed bugs from your home is to find out where the annoying pests are hiding.

Researchers from Texas A&M University say that usually bed bugs are found infesting bedrooms or other rooms where people sleep. So, you should look for signs of bug infestations around beds, mattresses, sofas, and sofa beds.6

You should vacuum all areas of your home that show any signs of bed bugs inhabiting the furniture or bedding.

To help know where exactly to dust diatomaceous earth for bed bug control, the Department of Entomology at NC State University recommends examining the following places:7

  • Carefully inspect all furniture.
  • Check all holes and slots of beds and dismantle the bed frame if necessary.
  • Check the seams of mattresses and pillows for bed bug feces and other signs of infestation.
  • Look behind drawers, under chairs, behind pictures, and behind dressers and closets.
  • Inspect behind the cover of electrical outlets.
  • Check cracks in baseboards.
  • If you have recently returned from vacation, thoroughly inspect all luggage and clothing that you had with you.

Step 2 – Encase the bed bugs

Before using DE for getting rid of bed bugs, you should encase any mattresses where you suspect bed bugs are hiding.

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For this, you can purchase specially designed bed bug encasements that will prevent the bug escaping from the mattress, pillows and other bed linen placed in it (here is one example). Because the bed bugs don’t have any source of blood, they will eventually die off and no longer become a problem.

You should also wash your bedding in hot water and put in the dryer for at least 30 minutes to make sure that all bed bugs have been killed.

You can also use hot steam as an effective home remedy to eradicate bed bugs and you can use it after vacuuming. The hot steam can eliminate bed bugs from small crevices and cracks. It can also penetrate through the mattress lining and eradicate bug infestations inside the mattress.

Another thing that you may want to try is placing bed bug traps (such as this one) under your bed legs to stop bed bugs crawling up.

The next step is to use food grade diatomaceous earth to kill the bed bugs from furniture, beds, and other hiding places where they live.

Step 3 – Use DE to Kill Bed Bugs

Now is the time to put the bed bug killing power of food grade diatomaceous earth to work. This is what you should do to exterminate all traces of bed bugs from beds, sofas, and other furniture.

  1. Make sure that all areas are absolutely dry and free from moisture.
  2. Lightly dust all affected areas with diatomaceous earth powder.
  3. You can also dust over carpets, baseboards, pet’s bedding, pillows, and other soft furnishings.
  4. After 2 or 3 days, vacuum the area to get rid of any bug larvae, dead bed bugs, or eggs.
  5. Repeat the process of dusting diatomaceous earth powder on affected areas until all bed bugs are completely gone.

It will take some vigilance on your part to completely exterminate all traces of bed bugs from your home. You should also remember to continue using diatomaceous earth for a week or so after you are sure that the bed bugs are gone. This is to ensure that you have no further infestation from eggs that may have hatched during that period.

Safety Precautions When Using DE for Bed Bug Extermination

Although you can use food grade diatomaceous for bed bug killing liberally around the home without fear that it is toxic to humans and pets, there are some precautions you should take when using it.

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Because diatomaceous earth powder is a very fine abrasive dust, therefore, you should avoid inhaling it. Prof. Stuart Hill advises using a dust mask to prevent inhaling diatomaceous earth if you are treating a large area of bed bug infestation. However, there are no other health risks reported with using food grade DE around the home for pest control.2

Other Natural Ways to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

There are other natural ways to get rid of bed bugs that are non-toxic and safe to use in the home.

Tea tree oil. Some people have had success with using tea tree oil as a bed bug repellent and natural insecticide. A study in the journal Medical and Veterinary Entomology found that tea tree oil was effective at killing off various insects and also had a repellent effect.8

You can make your own natural insecticidal spray by filling a spray bottle with water and adding 20 drops of tea tree oil. Shake well and apply to all parts of the bed where you think bed bugs are lurking. Just remember, not to spray onto areas treated with diatomaceous earth as the liquid will cause DE to become ineffective.

Tea tree oil has another use in your battle with bed bugs and the irritation they cause. Tea tree oil contains antimicrobial and anti -inflammatory properties that can help to treat bed bug bites. All you need to do to reduce itching from insect bites is this: put a drop or two of tea tree oil on the end of a cotton bud and dab this on the itchy bed bug bumps as a spot treatment. Tea tree oil is one of the best natural treatments for bed bug bites as it kill off any germs that may cause infection.

Use bed bug sprays. There are effective DIY and commercial bed bug sprays that contain natural ingredients. You can find out how to make and use these sprays in my article about the most effective bed bug sprays.

Extreme temperature. Researchers from the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station recommend laundering bed linen in hot water and then drying them in a hot dryer to kill bed bugs. Also, you could put small items of bedding like sheets, pillows, and pillowcases in the freezer for 4 days.

How to Prevent Bed Bug Infestations

The best way to make sure that you never have any bed bug problem is to prevent these nasty critters from infesting your home in the first place. Here are some effective tips on how to prevent bed bug infestation.

  • If you see dark marks or blood spots on your bedding, immediately check all areas of your bed, mattress, and bedding for signs of bed bugs.
  • When staying in hotel rooms, use a flashlight to inspect the bed frame and mattress for signs of bed bugs.
  • Before bringing in second-hand furniture, beds, or mattresses to your home, thoroughly examine the items to make sure there are no bed bugs in corners, joints, and seams.
  • Vacuum your luggage after returning from vacation.

For other ways to eliminate bed bugs for good, read my article about the top 10 home remedies to get rid of bed bugs.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. NPIC. Diatomaceous earth.
  2. McGill. Diatomaceous earth – a non toxic pesticide.
  3. Insects. 2016 Dec; 7(4): 74.
  4. WebMD. Bedbugs.
  5. ENTM. Bedbugs.
  6. TAMU. Bed bugs – do it yourself control options.
  7. NCSU. Bed bugs – biology and control.
  8. Med Vet Entomol. 2014 Aug;28 Suppl 1:33-9.
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One Response to How to Effectively Kill Bed Bugs Using Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

  1. Darryl Sinclair says:

    Most of this article is pretty accurate. However, there are some critical issues, which were missed.
    1) Vacuum up some DE so that any critters going into the vacuum cleaner bag will encounter DE, in the bag. If this is not done, the vacuum cleaner bag will become a hiding spot for them.
    2) Do NOT vacuum the infected area for at least a week and spray liberally onto carpet, in corners, into electrical outlets and any dark areas.
    3) Put DE into strong glass or shiny plastic bowls and lower the legs of the bed into the bowls (One bowl for each let). Bed Bugs (BB) cannot climb anything it’s claws cannot penetrate. If one manages to get up the side of the bowl, it will fall into the DE, in the bowl. This way one can confine the BB to the Box Spring and mattress and makes for easier eradication.
    4) Food Grade DE is quite expensive. One can buy General Purpose DE from a Garden Store. It’s about 10% of the cost of Food Grade and just as effective. You won’t even notice a difference.
    5) BB can live for up to a year or more, without feeding. It is important to continue using DE for at least One Year. Do not vacuum it up unnecessarily. If you must vacuum then reapply the DE.

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